Why are we stuck?

Sometimes in mediation it will seem as though the parties have made great progress during their session but by the time we meet again things have unravelled. Sometimes this is just part of the normal process as people work through everything emotionally and cognitively and after another session they’ve got it worked out and an agreement is well underway.

But once in a while there will be a mediation where it feels like the parents involved are taking one step forward and two steps back. Both people are expressing how much they want to get this done and resolved and yet their behaviours and actions say otherwise. When this pattern of progress and back tracking is not resolving itself I have to stop and wonder what else is going on here? Why are they stuck?

As the mediator, that’s always my question when things feel stalled or are regressing. What is going on that is holding these two people back from getting to a successful agreement? What am I missing? What can we do differently to change this pattern?
Of course, every situation has its unique aspects but I’ve identified some common issues that hold people back from getting to agreements. Here are three common barriers that even the most motivated people find can hold them back from getting to agreements.


There is almost always an element of fear in mediation because there are no guarantees as to how this is going to go. But, sometimes a client is unaware of just how profound their fear is and how it is causing them to act in a way that is sabotaging any potential progress. The fear may be so strong that although they are motivated to settle things they keep changing their mind, re-hashing things that already seemed resolved or bringing up new issues. It is as though they are trying to prolong the process because in doing so they don’t have to face whatever the next stage of life will be. Bringing an awareness to the fear can sometimes be enough to help someone face it and move through it. Other times this may require more work on the individual’s part before they can carry on effectively in the mediation process.


Sometimes the thing that holds a couple back from getting to agreements is the need for sweet, sweet revenge. One or both of them may be trying to use the process as a way to get back at the other person or as a way to try and deliver some punishment for the hurt they are feeling. If this is the case I encourage clients to take a look at who is really being punished. The answer is usually their children. Their children are having to deal with a situation where their parents are stressed out and preoccupied with their plans for getting revenge. Not only that but they are likely feeling the lack of stability, consistency and predictability in their lives. Revenge is NEVER sweet and can lead to a pattern of trying to one up the other in your attempt to deliver the “winning” blow.

Lack of Goals

There are a lot of decisions parents need to make as they move through the separation process. Making these decisions can be very difficult if one or neither of the parties has any sense of how they would like this next chapter of their lives to look like. I always encourage parties to start thinking about goals they have for themselves and for their children. These goals will guide them when they are making decisions. For example, maybe one person has been a stay at home parent. It will be important for that person to think about what is next for them. Will they return to work? Will they go back to school? Knowing what your goals are will impact how you set up your parenting time schedule or how you divide your assets. It helps to get you into the mindset of forward thinking rather than feeling stuck in the past.

If you’re feeling stuck as you work through a conflict with someone else stop and ask yourself the question, “What is holding YOU back?” Sometimes people will say it’s entirely because of the other person and their actions. The reality is that there is probably a lot you are contributing to your own “stuckness.” What can you do differently to change gears and getting moving ahead again?

The first step is as simple as asking

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