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Stuck in Divorce – Working through emotions

You may have heard someone say:   “When you’re going through a divorce, you have to keep emotions out of it!”   But, is that really true?

Progress in the field of brain physiology now teaches us that human beings process virtually all information in a central emotional center before it gets sent to the higher functioning, analytical portions of the brain.   And that’s not bad!   For thousands of years, this feature of human physiology has helped the human race to connect memory with feelings and intuition, which has helped the species survive and thrive.   The faster these connections can be made and sent to the reasoning brain for action, and the faster the reasoning brain can send the action orders to the body, the more successful we become.   One can easily see how this applies to mammoth hunting, or office politics, or divorce.

The danger comes when the information gets stuck, in one place or another.   It can get stuck in the emotional center, as fear, anxiety, anger or simple dread (freezing with fear in the face of a man eating tiger, or a vengeful spouse).   Or, it can get stuck in the reasoning center as continuing analysis in greater and greater detail (“getting stuck in your head” while someone is telling you it’s “time to fish or cut bait!”).

How to people get emotionally “stuck” in divorce?

Fear is probably the number one cause for getting stuck, and there is good reason for it!   Divorce can be a critical time in anyone’s life.   Life changing decisions around raising children, financial planning, and future success and happiness are all at risk.   And for many people who have been caught up in the conventional legal court system, there is little control over these decisions, because they will be made by a stranger (judge).   That’s why divorce as a “stress event” is considered to be at the top of the list, along with death of a loved one, job loss, etc.   It may be an uncomfortable truth, but being in a “fear place” at the start of a divorce process is normal.   Nevertheless, knowing that you are in good company with almost everyone else going through the same thing is not really a comfort at all!

Anger is perhaps the second cause for getting stuck.  That can be a reaction from feeling rejected by a spouse wanting to end the relationship.   It can come from simply feeling that life is out of your control.  It can also come from memory, re-hashing hurtful treatment in the past (“He/She is the one who always treated me unfairly!   And now they want to end the marriage, sell the house and take some of my hard-earned retirement??!”)

Sometimes these emotional triggers disguise themselves as rational over-analysis, and here is where intelligence is not necessarily man’s or woman’s best friend.   The smarter you are, the more you think you should be able to figure things out.  It seems like more and more analysis, in greater and greater detail, is a critical necessity.  However, fear of the unknown may be truly at the bottom of this.  It is human nature to want to hang on to what has been simply because we know it (no matter if it was dysfunctional!).  In contrast, the future may appear scarier simply because we fear making decisions about things we know cannot be completely controlled with absolute certainty.  (And no matter if the past was never under our control to begin with – it just seems that way, looking back….)

And yet, to avoid a court trial over children and finances, there comes a time at which couples simply have to use their best intuition and best reasoning guess to prioritize, and make the best decisions they can at the time.   And not only is it necessary – it’s cost effective, especially for those couples who use Collaborative Process and have control over the decision making.

What is the trick for success?  Management!   When the emotions come in, pay attention to them!   Observe them, make notes, respect what they are telling you.   Remember, your ancestors got you here safely by paying attention to them as well!  Then, do your best to send the emotions to your reasoning center.   Was that emotion just now a “same old, same old” knee jerk response to past injustices from your spouse?   Or, was there new information there?   If the information is new, make a note.   Ask your Collaborative Attorney or Financial Specialist about it.   Your questions may take you deeper into understanding your marital balance sheet, budget, or embedded taxes in a potential settlement.   Then, move on.

In any event, there is one big decision both spouses can agree on which will help to manage anxiety:   stay out of court!   You don’t want a stranger to be making some of the biggest decisions in your life, and the lives of your children.   In Collaborative Team Divorce, couples control the decision making process and have the time and professional advice they need to weigh and balance their decision making.   Financial Specialists (Certified Divorce Financial Analysts) help to make sure everyone understands the smartest options and how the financial details fit together.   Family and Child Specialists (licensed mental health professionals) help to make sure the children find their own voice in the process and to help couples keep children at the center of decision making instead of being “in the middle”.   And, each marriage partner has their own Collaborative Attorney for purposes of consultation and advocacy, to help couples prioritize and balance the decisions they make.

One additional tip:   Therapeutic support can be a great help to both marriage partners while going through a divorce.   The therapeutic resources listed on this website have been very effective on behalf of couples using Collaborative Divorce process, and can help couples get the most value out of the Collaborative Process.