By the time most couples reach the painful decision to divorce, one or both of them have typically spent a great deal of time telling themselves (and often each other) over and over all of the ways in which the parties are out of sync and how the marriage is not working. In short, they have created a “stuck story” they have told themselves enough times that they have come to believe that being “stuck” is their ultimate and final truth – that there is no other way to think about their life. Collaborative Divorce can provide the tools for parties to begin to imagine a different story for themselves as they come out of their marriage.
Sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously (and often a combination of the two) divorce clients have created an elaborate narrative about themselves and/or about their spouse that centers in various ways on what is broken in the marriage – money, parenting, communication, sex – the list can go on an on. They have come, over time, to own the “stuck story” more and more completely, such that being “stuck” is all they can see.
One of the ways Collaborative Divorce can be an effective process is through the divorce professionals working with the parties to help them create a different story for themselves on the other side of the divorce. Instead of spending so much time and energy ruminating on the past and all of the things that were wrong, Collaborative Divorce actively encourages forward thinking, focusing on the future and how that unformed future can be better than the not-so-great past.
For example, the Coach can work with the parties to help them communicate differently (which often means communicating much less, at least at first) as an important foundational reboot for their relationship. If the parties have children together, this ability to communicate more effectively after the divorce will not only help their children for the obvious reasons, but it will also reduce the parents’ own stress around being in constant conflict with their children’s other parent. Parties often find they have a lot more internal capacity to parent their children well when they are not being depleted by the unhelpful dynamics of the marriage on a day to day basis. So Collaborative Divorce sometimes helps clients see that they are actually better parents (and are happier generally) when they are co-parenting in different homes.
As another example, money is, of course, one of the major sources of conflict for divorcing couples. Except for the very wealthiest clients, divorce almost always means a significant financial hit for both parties. However, clients often overplay the level of austerity the divorce will mean for them, which can leave them feeling hopeless to a degree that is out proportion with their financial reality. Or sometimes divorcing people carry a general sense of financial “badness” about the divorce, but do not really know what is driving their perception. When clients feel hopeless, their ability to craft or agree to solid settlement ideas is greatly diminished, which increases the conflict in the divorce negotiations generally and can even lead to impasse.
The Financial Neutral takes a great deal of care in the divorce process to be sure that both parties fully understand their current financial situation, as well as the way finances can and cannot work after the divorce. They help them craft post-divorce budgets that take into account what the Financial Neutral advises is the likely financial situation in which the parties will find themselves so that they can negotiate with their eyes wide open. Clients’ anxiety can be diminished simply by knowing more objectively where they will stand after the divorce rather than just worrying in a vague way about their financial future with no clear plan. Simply knowing can be helpful even if what they ultimately “know” is not particularly good news.
Collaborative Divorce knows that much of what makes divorce stressful for couples is a combination of feeling like the past did not work, and also feeling anxious about the ways in which the future will not work either, both of which collectively feed their “stuck story,” which they then play on repeat in their heads. The Collaborative Divorce process tries to neutralize both of these elements by (1) spending very little time and energy on the past (and the parties’ respective opinions about what they and their spouse did and did not do wrong in the marriage) and (2) by methodically trying to paint a future for the parties that is grounded in both reality and hope.