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Compassionate Divorce

Divorce is painful for many, even long after the legal settlement.  For some, life progresses well, and they do not experience the constant confusion and battles over children and attitudes and property that plague those who suffer longer.  Time heals.  We’ve heard this message from our grandmothers and other wise people.  In a compassionate divorce, we aim to assist time to heal our clients’ pain more quickly. Collaborative Law divorces allow for compassion to surface.

A Collaborative or Mediated Divorce – Interest Based

One of the strategies we use is interest-based negotiation.  During the conversations between divorcing partners, we make their interests (as opposed to their assets) primary.  Some items of little monetary value might be really important to one person, and time with the children on a particular holiday important to the other. If both agree on an “uneven split”, this works for the settlement. A compassionate divorce makes room for these kinds of settlements.

These personal priorities are most finely articulated by our clients themselves, and realizing them will bring a greater sense of satisfaction after the divorce.  Our clients understand the reasons for the losses they suffer, having negotiated the divorce settlement plan themselves.  We have found that they can soothe themselves during the difficult times by remembering the good things that are theirs, due to the interest-based negotiation that helped them craft their plans. In a compassionate divorce, people feel heard and understood.

Emotional Security  – Hard to Find During Divorce Process

Emotional comfort is another important “item” which can be “negotiated” during the divorce proceedings. This might not immediately strike one as an asset, but, given some reflective thought, one can begin to recognize the infinite value of this asset. By understanding the nature of attachment, even when relationships come to an end, the couple can manage their relationship in a compassionate way, helping each other navigate through the difficult early post-divorce years, and bring their children safely into the new family arrangement, whether that includes new partners for their parents or a better relationship in their adult years. These are often part of the ruins of the divorce battle, which could be avoided by making skillful transitions. Compassion allows each person to attend to the most important needs, both theirs and their partner’s.

Attachment Theory for a Relationship in Transition

Attachment Theory, a relatively new and effective body of knowledge to couples relationships, offers insight to the negative spin that can come to dominate interactions between people in significant relationships. It has shown that the severing of a significant relationship bond affects the unconscious in such a way that the body reacts as if its survival is threatened. Even more than food, bonds to significant others create a sense of safety and well-being.  People are more confident in their work, friendships, and in themselves when “securely attached”.

Though we enjoy a sense of independence in the modern world, in reality we are dependent on many people for that independence.  Attachment is a word that sounds very dependent and even insulting to adults about their relationships, but this word comes from the attachment observed in young children. When applied to adults because of the insight it brought to parent child relationships, it was  found to have the same role and significance. The adult attachment is slightly different (we call it Effective Attachment).  Persistent arguments in adult relationships are more about being understood, heard, cared for, visible, respected, than they are about the things they end up arguing about (ie, the dishes left in the sink). These arguments produce extra pain because of the words used while each person tries to defend their fears.

The Negative Cycle – Attack and Defend 

When divorcing, parents in particular are concerned about the cooperation of their co-parent in raising their children, and, even in the case of older children, the collaborative  healing of their shattered sense of family and home.   When one parent is uncommunicative and secretive, keeping information from the other (having an avoidant attachment style), believing that communication is not necessary due to being divorced, the other parent” loses touch” (psychologically), and might feel distressed.  If the other parent has an anxious attachment style, he or she will search for connection, wanting to bridge the gap.  Connection feels really necessary, and panic ensues when unsuccessful.  In Attachment Theory, this is called Primal Panic.  This person will seem “hysterical” and “crazy” to the avoidant partner, whose life will lose its peacefulness.

In short, a Negative Cycle will begin.  The avoidant partner begins to feel justified for ignoring the anxious partner, and they will prompt each other to keep going with an unproductive argument, each getting more and more hurt or flustered.  The Primal Panic is fueling this cycle from below the surface.  Under the surface are the Raw Spots, the vulnerable spots (assumptions, or pains, or worst-case thinking), which get triggered by the partner, increasing the intensity of the avoidant or anxious behavior.  (These behaviors are hard-wired in each of us, depending on our attachment styles, and show up when we feel threatened – when our bond is threatened – which is the case in divorce).

Triggering the Raw Spots in Each Other

In order to create a plan for the divorced family in which partners and children can move forward without activating the Negative Cycle, this phenomenon must be understood.  Choosing a coach who understands Attachment Theory and is trained in recognizing Negative Cycles in clients, can facilitate a more lastingly cooperative and peaceful divorce.  Once you understand your Raw Spots and those of your co-parent, you will be able to turn Negative Cycles into emotionally healthy interactions.  You will take this skill with you after the Collaborative Law Divorce is completed.

Parents’ Secure Connection the Basis for Children’s Security 

Children do better too, if parents understand this in themselves.  Children have part mom and part dad in their heads and hearts, looking to them for security and safety as they go out in the world (this is unconscious, but very intensely important in allowing children to find secure attachments).  When there is dissonance between the parents, the minds of the children have dissonance, and they take this with them into adult life, needing to find resolution later in life themselves.  There is a much-used bit of advice about divorced parents, which says that you must not argue in front of the children.  This wisdom is good in many cases, but it would be naïve to think that children do not pick up unspoken dissonance.  They are finely tuned into their parents, and unspoken negativity just feels like mysterious content without reason.  Better still would be an explanation from the parents about how dissonance comes about, and what children can do about it to keep themselves whole and safe in the larger world, and attached to their parents.

Include Attachment Coaching in the Divorce Process

When using Attachment Theory as a necessary part of the divorce process, the partners can come to a relational calm, accepting each other’s styles during distress, and using simple strategies for effective attachment to calm themselves and their exes.  Human beings come to peace in certain prescribed ways, and, like warring countries, peace agreements come through negotiations of a particular sort, and not just any kind of agreement.  Having split up the goods, they still have to figure out how to keep the peace, both internally and externally.

 

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