Who We Are (continued)
Max and Elise Rivers are partners in life and are the co-creators of Teamwork Marriage Mediation. They are principals in Two Rivers Mediation, a firm established in 2003, now rebranded as TheMarriageMediator.net, which focuses on mediating couples who are committed to staying together but are having trouble communicating. While Max currently handles the actual face-to-face sessions, they work together to continually improve the TMM process.
Together, Max and Elise trained as mediators at The Mediation and Training Collaborative (TMTC) in Greenfield, MA; and then apprenticed in small claims court for two years in Northampton, MA, supervised by the TMTC court staff. They studied The Basics of Non-Violent Communication (NVC); and Intermediate NVC with Marshall Rosenberg at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY and completed Train the Trainer and Negotiation Training at Mediation Works Inc., in Boston. Max went on to be certified in Divorce Mediation (Berkshire Mediation, Pittsfield, MA) and Victim Offender Dialogs (Brattleboro Community Justice Center) as well as many advanced mediation certifications including in Transformative Mediation.
It was during their apprenticeship in small claims court that Max and Elise first began to develop what they would eventually come to call the "Teamwork Marriage Mediation" method which is used in this book.
How We Met and Discovered Mediation.
Although born fifteen years apart, Elise and I had very similar lives before we met. We had both done a lot of personal growth work, were both well-educated and although both of us had very rich and fun single lives; neither of us had married by the time we met at 35 and 50 years of age respectively.
The story about how we met has been the source of hope for a lot of single and divorced friends. Originally, we were set up on a blind date by mutual friends who were dating. Max traveled 90 miles from western Massachusetts to Boston where Elise was living at the time. We spent the evening together, but didn't particularly connect, and so we never spoke again. About a year and a half later, both of us had separately signed up for a weekend canoeing trip, and it was there that we fell in love. (So if you're still looking for your soul mate, there's a possibility they may be among the people you've already dated!)
The roots of Teamwork Mediation began in the fall of 2001 before we had moved in together. Elise was studying acupuncture in Boston, and I was doing computer programming from my home in the Berkshires. In the wake of 9/11, I noticed that in just a few weeks, the rest of the world went from total support and concern for the people of the United States to turning their back on us, just because of the strident way our government spoke about its fear and hurt. This struck me as analogous to what happens to individuals who go from infatuation and love to seeing each other as enemies. But what to do about it?
I found a weekend mediation program that I wanted to take as a way of learning better skills for dealing with conflict, both personal and political. Even though Elise was still a full-time acupuncture student in Boston during the week, the idea of learning a new approach to resolving conflict also interested her. One of her degrees was in law, though she only practiced for a short time because she had found it unsatisfying, so Elise decided to take the training too.
The Case That Started It All.
As part of our mediation training Elise and I did an apprenticeship in a Massachusetts Small Claims Court. It was during this apprenticeship that we first began to develop what we eventually named "Teamwork Mediation." I remember the case that started us on this path. It involved two elderly men who were neighbors and had been best friends. One of them had loaned the other his beat up lawnmower and it had been returned broken, so he was suing his friend over the old lawn mower.
"We've been best friends for over 30 years, but I'll never speak to him again!" said the borrower. Our training taught us how to help the disputants focus on the issues and in this case that would be to help them decide on the fair value of the item, the lawnmower. I started to do just that.
But Elise, being kind-hearted, was focused elsewhere. "You're willing to let a 30 year friendship go? For a lawnmower? Thirty years?" I could actually feel the lawnmower begin to recede in importance as Elise's compassion helped them focus on the deeper need: the value of human connection.
They were sacrificing their life-long relationship for a broken-down power tool. Elise began to apply the soothing techniques of mediation to the relationship, instead of focusing on resolving the legal issue. Once the relationship was healed, the lawnmower and the legal issue were summarily dismissed by both parties.
Teamwork Mediation Was Born.
That was the first in a long string of cases in which we began to mediate the relationship instead of the issues. At first, the judge would call us out on our method, "This isn't couples counseling! It's small claims court!" But we were having amazing success with our new method, and after a while, even the other mediators began to notice that instead of randomly assigning cases, any case that involved an ongoing relationship was assigned to us.
Elise and I began to want to teach our clients the skills of conflict resolution. After all, it had only taken us 30 hours to learn to be mediators, and it was already changing the way she and I communicated with each other. Since most of our clients had ongoing relationships, we wanted to share this new information with them, so we started doing what we called "teaching points." We'd work on one of the issues in their case, and then we'd explain what it was we had just done.
The problem with our "teaching points" was that our skills were designed for mediators - neutrals who were not part of the conflict. But our clients were immersed in the conflict and needed a slightly different form of the same skills. One of the other mediators heard us discussing this difficulty and said, "What you're looking for is called NVC - Non-Violent Communication ." He was right. NVC was exactly that set of skills.
Amazingly, a neighbor offered a class in NVC right after we'd heard about it and we quickly incorporated it into our mediation practice in small claims court. Once we had figured out how to use NVC in place of our teaching points, Elise and I decided we were ready for the leap - to go into private practice, mediating couples who were committed to each other but were having trouble resolving differences. We wanted to teach couples, married or otherwise, how to work as a team, how to get the benefit of their differences.
Teamwork Mediation was born.
What the Media is Saying About us.
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