Conflict is often a trap of the past. Resolving that conflict is an act of the present and is future facing.
Conflict in a relationship is perfectly normal. However, if conflict is not resolved it can lead to relationship breakdown. Thereafter it can be difficult to let go of and becomes a primary focus in any discussion in which agreement is required. I recently heard a judge stating that the parties to the proceedings found it easier to walk down the well-trodden and familiar path of historical conflict rather than face the future. People cling to conflict as if it were a life-raft. At some stage they are going to have to let go of that life-raft and swim to shore; just as in the same way they will need to let go of conflict.
A mediator should assist participants in focussing on their interests, encourage active listening and hone in on the future. One or both participants may be focussing on past grievances instead of on future concerns, or they may not be listening to each other at all. A mediator should encourage participants to acknowledge the interests of the other participant – after all, if they want their former partner to appreciate their interests they must begin by demonstrating that they appreciate theirs.
Active listening is crucial and is not just a throwaway phrase. It involves really listening to what the other person has to say. How often do we all simply react to what someone else has said or done, or whilst they are talking we are busy thinking of our own response? Two people will often fall into a pattern of conversation that resembles a negotiation but is actually an argument being carried on as a familiar ritual. If you ask them why they are arguing then more often than not they will identify the cause of the argument rather than the purpose. People will generally respond to what the other has said or done rather than act in pursuit of their own interests.
It is up to the mediator to manage and direct discussions so that they lead to interests being heard, purpose being given to those discussions and most importantly of all assisting participants to look to the future rather than the past.
If you are in conflict with your partner, instead of asking them to justify what they did yesterday, ask, who should do what tomorrow…