The following is a guest post by our colleague, Jaynee Beach. Jaynee has previously been our guest for the Parental Alienation Teleconference. Jaynee Beach’s bio can be found here: Parental Alienation Conference Call Preview.
The Four Elements of Divorce
There are four elements to divorce. We tend to focus on the legal one, but there are three others. They are all intertwined.
A person going through divorce needs to accomplish difficult tasks in all four of these areas, in order to successfully divorce. Unfortunately, most people focus only on the legal aspect, and in so doing, end up making classic errors. These end up costing the divorced person financially; they often lead to crappy settlements or court orders that do not satisfy either party and do not benefit the children. In many cases, the emotional work remains undone until after the divorce is final… sometimes it gets skipped over entirely, and the divorcee ends up repeating the same mistakes over and over with subsequent relationships.
So, let’s take a quick look at each of these elements.
Get a good attorney, do the research to understand your court, read the family code for your state, learn “legalese” so you can interpret the basics of your court order. Decide in advance what you want, so that your attorney knows what to fight for on your behalf. Listen to your attorney, but never use your attorney as your therapist or sounding board. Know what kind of attorney you need. This is one place where the emotional aspect comes in. For example, if you are not in a good place emotionally, you may initially think you want an attorney who will just charge in on his white horse and fix everything for you. Later, when you have collected yourself a bit, you may decide you don’t like your “control-freak” attorney who never seems to communicate with you and who makes important decisions on your case without even consulting you. Do you see how your emotional state set up to pick the wrong kind of attorney? Sit in the courtroom and observe your judge. Familiarize yourself with the laws in your state and know your rights and responsibilities.
Acknowledge the emotions that are underlying the important decisions you are making. The most common feelings of people going through divorce are:
- Guilt/shame for ‘failing’ at marriage, for not being able to protect the kids, for any misbehavior you did leading up to and including the separation, for being a “bad” spouse, or internalizing some of the accusations your ex-spouse made of you;
- Sadness/depression for losing the emotional support of family members and friends; for losing your home, possessions, income; for losing access to your children on a daily basis; and
- Stress/fear that you will lose more possessions/income; that you will not be able to find another romantic partner; that you will be viewed as a ‘failure’; that you won’t be able to pay your bills or keep your job; that you don’t have enough time to give to your children as a single parent; that your children will be negatively impacted by the divorce.
These are just some of the reasons behind those feelings, but the feelings themselves are pretty common. Also, they lead to some pretty common outcomes. For example, a spouse who has an “exit affair” often feels so guilty about it that they agree to any/all stipulations of the ex-spouse. Later, after they’ve worked through the guilt, they are resentful (at best), and bankrupt (at worst) because they agreed to things that they cannot actually support or follow up on. One emotion that I do see often is anger. However, in most cases, anger is actually covering up one of these other three emotions; it takes a little bit of digging to discover which emotion is actually driving behavior.
As you can guess, when your emotions a skewed, you don’t tend to reach out to those who will support you. Your guilt leads you to hide from your clergy or church members. Your sadness leads you to stay away from friends who could give you energy. Meanwhile, there are family members and others in your social network who need to remain tied to you. In addition, you need to increase the amount of energy you apply to your family ties to your children. This is a good time to reach out to extended family, as they can provide more energy to that family link, which benefits you without costing you emotional energy. For example, spending time with grandparents can help the children feel closer to you as well, even if you are not physically present the entire time, and even if you don’t have a lot of emotional energy to give your children when you are present. You can let Gramma and Grampa handle the world for a while.
So much of divorce is distilled down into dollars and cents, assets and belongings. It’s important to examine what’s behind those numbers. For example, a woman I know going through divorce was adamant about getting alimony. Why? Because this woman was absolutely terrified that she would not know how to support herself after 15 years of being a stay-at-home-mother and stay-at-home-wife. Once we dealt with her fears, she became much more reasonable about the finances.
The point is, so much of what I see posted on the various forums is focused so strongly on the legal part. So much of it is caught up in the emotions of the moment, when a high-conflict ex-wife or ex-husband is misbehaving. So many times I see people trying to resolutely plod their way through their high-conflict situation without turning to their family and friends. Many times I’ve told people to take a neutral third-party with a video camera to child custody exchanges, and what’s the first thing I get?
“But Jaynee, I don’t know anyone who could do that.”
“It’s too far!”
And I say, do you really truly not have anyone — not anyone — in your life that you could turn to? Who do you call at 2:00 a.m. when you are in the emergency room?
In any event, if you’ve read along this far, then you’ve probably spent about 20-30 minutes. I don’t know how fast you read, but just consider it part of the free initial consultation I give all of my clients.
Think about it. Think about how these four aspects impact your own life and where you are right now. Think about what you could do to acknowledge and manage your emotions. Think about what you really want your outcome to be. Start making a list of the people that you need to include more of in your life. Figure out how to begin building your support network.
There’s more. Lots more. But I’ll stop now. My wish for you — all of you — is that you will get through these difficulties with your high-conflict ex-wife/ex-husband, and come through it a wiser, stronger, better person.