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Reasons Divorce Brings out the Worst in Us

by Steve Fritsch on December 8, 2015

Family walking on beachAbout once every five years or so, you see a story in the media about two people who got divorced, remained good friends, successfully co-parented and raised several bright, well-adjusted children who went to good colleges and turned out great.

But for many people going through a divorce, friendship is not a word they would even think, let alone utter in the presence of their spouse.

For them, divorce is more about staking out hard-fought territory, clawing to keep things that will guarantee a roof over their heads, some money in the bank, and children by their sides long after the judge divides everything. Divorce brings out the worst in many people.

And most people recognize the Catch-22.  If there were some way they could be civil to their spouses, sit down calmly and divide the cars, the houses, and the furniture, and sensibly design a fair parenting schedule, then everyone would be better off. But often, then they don’t do it.

To give people a better understanding of why divorcing parents almost inevitably feel drawn to play the “hate” card with their spouses, here are eight reasons why divorce brings out the worst in people.

You Don’t Want it to be Your Fault

You spent a lot of time dating, courting, and sharing intimate glasses of wine with your spouse. So you like to think you chose a good mate for life, and you don’t like to admit you’re wrong.

It’s just a little easier to get through difficult circumstances in your life where suddenly you have little assurance of housing, job or financial security –  if you think it was someone else’s fault. If it’s their fault, then you can get past it, fix it and get your head above water again. If it was their fault that the family finances turned out to be as stable as an elephant on a unicycle, then there should be a repair in the future.

If it’s your fault, then you not only have to find housing, a job, and financial stability in the short term, but you have to look further within yourself to understand how you made such a bad choice of life mates and put your future in such colossal jeopardy in the first place.

Now it’s Everyone for Themselves

It usually starts out pretty early during many divorce proceedings. With little or no evidence, one parent accuses the other of running family finances into the ground. Or the other parent takes a routine parental squabble and morphs it into tearful testimony about a spouse’s distance from the kids, and poor parenting.

When each parent starts to look at the future in terms of the interests of one, and not two, the truth can struggle mightily to remain in the picture. And the justification is easy to find. With each passing court appearance, or each answer on a marital interrogatory, these little bits of information can include facts that can make the difference between whether one parent makes most decisions that affect the children, or finds out after the decision has already been made.

The Person You Trusted with Your Most Personal Information and Secrets Could Now Use Them Against You

Before you got married, you made 100 little small, subtle inquiries to determine if your “spouse candidate” was the one.  He would know your every little secret, from the size of your boxy shoes to the way you balance your checkbook. She would know why you couldn’t get along with your younger brother, and probably would never be able to keep a job for more than 5 years.

So the thought of another person with all of this information that could easily harm your family relationships, your work, and your reputation can make anyone feel vulnerable.

Most people walk through life showing the public their varnished, better side while their spouses are left to keep the more prickly or repugnant part of their personalities in the marital “vault.”

But when the marriage ends, what happens to the contents of the marital vault? That’s where the problem lies. Will they be used to extract just a little more (or less) visitation time with the children during divorce negotiations?  Will that little habit be blithely brought up during difficult negotiations about the value of the family business?

People Fall Back on Instinctual Behavior When they Lose Their Sense of Safety

When a wild animal is cornered, there is little it will not do to protect itself. When you walk down the corridors of any county courthouse in America, you see men and women fighting to keep their dignity, and battling to hold onto the things they love and the things they cherish.

Many married couples take quiet pleasure in the fact that they know every nuance of their own block as they drive home every night. And their home address is fixed like a lighthouse beacon on their familiar street, with a welcoming spouse and several adoring children just inside the front door.

But when the divorce papers are filed, simple questions like “where will I live a year from now” become real.

That’s when they start to realize that they were capable of doing things they never felt were within their personality profiles when they were married. Is it ever appropriate to use your children to score points against your ex? It didn’t use to be when you were married. Can it ever be right to say to a judge that you did not receive temporary child support from your spouse when you actually got the money in hand, but you were paid in cash?

When Parents Get Divorced, One Well-Intentioned Parent Will Probably See the Kids a Lot Less

three childrenHowever divorcing parents feel about each other, it usually doesn’t change the way they feel about their children.  It’s easy to find the other spouse to blame for your newly divided life,  but in a way that makes many parents want to hold on even tighter to their children.

But in most courts across the country, visitation agreements give one parent a gift and the other a raw egg – standard visitation.

Standard visitation can often mean seeing the kids every other weekend, the holidays, and maybe several weeks during the summer.

It’s the court’s way of saying that, yes, you might have a chance of being able to work out your problems together and split time and decisions equally. But if you couldn’t do it during the marriage, why should we think you can do it after you are divorced?

It sounds harsh, but courts are very responsive to factors that will increase court traffic. If divorcing parents were allowed to split all time and decisions about the children equally, court administrators would be paralyzed by the prospect of a 1000% increase in the post-dissolution quibbling and bickering that could ruinously flood their courtrooms.

The Entire Court Process can be Expensive, Lengthy, and Dotted with Spousal Clashes

One of the “101” level pieces of advice that many attorneys give their new divorce clients is that during the divorce, keep focused on the future. This could be a point in time 15 months away, on some shimmering island, or even a long-forgotten vision of going out with friends and finally, finally being relaxed again.

Try to imagine a point where there will be better times ahead, they say, because things in the short term may well be stark, loud, antagonistic and filled with almost daily upheaval and accusations.

Parties often start the divorce process with good intentions. Trying to save money, divorcing parents seek to wade through the mediation process, only to sometimes find that they really don’t want to be as reasonable and understanding as they thought they would be about the living room furniture and the jet skis.

And then the financial reality of hourly divorce attorney fees can set in. These eye-popping costs are sometimes enough to make bickering parents think about giving marriage just one more try, or, at least, tolerate sitting in a room with each other for an hour to get the final papers signed.

Divorce often Forces People to Come to Grips with Who They Really Are

We all have our shortcomings, but we usually go to great lengths to either hide or rationalize our most serious failures because they can be too painful to confront.

But once a divorce hits the court system, particularly a contested divorce, then all bets are off. The flaws, failures and weaknesses of each spouse as a money manager, parent, teacher, and even as a responsible adult can fill volumes of deposition transcripts, keeping court reporters busy running from office to office.

What may have seemed like a good idea to spend weeks on the road, trying to build a business and create a future for your family years ago is now described to the court as a spouse who would rather spend time “partying” with business associates in fancy conference centers than with her husband and kids?

And a stay-at-home dad who also juggled the family books during the marriage can suddenly find himself accused of slack financial decision-making. Years ago, he might have made the “selfish” executive decision to buy the upgraded minivan, instead of putting money away in a college savings plan for the children. And so it goes.

Yet when the screaming spouses and the expensive legal help have disappeared at the end of the day, you might sit down late in the evening and realize something. Hey, maybe your spouse was right.

Maybe you did spend too much time away making money, in part because you genuinely dreaded day-to-day parenting. Or maybe you did plan too many family vacations that involved cushy overseas travel and exotic destinations, instead of traveling to open a state-sponsored college savings account, to help secure your family’s future.

During the Divorce Process, it can be Easy to Respond in Kind

You wanted to start and finish the divorce process without all of the accusations and yelling, and your intentions were praiseworthy.  Getting a fresh start could be much easier on you, the kids and everything affecting your life if the exes could just get along.

The problem is, what happens when you spouse doesn’t have the same process in mind and wants to use the courts as a final way to sweep up your dignity, and vacuum up the last remnants of your pride?

During the marriage, it was easier to see that one of you had to keep a clear head in difficult times. But when the final bonds of matrimony are getting unraveled, the rigidly calm and controlled part of your personality wants to lash back to get that final word in, to scorch the earth about your spouse’s horrible personal hygiene or fixation on pornography, day and night, because he just kept on pushing your buttons, again and again.

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