The Least Recognized Reason for Divorce Wars

Many of us try to keep our divorces from becoming difficult, but the reality is that most of us will not be able to do so. This is because we suffer from a common problem, which is as old as divorce itself. We seem to be unaware of its existence even though it continues to claim more victims every day. We know something is to blame for turning our divorce into a nightmare, but it never occurs to us that this is the culprit.

Here it is – the problem that we don’t know is a problem:

We really don’t know how to discuss a divorce settlement with our spouse. We think we do, but we don’t.

For starters, we truly fail to comprehend how much and how quickly things change once a divorce gets underway.

On a purely intellectual level, we recognize that it should now be harder for us to influence our partner’s thinking. However, once the reality of our divorce actually hits us, this intellectual insight flies right over our heads. As far as we’re concerned, it’s marriage as usual, and our spouse is just as susceptible to our reasoning and charm as ever before. We delude ourselves into believing that we can still influence their thinking. After all, we shared a life with this person and, if we can’t convince them to see things correctly, who can?

Our next misstep is that we rely on the same communication skills we used during the marriage – the only ones we have to work with – to be of assistance to us during the divorce. But talk about delusion. Our inability to communicate effectively with one another is probably why we are getting divorced in the first place. If we couldn’t get through to them before, it is unrealistic to think we can get through to them now. It’s no wonder we have divorce wars.

To make things worse, we often ignore the fact that our fighting may have been going on for years, perhaps since the very start. Yet we somehow find a way to believe that this inability to communicate effectively with our partner will get the job done for us.

So, we naïvely assume that our soon-to-be-ex will see the numbers and facts as we do, and then accept the deal we want them to accept. We don’t realize it at the time, but this just doesn’t happen, despite the fact that we are universally optimistic about pulling it off. We instinctively suppress anything that might undermine our belief that our spouse will go along with our plan. We ignore their stated dislike of us, our long-standing inability to communicate with one another, and even the Buttinsky Factor. Yes, it barely fazes us that our partner is marching to orders received from friends and family who probably dislike us even more than the soon-to-be ex does.

None of this shakes our confidence. We put on our denial blinders and set out to get our way. And we really think we will.

Boy, are we wrong.

Here’s why. We don’t have a clue about what works and what doesn’t. And this isn’t our fault. Divorce puts us at our worst at a time in our life when we must be at our best, and no one ever told us about the “be at our best” part. We think we still have the freedom to say what’s on our mind, and we do not.

Divorce is new territory. It puts into play emotions, perspectives, and other phenomena that require special handling. Our common sense, verbal skills, and general savvy (which may serve us well in other parts of our life) do not prepare us for these conversations. It’s too easy to get caught off guard by forces we don’t comprehend and are not prepared to handle. 

Think of all the people you know who started out expecting a smooth and friendly divorce, and, instead, wound up wondering what hit them.

Those who can settle on their own seem to be the exception. The rest of us are usually not this lucky.

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Kari and Richard are staunch advocates of the non-court approach to divorce, and are also active and seasoned litigators with over 80 years of combined trial experience in the Illinois divorce courts of Cook and DuPage counties.