Karen Lake
Karen Lake Credit: Darrow Montgomery
Karen Lake Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Robin and Lamar Schaffer had sought the help of marriage counselors before. But when the two decided in October to tackle their problems again, they settled on a less conventional approach. So they rented a Maryland tree house and invited “conflict resolution” DJs to help them sort things out.

Yeah, that’s a thing.

The Schaffers were among the first clients of Music Resolution, a mediation and marriage counseling company that uses music to help couples work out their differences.

D.C. attorney Karen Lake, who says she first thought to use music this way during a fight with her boyfriend, founded the company. “I played a song for him to express [my feelings] because he would never listen to me,” Lake says. “And I thought, ‘This would be a great way to combine mediation and music as a way to resolve disputes with couples.’”

Lake, 53, has worked as a mediator for nearly 30 years—first in the Ohio court system and more recently on a contract basis in the civil rights office of the Department of Agriculture. And though the inspirational fight she had with her boyfriend is several years behind her, she ultimately found a way to parlay her expertise and insight into helping other quarreling couples.

Lake describes the company, which she co-owns with her Los Angeles-based business partner Jehan “J” Carter, as an alternative to marriage counseling. “We are a mediation practice that uses music as the medium of communication,” she says. 

Couples interested in this unconventional process can expect an initial $250 intake session, which gets them each an individual meeting with either Lake or Carter. Initially, the conflicted couple meets separately with the DJs to talk through their problems. Also separately, the partners select songs that best speak to their own issues as well as tunes that express how they would like to move forward in resolving conflicts in their relationship. 

After selecting their respective playlists, the couple is ready for the actual session, which can range in price from $425 to $700. With both parties present, the DJ mediator walks them through the ground rules and directs them to sign a contract agreeing to abide by a set of rules governing their interactions during the session. 

One member of the couple begins by playing a song that describes his or her own issues, and at the end of the song the DJ mediator “articulates the main issues and concerns raised by the initiator’s song choice.” The other person takes a turn at the same task, and then the participants alternately respond to the issues that the mediator raises.

Next, the mediator plays the resolution songs the couple chose and facilitates a “discussion about how to move forward.” If issues remain, they can meet again with the mediator.

With all their grievances aired, the mediator helps the couple draft what Lake calls the “love contract.”

“The love contract helps build a strong framework of shared expectations, and these contracts often benefit the couples to engage in equitable and active dialogue,” Lake says. “It memorializes the agreements they made in the mediation session.” It can be updated and amended as necessary. 

The session ends with each partner signing their love contract and replaying their resolution songs.

Robin Schaffer, whose conflict song was “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and whose resolution song was “The Marriage Prayer,” describes the experience with her husband as “deep and heartfelt.” She says the surrounding woods offered a warm environment for what they were doing. “We had some breakthroughs,” she says. “I just felt more connected. ”

Her husband, who chose “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” as his conflict song and “To Know You is to Love You” as his resolution song, was impressed with the way the DJ mediators executed the process. “We really opened our connection, and we appreciate each other more now,” Lamar Shaffer says.

For the couple, it was better than traditional therapy. “It rekindles your love for your partner,” Lamar says. 

The company plans to launch a second office in Los Angeles, which Carter will manage. The two women are hoping to offer their services to some of the city’s celebrity couples too. The L.A. launch party, scheduled for May, will be hosted at a fitting venue: Hollywood’s Museum of Broken Relationships.