When clients come in for legal services, I often ask them where they are emotionally. Some are calm and business-like. Some are smiling and seem at peace with the marriage breakup.
But most are overwhelmed, afraid, confused, furious or some combination of the above. I’d like to ask you, where are you today? If the answer involves strong emotions, the tendency is to react to those emotions with short-term solutions. If you’re afraid, you’re likely to defend your property and parenting time aggressively. If you’re angry, you may instruct your attorney to pull out all the stops, and make life unpleasant for the other. Many spouses go on a mad hunt for that hidden asset that they know is out there, or pursue the goal of “50-50 custody” by attacking the other’s parenting or manipulating the children.
It is often said that people facing criminal charges are bad people behaving at their best, while divorcing people are good people behaving at their worst. Consider the guy who knocked over the local 7-11 store. His lawyer will dress him in a business suit and tie, hide the tattoos, and tell him to speak gently and kindly. Divorcing people are almost always every-day folks who are angry, overwhelmed, confused or afraid. They act out these strong emotions by writing nasty court declarations, grasping at every penny the can, having conflict outside of court and even trying lobby the kids to like them better than they like your ex.
This is what almost everyone does, especially in the hard-fought cases. But I have to ask you, is that really you?
I’d like to challenge you to take out a pen and paper right now where you’re sitting. At the top of the paper, write a title “My Best Self.” below that write down your 5 best qualities when you’re being your very best self. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Okay, what did you come up with? When I do the exercise, what comes up for me is the following list:
1. I am generous, sacrificing what I want those that I love.
2. I am patient, listening with my heart as well as with my ears, and striving to understand the other.
3. I am happy, looking forward to what each day will bring, and rejoicing in its abundance.
4. I am forgiving, letting go of past wrongs and understanding that everyone makes mistakes.
5. I am loving, forming and maintaining deep relationships with my friends and family.
When I went through my divorce 10 years ago, my fear and anger made me stingy, impatient, unhappy, spiteful and hateful. My feelings toward my ex tended to bleed over into my other relationships, and I found myself trapped in a negative mindset. I had to step back and ask, is that really me?
We all have a tendency to slip into negative mindsets at times, especially trying times like divorce. When that happens, we must dust off our diaries (you do keep a diary, don’t you?) and take inventory. Write down what you are currently bringing to the world. Is it joy? Positivity? Encouragement? Are you being a great parent because you know how important you are to your kids?
Or are you being manipulative, penny-pinching, bitter and negative? Be honest with yourself.
Divorce is a great time to take a personal inventory, and get on track to your life’s real purpose. I don’t know you, but I can bet your life purpose isn’t to bring bitterness to the world, but to bring sweetness. It isn’t to bring darkness, but light. It isn’t to model stinginess to your children, but generosity.
You may not be able to control your ex’s attacking, bitter, resentful way of being in the world, but you can control your own responses to this transition called divorce. Seen this way, divorce can be a time of reprioritizing, a time of changing course, a time to re-create your very best self.
In the hope that you’ve received some inspiration from this post, I urge you to …
Love your family,
Protect your finances, and
Reach for your future!
Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.