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Thyden Gross and Callahan LLPCounselors and Attorneys at Law

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COPING STRATEGIES
FOR DIVORCE EMOTIONS

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 June, 2012

Integrative Law Movement

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

            There is a new movement in the law called “integrative law.”  One of the institutions dearest to my heart, Commonweal, in Bolinas, California, has just initiated a program called the Integrative Law Institute.  What does this mean, for lawyers and consumers of legal services?

            Let me quote a paragraph from the Commonweal newsletter of June, 2012:  “Our adversarial ‘winner take all’ legal system, rooted in medieval trial-by-combat and 18th century rationalism, frequently harms the physical and emotional health of those involved in it, prolonging conflict rather than achieving durable resolution. The services lawyers and judges are taught to provide often work at cross purposes to biological and psychological facts about how people experience conflict and make decisions.  This poor fit between human needs and professional services wreaks particular destruction in families, where protracted divorce proceedings often destroy ex-spouses’ ability to cooperate in parenting their children. . .

            The new Commonweal program will offer an integrative law curriculum for law professors, so they can teach law students how better to understand and serve their clients’ needs.  It will also provide continuing legal education programs for judges, mediators, and lawyers in integrative law skills.  And there will be weekend residential workshops for lawyers who are burned out and disillusioned. 

            For at least 20 years, I’ve advocated for such programs and have usually been met with a shake of the head and the remark, “You can’t seriously expect me to worry about burned out lawyers.”  But this response overlooks the impact that lawyers and judges have on the way justice works for all of us—as well as the tragedy of an individual’s life of passion and potential eroding over time into disillusionment and burnout.

            The integrative law movement means that greater numbers of lawyers will be learning more about sensitivity to the emotional and psychological issues their clients are dealing with, while also learning about their own need for self-care.  If lawyers and judges can allow themselves to be fully human, not merely rational cogs in the system, this can change the legal system profoundly, to the benefit of everyone.

Helping a Friend Through a Divorce

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

When people close to you are divorcing, what can you do to help?  There are some very simple rules for what to say or do, as well as some ideas about what you should not do.

 First, no matter how much you want to agree with your friend in describing his soon-to-be ex as a horrible, terrible person, don’t do it.  (You don’t have to disagree, just don’t jump in and agree.)  Don’t be the one who says, “I always wondered what you were doing with such an #*#**!”  Your friend chose this person.  If there are children, your friend’s children are genetically half of that person.  An attack on the ex is an attack on your friend’s judgment and on half of what makes their children who they are. 

This is a hard one to resist, since your friend may be filled with words much stronger than “horrible” and “terrible” in describing his or her ex.  But listening sympathetically is better than chiming in.  (Also, as you may know from painful experience, the angriest partners sometimes do reconcile and then you become the person your friend rejects.)  Your safest thing to say is something like, “I can see how you’d feel that way,” or something that acknowledges your friend’s pain. 

On the other hand, saying something like, “I feel for you but I feel for him/her, too.  I just want to extend my caring to both of you” is a waste of your energy.  Your friend will feel undermined and adrift.  You can only say something like that if you’re primarily friends with the other spouse; then it’s a positive thing to do.

It is also not helpful to tell other people’s tragic divorce stories.  Your friend is too wrapped up in his or her own suffering to want to hear about other people’s misery, and certainly won’t be helped by hearing about bad outcomes.  Similarly, it is not helpful to share how much the children of divorce suffer, or how finances can deteriorate during divorce.  Don’t bring more bad news.  It will become evident soon enough, and even though you may be accurate, it isn’t helpful.

That said, if you have positive suggestions, do share them.  For example, not everyone knows good financial advisors or good lawyers.  These are professionals that people won’t seek out until they really need them.   And, if you feel your friend is over the top distressed or confused, do recommend counseling.  It’s no shame to get counseling in any circumstances, and particularly under the kind of stress that comes with divorce.  And, of course, many people still choose the traditional adversarial system for getting a divorce, because they don’t know, in time, about mediation, collaborative law, and other non-adversarial processes.  If you can provide information about less heated, less stressful, less expensive ways of going through the process, by all means, offer that information.

Finally, don’t get in the soup with your friend.  That means don’t get attached to your friend accepting your suggestions and don’t take up your friend’s cause as your own.  Don’t get wrought up about how your friend decides to proceed, or whether your friend reconciles or doesn’t, or whether your friend’s ex gets what comin’ to him or her.  You can only be supportive if you maintain your own life and priorities.  Your greatest value to your friend is your own stability, in the midst of your friend’s upheaval.  Unless your friend is threatened or in such denial that you fear for him or her, you need to be an island of calm. 

I once saw a greeting card that said something like “A friend is someone who remembers your song when you’ve forgotten the tune.”  That’s your main role: remind your friend of his or her own history and of your belief in overcoming these hard times.  Remind them of their song.

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