ATTITUDE: Good or Bad: Does it matter in divorce?

By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

The attitude of unhappiness is not only painful, it is mean and ugly. What can be more base and unworthy than the pining, puling, mumping mood, no matter by what outward ills it may have been engendered? What is more injurious to others? What less helpful as a way out of the difficulty? It but fastens and perpetuates the trouble which occasioned it, and increases the total evil of the situation. At all costs, then, we ought to reduce the sway of that mood; we ought to scout it in ourselves and others, and never show it tolerance.
~William James

A successful divorce has been argued to contain the following elements: recovery from the emotional pain of separation, becoming grounded as a separate individual, providing the necessary nurturance and social growth of children, and developing a healthy attitude toward self, ex-spouse and past marriage (Ed Sherman: Practical Divorce Solutions). It seems near impossible to achieve any of these elements without first adopting a positive attitude. How do we make such changes while fresh in the grief of a lost dream?

It might be useful to first develop a definition for attitude when used in the context of a divorce or separation. An attitude can be open or closed. An open attitude is consistent with having an approach to the separation process. A closed attitude is consistent with a mind-set or maintaining a position. Shifting from a closed attitude, which does afford one a sense of protective cover, to an open attitude, which creates opportunity for resolution, requires a conscious decision to make a change and commitment to carry out the change.

While several roads exist toward changing attitude, in the short term the most effective seems to be self-persuasion. It is simply in your best interest to honor the good that existed in your marriage and respect your spouse’s contributions to the marriage. Divorce closes one metaphorical door and opens another. To avoid carrying negative baggage into the “new door” you can use the divorcing process as a cleansing agent by replacing negative attitudes with positive attitudes. While a positive attitude doesn’t necessarily mean forgiveness, it does mean letting go of anger. It means choosing your behavior through the reflective thought process rather than emotional reaction. It means looking ahead, not backward. Your future depends on how you choose in the moment.

The past is history;
The future is a mystery;
This moment is a gift;
That is why this moment is called the present;
--Allan Johnson



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