Many people view divorce as similar to a chess game: an adversarial process from which emerges a winner and a loser. Thus, they go into their divorce with the mindset that they need to “win.”
However, professionals in the divorce field (mental health professionals, financial advisors and most attorneys) view the “game” analogy as not helpful. This “all-or-nothing” or “black and white” framing causes many divorcing parties to put their energy into ways of thinking that may actually lead to a less-advantageous outcome than if a more constructive, problem-solving approach is adopted. And it can cause the divorcing parties to spend huge amounts of money (and time and energy) on an adversarial process such as litigation or positional negotiation.
But the “I need to win” mindset seems so appealing and so widespread. How can I adopt a different one?
Here are three suggestions:
- Reframe. You have control over how you frame the issues. For example, with regard to the care and custody of your children, if you focus on “I want . . .,” you are framing the issues in terms of your own agenda. However, if you simply reframe the issue as “Our children need . . . ,” you set the tone for your spouse to also adopt that mindset and for the two of you to carefully examine the specifics of your children’s emotional, social, educational and physical needs and to come up with solutions which optimally address those needs.
Similarly, when it comes to the financial issues, if you frame the issue as a zero-sum game, with someone winning by keeping the other party from getting what they want, you will likely end up with a divorce characterized by bitterness and anger, and with the stage set for pettiness and revenge-seeking later on. You may have won the battle but lost the war. However, if you frame the issue as having everyone (both of the parties as well as the children) walk away “okay” financially, then you will have built the base for long-term positive co-parenting and post-divorce amicability.
- Analyze your feelings. Virtually everyone starting the divorce process is flooded with feelings – anger, guilt, fear, insecurity, and shame, to name a few. You have the ability to put these feelings in their proper place and move through the process with the intention of feeling good about the outcome – by being generous, by putting your children ahead of your own emotional needs, by taking reasonable positions.
- Focus on the future. Most professionals will tell you that the real “winners” in a divorce are the parties who are able to position themselves to move on with their lives after the divorce feeling good about the outcome and about themselves. Such people take a minimum of negative “baggage” with them to weigh them down in the next (and hopefully better) stage of their lives. If throughout your divorce process you can keep your eye steadily on the future, it will be easier to let go of the need to win, and more possible to seek creative solutions which address everyone’s needs.