Divorce is one of the most difficult life experiences that anyone can go through. And while the clients who I work with are all committed to having the least adversarial divorce possible, it’s not always easy for them to find it in themselves to forgive their spouse for mistakes, treat them with compassion and respect and trust that promises will be kept. And that’s what was on my mind when I read a blog post from Jeri Quinn in which she described an African tribe that believes that each human being comes into the world as a good person who desires safety, love, peace and happiness. Yet, because we are all just human, sometimes we make mistakes in pursuit of those goals.
In the tribe that Jeri writes about, when someone does something harmful, they take the person to the center of the village where the whole tribe comes and surrounds them. For two days, they will tell the person all the good things that he has done, which helps to lift him up so that he can see himself as the good person he really is.
When a couple is ending their marriage they may each do things during the divorce that they hope will bring them the safety and happiness they crave, but they don’t always pursue these goals in the most productive way. Instead of getting what they want, they end up causing undue anxiety and anger in their spouse or children. Similar to the African tribe, a team of divorce professionals who are simultaneously focusing on the legal, financial and emotional aspects of divorce can lift these clients up and provide them with compassionate support when one (or both) of them falters.
I recall a couple who was ending their marriage after 15 years. The husband was the one who initially suggested a divorce and the wife eventually agreed, but as they engaged in settlement discussions around finances, parenting schedules and a move-out date, she continuously failed to follow through on her promises. The husband thought she was just trying to hurt him. The divorce coach, however, helped the husband and wife realize that she was terrified of ending the marriage and losing her day-to-day connection with her children. It didn’t help for the husband to get frustrated at her actions, because it only caused the wife to put up more road blocks to resolution.
Once the wife’s fears were acknowledged, the husband agreed that there was no point in reacting with frustration and anger. Instead, he agreed to move at a pace that felt comfortable to his wife and to compassionately address the issues that were causing her so much distress. As his anger subsided, her anxiety lessened and progress was made toward resolution.
As Jeri Quinn went on to write in her blog:
We can’t always control the circumstances around us, but we can control our own reaction to those circumstances. We can choose to react by letting someone else’s negativity trigger our own retaliation. Or we can choose to react compassionately by looking at the person on the inside who has been diminished by all the happenings that have impacted them….
As a divorce attorney and mediator, I’m not only committed to helping my clients find that compassion, but also to helping them control how they react to their spouse’s actions. Not only will it help my client feel less anger and resentment, but it will help support their spouse to be their best self during this difficult time. That’s a win/win for everyone.
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