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Divorce Lawyers

Thyden Gross and Callahan LLPCounselors and Attorneys at Law




Does your divorce or separation make you sad, angry, vengeful, depressed, confused or hateful? Emotions are the powerful drivers of many divorce decisions. This blog by a lawyer and psychotherapist will help you cope with divorce emotions.

Archive for December, 2010

Letting Go

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Many years ago, a physician named Elisabeth Kubler Ross described a process that people go through when they’re confronted with death.  She identified denial, anger, bargaining, mourning, and acceptance as the stages of grieving.  People often found it helpful to understand grieving a major loss as a process, not an event, and to realize that different feelings prevailed at different times.

Those working with people in divorce thought similar stages might apply.  “Oh, she’s still in the anger stage.”  “Yes, I think he’s reached acceptance.”

I don’t think the original concept ever suggested that the process involved distinct, carefully bounded stages.  It isn’t as if you can leave the anger stage and never go back.  Most people bounce from one dominant experience to another.  One day you may feel fully accepting, ready to get on with your life, and the next day you may plunge back into the pool of grief and feel you’re drowning again.

Over time—for most people, at least a year and often considerably longer—the primary theme does change, though it rarely changes for both members of a couple at the same time.  Nor is there ever a 100% graduation from grieving.  If you don’t mourn the loss of the spouse, you mourn the loss of the dream.


Saturday, December 18th, 2010

My good friend, Pat Seaver (Patricia J. Seaver, MSW, LICSW,, thought I should offer something more upbeat about coping with divorce, especially during the holidays.  Her comments follow:

“Divorce can take a serious emotional, physical, and psychological toll on you. It is common for people in divorce to focus on anger, resentment, anxiety and other negative emotions. Attempting to counter-balance the deleterious effects of the divorce process can help you move forward and achieve a stronger sense of yourself and your future.

Here is an exercise to help preserve a sense of well-being, optimism and balance.  Becoming aware of what you have and not just what you have lost is very powerful.

You need a notebook and pen beside your bed.

Every night, just prior to going to sleep, record in your notebook three moments in which you felt happy that day. These do not have to be defining or cataclysmic moments. For example: ‘I loved the warmth of the sun on my face as I walked to my office,’ or, ‘My manager at work praised my report,’ or, ‘My roommate from college called and will be in town for dinner together next week,’ or, ‘Today I walked a mile and ate a healthful dinner.’

Research has shown that after as little as two weeks your dreams will become more positive and your mood improved. Continue doing this exercise. Reread your previous notes.  Focusing on what is positive in your daily routine has a healing, empowering effect.”



First Holiday After Divorce

Friday, December 17th, 2010


Anna, a former client, told me about the first holiday after her divorce, when her children were with their father.  She and her new boyfriend set off optimistically for Florida, where they expected a happy and romantic holiday.

Instead, they encountered the aftermath of a severe freeze.  It had been so cold that the oranges froze on the trees.  Miles upon miles of orange groves were nothing more than bare skeletons of trees, with the reek of rotten oranges filling their nostrils as they drove.  Anna said she never felt so empty, miserable, and despairing.  

It was not a good holiday.  Sometimes holidays aren’t what we hope for, despite our best planning.  The most we can do when that happens is to get through the days, survive them, and move on.  We call that dealing with reality.  They should give an award for it.

Holiday Dreams vs Holiday Realities

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Many people suffer during the holiday season.  They imagine the holiday that is advertised to us in this culture as being available (at least, to everyone else).  We imagine everyone else engaged in happy banter at tables groaning with fabulous food.  No one rolls their eyes when Uncle Burt pours his fourth glass of Scotch.  No one sniffs back tears because Cousin Ralph said her dress was ugly.  No one feels empty inside even when they’ve eaten all they can. 

In the dream holiday, everyone leaves the table smiling.  Everyone helps to clear the table and clean the kitchen.  Still smiling and laughing, everyone gathers around the piano.  Standing close together, they begin to sing Christmas carols. 

The contrast with the reality of our own flawed or fractured families and celebrations is brutal.  Sometimes it’s harder to deal with the loss of a dream than with the loss of a reality.  A dream has a sweetness and a purity about it that makes us want to hold onto it, closely, forever.  Reality is more complex, sometimes painful and sometimes joyful, but a mixed bag at best.

Why Emotions Are Like Golden Retrievers

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

I have a Golden Retriever at home named Mr. Jones.  It strikes me that emotions are a lot like Golden Retrievers.  They want to be acknowledged, even welcomed.  They want to be recognized and fussed over—they want attention to be paid.  Then they tend to lie down in the corner and go to sleep.  A strong emotion doesn’t last, and if it does, it’s because you’re re-stimulating it by thinking the same thoughts again.  Think about something else and the feeling begins to quiet down.

Disillusionment of Marriage

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Names of things matter.  Different names have different connotations.  “Divorce” suggests a severing, a sharp splitting or truncating of a relationship.  Some states call divorce “dissolution of marriage.”  It’s softer, giving an impression of a substance dissolving, or an entity resolving perhaps into separate elements (unless, of course, you think of “dissolute,” which creates an image of an inebriated bum.)

I always preferred the softness of “dissolution of marriage,” but clients sometimes made the terminology their own.  One client wanted a “delusion” of marriage, and I wanted to ask, “Maybe you already had that?”  Another talked about seeking a “disillusionment” of marriage, which seemed painfully apt.

In the mediation world, we talk about “re-structuring your relationship.”  Some of us call ourselves “matrimonial” lawyers, or “family” lawyers, rather than “divorce” lawyers.  We are people who “work in relationship conflict.”

If you need that sharp, clean break, by all means, do what the law does and call it a divorce.  If you want something softer or more hopeful, find the language that seems right.  What do you need to call this experience, in your heart?

What Do You Want?

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

When I was training as a psychotherapist, there was an exercise my clients sometimes chose to do.  We sat quietly across from each other, me with a pen and pad, and I asked, “What do you want?”  The client would respond. I would write down the answer. And I would ask the question again.  And again.

Sometimes a person’s answers would expand, as I repeated the question.  “I want to feel peaceful inside.”  “I want everyone to feel peaceful inside.”  And sometimes answers would deepen.  “I want to live in a house that’s kept clean and tidy.”  “I want to date someone who’s considerate about time.”  “I want to be around people who respect me.”

Ah.  So it isn’t just about cleanliness or promptness, it’s about respect.

What do you want?  In your divorce, do you want the house?  Is it the house, or is it the neighborhood?  Is it the neighborhood, or is it the school?  Is it the school, or is it the familiarity?  Is it the familiarity, or is it the security of not changing anything else right now?

Go deeper, into what you really want.  There may be only one house but more than one way of getting what you really want.

Acting on Your Feelings (or Not)

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Aaron came into my office seeking a divorce because he found out that his wife was having an affair.  She had ended the extramarital relationship but he still had to get the divorce, because his first wife had been unfaithful as well, and he had vowed never to tolerate that kind of betrayal again.

Did Aaron really have to get a divorce?  He seemed to think so, but I thought he was at a choice point.  Of course he could get a divorce, for any reason or no reason, but he didn’t have to.  He could make other choices, like taking her back without reservations, or going to counseling to see whether his behavior had any part in the infidelity of two women he loved.  He couldn’t pretend it hadn’t happened, but that didn’t mean he “had to” divorce her.

Sometimes people imagine that if they allow themselves to acknowledge a feeling, or a thought, they have to do something about it.  Not true.  You can let yourself admit that your wife is an alcoholic or that your husband spends all his free time on internet porn sites, without having to act upon your knowledge.  You still have a choice, even when you acknowledge the truth to yourself.  In fact, admitting the truth gives you the freedom to choose.

This belief, that seeing the truth compels action, is at the heart of denial, a process by which we pretend to ourselves that what is true doesn’t really exist.  It is a good defense mechanism and one that can be enormously helpful in dealing with life events that shake our foundation—for a while.  Then, slowly, we begin to wrap our minds around reality, and we begin to adjust our behavior to the truth.  We begin making decisions consciously, instead of unconsciously.


How to Identify Your Feelings

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

There once was a woman—I’ll call her “Alexis”—who told me her divorce compelled her to realize that she couldn’t identify her feelings.  She knew she was feeling something, and usually it didn’t feel good, but what was it?  Somebody told her that the three primary feelings are MAD, SAD, and GLAD, and that most emotions fit under those categories.  “Mad” could be annoyed or angry or grumpy or furious or enraged.  “Sad” could range from bummed to filled with grief, from just feeling down to severe depression.  “Glad,” which we do encounter from time to time, could be anything from relief to ecstasy. 

Determined to become emotionally literate, Alexis actually bought a chart of emotions.  She figured out her basic category (“Okay, I’m mad!”)  Then she checked the chart and compared it to her feelings.  “Am I furious?  Oh, wait, I’m not really mad now, I’m hurt, I’m sad.”  Just paying attention to her feelings helped strong emotions to ease and sometimes to reveal their deeper dimensions.

Panic and Confusion

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Your divorce might be the most challenging change you ever face.  Your entire life can be altered, your primary relationships reconfigured and your financial security threatened.  You hire a lawyer to help you sort it all out and figure out how to make the best of a terrible situation, but your confusion and panic persists.  Maybe your lawyer has even told you that you’ll be fine, that from a rational, objective perspective, both you and your spouse are good candidates for co-parenting and you actually have enough money so that you’ll all be comfortable.  Still, you are frantic and disoriented.

Logic and reason are not very helpful, in terms of providing an understanding of how human beings respond to dramatic change.  Under the depths are emotions and psychological patterns that, far more than logic, determine our responses.  Most people feel something—they may not even know what—and then make up reasons for why they feel it.  This isn’t a deliberate, manipulative activity, it’s how the brain works.  It experiences something and tells itself what’s going on.

Sometimes a simple event can lead to an entire story that the brain tells itself.  Your soon-to-be ex-spouse mentions she’s going away for the week-end.  You feel uneasy about this, and your brain begins to create an entire scenario of her week-end rendezvous with a lover who is not only your superior in every way but who is determined to replace you in the lives of your children.  You become snarly and the conversation deteriorates, not because of anything real but because of your emotional reaction to your own thoughts.

Emotions drive your divorce far more powerfully than you realize.  In the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring how to recognize your feelings, how to hit the pause button when creating a fantasy scenario, and how to separate your thoughts from your actions.

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