Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Serenity Prayer for Divorcing Couples

Alcoholics Anonymous has made this serenity prayer famous: Grant me the ability to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  I wish divorcing couples (and their attorneys) would embrace this as their mantra.

Every day I see people totally lose it.  It is a bit like having someone pee on my carpet, and then I'm left with a mop to try and clean it up.  As a matrimonial attorney for over 15 years, I have become an expert at damage control, yet as I work my magic I often ask myself that famous line from Forrest Gump, "are you crazy or just plain stupid?"

Honestly, few people in DC are stupid; in fact we have one of the most densely populated areas of highly educated individuals, and yet some of the most brilliant professionals I have ever met do insane things in their personal lives.  Why?  Simple- because they are realizing that things are completely outside of their control.  There is nothing more disturbing to a control-freak than the moment when they are forced to reckon with the fact that they can't control everything or everyone around them.

As I watch the chaos around me, it all becomes a bit surreal-- kind of like a Matrix moment, where somehow I find a way to just hit pause in the movie, and while everyone else around me is frozen, I allow myself to laugh at the absurdity of it all and think through some options calmly.  Unfortunately, not everyone has this ability, including some of the attorneys involved, and so perhaps we should just recap some main points that people need to remember in a divorce:

1. You will no longer be able to know at every moment where your children are or what they are doing with the other parent;

2. You will no longer be able to know your spouse's every whereabouts, who they socialize with, or  how much they earn or spend each week;

3. You will no longer be able to get an immediate response to a call, email or text-- you are separating and therefore you no longer will rank at the top;

4. You will no longer be able to make demands of the other person-- if you want their cooperation, you need to play nice.  A positive attitude will usually receive positive reinforcement whereas a negative attitude will rarely get you anything other than venom.

The sooner you can accept these 4 basic facts and try to live by the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated, you will be well on your path to creating a dignified post-divorce life.  Letting go of control is not easy for many, but ironically the more you are able to master that skill, the more you gain control of yourself and your emotions.  If you think of emotions as full of energy, just find a way to channel that energy productively rather than in destructive ways.

Embrace that serenity prayer-- we simply cannot control the chaos around us, just our own actions. 

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