DIVORCE: THE FINAL SOLUTION Creating a positive attitude in negotiations

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

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart ...
Who looks outside, dreams.Who looks inside, awakens.
~Carl Jung

More than half the numbers of marriages in California end in divorce. The rate of divorce in second and third marriages is even higher. The average length of first marriages is about eight years, second marriages about seven years and third marriages a mere three years (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

While the poets and philosophers wax on about the reasons for marriage, the psychologists, lawyers, and pundits try to explain divorce. Across the country and throughout the world, the prioritizing of reasons for divorce vary (i.e., in Oklahoma infidelity is cited as the number one cause while in Malaysia it is a trailing fifth most cited reason). Notwithstanding different priorities, the leading causes seem to be: i) a lack of commitment to the marriage; ii) financial problems; iii) sexual conflicts or dysfunction; iv) poor communications; v) infidelity; and vi) failed expectations or unmet needs.

When faced with these obstacles, the question is how to deal with them. Is divorce the final solution? When you look at the higher rate (and shorter term) of divorce in second and third marriages, you might conclude the issues were not really resolved. In his book, The Seven Principles of a Highly Effective Marriage, John Gottman describes marital conflict as falling into two categories: solvable problems and unsolvable problems. He proposes that 65% of marital conflict falls into the unsolvable category. His solution? Develop a set of skills to manage the inevitable immovable object and irresistible force. In general, the idea is to dissipate negativity (i.e., avoid criticism, refrain from contempt, overcome defensiveness, and decline to stonewall). The struggle is not about avoiding conflict, but managing the conflict in respectful ways.

A positive attitude will overcome nearly all communication deficits. A negative attitude will prevent the best of communication skills from winning out. The cost of divorce is staggering when you consider both the emotional and financial investments required (a fully litigated divorce costs $150,000). A divorce should be carefully thought through before a decision is made. But, even then, the divorce process could well use the suggestions of Gottman in how the conflict is managed.

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