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Red Flags and Alarm Bells – Activated Emotions at Play

Wedding bells resound as the happy couple conclude their marital vows. Filled with hope, desire, optimism, and love for each other they embark on their lives together. Mr. and Mrs., Ms. and Ms., Mr. and Mr., Mx. and Mx. - Joyfulness abounds as two lives join together creating a newly formed family. Children may follow, pets may be acquired, extended families and friends contribute to a new sense of fulfillment.

Time passes…Life stressors intercede and intrude. The couple grows apart, and their relationship breaks down. Counseling is tried but does not help. The relationship has crumbled. The once happily married couple decide to divorce amidst an array of feelings contrary to what they experienced when they fell in love and married.

Please re-read the above two paragraphs focusing on emotions. Paragraph #1: happiness, hope, desire, love, joyfulness, and a sense of fulfillment. Paragraph #2: totally contrary feelings. These contrary feelings often include a sense of loss, fear, anger, shame, insecurity, anxiety, depression, and despair. These are some of the feelings that may get expressed during the divorce process. It is sometimes the case that the emotional challenges of the divorce process may cause a heightening of these feelings. And it is these “red flag” feelings that can threaten the process and turn things sour.

When couples choose to divorce by litigating, their upsetting feelings are more likely to come to the fore and be displayed in antagonistic ways. A contentious dynamic typically occurs when couples choose to employ adversarial lawyers who go to court to do battle over the division of assets and parenting time with children, and where they engage in a win or lose dynamic. Contrast this with the Collaborative Divorce model, which provides for a totally different process. Collaborative lawyers are advocates, but are not adversarial. In addition to the lawyers, the professional Collaborative Divorce team is comprised of a neutral Family Support Specialist, who has specific training in recognizing and dealing with the emotions which typically accompany divorce, and a neutral Financial Specialist, who is qualified in analyzing the family assets and helping to develop financial scenarios moving forward. With the help of this professional team, couples work out a settlement which is fair to both parties, which considers the best interests of every family member, and where reasonableness and integrity are the hallmarks of the negotiating process.

Red flags and alarm bells occur when activated emotions emerge during the negotiating process. If one member of the couple reacts with anger or fear, the Family Support Specialist is present to identify as well as acknowledge and validate the feelings. The Family Support Specialist works to make sure the feelings being expressed do not interfere with constructively moving forward with the negotiating process. When feelings of hurt, anger, or insecurity are expressed, they are acknowledged and dealt with so that they do not sabotage the negotiating process. The Family Support Specialist helps each member of the couple deal with their “red flag” feelings, within the context of team meetings, and when necessary in separate meetings with the couple, either individually or conjointly. These meetings are not therapy, as there is always a focus on the task of achieving progress towards negotiating a settlement without allowing emotional upheavals to derail the process. If a member of the couple focuses on anxiety, fear, or despair to such an extent that the process seems stalled, the Family Specialist helps to get to the root of these feelings. Once the underlying concerns are articulated, honored, and addressed, the negotiating process can continue. Communication skills are put in place so that reason can prevail once it is clear what the “red flag and alarm bells” are all about.

In closing, let me paraphrase the words of Deepak Chopra, a contemporary spiritual advisor who has written extensively on how to handle disagreements, and how to work towards settlements during times of increased tension. First, be willing to engage. Then listen to one another. Allow for an awareness of each other’s beliefs and needs. Seek to understand and have empathy for each other’s views. Do not be critical. Pause when needed to take a breath. Allow for creative thinking. Be willing to be generous of spirit. And finally, be willing to step back and be less serious.

Please be aware that your professional Collaborative Divorce team will guide you. You will have a clear road map for the process, and you will be supported by well trained and experienced professionals. For more information about the Collaborative Divorce process, please visit our Long Island Collaborative Divorce Professionals (LICDP) website, and feel free to call us for a no-cost initial consultation.

Written by Bob Raymond, Ph.D.

Family Support Specialist

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