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How the Brits and the EU Could Botch Their Divorce

This Hand Map clarifies the routes that lead to bad or to good divorce outcomes.

(c) Deklofenak
Source: (c) Deklofenak

As with so many divorce situations, especially when one party first announces that they want out, emotions in the UK and the EU are running high. Unfortunately, the relationship communication skill deficits that caused the rift may be the same that deepen the rift in the coming process of divorce negotiations.

One Londoner described the situation this way:

It feels here in the Remain camp as if we are bereaved. The EU ideals are part of who we are and hatred is now everywhere even between friends. . . . Racist crimes up 54% in four days! . . . The wounds are deep.

Our country is destroyed in a few short weeks and the children's future damaged. We were not yet recovered from the 2008 recession and all the struggle to get over that is set back massively now.

The poor will get poorer. Life has been very hard for many for 8 years and services cut to the bone with much unfairness towards the disabled and disadvantaged. This led many of them to vote for change when told their hardship was due to EU migrants taking jobs. Actually it was more due to government policy and poor planning for school places and NHS staff, plus globalisation and an aging population.

We look back fondly on how we felt at the 2012 Olympics: proud of our diversity, united, volunteering, achieving, inclusive. All gone now. No leaders either as political parties are in disarray.

How very sad, anger-provoking and frightening for all sides of this divorce--within the United Kingdom, now very disunited, and also within the European Union. One fear is that other EU member states may follow the lead of the UK with referendum votes.

What comes next for England, the UK, and the EU--with impacts on the whole world including the US--can be predicted by what I call the Heitler Hand Map.

I explain the Hand Map and its implications in full in my book Prescriptions Without Pills, but here's the short version.

Put your hand in front of you, palm out. Now picture your fingers from the other hand walking down the road of your arm from your elbow to your wrist. At your wrist you hit a bump. That bump represents a difficulty--a challenging situation, an "issue," a problem, a conflict, or maybe a tough decision such as spouses face in divorce negotiations.

From that bump you can head down any of the four fingers. All of these lead to more problems ahead. Alternatively, you can head up, up the thumb route, which takes you to the realm of well-being.

Here's how the Hand Map's five route alternatives would look for Brexit.

The first four options are the four finger routes, all leading to negative outcomes.

1. Fight: The Anger Road

Angry interchanges in response to a tough situation can feel tempting. Blame, accusations, criticisms and resentments heat up emotions. Anger then powers a tendency to insist that "I'm right. You're wrong."

In England the anger between neighbors who voted for and against leaving the European Union is creating unfortunate rifts between long-time friends and even family members.

When it comes time to negotiate the disengagement details, anger between the UK and the leaders of the EU states has potential to cause leaders to close their ears to each others' legitimate concerns. In that case they might insist on courses of action that based on spite and desires for retribution instead of on everyone's best interests.

Fighting to some extent ends up with one side losing and the other winning what they want, but at the same time both sides lose because fighting causes damages.

Who suffers most when divorce and post-divorce interactions turn hostile? Most of all, the children. The parents' fights create a toxic environment. Arguing also uses up the parents' time, energies and money, leaving the kids with less. In the case of Brexit, the people in both the UK and the EU will pay the price.

2. Fold: The Road to Depression

In the negotiations that lie ahead about trade agreements, financial obligations and more, as in negotiations between divorcing spouses, giving up to keep the peace can feel tempting. In the long run however giving up on issues of importance invites depression.

A spouse who deals with divorce negotiations by saying, "Fine, take all you want. I just want this relationship ended," will experience regret down the road. Both the British and the EU negotiators have to be firm in standing up for their nations' needs. At the same time, they need to be responsive to the concerns of other side.

What goes around comes around. Standing up for what's important to you and also responsivity to your soon-to-be-former partner both are important.

3. Freeze: The Anxious Road

A deer in headlights feels safest by standing still. At the same time, doing nothing by delaying action perpetuates uncertainty. Uncertainty perpetuates anxiety. Anxiety slows financial markets and businesses who become afraid to make decisions until they have information about what lies ahead. Everyone loses.

4. Flee: The Escape Route

When it all feels too difficult, leaders can be tempted to flee. England's Prime Minister, David Cameron, quit. That has triggered a second crisis, a crisis of who will lead the country, on top of the divorce with the European Union.

Fortunately, there still is the thumb route option:

5. Find Solutions: The Road to Well-Being

If British and European leaders sit down together and agree to negotiate the many issues that must be addressed for the two entities to disentangle, the divorce process has potential to create a solution that will work out best for both sides.

Which path will they take?

Which path do you take when you face challenging circumstances?

At work or at home, when you face a problem, do you take one of the finger routes? Do you get mad and look for who to blame? Fold, and then feel down and depressed? Refrain from speaking up and let the issue hover, sustaining anxiety and tension? Go take a drink to cover up your bad feelings of anger, depression or anxiety?

Or do you choose the thumb route? Do you know how to do the win-win waltz? If so, you gather information, speak up about your concerns in a collaborative way, and hopefully end up with a solution that works for you and equally well for the others. That's the route to continued well-being.


Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver psychologist, explains the causes and cures for negative emotions in her book Prescriptions Without Pills: For Relief from Depression, Anger, Anxiety and More.

(c) Susan Heitler, PhD
Source: (c) Susan Heitler, PhD
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