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Updated: Jan 29, 2021

By Larry Chamberlin, 19 May 2020

In a Divorce, Emotional Distress Is Difficult Enough to Deal with but a Pattern of Dysfunction Exacerbates the Turmoil.

In divorce, as in family law matters generally, emotions play a significant role. Conflict develops into set paths and it is easy to travel these paths without meaning to. There are often triggering events or behaviors which signal to the other side that a familiar dialogue is beginning. I call these Buttons because the response from the other spouse is as sure as if a button has been pressed. The trick is to avoid reacting to these buttons so that the conversation remains on a meaningful and adult level.

When going through a divorce it is vital to set emotions aside and conduct negotiations with purpose in mind. The outcome of this trying period will affect each party for years to come; the discussion should focus on the needs of each spouse and especially on the needs of the children. Rancor and recrimination get in the way of protecting one's own interest and the interest of the children. If one spouse succumbs to anger then meaningful dialogue and negotiations are severely hampered. The spouse trying to negotiate in good faith must become aware of those buttons that will send him or her into an emotional downward spiral. An angry spouse may, for example, trigger such a response with a strategically timed shrug of the shoulders or eye roll. Alternatively, there may be certain events from the past that merely calling them up will send the discussion down paths that may have led to the divorce but certainly will not help resolve the needs of the parties in the divorce.

How do you handle this situation? When an argument begins, leave. Just get out. If you lost your temper, it may be from the button-pushing I described: some comment or gesture, perhaps deliberate, that predictably triggered an emotional response over which you felt no control. After you have restored your sense of calm, think back to the conversation and play it back like a video. When you get to where you lost your temper, reverse the memory video. The remark or gesture the other person did immediately before you lost your temper was them pushing your button. Be on the look out for that trigger in future conversations. You have a microsecond to choose not to react, and thereby disconnect your buttons.

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© 19 May 2020 Larry Chamberlin, Chamberlin Law & Mediation

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