Even when spouses are trying to have a non-adversarial divorce, the emotions that arise can hijack innocent intentions and get in the way of achieving the bigger goals such as the children’s well being, future financial security for one another and children, and an outcome that feels fair. Resentment, regret, anger and sadness about the past are just a few of the difficult emotions that divorcing clients need to deal with while simultaneously trying to make very difficult financial and parenting decisions that will have long term consequences in the future.
If you’re finding it hard to bring your best self to the negotiating table and keep the focus on the future, try a little compassion: for yourself as well as your soon-to-be-ex. When you’re criticizing yourself or others all you can think about is punishment. Will punishment really help you reach your long term goals? On the other hand, when you’re being compassionate, you’re looking at ways to improve and make things better. I’ve come to realize that compassion is perhaps one of the most important ingredients to an amicable divorce, and, sadly, it is often missing.
Nelson Mandela once said “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
An example of resentment vs. compassion in a divorce could look like this:
During the marriage, a father may have been working long hours and traveling for business. This left the mother to handle the majority of the children’s day-to-day needs. She scheduled the play dates, she arranged the classes, she met with the teachers and was the one who primarily took time off from work when the children were sick. The father was there when he could be, but because his job was more demanding, he often missed out on many of these child rearing responsibilities.
Now that they have decided to end their marriage and are planning to live apart, the father has let it be known that he wants to spend significant time with the children. He wants them to be with him for long weekends so that he can bring them to school on Monday mornings and he wants them to stay at his home on 1-2 school nights during the week.
If the wife is resentful and only focused on her unhappiness with the father’s lack of involvement with the children during the marriage, she may think that his goal is to hurt her and take the children away from her.
Conversely, if she is being compassionate and trying to understand the father’s point of view, she would understand his regret for his lack of involvement in the past and his desire to be a different kind of father in the future.
Which focus will be best for the children? Which focus will best help this couple as they negotiate all the other issues in their divorce?
It’s not always easy to cultivate compassion for others, especially when there are many emotions that keep you looking at all the past behaviors with which you’re unhappy. One idea is to practice building your compassion muscle by focusing on yourself first. If you make a mistake, don’t automatically beat yourself up. If you don’t follow through on a promise, remember you’re human and life happens. Showing this kind of compassion for yourself will make it easier to show compassion for others.
If you’re interested in speaking with an attorney or mediator who will help you focus on being more compassionate during your divorce instead of encouraging you to focus on your anger and resentment, contact us.