Last week at lunch, the waitress inadvertently dumped a cup of marinara sauce all over my suit. I didn’t move while she went to collect a towel to help me wipe it off. I didn’t yell at her. It was an accident. She was flustered and upset and scrambling to offer reimbursement of my dry cleaning bill. I just smiled and thanked her for helping me get cleaned up and said “no worries at all.” The gentleman I was with said to me “You have amazing control.”
I often hear clients bemoaning the other side seemingly having the “upper hand.” “Why do they have all of the control?” “Why do they get away with anything they want?” “Why don’t the rules apply to them?”
Control and perceptions of control constantly operate in the legal world, and let’s be honest, in just about every aspect of our lives: in parenting, in relationship with loved ones, at work – who has control is an ever-present dynamic and question. In divorce, the feeling of not being in control of your life maybe so prominent that it leads to anxiety and depression.
Most people going through divorce have never stepped foot inside a courtroom. They have no previous experience with attorneys, a judge or legal jargon. It is scary. People feel like they cannot regain control of their life until the final agreements are either ordered by the judge or agreed to by the parties. And that can take months.
I confess to being a bit of a control person myself. My planning tendencies and abilities could probably win me an award if such a thing existed. I feel happier and more stable when I have a plan, or said another way, when I feel like I am in control of what will happen to me or my life in the near future. I detest the feeling of being in a mental fog or feeling like someone, other than me, has control over what will happen in my life.
And it is precisely in this fog, nearly guaranteed for anyone going through divorce, that we will use it as an excuse for our own bad behavior. We don’t have control anyway, so we:
- will not provide financial documentation as requested because my spouse has not provided his or hers in a timely manner.
- will not be flexible with a parenting time adjustment, because the other parent wasn’t flexible with me.
- will not pay a court-ordered obligation for alimony because my spouse didn’t retrieve their belongings when they were supposed to.
People incorrectly assume that when the other party is not complying with the rules or deadlines set within the legal system, this means they somehow have more control in the process. It isn’t true. In fact, the options for both parties remain equal throughout the process. You can comply or not.
The truth is, we always have control over our own behavior. We can control how we react to the other party not meeting a deadline. We can control whether we act with integrity throughout all parts of the process, despite (or even in contrast to) what the other side is doing. Once you see this, you will surely be positioned to take control.
What will you take control of during this time, regardless of the behavior of others?