Going Beyond Anxiety and Positional Thinking During a Divorce

When people are divorcing, they are often filled with intense anxiety. They feel compelled to solve whatever is causing their anxiety—sometimes before they are ready to do so. All too often, they want to alleviate the anxiety even before they have the information that they need to solve the problem in the best way. They might be missing “outside” information such as having a grasp on the marital finances. They might also need to clarify “inside” information—how people see the problem, how they understand themselves and their situation, and how they perceive the other party in the divorce.

People often become fixated on one particular desired result, such as the keeping marital house or a paying off a debt that has been weighing on them. This ultimately will lead them to positional thinking: It’s my way or the highway. These are problems that can better be understood with additional information. Exploring each person’s internal questions and perspective more fully, however, can help alleviate the anxious and lead to synergistic problem solving.

The Impact of Positional Thinking

It is easy to understand the desire to alleviate anxiety and it’s easy to understand taking positions, but what about the other party? It takes two to enter a marriage and two to get divorced. When one person is entrenched in their position, they see the other person’s perspective as being wrong or misguided—or evil. I use that word on purpose. Even though most divorcing people don’t usually say the word “evil” to describe their estranged spouses, I think that is really what many of them mean. It’s a black-and-white term, and assigning the label of “evil” is shorthand for “this person is always wrong.” That leads to polarizing demands and the worsening of a problem that is simply not going away.

Better Solutions and Best Outcomes

If you have a divorce-related problem, you may be very anxious about it—for good reason. You struggled to find a solution in your mind that could work for you. Finally, after many sleepless nights, you identified a way to quiet the anxiety that was tearing you apart, and you decided to take strong (even unyielding) position about the issue that is causing you the most angst, be it a division of property, spousal support, child custody, or some other contentious issue. But at what cost? Will this position really work as a solution? Will your former spouse feel treated fairly? (Hint: if not, the plan is likely to fail.) Does your plan include often unattended “little details” that can turn into to enormous headaches down the road?

When I see my clients experiencing pressure to do one thing or another in order to quiet the discomfort they feel, I have found it useful to remind them that short-term stress and anxiety won’t kill them even if it is extremely uncomfortable.

In non-litigated divorces, such as collaborative law and mediation, parties are given the opportunity to look beneath and within their positions to understand them better, acknowledge how other people—including their estranged spouse—might see the problem and possibly shift enough to see a better solution. Instead of maintaining an inflexible position that may do them more harm than good, they collaborate with experienced divorce professionals who help them understand their situation better and through that understanding achieve the best outcomes.

Contact me with questions or comments at [email protected]

Katherine Miller


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