There is one consistent element among every divorce I've heard of or witnessed and every man (or woman) going into, through or coming out of a divorce, and that consistent element is STRONG EMOTION.
Much (if not most) of my 10+ years of private individual coaching is built on a foundation of neuroscience research and how our brain impacts our thinking, feelings and behaviors. One critical brain bit that I find significantly relates to the divorce puzzle is the "inverse relationship" between our executive brain (the prefrontal cortex) and the brain's emotional center (the limbic system). The brain has evolved over millions of years and has developed an extremely powerful and automatic threat detection system.
It seems that when we perceive a "danger" in our environment, our limbic system lights up and quickly pulls physiological (blood glucose) resources from our executive brain in order to orchestrate the fight or flight response. The critical notion here is that as resources are drained from the executive brain, we cannot access and leverage our higher cognitive functions and instead default to a more unconscious and automatic response that allows us to survive the immediate situation and "live to fight another day."
"Why is this so devastating in a divorce?"
In addition to being a highly emotional experience, divorce also presents a variety of very significant, impactful and long-term decisions*. Things like:
- how to allocate fixed assets
- how to allocate liquid assets
- how to allocate retirement assets
- who gets what in terms of possessions
- who lives where
- who gets custody (if children are involved)
- visitation (if children are involved)
Each of these decisions can cast a long shadow.
Making a decision in an emotional state usually means the decision was guided by our most primitive brain regions--not our most evolved brain--and is most likely not a very thoughtful/rational/logical decision. At best, it is sub-optimal. And often, it is permanent.
So what am I to do?
As often with the brain, there is a silver lining. Two of the capacities our more evolved brain offers us are the abilities to be self-aware AND to self-regulate. And these are capacities we can strengthen, just like muscles.
It starts with being more self-aware. This means being able to notice the shift into a more emotional state. There are telltale signs that emotions are creeping in and trying to take over: shortness or shallowness of breath, quickening of pulse, tunnel vision, sweating, tightness in the stomach, dry mouth. Noticing them more quickly allows us to "put on the brakes" more swiftly.
Putting on the brakes in the brain is the act of self-regulation or self-control.
These are two of the things I focus on helping my clients build. Without these abilities, divorce can be a far more dangerous and damaging experience. With them, divorce is still painful but we can create a better future for ourselves.
*State laws may impact or govern certain issues and decisions in a divorce