It takes courage to succeed in just about anything worthwhile. courage to persevere, courage to overcome, courage to not lose faith in your dreams in the face of life’s inevitable setbacks. A tremendous amount of courage is required to venture forth from ground zero after a failed marriage.
There is a small but significant characteristic in people who are able to refocus, hit their stride and reach new heights versus those who dwell in the past.
Positive and Negative Mindsets
Positive and negative mindsets are basic ideologies and mainly deal with surface issues in conscious awareness. When ignored long enough, these emotions can produce serious physical symptoms in order to be heard.
Our buried emotions have a direct impact on how we feel in general and on our overall health, which is why it is so important to move through each stage and ultimately into acceptance and peace.
From my many years of experience advising clients during and after divorce, there are many similar instances in which divorcees go wrong, and 10 common emotional phases that each person deals with, in one form or another. Some move rather quickly through each stage while others get stuck in one stage for months or even years. These are what I believe to be the dominant emotional stages of divorce:
- and Peace.
“Unexpressed emotions will never die.
They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
– Sigmund Freud
Where Divorcees Go Wrong
Stuck in Resentment
I represented a female client recently for her third attempted mediation. She had already fired and replaced three attorneys and was on her fourth. I was the first financial expert she had hired. After speaking with her over the phone and hearing her version of events, I felt that we might be able to help her reach a settlement and move on with her life.
Unfortunately, it soon became clear to me that no matter what scenario we created for her, she was not going to be able to advance into acceptance and ultimately, peace. She was stuck at resentment. She was closed off to negotiations or to any discussion of settlement proposals.
The proposed settlement from her husband was very equitable in my opinion and one which would allow her to move on with her life comfortably and without fear. No matter how hard her attorney and I tried, we could not get her to drop her sword. Each time the mediator would come back into the room with a revised proposal from the husband, she would interrupt before the poor mediator could get a handful of words out of her mouth. “No, no, no. That is not good enough. I am not going to accept that.”
In her mind, she was right and her way was the only way. There was no congenial spirit on her part, even though all of us professionals felt that a good effort was being made by her husband. As you might have guessed, we spent a good 8 hours that day attempting to reach an agreement but she refused each attempt.
The cost to her for that day alone was in the range of $7,000 when adding up the fees for the mediator, her attorney and myself. Her husband had a similar expense for the day. I shook my head when I learned that this was their third attempt at mediation. I resigned from her case the following day.
It is no surprise to me that this client was also dealing with knee pain and shoulder pain. She had surgeries on both her rotator cuff and her ACL during her bitter divorce process. Believe it or not, high stress situations, unresolved conflict, and resentment are the predominant emotions when experiencing pain in both of those areas. The underlying emotional conflict for problems with the left knee is that one “needs to be more receptive to events”, according to renowned expert Karol K. Truman.
The underlying emotion for the right shoulder relates to “financial matters and believing that you are bearing burdens that don’t belong to you”. According to the late Dr. John Sarno of New York University – Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation, who spent decades of his life researching the explosion in cases of back pain and joint pain, findings of harmless and natural abnormalities in MRI imaging are often pointed out as the culprit of pain but very seldom are the true cause.
Once the negative emotion is counteracted by positive feelings, the pain subsides and goes away on its own. My team and I see some type of physical ailment, illness, or disease in approximately 75% of our divorce cases. Those who don’t experience physical problems are most often the ones who approach divorce amicably and with a positive outlook on what lies ahead for them.
There is no such thing as winning in divorce.
Yet there are most definitely successful outcomes, as compared to a large majority of cases in which divorcees fail miserably through the process.
Stalled in Bitterness
Another case I am currently involved with and which began over two years ago illustrates how stalling in the bitterness stage can cause serious financial mistakes, prolong divorce months or even years longer than necessary and wreak havoc on emotional and physical health.
The husband, whom I represented, recently retired from his career as a pilot. His wife does not currently work and is 15 years younger than he. They own a nice home worth more than a million dollars with a fairly hefty mortgage and second mortgage. The husband had also accumulated over $2 million in 401(k) assets. The first big issue, in this case, was the fact that a portion of the home equity and nearly half of the retirement assets are rightfully allocated as separate assets by the husband.
He had purchased the home and had a significant 401(k) balance prior to their marriage. After 24 months of legal exchanges and two mediation attempts, the wife and her attorney finally stipulated to the separate property. By getting hung up in the bitterness phase, the wife needlessly ran up a $40,000.00 legal bill for herself.
The wife’s main priority is one that we would have advised strongly against, had we represented her. It was to keep the home and in doing so, concede an off-setting amount of her marital interest in his retirement assets. We showed that the off-setting amount of retirement assets would need to be somewhat larger to account for the tax obligations. She would need to refinance both mortgages into a new, even larger mortgage to pull enough equity out to pay off his separate property value.
She was going to have to go back to work in order to make ends meet since the husband had now retired (mandatory retirement at age 65) and didn’t have a reliable income stream in order to produce the alimony award of $6,000 per month she was seeking. Additionally, she would be sacrificing crucial retirement assets in exchange for keeping the home.
No matter how you sliced it, she couldn’t afford the home, especially with a higher payment required from the refinance. Our proposal had been for our client to buy her out of the home since he is more capable of handling the payment with his larger separate interest retirement assets. This option would give her enough cash to purchase a new home more suitable to her needs and have plenty left to be comfortable in starting her new life.
She would also retain nearly $600,000.00 of retirement assets and her monthly living expenses would be drastically reduced since she wouldn’t have the excessive mortgage bill to pay.
She has refused to see this side of the coin, and with the “help” of her high conflict attorney, she will not budge from that shallow thinking. Tragically, but not surprising to me, the wife developed fibromyalgia during this process and is suffering from severe and “unexplained” physical pain.
“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”
– Chinese Proverb
How can one increase the odds of a successful outcome and how exactly can one develop the right mindset?
Here are the three rules to follow when pursuing a successful conflict resolution:
1. Relax and Let Go – Divorcing spouses need to find peace within themselves before attempting to negotiate a settlement. There are numerous ways to help move through the emotional stages efficiently. Meditation, yoga, relaxation, exercise, and counseling are all good practices. The simple act of deep breathing several times per day can make a tremendous difference in how we handle tension and stress.
The relaxation response triggered by calming and soothing our minds has been shown to destroy harmful cells, regenerate healthy new cells, eliminate disease and strengthen our immune systems. Why, then, do so few people apply these practices to their daily lives? I firmly believe that the pharmaceutical-led health care industry has led us astray. We are led to believe that illnesses, diseases, and pain are all separate issues from the mind and must be treated with a drug or surgery.
People today are programmed to immediately seek a clinical office or even an emergency room for treatment without ever considering what the root cause of the condition might be.
2. Seek the Child Within – In any disagreement or negotiation, I have found that attempting to understand how the other party thinks and the underlying reasons why can really help reduce conflict. Allow yourself to consider the other party as a child and how he was raised. Was his life filled with love and stability or was it full of childhood trauma? Did his parents nurture him and teach him to treat people fairly or grow up with tension or even abuse? What would you say to that child?
Open up to the world of possibilities by showing compassion and empathy rather than staying tightly gripped to preconceived notions and resentment.
3. Find the Common Bonds – Find something that you can agree on, even something very small like the elation over your favorite sports team winning a game, your favorite time of year, a movie or a song that you both enjoy. Focus on one or two small things that you do agree on and build from there.
Reaching agreements often comes from finding common ground in overlooked places. Wars have ended, truces have been called, and feuds have been resolved oftentimes by people sitting down together, with anger and malice left at the door, starting a conversation about common goals. They don’t attempt to force their will on the other. It is understood that they will remain independent of one another and therefore, have many differences in taste, values, and objectives.
The number one rule in negotiation is to show empathy. Strong-arming a negotiation might help you win a battle or two, only to prolong the war. The cost will be much larger in the end than if you had found common ground early, conceded a few points (assets, income, parent-time) and reached an agreement you could both live with.
A Lesson From WW1
World War I provides some valuable lessons for those dealing with conflict.
On December 24, 1914, during one of the bloodiest and deadliest conflicts in world history, soldiers spontaneously adopted a cease-fire. According to many accounts from soldiers who were present, German troops began lighting “Christmas trees” during the week leading up to Christmas. Almost as if they forgot why they were fighting, soldiers from France, Germany, and Britain began exchanging songs and season greetings between the trenches.
This bonding time brought about cheer and goodwill to the soldiers who were cold, hungry and weary from the miserable conditions of war. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer. They exchanged what few items they had such as cigarettes and plum puddings in the form of presents. If left up to them, the war may have ended at that time, nearly four years before it actually did on June 28, 1919.
These are the words written by a British soldier to his mother about the event:
“Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous (sic), isn’t it.”
Another soldier described it like this: “It was good to see the human spirit prevailed amongst all sides at the front, the sharing, and fraternity. All was well until the higher echelons of command got to hear about the effect of the ceasefire, whereby their wrath ensured a return to hostilities.” The return to conflict after the Christmas ceasefire led to millions of further casualties. (In total, the war claimed 9 million lives and left 21 million wounded.)
Step back and consider your “higher echelons”. Who or what is prompting you to stay in conflict? Is it your ego not wanting to show weakness? Is it anger, denial or bitterness? Is if fear or insecurity? Or perhaps, is it your centers of influence such as your friends, family, or attorney?
Remember, it is not their life that is being considered. As much as they might tell you what you want to hear, consider if their involvement is promoting a resolution or creating more conflict. It is not their peace nor is it their happiness to be found. It is yours. Don’t align yourself with disagreeable, negative people during a divorce, but instead look for positive, happy people to engage with and seek guidance from.
Without question, the best outcomes are realized by those with a positive and cooperative mindset. Just a few months ago, we had a high-net-worth collaborative case stall out due to a lack of trust from the wife regarding her husband’s reported business valuations. In hoping to restore the collaborative discussions, the husband agreed to pay for an outside business valuation expert, appraisals on the real estate, and projections from my firm in showing various settlement scenarios.
Ultimately his wife found that the numbers submitted by her husband were very much in line and with the proposed settlement projected out, her comfort level was restored. Their divorce case was settled in a manner that allowed them both to move forward without further conflict or uncertainty. This was possible because the husband didn’t become angry or resentful over his wife’s request for outside verification.
It was also possible because once the numbers were confirmed, the wife was agreeable to move forward without bitterness, letting the business remain with him in exchange for a large property settlement which we helped to determine. Success requires emotional maturity and a willingness to cooperate. Consider what emotional stage you’re in and where you might get stuck. Learn from the mistakes and the successes of others.
“Place a higher priority on what a win looks like for the other person”
– Harvey Robbins
Billy has been in the financial services industry since 1996 after a rewarding career as a jockey. He has worked for several notable firms and opened his own financial planning firm in 2009 – Peterson Wealth Services Inc. He obtained his CDFA license in 2011 and began offering divorce financial consulting to individuals, couples and their legal advisors. Billy has extensive experience in asset valuation and division analysis for complex estates and high net worth individuals.