The Divorce Attorney’s Guide to Marital Fighting
Stop in your tracks… why are you fighting?
Undoubtedly, you’ve had this happen. You go round and round. He mentions that time when you did that… She angrily mentions the time when he went there… And somewhere in the process, for a fleeting moment, you wonder how this fight started. Often, that subject seems inconsequential by now because a host of other wrongs have been thrown in the mix. Stop; call a time out. The fight is no longer productive.
Consider your goals.
People fight for different reasons and to accomplish different goals. Take a moment and consider what you could accomplish and what you want to accomplish with the argument. For example: you come home after a 12-hour day at work and your spouse, who has been home all day didn’t clean up anything in the house. You are certifiably angry. However, a fight at that very moment will not accomplish much. You are both tired and you’ll say things you don’t mean. Are you starting a fight to express your anger or is your goal to come up with a fair division of the tasks?
Consider your time.
Clients tell me about their fights which they endured that lasted hours, sometimes days. Why? Is your spouse deaf? When you asked him once to take the trash out, he heard you. When you asked her once to stay within budget, she heard you. Why fight for six hours? If someone would audio record you, would we hear your fight escalate? Did each of you say more and more hurtful things? How did those painful things benefit you or your spouse? Were your comments intended to reach a resolution or were they intended to cut down.
Avoid arguing when you are hungry, tired or not feeling well. If the house isn’t cleaned up after your 12-hour shift, you may learn that evening that the kids were sick: procrastinating the fight avoided it. If your frustration is worthy of a fight, it will be worthy of a fight this weekend, when you are well reasoned and well rested. A well-reasoned argument is usually much better received by a spouse.
I was once invited to speak at a wedding. I gave the happy couple a kitchen timer as a gag gift as part of my speech. You know: one of those loud, irritating, ringing timers that make an enormous commotion. I started my speech by telling the audience I was a divorce attorney; I must have been a real killjoy at that wedding. I told the happy couple that to remain as happy as they were that day, they needed to set the timer for 30 minutes at the beginning of their fight and when the timer was up, so was the fight. I don’t know if the happy couple ever used the timer for that purpose, but I’m hoping that each time they see the timer, they remember to limit their time in the fighting ring. Limit your time fighting to thirty minutes, and continue the conversation on another day if you have not reached an agreement.
Clients reach out to me in complete amazement about their own actions. They hurt their spouse, and they claim it was completely out of character. If you do not recognize yourself during a fight, then you are making one of three mistakes: you started the conversation at the wrong time, you didn’t set that timer or your didn’t have the goal of a positive resolution.
Location, location, location.
Do not fight when your children can hear you. Children may hear you appropriately discuss things: they should never hear you fight (they may hear disagreements that are civilly and respectfully discussed). Children take things out of proportion during their tender years. In my divorce practice I often hear that the children are relieved that the parents filed for divorce. Do children want their parents divorced? Of course not! They just want the fighting to stop. Divorce, and the fights leading up to it, will have lifelong consequences for children. Don’t go there.
When parties are in a relaxed atmosphere and a public place such as a restaurant, the conversation tends to be much more reasonable and productive. Consider raising irksome behaviors during a date.
Do not agree if you don’t agree.
Clients have paid me dearly for apology letters that they didn’t mean. Some of my more passive clients want to avoid the fight and the anger and will write an apology letter to simply write what they expect their spouse wants to hear. And then … their spouse files for divorce, and I am asked to defend against the admissions such as “I am a bad father”, “I am a neglectful mother”. If you truly believe that you are a neglectful parent or inconsiderate spouse, get counseling and fix it.
Get counseling early.
There is this tendency of thinking of marriage counseling as a last resort. After all, when a counselor has to help you, you have failed already, right? According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, couples who have attended marriage counseling indicate high levels of patient satisfaction. Over 98 percent of those surveyed reported that they received good or excellent couples’ therapy, and over 97 percent of those surveyed said they got the help they needed. As a little icing on the cake, respondents reported improving their physical health and the ability to function better at work after attending therapy.
After nearly three decades of dealing with broken relationships, I have seen consistent patterns. Couples fail to seek help; couples fail to seek help until it is too late. Clients often visit me and tell me that they participated in marriage counseling for the past three months and made no progress. They allowed their relationship to deteriorate for years; sometimes decades, without any intervention such as counseling. Logically, if a marriage deteriorated for years, it takes more than three months to fix it.
If you are visiting our firm’s website, you may be considering divorce or ending your relationship. I tell each of my clients that relationship counseling is never a waste of time. Even when the relationship ends, you know that you sought to save it. You have the power to stop the insane fighting. You have the power to seek help. As Dr. Seuss wisely said: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” For future generations’ sake: go get help!