Divorce: The Danger of Learning From Others

Jul 25, 2011

Learning from the experience of others is a double-edged sword.  You can avoid a lot of mistakes by watching others make them first.  But, you can also fall into a lot of mistakes by assuming that your experiences will be like someone else’s. 

Case in point:  I know someone whose mother had a heart attack decades ago.  While hospitalized for the heart attack, her mother developed a serious complication.  The doctors caught it pretty late and some extensive tissue removal was required.  It was traumatic for my friend and the mother. 

My friend learned a lot from that experience.  Unfortunately, what she “learned” was that doctors cannot be trusted to take care of her.  What she took away from her mother’s experience was that she was better off staying away from doctors because she would probably end up worse off for trusting them.

This has, in turn, led to her to avoid doctors for decades.  She is now suffering from serious medical conditions that could perhaps have been avoided with regular care from a doctor.  Her quality of life has been seriously impacted.

She made the mistake of watching her mother’s experience and assuming that her experiences with doctors would be the same.

This same dynamic is endemic to divorce.  Many, if not most people going through a divorce will reach out to friends and family who have been through a divorce.  In many ways, this is a great thing.  It can provide support and succor in a very tough time.

Unfortunately, it usually comes with being given the gory details of the friends’ divorces.  And that can lead to the same unhealthy learning that affects my friend.

Many clients “learn” from their friends that divorce is a war.  They have learned that if you don’t strike first, then you will somehow suffer.  They learn that lawyers and ex-spouses are dangerous, ill intentioned creatures that must be combated at every turn.  They learn a false dichotomy of “fight or die”. 

They then assume that their divorce experience has to be like their friends’.   This causes more distress, worry, anxiety, fear, unnecessary aggression, cost and destruction than is warranted. 

Just like my friend, a divorcing spouse can find himself or herself suffering the affects of this assumption for a long time.

While some divorces certainly become very ugly and destructive affairs, typically that happens because the parties have unwittingly chosen that kind of divorce.  They may not have expressly agreed to have an ugly divorce.  But, the indelicate handling of their divorce has made the decision for them.

In my friend’s situation, the unseen reality has always been that doctors, in fact, provide a great deal of help to people.  Her mother’s experience was an anomaly. 

For divorcing couples, the reality is that dignified, respectful and even transformative divorces are common.  They are free to choose to not have an ugly, destructive divorce.  But, it requires a choice.

The bottom line is this:  Don’t assume that your divorce has to be like someone else’s.  You have options.  Your family and your marriage are unique.  Therefore, your divorce should be unique as well.  

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