Money and Emotions in Divorce

by Jill Bresleau

From a lawyer’s point of view, it’s difficult to understand why people won’t settle a case when they’re only a few hundred dollars apart on a matter, for instance, short-term support. It is so clear to the lawyer that the parties are going to spend far more than that fighting about it. It’s a good opportunity to suggest that they split the difference, or (in speaking privately to your own client) to suggest just conceding, to get it done.

When that doesn’t happen, the lawyers are baffled, sometimes frustrated. Their tools are limited, however. They can’t make people be reasonable, so all they can do is to offer to fight it out in court.

Even the husband and wife often have no idea what’s going on, they just know they can’t give in. Both of them refer to their “principles” as the driving factors. It may feel like a principle, because it is as strong as a wall. It feels unshakeable, and it feels right. But it is probably not that lofty.

We all have emotional histories written in our deep memories, in the very cells of our bodies. Our histories, which we usually are unconscious of, are sometimes like smoke alarms. They go off with a very intense warning that something threatening—no, dangerous—is about to happen, something that poses a risk to our survival. And we react. But, we often react out of proportion to the actual risk and without reference to logical outcomes.

When that happens, it’s a really good idea to take a step back, and to take a break. We may never know just what triggered the alarm, but we can’t think clearly until it’s turned off, the modest amount of smoke is cleared, and we can begin to relax.

These illogical responses have their origins way in our past. They probably helped us at one time. They are impulses, or feelings, or “principles,” that deserve respect, if only because they are intended to help us. But we need to take another look, to see if they’re really serving us well now. Or by fighting for our principles, are we going to lose more than we gain?