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MCFM President's Letter: The Genius of Family

On September 13, as most of you know, MCFM marked an important milestone – our 30th anniversary.  We honored the occasion with an event at the Endicott House in Dedham.  Thanks to the organizers (in alphabetical order – Lynn Cooper, Barbara Kellman, Diane Spears, Laurie Udell, and Fran Whyman,) it was a well-attended and unqualified success. Quite a few of us talked briefly to the gathering and I was one of the speakers.  Les Wallerstein, editor of FMQ, asked me to submit my talk for publication.  I asked him if it could “count” as my President’s Letter for the quarter and he agreed.  With that understanding, Les, here it is:

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Albert Einstein was a brilliant man – maybe the smartest to have ever lived.  He was the father of modern physics, a Nobel prize winner who gave us the theory of relativity.  But what — if anything — can we learn about his marriage to his first wife?

Well, by 1914 — 11 years into the marriage — things weren’t looking so rosy in the Einstein household.  Realizing there was no hope for their relationship on a romantic level, Einstein proposed to his wife that they stay together for the children.  But only if she agreed to a list of conditions.

(This, by the way, is all true, documented in a recent biography.)

And, here it is — this is what Albert Einstein wrote.  Presumably, without the assistance of counsel.  Or  — I think you’ll agree — without a mediator.

CONDITIONS

  • You will make sure:

1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;

2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;

3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

  • You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:

1. my sitting at home with you;

2. my going out or travelling with you.

  • You will obey the following points in your relations with me:
  1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
  2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
  3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.
  • You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.

Mrs. Einstein agreed.  A sort of post-nuptial agreement.

Two months later, she moved with the children to Zurich — leaving Albert in Berlin.  They were separated 5 years — before they finally divorced in 1919.

Maybe Mrs. Einstein would have left anyway — but the agreement (unless it reads better in German) certainly didn’t help.

This all left me to wonder, would a mediator — would John Fiske — have been able to help this couple? I’d like to think so.

John would have made sure that both voices were heard and reflected in the agreement.

John’s agreement would have been more sensitively written and, presumably, not quite as tone-deaf.

John would have reframed some of Albert’s harsher complaints.

Maybe John might have even gotten the Einsteins to start listening better to each other and communicating better with each other.

Reflecting on this, it seems to me that Einstein, dealing with marital problems 100 years ago in Berlin, isn’t that different from some of our clients today.  And his behavior underscored for me some universal human truths that we see all the time as mediators:

Intelligence doesn’t correlate with emotional intelligence.

People in crisis don’t always act rationally.  We’ve all seen emails clients write to their spouses.  I’m not sure Einstein’s list is any worse than some of those.

The natural human response to marital conflict 100 years ago, today, and the future – may be fundamentally the same – within a broad range. I don’t know.  What I do know is that family mediation has evolved as a way to manage the emotions and the conflict in a constructive and positive way. It will continue to do so in the future for at least one important reason — it works.

Studies over the last several years are conclusive about the positive effects on children when their parents have mediated. And with each success, mediation becomes more and more popular.

Soon enough, I’m sure, more people will be mediating than litigating.

And — though we weren’t there for the Einsteins — if they need us, I’d like to think that we’ll be there for their great-great-great grandchildren.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MCFM.  May the next 30 years be as fruitful as the first 30.

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I look forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming MCFM Institute on November 16.

Yours,

Jonathan E. Fields, Esq.

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