When your friends fall in love, and they invariably, do it’s ALL they can talk about. In a very real and present danger of you being bored death, but you’re a good friend so you sit and smile and try not to puke when they get on to the topic of nicknames *shudder*. Well shnookums, if friends are getting divorced, however supportive you are by nature, I recommend running screaming for the hills.
This new insight is based on BBC 2 documentary Mr vs Mrs: Call the Mediator which I sat and watched, despite the silly name. It’s a view into the rather secretive work of the National Family Mediation service which has 500 locations across England and Wales and plenty of warring couples to offer up to the tv cameras.
The mediation process is entirely voluntary, and not part of the divorce court process itself. The mediators are trying to help the separated couples reach an agreement that lawyers can verify without going to court, so it’s all settled in law before divorce proceedings and before thins start to get really expensive! The experts warn that the divorce courts are a very nasty place but it seems even the lesser evil of mediation brings out the very worst in people.
To a man (or woman) they’re all money grabbing, hostile and miserably petty – jolting your chair away from your ex-partner as if they smell bad. It’s preschool behaviour that your Mum would tell you off for. And if it’s not about money it’s about access to kids which is a more divisive and emotionally charged situation than the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Peter and Sue are an older couple fighting about money and property. Sue wants her own place to live now she’s moved out. They can’t possibly upset the children by asking them to move out despite those tiny little dependents being in their 20s! It’s hard to be sympathetic when they’re talking about a million pounds to split between them, and when we learn Sue has taken up with an ex-boyfriend who is now her 80-year-old sugar daddy and Peter’s ex-boss. You couldn’t make this up.
Despite this, Peter and Sue turn out to actually be the reasonable ones amongst the couples on episode 1. They can at least greet each other in the waiting room. The rest are only slightly classier than the people who end up showing their dirty laundry for entertainment value on Judge Rinder and the impossibly still popular Jeremy Kyle Show.
Vicky and Jason are astounding. Their mediation sessions have to take place in separate rooms along a corridor with the poor mediator scuttling between the two of them passing messages! They’re totally unable to communicate with each other, both denying that they are the problem. It must be dreadful for their young daughter stuck . How on earth does a relationship break down to this extent? They’re stuck in such a destructive pattern of behaviour now that I’m not sure anyone can help them.
The couples are very hard to like, not because they’re awful people, but because we see them on one of their worst days, in one of the worst periods of their lives. No one gets married or has children together with one eye on getting divorced. And certainly no reasonable person wants to cause a loved one grief or upset, however bad the relationship has become.
The show highlights the incredible patience of the mediators dealing with all kinds of people at their absolute nastiest. They are all business-like, practical, calm and sympathetic in the face of all this unpleasantness. It’s a shame the programme makers chose the cheesy easy-listening love song soundtrack. It was silly and dismissive of the important work that they’re trying to do.
Speaking of important work, it’s also extremely important to keep these people out of my living room. It’s a series of three episodes, but one was more than enough for me!
If you’re more sympathetic and less filled with rage than me, Mr vs Mrs: Call the Mediator is available on the iPlayer now.