John has one year left in prison. Sue, his partner and mother of his children, was frustrated and in a state of overwhelm at being left to fend for herself with the children while John was in prison. Visits and phone calls had become argumentative and they were considering a break up. In fact Sue was quite clear that John would not be welcome to come and live with her on his release. John suspected the worst – that Sue had someone else – and this thought was torturing him.

Our Prison Family Mediation Service uses volunteer Dialogue Road Map Facilitators to meet with the prisoner and the family to create understanding and manage expectations. Our volunteers met with John and Sue and were able to find a workable solution for John’s release. Underlying the situation was a different problem to that which John had suspected. In fact Sue was committed to the relationship but had been fighting with John’s mother who had accused her of being an unfit mother and insinuating that the children were not John’s. John had failed to hear Sue’s complaints and was in denial about the situation because he did not want to find himself choosing between his mother and his partner. He hoped the two women would sort it out between them because he felt powerless to do anything from inside prison. Sue could not hear this either.

 

Names have been changed.

Reflection

Very often, one person in a dispute chooses not to ‘hear’ the other person. There can be many reasons why someone doesn’t want to hear the other person including feeling powerless, avoiding shame or fear of vulnerability resulting in denial or avoidance. This usually manifests as defensiveness which then serves to escalate the problem from which arguing and fighting ensue. Eventually a person who doesn’t get heard will give up and this is where Sue found herself. Using a skilled and experienced facilitator can make all the difference in helping people to hear each other. And it’s unlikely that a sustainable resolution can be found if all the parties have not been heard to their satisfaction.


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