Why Couples Can't Stop Fighting During and After their Divorce Process.

The never-ending divorce process

Posted Jul 31, 2011

Divorces never seem to end for many couples. Even after a couple has legally completed the emotionally and financially expensive court process, oftentimes the process lingers on for many years. Why? Because the dynamic a couple demonstrates in their relationship will usually be replicated in their divorce, and in their post-divorce years. You know the saying: "live by the sword; die by the sword." For example, a distant couple will usually fade away from one another during the divorce process with little animosity. These partners may never even speak to one another again; they appreciate the art of texting more than most. A volatile couple may experience domestic violence both during and following the formal divorce process, and a competitive or controlling couple will probably spend their children's inheritance on attorney fees. A reasonably communicative and logical couple who simply grew apart may face their differences with grace, and move on with little struggle. And people who have trouble separating may drag the divorce process out and continue to nitpick in the post-divorce process as a way to stay connected. To these folks, any connection is better than no connection. The poor state of the economy isn't helping. Many couples can't afford to separate even after divorce and this only exacerbates the dysfunction of their pre-existing dynamic.

I tell couples who've decided to split to stick around long enough in treatment to understand their relationship dynamic and to avoid taking it into the legal process. True to form, the reasonable, logical people listen and the hot-heads are hell bent on fighting to the death over a lamp shade. It's particularly interesting when one partner acts "shocked" at how his/her formerly significant other has "suddenly turned" during the divorce process. In my experience there is little suddenness about it. Rather, the potential was always evident; the surprised partner's defenses simply ignored the signs. For example, if one partner always worried about money during the marriage, he/she will be more likely to exhibit a ruthless paranoia concerning finances during a divorce. While Billy Joel speaks of The Stranger, I say you get what you see and what you're too afraid to see. And, when strife escalates, you just get more of it.

It would be great if the legal system could stop some of these emotionally and financially destructive dynamics but the system is "one" with a good fight; truth and fairness tend to take second to winning and losing. Mediation and collaboration are welcomed, but couples who can make it through these processes are usually the ones with the least toxic dynamics. I don't think people can depend on most lawyers to help—although some try in earnest. I think it will be incumbent upon couples' therapists to explain how deeply couple dynamics are entrenched and how they play a role in the divorce and post-divorce process.