Often people come to their MIAM assessment meeting and say that they had been advised not to attempt mediation if their former partner is a ‘narcissist’. Narcissism has become something of a buzz word nowadays and is something that lay people cannot diagnose in others.
However, dealing with an ex-partner who seems ‘narcissistic’ can be extremely challenging when it comes to separation and that can certainly be true in the mediation process. Many people think that court is the only option in these circumstances, but the adversarial nature of court can play into the narcissistic desire to ‘win’ at all costs. At the MIAM assessment, it is the mediator’s role to signpost the less well-known routes to a settlement and these can often allow the ‘narcissistic’ partner to feel they have ‘won’ while the other partner gains the freedom from the emotional rollercoaster which they tend to value above all else. At The Family Mediation Trust, we often propose hybrid mediation in these circumstances.
Hybrid Mediation: This method distinguishes itself from traditional mediation in the mediator’s capacity to hold certain confidences. If the clients can confide their preferred outcome and what they are prepared to concede to the mediator, the mediator can find out what is important to each client. For example, if a victim is happy with an agreement that sits at the bottom of the bracket that a judge would order, feeling that as long as it sits within the bracket, they would prefer to have their life back and to move on, the mediator can hold this information while establishing what the ‘narcissistic’ partner is looking for in order to feel that they have won. If the narcissistic partner feels that they have won, there can be less fallout for the children of the family post separation. This can have a dramatic effect on the children’s wellbeing, throughout the remainder of their childhood and on into adulthood. In hybrid mediation, each party can also have their lawyer to hand, whether in the mediation session itself or waiting in a Zoom breakout room or at the end of a telephone, to support them during the mediation session. For people who are recovering from the narcissistic abuse of a former partner, this can feel reassuring and supportive.
If mediation is unable to resolve some or all of the issues when dealing with a narcissistic partner, it can often be helpful to consider other methods such as neutral evaluation or arbitration, particularly if the parties have been able to narrow the issues in mediation.
Neutral Evaluation: Using this at the outset of a case, with a qualified arbitrator or counsel, can cost £1,500 to £2,000 but can be money well spent if there is a sticky legal point which needs to be assessed and where neutral advice would generate sufficient information to put an issue to bed. Given the novelty of these new forms of dispute resolution, the ‘narcissistic’ partner can often be drawn to these processes and the inherent implication that being an early adopter somehow makes a person ‘special’.
Arbitration: It can often be better to direct clients to arbitration if mediation has broken down and the adversarial element of court can be minimised. It can be a more contained process than court, particularly if the issues have been narrowed in mediation.
Of course, there is always the option of classic mediation with both parties present during meetings as long as the mediator feels they are able to say in control of the process. However, the obligation to relay everything that was said in shuttle mediation can lead to problems as the narcissist can seek to ‘gaslight’ the mediator, just as perhaps had been the case with the former partner.
Thankfully, our mediators at The Family Mediation Trust are well trained and well prepared when dealing with narcissistic clients and will signpost clients to the options which best suit a client’s circumstances.
Author: Belinda Jones