Divorce is a difficult process. It is jarring. It is emotional. Aside from the death of a loved one, divorce is probably one of the more miserable experiences a person will have. People going through a divorce have anxieties about the future. They have concerns about how divorce will impact their children. They have worries about debts and bills and who’s going to pay them. They have worries about how they will afford medical insurance after the divorce.
But possibly the worst part about divorce is that the person they used to confide in–their spouse–is now their adversary. The person that they used to rely upon for emotional, moral and financial support is now their opponent in a legal proceeding that is expensive and that will leave one or both of them worse off in many respects.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a divorce lawyer, not a marriage counselor. I get people divorced. If you want to save your marriage, you do not start by going to a divorce lawyer.
Having said that, there is a way to divorce and turn down the volume a bit on the negative emotion. I am not a psychologist, but I usually recommend to my clients that they try to understand their situation from a disinterested, third-party perspective. I think it helps if one does not take the process “personally.”
There is a great book that I often tell my clients about. I did not write it, I do not know the authors, and I do not have any financial interest in the success of the book. Its just a great book for understanding how human nature can play out in the context of a divorce proceeding.
The book is entitled “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me).” It is written by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. It is available on Amazon for cheap. This book describes the process of self-justification that we all go through. The book does not limit its discussion to marriage and divorce, but it does contain a chapter on that subject. The process of self-justification can turn us into irrational, irritable, mean-spirited people.
For most people, deciding to divorce a spouse is a big deal. Once that decision is made, the person making the decision often has to justify it to himself or herself. That’s right–they continue to justify the decision afterwards. They often unconsciously (or even consciously) look for ways to create problems with their spouse or ex-spouse. They do this so they can tell themselves that their spouse or ex-spouse really is a jerk and that their decision to divorce was justified after all. They need to find or create “problems” in order to justify their decision. It doesn’t take long for them to turn into bullies, convinced that any tactic they use is justified by their perception of their spouse’s behavior.
Here’s the irony: my experience is that mediation does not work with bullies, at least not right away. Just like on the school playground, the only thing a bully understands and respects is the kid who stands up to him.
I find that when I have a shrill opposing party, represented by an equally shrill opposing attorney, if I try to be conciliating I’m just teaching them that they get what they want by being a bully. Being a bully works for them, so the level of bullying escalates. On the other hand, if I effectively make it clear that negotiations only begin when they realize that bullying will get them nothing, and when I back that up with my intention to seek court intervention by way of a motion for temporary relief or other action, the level of bullying often decreases to a point where genuine give and take can occur and a fair settlement can be reached.