Focus Forward, Never Back
In practicing collaboratively, we focus our clients on the future. Fixing your attention on how you want your life to look five years from now is a positive and optimistic endeavor that inevitably uplifts your spirits, especially when the present is an upheaval of divorce-related stress and anxiety-provoking decisionmaking. And making decisions in the midst of tension and trauma is not only difficult, but a poor decision itself, if only because stress clouds the mind and makes clear and rational decisionmaking difficult and sometimes impossible.
People who make decisions under those such circumstances often later regret those decisions.
I’ll give you an example. Back in the days when I tried my divorce cases in court, it was often the case that, if my client was the wife, she would vehemently insist, ”I want the house.” (In my experience, husbands rarely did that.) No matter how hard I tried, I could not convince my client that:
- She couldn’t afford the house;
- She didn’t want the responsibility of the pool, the yard, or the 20-year-old roof; and
- She didn’t need the vast amount of square footage that inevitably came with a residence built for a married couple with full-time children, as compared to a single parent sharing time with those kids.
No matter what arguments I made to convince her, my client was usually adamant that she wanted the house.
I stay in touch with many of my clients after my work for them is completed, at least with those who are of similar age to mine and with whom I share interests. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client report to me over a glass of wine one evening that she regretted her decision, that I had been right, and that her life was immeasurably better now that she’s (finally) gotten rid of the house (that I had fought and won for her in the court battle). (Talk about being made to feel worthless! Not that my clients intended that result but still. . . .)
Focus On Your True Interests
Decisions made under stressful circumstances are often poor decisions. For this reason, focus on what you imagine your life will be like when the divorce is over and thereby create a happier, calmer mental environment that is far more conducive to smart decision making.
For example, ask yourself:
- Why do you really want the house?
- What is it about the house that you value?
- Is there really no more suitable a residence for your new life?
- Perhaps one that is located closer to your work or to the ex with whom you will share parenting time?
- Maybe a smaller home for your now smaller family?
- Perhaps one that is less costly, now that you are living on only one income?
- Maybe one that better reflects your anticipated lifestyle, rather than your lifestyle as a married couple?
If you look inward at your true interests, if you examine why you want the home, rather than focusing on your position (i.e. that you want it), you may very well realize that what you truly desire is the security, stability, history, community, school system (i.e. a good education for your kids) that that home has provided you.
How might another home be a better fit for you and your restructured family? It’s possible that another home is closer to your ex, making exchanges a hell of a lot easier. Did your ex choose your marital home based on his architectural style? Use this opportunity to find a home that fits your style. Now’s the time to restructure your life, too.
Let’s Talk About Not Venting
So now let’s talk about “venting.” A corollary to this truism, that examining your true interests will enable you to make better decisions, is that venting is not always a good thing. We have a tendency to believe that venting is good for what ails us, allowing us to ”vent” the steam of pent-up emotion that is created when anger boils up inside us.
But venting can alienate the people around us, and it can spin up issues that may not require re-examination. It may be a trigger response that feels good in the moment, but it often causes more stress and anger as you deal with the aftermath. It most likely won’t resolve the issue(s) that are causing the underlying stress, and, in fact, venting may cause fresh problems.
So how should you respond when you feel the need to vent? Take a moment. Count to ten. Take deep breaths. If you have time for a short meditation or a brief exercise, do that. Better yet, talk with a neutral mental health professional about your issues. Do what you can do to focus your mind inward and to control your emotions.
Collaborative practice is so effective because it focuses couples on interests instead of positions, and it allows them to avoid the pitfalls that occur in most divorces, like venting frustrations. In contrast, in litigation, spouses are pitted against one another, taking positions, and venting stridently to anyone in the room.
Which approach seems like the better method for you and your family? One that considers that the lives of parents will be interlaced for as long as their children are alive? One in which professionals encourage teammates to build skills that will help them work with i.e. coparent with one another going forward?
If it were my family, I know what I would choose.
It’s no secret that collaborative practice is my passion, and as such, that passion fuels my desire to guide couples as they restructure, rather than destroy their families in the courtroom. If you or someone close to you is considering a divorce, please reach out to me at Joryn@OpenPalmLaw.com.
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Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.