I have a confession to make—I have been struggling with how to best approach this topic because it’s emotional—one of the hardest parts of divorce because it feels like Ground Zero. It seems that for every couple that divorces amicably, there are at least ten who are left arguing over who gets what, determined to “win” the divorce no matter the cost. Sometimes it’s because both parties are both bickering over what they believe to be theirs. But there are also times when one spouse wants the divorce to be done and over with, but their soon-to-be-ex insists on dragging out the process to make them “pay,” or because they’re just bent on making the spouse’s life a living hell. Anyone who has been in this situation can attest to the daily nightmare that life becomes.
Life can feel like “Groundhog Day,” when Bill Murray’s character is doomed to report the same experiences over and over again. When we are fighting during divorce, we feel like we are getting dragged through the mud for months, even years, wondering if it will ever end. And it’s hard to imagine life when it’s possible to breathe again.
It is just me, or does arguing with the divorcing spouse feel like we are trapped in an endless cycle of assets, custody, and insanity?!
As much as we’d like to, we can’t make the other side behave. So, it’s up to us to figure out what we want to do, how we want to approach the situation when the acrimony grows. This is why this week, I want to discuss how to pick your battles mindfully.
Of course, everybody’s situation is going to be different. Divorces are like snowflakes—confusing, frustrating, painful snowflakes—each one is unique to our own background and dynamic with the spouse we are divorcing. But the one commonality we do share in this process is our ability to control our own outcome—the way we choose to handle the situation. And that is something that nobody can take away from us.
It is with this idea in mind that I present to you this brief introduction of choosing your battles, which can help you sift through ome of the confusion and tumult so that you can approach these emotional and business decisions with more clarity.
The first thing I want you to remember:
Please do not beat yourself up if for some reason you feel frustrated that things during this divorce may not be going smoothly, or easily. Divorce is a messy business transaction that collided with the types of emotions we wouldn’t even wish on our worst enemy, let alone ourselves. And if we feel confused and frustrated and panicked, even when we think we understand what’s going on from a legal standpoint, it is because we are human. And it’s going to be confusing and weird for a while.
But the important thing is to remember is that you are the one who has the power to think critically, think rationally, think compassionately, and think mindfully about what it is that you want to expend your energy on if you do need to fight during the split. It is you, your children (if applicable), and your emotional health that you need to plan for. So, let’s get started with some of the questions we can ask ourselves when trying to figure out when we should stand our ground, and when we should let go and move on.
Am I fighting for this thing because it is something I absolutely need/cannot live without? What are the things that my dependents and I need to ensure our security and well-being?
Understanding these things will give you a better understanding of some of the things you personally feel that you feel are non-negotiables for you when choosing which battles to fight. If there is something that you know you need, these are the things that you will need to advocate for yourself on.
Everybody’s situation is different, but you will need to figure out what is worth your time and emotional energy to possible argue about with your spouse and with your attorney. These factors may include alimony, savings, child support, fair division of debt, temporary spousal support, and protection orders if there is any type of endangerment. But remember, not everything during a divorce is something you need to survive, and something you must absolutely have. Knowing the difference between these two factors—what you really need versus what you think you need—can sound simple at least on paper, but the amount of honesty and self-awareness it requires of you is great.
Understanding what the absolute essential non-negotiables are in your divorce can help you determine what it is you need to spend your time and effort on, with your lawyer or with your mediator, in order to obtain. I like to think section as the bottom two parts on Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid.
This pyramid takes me back to high school psychology class. The foundation of the pyramid represented survival–the same things that you’ll need to advocate for during your split.
Once we understand what we need to survive, and how that is proportionate to the effort we feel we would need to put into that to ensure during our divorce, the more difficult questions await us. As a heads-up—these questions may take some time, as they require us to be very honest and self-aware.
Am I Fighting Over Something Only Because I Really want it? Or, do I think I “deserve” it? Do I Think I Deserve It because I’m Heartbroken and am trying to cling on to the life I thought I controlled?
Since this topic is one that is purely subjective, it can be very difficult answer objectively. What defines what it is that we “deserve,” anyway? And who has the authority to determine who deserves what? If this were an easy question to answer, all divorces would go smoothly without incident. But this is the very crux of why divorces can drag on forever. The things that we want, and the things that we think we deserve, are based on emotion—many times, they are matters of the heart and are things we can feel with our hearts and with our memories, but are almost impossible to explain, must less justify in a business-like, legal setting. Two competent parents may fight over custody for months, because they both feel more entitled to the children than the other partner.
Divorces drag sometimes due to division of assets that have nothing to do with money. Legal battles have gone on as couples fight for possession of the things that hold sentimental value to both of them (family photographs, heirlooms), that, although would not leave us destitute to lose, would wound us deeply if we lose because those thing may remind us of the happier times. We may make those demands for possession of those things, as a way of making demands on controlling the image of the lives we thought we knew, as it continues to dissipate.
It is important to understand the difference between these items and the survival items, because that will help you determine what you are willing to spend your time and divorce dollars on negotiating.
Am I Fighting Over Something Because I’m Scared, and Afraid of Change?
One of the reasons that divorce is tough is because it uproots what we thought was normal in our lives and does away with any sense of control we thought we had over our lives, our marriage, and our identity. And when we’re trying to process those emotions and that sense of loss, we sometimes displace that lack of control and put it onto things that we think we can still have a say over. These are things are actually subject to negotiation but we insist are non-negotiable, and may include things like custody arrangements with children or pets. Obviously, if there are safety concerns and a reasonable, evidence-based argument can be made that children or pets are at risk for abuse or neglect if they spend time with the other partner, then custody becomes an entirely different issue. However, what tends to happen is we will fight over possession and custody because we want to have things go “our way”—as a subconscious replacement for the fact that the marriage and life we had may not be turning out the way we had initially intended.
And when we lose that control, we become afraid because we do not know the future. As a result, we may fight to keep onto the things familiar to us, as a way of assuaging our insecurities, or holding off our having to venture into the unknown. If either us, or our spouse, is making demands for something, we might want to recognize where that demand comes from. And if it’s from fear, we must deal with that in a productive way.
Am I Fighting Over this Because I’m Angry and Hurt, and I Want Vengeance?
There is no judgment if the answer to the question is “yes.” There are times when we are angry during the divorce, and sometimes we make the choice to project feelings of anger at our spouse in the only way we thing we can—by “getting back” at them. We will find ourselves in our lawyers’ offices or seeking advice online or with friends for ideas on how we can “make the ex pay” for the hurt they have caused us. Instead of processing those emotions and separating them from the actual business transaction of divorce, we fall into the trap of projecting those emotions on physical, tangential things. If you find your spouse making unreasonable demands on you during the divorce, understand that they too may also be doing this, whether they know it or not—projecting their emotions onto something they think they can control—the ability to somehow hurt you or get back at you.
Although you cannot control how your spouse behaves during this process, if you find yourself putting demands on the other side—things that you maybe be able to negotiable in a more rational manner—it might not hurt to reconsider the approach you’re taking and it’s ability to really make the divorce go smoother or you feel better and heal faster.
How Will the Battles I am Fighting Now Impact My Future?
The business transaction of divorce part is difficult. Your lawyer may want you to fight for everything. Your friends and family may tell you the same. The spouse you are divorcing may be acting unreasonably. Outside forces make it very hard sometimes for you to figure out what exactly you should be asking for, fighting for, and negotiating for during a divorce. But at the end of the day, it is your decision what you should fight for, and what you should let go. And chances are, you may not get everything you want or think you deserve. But it is important to remember that nobody “wins” during a divorce. Even if they make unreasonable demands and it drags out in the courts for years, the end result may likely mirror drained bank accounts, cashed-out 401ks, and stress inflicted on ourselves as well as our children that, despite years of therapy, may never be reconciled.
That is not to say we should just roll over and walk away penniless. But before we hunker down for a Legal, Emotional, and Financial Battle Royale, we can take stock of:
What we really need to survive
What is really important to us
What is really right for us, not what others tell you is right
What we won’t regret in the future
What is best for those who depend on us (children, pets, etc).
Choosing your divorce battles is a balancing act. If we fight for everything we may get all the assets we wanted, but at what cost? If we are drained and broke afterwards, then how can we start the new chapter in our lives mindfully, without the weight of hurt and indignation? Sometimes, we want to avoid conflict and give the spouse everything, which can harm us down the road. Other times, we will fight tooth and nail to “win” the divorce, and fight to maintain the illusion of control that no longer exists.
In Conclusion, my Friends…
Choosing your battles is hard work It’s murky territory where we are forced to balance where the business transactions colliding with the roller coaster of emotions.
When we dig deeper on us wanting something, or think we deserve something, some of the question we must ask ourselves why are digging our heels in for certain thing. And when our spouse is being difficult, we can remind ourselves that the emotions we are processing and projecting onto our business decisions may mirror our own. The key is to be honest with yourself, kind to yourself, and mindful of the new chapter in your life that you can look forward to once this divorce journey ends. Let those points advise you on how to spend your time, money, and emotional energy.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, or just want to say hello, leave a comment below or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time, please take care of yourselves. You deserve it.