Divorce often brings out the worst in people. Emotions are running high—anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion, and countless other feelings may be part of your experience.
And while you’re dealing with emotional fallout and turmoil at the end of your marriage, there are very real logistical and practical matters that must be attended to—not the least of which is finalizing the terms of the divorce settlement. To make matters worse, you may be experiencing new financial strain, struggling to get used to a new living situation, settling into a new home or apartment in a new neighborhood, juggling more responsibilities with your children or aging parents, and overall adjusting to being alone.
It’s very easy to allow feelings of overwhelm and resentment take over. You may feel that the situation isn’t fair and that your ex got the better end of the deal. You may find yourself fighting with them over things that aren’t intrinsically valuable or important because you’re letting emotions take over.
The best advice I have for you in this situation is to stop, breathe, and ask yourself some grounding questions: Is this really worth it? Am I trying to win? Am I being cheated out of something that is rightfully mine? Is it really important that I get my way? Am I allowing my emotions to take over when being more measured and rational would be well-advised?
Recently a friend of mine shared a story about her divorce that I think illustrates something I see all too often with separating couples who are angry and resentful with one another. They often fight about something that doesn’t matter while avoiding conversations about the things that do matter.
When Robin and Jay (their names have been changed of course) decided to divorce, it was mostly driven by Robin. They were more friends than lovers, and both agreed they deserved to have relationships of true love. Jay didn’t really want to separate, but Robin was dead set on it, so he didn’t put up a fight.
At first, they prided themselves on being what they joked was the first couple in history to have an amicable divorce. They prepared the home to go on the market, took trips down memory lane looking through old photos, took day trips to their favorite places, and spent bittersweet evenings splitting up books and CDs and other belongings fairly.
Jay moved out, Robin sold the house, and things seemed to be going smoothly. But then things hit a standstill. Even though Jay had been the one to file the initial separation papers, he soon dug in his heels and refused to cooperate in moving the divorce forward. He started picking fights with Robin about small perceived financial inequities. Robin was confused because they had split the proceeds of the house equally, they each had a vehicle of similar age and value, and Jay had taken everything he wanted when he moved out.
Suddenly, a major sticking point for Jay was a small upright piano worth about $100 that Robin had given him for his birthday several years earlier. He had never expressed any interest in taking the piano with him, so Robin had it moved to her new apartment (they both were talented pianists). She didn’t know he cared about the piano, and the truth is he didn’t care about it. He was angry with her, full of resentment, but didn’t actually want to get divorced. But instead of discussing things with Robin, instead of being open and honest about his feelings, he chose to pretend he wanted the divorce as well…and then fought with her over a piece of furniture.
A mutual acquaintance saw the toll the situation was taking on both of them and stepped in. He asked Jay what could be done to move the couple toward a resolution. Jay said he wanted the piano. It was that simple. So they wrote into the settlement agreement that Jay had 60 days to arrange for movers to pick up the piano. Jay finally signed the papers.
But the most telling part about this story is that Jay never picked up the piano. He didn’t really want it. It was never about the piano. It was about a lot of hurt feelings and Jay’s inability or unwillingness to deal with what was really bothering him. He felt betrayed by Robin (and probably rightly so—she admits she pulled the rug out from under Jay when she asked for a divorce). He had a right to all of his anger and resentment and sadness. What’s unfortunate is that rather than deal with feelings, he allowed them to muddy up the divorce process, fighting over things rather than issues.
You may have heard the expression “the thing is never the thing.” Nowhere is this expression more true than in a divorce. The end of a marriage is truly one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through, so it’s no surprise that emotions often take over and logic takes a backseat.
I wish I had known my friend when she went through her divorce. I would have recommended she seek out a mediator or engage in the collaborative divorce process with a supportive team of professionals. Not only would she and her husband likely have gotten through the experience more quickly, but with the help of divorce coaches, they would have had help in communicating some of the complex and difficult feelings between them that were never fully discussed during or after the marriage. Those feelings came out instead as arguments about meaningless stuff that never really mattered. The fight centered on a thing, but in a divorce, the thing is rarely ever the thing.
Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.
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