Relationship Conflict Mediation with Symbols and Rituals

Use symbols and rituals to resolve conflict in personal relationships.

Changing the practice of mediation for inter-personal relationship conflict 

In the last 20 years there has been a movement towards making alternative dispute resolution in the US more inclusive of traditional conflict resolution practices and more inclusive of spiritual or religious conflict resolution practices. North American mediators who have written on this topic include Lisa Schirch and Michelle LeBaron. These authors have raised awareness of the limitations of talk-based dispute resolution.  As a group these writers explore a diversity of practices that enhance the ability of mediation to have a bigger impact especially for conflict in personal relationships.

Relationship conflict benefits from symbols & rituals

Like these practitioners I have found that parties preparing for mediation benefit from incorporating symbols and rituals into the process, ideally in the early stages of mediation.  Symbols and rituals can be useful especially when the parties will most likely continue to interact in the future.  If you are seeking out a trained mediator for an interpersonal conflict you might explore with him or her how to incorporate symbols and rituals into the mediation session. (To learn more about mediation in general visit my page of FAQs about Mediation.)

What are symbols and rituals in mediation?

The meaning of these terms is purposely broad, since symbols and rituals are as diverse as the situations and the participants in mediation.  Here are some questions to ask yourself and maybe also ask the other party to help brainstorm ideas customized to your relationship conflict.

What kinds of things have you and the other party frequently done together in the past? Were any of those a positive or bonding experience for both parties? Could you consider incorporating any similar activities into the mediation schedule?

Some people schedule a recreational activity as part of the mediation, like fishing, bowling, or playing video games. Having a meal together is also an activity which involves shared rituals. Whatever–as long as both parties participate voluntarily.

What do you commonly do to build better relationships among people in your family or community? Could you consider incorporating any of these activities into the mediation process?

Some people have rituals from their religious or cultural backgrounds that they schedule as part of mediation. Again, it is important to let the mediator know ahead of time to put it on the schedule and that parties participate voluntarily.

What things, ideas or people hold common importance to both parties? Could you consider bringing a representation of any of these into the mediation room?

Parties who are members of the same family might bring a picture of a family member, or perhaps an object representing something important to both parties, or a passage from a book important to both parties. Once again, let the mediator know ahead of time, and it’s important that parties participate voluntarily.

Symbol and Ritual in Relationship Conflict is always by Voluntary Participation

No matter what types of rituals and symbols you would like to use, it is ultimately most important that symbols and rituals be incorporated into the mediation schedule while continuing to uphold any mutually agreed-upon mediation ground rules such as voluntary participation, no interruptions and no name-calling. These ground rules can best be upheld with the presence of the third party neutral mediator. That said, symbols and rituals hold power for building the willingness of both parties to work together and to begin to resolve the conflict.

Symbols and rituals have the ability to add a dimension to mediation of personal relationships that is not necessarily present in talk-based dispute resolution processes. If you would like to consult with me on how to incorporate symbols and ritual in mediation please get in touch! To learn more about my services visit my page FAQs on Mediation. To learn more about mediation in general check out the Austin Mediators Association website.