Few things are more disappointing than finding out that your divorce really didn’t solve very much. You have endured all the changes required, adapted to smaller housing, not seeing your kids every day, tighter budgets, fewer resources and the rigors of trying to rebuild a social life. At a minimum you thought that all this agony would at least buy you some peace. You had thought that the daily fights, sarcasm and the sense of despair that you feel when you have, once again, talked yourself to stalemate with your now ex-spouse would have gone away and that , at least would have made it seem sort of worth it. But alas, you still don’t have peace. Each exchange with your spouse is loaded with tension and the anxiety of anticipating the next unpleasant exchange makes you feel even more conflict avoidant than before. But if you duck the fight, when it inevitably comes, it is even worse. And it is probably no better for your ex who looks forward to talking to you with the same dread that you look forward to talking to her. How can this be? Divorce is supposed to let you start a new life. The two of you have managed to retain the worst aspects of marriage and combine them with the worst aspects of divorce.
I have met innumerable couples like this. The most unfortunate of them become chronic litigants in court. Instead of talking to each other, they talk only to their lawyers who then do the communication for them. All too often one or both lawyers just files another motion in court. Eight weeks and thousands of dollars later the judge rules and no one has won. Gradually their net worth is passed to the lawyers who finally lose interest when the clients can no longer pay. The two spouses and their two lawyers have formed a dysfunctional group that just perpetuates its own existence. The particular combination of personalities has made for a quarrelsome foursome that can resolve nothing amicably and can only resort to the judge. It is likely that with two other lawyers the divorce might have taken a completely different tone and direction. But it seldom occurs to the clients that the personalities of the lawyers are poisoning their futures. In most towns the divorce lawyer community inevitably contains bad pairings of lawyers, pairs of lawyers who loathe each other and invariably fight over what others would quietly negotiate. This is not to say that all bad divorces can be explained in terms of the lawyers’ personalities. But the syndrome occurs often enough to be suspect when you meet the chronic litigants.
So if this is you what do you do? The first difficult step is to admit to yourself that you are part of a toxic system and that most of what you believe about your divorce and your lawyers is wrong. You have demonized your spouse and withdrawn any assumption of humanity on his/her part. And it has been reciprocal. Each of you have reposed far too much faith in your lawyers. If you are to ever have peace you will have to radically change the system. And you can only do this in cooperation with your ex. But, you say, “not my ex. He/she is so unreasonable and mean that all he/she wants to do is fight and hurt me.” But the very fact that this is what you say is simply a symptom of the very system of which I speak and to which you are enslaved. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying.
You need to propose a creative truce to your ex. He/she is as frustrated as you are and if you do it without blame and recrimination there is a high probability of success. Before you make the proposal you should identify a good mediator and talk briefly with the mediator on the phone. Explain the situation and ask if the mediator has experience working with chronic post divorce conflict and whether he/she feels comfortable with the task When you find the right person do not go to see him/her, because your ex has a low level of trust at this point and will be skeptical if you have already established a relationship with the mediator that you propose. First, you contact your ex. It may be useful to start with an email. Say that you are weary of the struggle and you are sure he/she is also. Say that you both could have behaved better and that you apologize for your part in the damage that has been done. Propose that the two of you commit to three hours of mediation to see if you can establish a collegial working relationship without the constant friction. And say that you propose to do this without lawyers as they may well be part of the problem.
If your ex agrees, you are on your way. Your objective in mediation is not to rehash history. That is a totally futile endeavor and a waste of time. Rather the focus is on what you will do in the future and how you will signal each other when something disturbs you, or one of you disagrees with the other. The emphasis is on building a system for resolving disputes even if it requires the help of a mediator, until you learn to do it yourselves. What you are doing is breaking a system that serves you poorly and substituting something new that lets you finally begin a new life. Pessimistic? I have seen this succeed many times. It can be done and is invariably worth the attempt. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.