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I Should Have Told Them

She arrived at my office for the appointment looking chipper and relieved. He showed up twenty minutes later. Twice in the time it took to walk to my office he apologized by saying he got lost. When we sat down at the table I saw a man seemingly suffering from sleep deprivation. It was not an untypical story for a couple exploring mediation as a way to alleviate some of the pain of terminating their marriage. I could see that the wife was, in her mind, already out of the marriage. She had plans for the future and she wanted to finalize the breakup. The husband was on a totally different page. He took notes when he could bear to. He had very little to say and no questions to ask. It appeared he was still in the fog generated by being told his spouse wanted out. He was, in truth, lost. If I had spoken magical words that would make everything better that day, he would have not have heard them. He was simply way behind in dealing with this new development in his lif

Festina lente

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It’s not unusual to get phone calls from spouses seeking information about divorce mediation. I expect to be asked if I offer the service (I certainly do), how much does it cost (that depends on the two of you), but I’m too often asked how soon the couple can come in. I’m not troubled by the first two questions, but I do have concerns about the third and the lack of questions about what mediation actually is. Frankly, a rush to ‘get it done quickly’ puts a red flag in my mind. Why the rush? What makes getting divorced so imperative now? Sometimes I think it’s because the spouses have had some discussion regarding dividing up their possessions and time with the kids and the calling spouse thinks they’ve got the best possible agreement ‘teed up’ and have to ‘close the deal’ asap. They don’t want to chance having their partner think too hard about what they have tentatively agreed to, on the chance they will change their mind and either demand more or give

Thought for today

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The Secret to a Good Divorce (3)

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Former spouses--or soon-to-be former spouses--have an intimate knowledge of their erstwhile partners. However, they may not be able to name the actual behavior that causes arguments to start. Dr. John Gottman, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Gottman Institute, has been researching couples's behaviors for over 40 years. He has identified four factors that usually predict nonproductive arguments that go downhill fast. These factors are criticism  (the problem arises out of the other person's character or personality), defensiveness  (a spouse counterattacks or whines), contempt  (thinking you're better than you are and talking down to your partner), and stonewalling  (shutting down and refusing to talk about the issue). Interestingly, women tend to use criticism more than men, while men tend to stonewall more than women. So if a wife is castigating her husband for being a slob, it would not be unusual for him to shut down and cl

The Secret to a Good Divorce (2)

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Imagine, if you will, that a couple (call them A and B) meets at a local Starbucks in an attempt to discuss how to handle the end of their disintegrating relationship. After settling into a corner table, away from other customers, the following conversation ensues: A: "You know, the breakup of our marriage is your fault. I was willing to go to counseling. I said we should try a vacation, or have a baby, or consider anything you might want to try and save us. But every time I brought up these ideas you didn't want to talk about it." B: (interrupting) "That's not true. I have always wanted to try to fix things, but you only wanted it your way." A:  (affronted) "How could you say that?" B: "Easy. It's the truth."  Let's pause their conversation at this point. Right now, these words reflect what the couple pictured above are doing. They seek to vilify, discredit, and impugn the other, to try to find a weak spot to punch,

The Secret to a Good Divorce (1)

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On January 12, 2018, the New York Times  published an article titled "The Secret to a Happy Marriage is Knowing How to Fight." Click here to view  The author, therapist Daphne de Marneffe, points out that modern couples appear to look upon their wedding as a capstone rather than a cornerstone of their adult life, a sense that they have arrived at their shared future rather than a commitment to it. She acknowledges that weddings are complicated, detail-oriented events, but she expresses concern that, "while they're thinking about the Big Day, they should also think about how they will cope with disagreement." It's rare to meet any married couple who have thought about how they're going to fight with each other, but it's almost guaranteed that they will. Yes, it's possible that one member of the couple may never disagree with the other, either from fear of creating conflict or genuine disinterest. But for most couples disagreements will pop u

Uncoupling for the Unhitched

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More people than you think live together as members of a couple, not a marriage. In the course of that relationship they accumulate 'things', like property, assets, debts, and children. Some of these relationships can go on for years before ending. Others are even quite successful, continuing on until the death of a partner. But not all unmarried couples are so fortunate. For some, as H. L. Mencken said, "Happiness is the china shop; love is the bull." And so, they reach a point in their lives when they need to uncouple. But, que lastima, they're not entitled to the same privileges married people have.  Unmarried partners in a relationship may think they should be entitled to an equitable division of assets and debts. But the courts treat unmarried couples as single individuals, so the rules of community property and their division don't apply to them. Those same courts, however, can assert jurisdiction if minor children are involved, but this requires