When You Are Caught Up in Conflict




Samantha was angry. She didn't need to tell me this. I could see it exuding from her in the way she sat, jaw clenched, tears welling to the way she spat the words out when she spoke of her ex, Jeff.

Jeff had decided to end their 14 year marriage and she was in emotional free-fall, feeling completely blindsided and betrayed. And grieving.

This was the first time I had met Samantha. As we spoke, alarm bells were ringing for me, warning me that trying to resolve the legal, parenting, relationship and financial issues bourne out of Samantha and Jeff’s separation could very easily turn nuclear.

Separation issues are not clean cut, clinical, technical issues to resolve. They come with the full range of emotions. Very often, they come with high drama. Most of the time, there is lots of grieving happening which can manifest itself in anger and bad behaviour.

More often than not, one person has made the decision to separate some time ago and as such, has already travelled well along the emotional roller coaster that comes with that decision. Meanwhile, their partner is playing emotional catch up, travelling on a later departing roller coaster. 

What may happen to you when you are living with high emotion during a separation or divorce?

  • Your emotional state may mean you are unable to process information soundly and make settlement decisions in your divorce. That is not a weakness or frailty. It is just neuroscience in action. With increasing emotion, thinking gets cloudy and the neuroscience that is at play means you may become physically unable to make clear, rational decisions.

  • As anger and grief take seed and conflict grows, your perception of the conflict can become distorted. The story of the conflict becomes similar to that of a fairy story – complete with a villain, a hero and an innocent victim. Guess what role we rarely assign to ourselves? We start to view things consistently through the lens of our own story of our separation or divorce. We can easily slip into seeing others as being “for us” or “against us”.

  • Communication deteriorates – we tend to communicate only with those that support our view; our story of the conflict. If we are speaking with our ex or those who don’t agree with us, we tend to do so with the goal of defeating them or changing their views and strengthening our own position, rather than with the goal of understanding each other.

  • As all of this is happening, the key issues in your separation or divorce get blurrier and unrelated issues and innocent bystanders, including children, start to get sucked into your conflict tornado. As the issues become less defined, it becomes difficult work out what it takes to resolve them. Sometimes, things are so blurry, it is hard to even see how it all started and you may be left wondering how you went from the loving couple you once were to this mess who can't see eye to eye on much?

  • You likely start to get locked into a position on an issue. Underlying this may be a fear of not wanting the other person to “win”, of losing face or looking badly if we back down. You may become more and more committed to your position, even if it makes little logical sense to maintain it.

  • How you view others can change. When in the midst of conflict, the differences between us seem larger and larger while our similarities appear, to our mind’s eye, smaller and smaller.

Add into all of this, lawyers with a highly litigious approach and quickly things in your separation or divorce can get inflamed. Threats of court get thrown around and, if Court proceedings eventuate,  you are thrust into a process that is largely out of your control and sees the conflict tornado spin faster.

Yes, things could very quickly turn nuclear for Samantha and Jeff. But, the good news is that things needn’t go that way. Your choice of lawyer and the process you choose can have a huge impact on whether your separation or divorce involves your relationship being gently untied or harshly hacked apart.

There is no way of completely removing the emotion or the conflict felt during a separation. It is as necessary to the separation or divorce process and being human as heat is to making crème caramel. However, no one likes burned crème caramel! Using a lawyer who is experienced in a range of dispute resolution processes and is committed to finding the best process for you and your family, means that, no matter which process you work through, he or she will always be looking for ways to find resolution and to avoid you and your loved ones being burned by unnecessarily inflamed conflict.