Part 2: How to get, gain, assume and maintain control of your divorce

The following second installment focused on "gaining" control.

By Stacy D. Phillips
Updated: September 04, 2014
Family Lawyers


 As I mentioned in my introductory piece on this topic, I have come to know during my 25 years as a divorce attorney that jockeying for control—if not handled properly—is typically what brings down a marriage. For most couples, once the relationship ends, the control issues do not disappear, in fact, they escalate. Why? Because it is oh-so-easy to get caught up in one or all of the three biggest divorce wars: emotional, psychological and legal; or the fourth one—the internal wars—the ones a person wages against him or herself (too much or too little, e.g. too much drinking…too little sleep, etc.).

Being out of control at any one stage in your divorce process, and even years later, can not only be draining it can cause you to get stuck—it can preclude you from moving on to a more productive and fulfilling life. The trick is to not allow yourself to fall prey to most notably the emotional or psychological wars because those two wars can stop you from ever gaining control. What are these wars? An emotional war is one designed to hurt another's feelings or penetrate one's feelings at a very deep and painful level. Psychological wars are described as when one person (or both) tries to make the other question his or her sanity, or when one or the other attempts to persuade others that his/her opponent is not mentally fit. This war often extends beyond those boundaries to include any attack that plays havoc with one's peace of mind and/or mental well being, or focuses on the object of ruin.

If your ex has an emotional or psychological hold on you it is time for you to break that hold. How? Refuse to engage in the war! If you are already in one, get out. You can gain control when your ex's antics no longer affect you. If you are the perpetrator—if you have launched a war—end it. Call for a cease-fire. Easy to say, yes; I truly understand how hard it is not to get caught up in a divorce war. That said, it is not unrealistic if you approach the control issues permeating your divorce level-headedly. And you may need help to get out of the war – a therapist, your clergy or anyone else that has the tools to help you gain insight, perspective and tools to get out best when you will not overstay your welcome.

Before I get to my punch-list of questions to determine whether you have gained control in your divorce I first want to mention that as hard as it may be, you might have to give up something in order to gain something. For instance, I knew of a man whose wife continually harassed him when dealing with custody of their child. It was relentless. The mental torment interfered with everything in his life. After a number of years of wrangling, he found the only way she could gain on the situation – for herself but more importantly for her children – was to let her have her way. He agreed to allow his ex have full and complete physical custody of the child (which did not last, by the way. She soon was in jail for drug-running and he had custody of their daughter). Through that process, however, he was able to gain control of his life. Yes, the sacrifice was huge, it seemed at the time, but in the end, he came to realize that he had not really given up so much – and it worked out soon in his favor.

I am not advocating that you turn over your children to your ex, I am simply pointing out that often a person can hold on to a certain position out of spite and one-upmanship. As such, the choices one can often make are not always the most sensible ones.

Here is something to ponder: It is virtually impossible to make reasonable decisions when you are focused on waging a war—especially—an emotional or psychological war—which can lead to a legal war and an internal war; the latter includes "excesses" of any kind such as drinking, gambling, shopping….

According to Webster, there are several definitions of the word "gain." The one that most aptly applies, I believe, is to "outdo the competition." No better way to do that than refuse to engage in a war. It is not possible to attack or be attacked when a target is not within range. And, this should hit you hard: No one ever walks away from war unscathed.

  1. Where to start to gain control? Through some self-exploration, answer the following questions to determine whether you are currently engaged in an emotional or psychological war—either as the perpetrator or the alleged combatant.
  2. Does your ex have the ability to hurt your feelings by things he/she says and does? Do you go out of your way to hurt his/her feelings?
  3. Are you an "Attacker" or "Defender?"
  4. If you are an "Attacker," do you spend time plotting ways to get back at your ex or seizing opportunities as they spontaneously arise (or both)?
  5. If you are a "Defender" do you: Eagerly return fire; relish the next attack so you can engage in it; dread the possibility of another attack?
  6. In either capacity, do you obsess about the war?
  7. Do you spend time anticipating the next battle or skirmish?
  8. Are you willing to sacrifice your emotional and/or psychological well-being at any cost to win the war?
  9. Do you get a feeling of euphoria in getting even?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you are not gaining at all.

In fact, you need help! This is the perfect time to seek out a therapist, clergy person or trusted advisor to guide you in the gain-control process.

Here are a handful of suggestions to help you gain control:

  1. Write down a list of what is most important to you. You will probably find that your well-being is at the top of that list. And, it should be.
  2. Identify the type of war in which you are engaged and seek the resolve to end it.
  3. Concentrate on new endeavors, ones that will substitute for the time and energy you are currently spending on warmongering.
  4. Make a list of goals that you have not yet achieved. Take the plotting and planning time you have allocated to engaging in a divorce war to plot and plan how to accomplish those goals.
  5. Reward yourself for each time you resist engaging in, starting, or perpetrating a war. We all live for pleasure. Haven't you had enough pain?
  6. Take up a new hobby that helps to distract you from the temptation to participate in a divorce war. The list is endless: From golf to singing lessons.
  7. Engage in activities that reinforce the "gain" concept. Mountain climbing, pumping iron, yoga, helping your community pick up debris or trash, running a marathon…. What is on your list?

Ultimately, what is most important to remember is that when you gain control, you gain peace of mind. Nothing should be more important to you than your mental well being. Once you focus on that idea you will be well on your way to gaining control.

Read the other articles in this series:

Stacy D. Phillips is a co-founder of Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation, which specializes in high-profile family law matters. She is co-chair of the Women's Political Committee and a member of Divorce Magazine's North American Advisory Board. She can be reached at (310) 277-7117. View her firm's Divorce Magazine profile here.

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July 29, 2008
Categories:  Family Lawyers

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