Friday, October 15, 2010

Dealing with Anger

Collaborative divorce is often described as a peaceful means of settling very difficult family issues. Just like in litigated cases in the court system, Collaborative divorces sometimes experience displays of anger between the parties. That is unavoidable, and it may not be all bad.

Anger is a natural and very common aspect of divorce. Virtually everyone going through a divorce will experience periods of anger towards their spouse. Most people work through the anger at some point, but some have a great deal of trouble letting go of the anger.

Experience, and therapists, tell us that bottling up the feelings of anger can be unhealthy. That doesn't necessarily mean that we should encourage the parties in a Collaborative case to just share their immediate emotions without thinking about it.
On the other hand, the Collaborative Law process provides several ways to help manage the parties' emotions to lead to constructive results. Here are some that come into play:

Managing Emotions
  • In Texas, we usually use a neutral mental health professional (MHP) as a communication facilitator. In that role, the MHP works with each party to manage any feelings of anger. They help the parties learn useful skills that can benefit their other family, personal and business relationship. MHPs can work with parties to teach them how to maintain control so they don't immediately shift into "fight" mode. They learn how to listen better and how to chose words to express their feelings without escalating the conflict.
  • Another important key is helping the parties to stay focused on the "Roadmap to Resolution", the step-by-step process that we follow to reach an agreement. The Roadmap helps people take things a step at a time. Breaking the process into small, incremental steps helps the parties concentrate on useful and productive issues, avoiding the easy distractions into side issues that can come up.
  • If need be, we can also arrange individual therapy for one or both of the parties. Sometimes there are long-term issues that require extra help. Other times, counseling can lead to better understanding and better skills by the participants. There's almost no one who couldn't benefit by some counseling during a divorce, even in the Collaborative process.
  • How information is handled is a significant advantage over the methods used in litigation. The requirements that the parties cooperate with each other and share information help because they eliminate gamesmanship and skirmishes on side issues. Transparency and cooperation are the opposites of what normally happens in divorces in litigation. The openness of the process helps reduce stress and anger.
  • The Collaborative experience is enhanced by direct communications between the attorneys and parties. The fact that we have joint meetings, face-to-face, helps us avoid the common problem of distortions of communications as they pass from party to attorney, then attorney to attorney, and then attorney to party. Direct discussions with immediate responses and conclusions help minimize misunderstandings that can lead to anger. They also cut down on delay.
As effective a process as it usually is, Collaborative Law can't make anger disappear. In divorces and other family law matters, it's not unusual for the parties to get mad. Through the use of a variety of tools, however, Collaborative practice is better able to diffuse the anger and deal with the situation in ways that help preserve important family relationships. That's a major reason why many attorneys and parties are recommending Collaborative Law.

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