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704 - Why Is My Spouse Behaving This Way?

During divorce, most people do things, say things, think things, and feel things that they've never done, said, thought, or felt before, and that they will never do, say, think, or feel in the future. About half the divorces in America involve some kind of physical violence, and almost all of them involve at some point (usually at many points) an exchange of harsh, bitter, hurtful words.

There are four things you can do to deal with irrational behavior on the part of your spouse: understanding, keeping your cool, prudence, and counseling. Start with understanding that, although we usually think of divorce as an event, a thing, it's really a combination of three distinct processes, each of which usually takes several months to complete.

First, there's the legal divorce. That's the part where lawyers and judges get involved, where you and your spouse argue, fight, posture, and negotiate to work out your parenting plan, how you're going to divvy up your property and debts, and who's going to pay what support to whom. The legal divorce typically begins before your separation date and ends anywhere from a few months later to a couple of years later.

Next, there's the social divorce. That's the adjustment that friends and family have to make to the fact that you and your spouse are no longer a couple. Typically, the social divorce doesn't really get underway until after the separation date, and it may drag on for years, because you may have friends who don't even know you're separated for a year or two.

The toughest process is the emotional divorce. That's the process in which each of you has to come to grips with your separation and begin to view yourself as a person separate and distinct from your spouse. The tricky part about the emotional divorce is that, unlike the legal divorce and the social divorce, the two spouses deal with their emotional divorce on radically different schedules. Most divorces involve a "leaver" ‑ that's the person who wants to split up and a "left" ‑ that's the person who wants the marriage to stay intact.

Typically, the leaver has been dealing with his or her emotional divorce for months, often years. If you're the leaver, you've already grieved over the marriage, and you know it needs to end. Your emotional divorce is more or less complete by the separation date. You're typically impatient with delays, you want decisions from your spouse right away, and you tend to get put out with your spouse for what seems like unnecessary foot‑dragging.

The left, on the other hand, typically doesn't begin the emotional divorce in earnest until well after the separation date, because even at separation, he or she often assumes the spouse will return. And once the left begins his or her emotional divorce, the impatience of the leaver tends to compress it. The result of all this is that the emotional divorce of the left hurtles along at a pace that seems out of control ‑ that often is out of control.

It's at this stage that we see people shadow their spouses, and sometimes make anonymous and menacing phone calls. It's at this stage that we see husbands go after their wife's car with a baseball bat. It's at this stage that husbands and wives sometimes both look for the toughest, meanest, most expensive lawyer they can find. They want it to hurt, and they lash out any way they can.

So that's a little about the three divorces. Once you understand what may be causing your spouse to behave irrationally, you may be able to keep your cool when you're confronted with it. That certainly doesn't mean you allow your spouse to mistreat you or your children, but it does mean you don't respond in kind. Find a way to channel your anger elsewhere so you can keep your focus on the goals you need to accomplish.

When push comes to shove, of course, you need to be prudent . You need to protect yourself and your children. We're not just talking about rushing out to get a restraining order, although restraining orders certainly can be helpful in some circumstances. We're talking about care in your interaction with your spouse. If your spouse tends to get violent when you meet him or her in a particular place, don't meet them there. If there's a third party involved, and if the conflict escalates whenever the third party enters the scene, try to get some separation for a while. It's just common sense.

Often counseling can help you deal with your own feelings and those of your spouse in divorce. With the help of counseling, often you can spot when your spouse is about to behave irrationally and head off that behavior before it starts.

Alabama Family Law Center serves clients who need to get through divorce and who are able to be reasonably cooperative. The goal is for both spouses to survive divorce and move on with their lives with some money in their pockets and their dignity intact.

No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.

If you'd like to make an appointment with me, call 205-979-6960. Or you can click here to return to the Divorce Line.


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