In a divorce, emotions can get the better of you. Domestic Relations Judges often say that they see good people on their worst behavior on the worst day of their lives. Unfortunately, that bad behavior can have terrible consequences in a divorce. Bad behavior prolongs a divorce, increases its cost and reverberates in the family long after the couple reaches a final settlement.
The deep and difficult emotions of divorce often come out in three ways, the B.I.G. 3 as I like to call them.
- B = Blame
- I = Inflame
- G = Games
The B.I.G. 3 are ways you take aim (or “ame”) at your spouse. And they are three of the worst things you can do during a divorce. The B.I.G. 3 are common emotionally-driven responses to a difficult situation. They may provide a temporary high, but over the long term they make things much worse. Instead of helping both parties finalize their divorce so that they can move forward, the B.I.G. 3 drag people back into the past. They act as marital quicksand, trapping people in the negative dynamics of the relationship even as they try to end it.
Spouses often try to blame each other when a marriage unravels. “If you hadn’t had that affair.” “If you were better with money.” “If you spent more time with the kids.” The list goes on forever. The message is clear: this marriage was supposed to last until death do us part. If we are breaking up, it must be someone’s fault, and it can’t be my fault, so it must be yours.
The need to blame is so great, that even supportive friends and family can get in on the act. “What happened?” they ask. In other words, tell us who is to blame. We need to know who to to blame. Unfortunately, the idea of blame was enshrined in divorce law until recently. The only way to get a divorce was by placing fault or blame on one spouse. This created the idea that there is a perpetrator and victim in divorce. There must be someone to blame.
Fortunately, the law has changed in most places, and most couples choose a “no fault divorce.” This means that whatever happened in the marriage, there is no legal blame needed to divorce. Whatever your divorce petition says, keep blame out of the marital settlement discussions. Blame doesn’t get you anything, and it costs you a lot. Blame often spirals out of control. By the time a couple is seriously contemplating divorce, there is usually enough perceived blame to go around. And around. And around. So keep the blame spiral out of divorce negotiations. It won’t solve anything and it will drain your emotional and financial resources.
Divorce is the perfect setting to turn long smoldering issues into infernos. Emotions are raw. And it is easy to throw fuel on those issues and watch them explode. It might even seem fun. You are angry and want to hurt your spouse. Plus you have a lawyer on your side to protect you from the explosion. So why not inflame the situation?
Think about fire. It is notoriously unpredictable. Even controlled burns can rage out of control unexpectedly. The problem is that you and your family are the most likely victims of an inflamed situation in divorce. Kids are particularly vulnerable. They get hurt easily and the wounds last a lifetime. And remember, money burns easily too. The more you inflame the divorce, the more money you will burn through. Before you know it, you have hurt yourself and your family more than anyone else. You always need to rebuild your life after divorce, but the more you destroy, the harder it is to rebuild. Don’t make it harder on you than it needs to be.
Ah, the games people play. People getting divorced spend a lot of time playing games. They think about strategy and winning. They play “Gotcha!” and try to catch each other in lies, inconsistencies and vulnerabilities. Show up half an hour late for parenting time and your ex says you are a bad parent who doesn’t care. Gotcha! Misunderstand an agreement and you are in violation. Gotcha! People even hire lawyers to play along and hit the other side with nearly impossible discovery requests that increase cost, time and anger. Gotcha!
Games are for kids. In a divorce, you need to be an adult and think about what really matters. Refusing to play games does not mean rolling over and being passive in your divorce. It means approaching each situation that arises in an appropriate way. By understanding what is behind difficulties that arise, you can come up with solutions that end the problems, not play games that perpetuate them. Then you can reclaim the time you would take playing games with your ex and use it to play the games that get you something. Join a gym, play pickup basketball or play Candyland with your children. Trust me, you won’t miss Gotcha! when you are climbing that ladder or sliding down that slide while your kids laugh at you.
There are many other mistakes people make during their divorces, but the B.I.G. 3 are so common and so destructive they warrant special consideration. Don’t take aim at your spouse in your divorce. You will inevitably face moments in your divorce when you want to blame, inflame or play games. Those are the moments where the risk to you is especially high. The B.I.G. 3 are easy traps for the unwary. But the rewards for avoiding the B.I.G. 3 are even greater. Looking back, children never say, “I wish you had done more damage during the divorce” but they will say, “your divorce was so much better than my friends’ parents’ divorces.” Looking back, you may say that as well, and that is really what winning in divorce is all about.