I just want to thank Lifehacker for inviting me to their Ask an Expert Q & A regarding private investigators. I also want to thank the people who participated in the chat session. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
To read the transcript of the chat session, please head to Lifehacker
Every couple argues, and every argument affects their intimacy as well as the emotional distance between them. Some disagreements leave only minimal or temporary scars that fade with time. The couple’s love continues to deepen, seemingly undamaged. Unfortunately, escalating or stinging arguments can leave deep and lasting fissures that damage relationships.
Many areas of conflict can determine the fate of a relationship, but the most crucial one is each partner’s underlying attitude is towards the other. Whether unconscious or intended, that core set of thoughts is often deeply embedded, pervasive, and negatively biased. As the argument heats up, one or both of the partners will fall back into this default position, dooming any hope of successful resolution.
Default positions are most likely to intensify in established relationships. The longer people have been together, the more they are likely to repeat established patterns. These ritualistic interactions usually emerge slowly in intimate relationship but can explode early on if any differences are pronounced and passionate. Because they are often intertwined with positive aspects, they can often stay invisible too long, causing much greater problems down the line. They are also deeply defended against rational inquiry, and can be notably resistant to change.
When these internal, fixed attitudes are not identified and corrected, the partners in an intimate relationship do not realize how much power they have to affect their disputes. They do know that most of their arguments leave them drowning in whirlpools of confusion, often not remembering what they were arguing about, or why their resolutions didn’t hold.
Negative default positions are often relationship destroyers. No matter how much a more typical relationship partner loves and values another, he or she will not be able to survive continuous onslaughts of negative default positions. It is the classic “I can’t win for losing” conundrum.
Anytime either partner comes from a core experience of a basic negative attitude towards the other, all disagreements will eventually be twisted into a one-sided criticism that defies reality. Those pre-determined expressions of invalidation will doom the targeted partner to a life of defending his or her basic worth. Unless martyrdom is the goal, that person will eventually leave the relationship.
If you can identify your own fixed, negative default positions, you can replace them with a far more successful set of skills that can turn frustrating, repetitive conflicts into positive resolutions. When you have mastered that new process, you can create a deeper intimacy through embracing each other’s differences and opening up to the possibilities of deeper intimacy.
Examples of Negative Default Positions
Wipe-outs are verbal invalidations that erase a partner’s estimated value in the moment. The partner using a wipe-out will use any interaction to exaggerate faults and minimize any positive contribution. Any attempts by the target of a wipe-out to rectify a misunderstanding, make-up for a mistake, or just to create a quality interaction, are met with challenges. These continuously criticized partners live in the tragedy gap of never feeling “good enough.”
Negative Default Position:
She’s such a loser. I wonder what excuse she’ll use this time.
She: “Hi honey. Dinner is going to be a little late. I got stuck in the market talking to our next door neighbor and lost track of time. How are you?”
He: “What do you mean, how am I? What’s that, your attempt to cover up breaking the deal again? I might as well never believe anything you tell me because you can’t keep your word. Why do I ever expect you’re going to do what you say?
She: “Hey, you’re being really mean. Let up. It’s no big deal, 15 minutes. Why are you so angry?”
He: “Don’t lay this on me just to get out of it. Just because it’s a small example doesn’t mean you get to minimize it. Don’t bother. I’m going out to get a hamburger.”
Some relationship partners are so concerned with being controlled that they won’t let their partners have the final say in anything. They will argue, invalidate, or dismiss any comment that might put them in the one-down position, even if their partners are correct. Their core feeling is that their partners will dominate them if they are not kept in their places. Because of their fear of being less-than, they don’t allow in any information that might change their minds.
Negative Default position:
He would run my whole life if I allow him to.
He: “I just saw Tim and Jean at the park and they want us to join them later for a BBQ? I told them we were free tonight. How about it, sweetheart? It’s a beautiful night and we haven’t been out all week. Might warm us up a little.”
She: “You always spring these things on me. I already have something I have to do tonight. Tell them thanks but maybe some other time.”
He: “You told me this morning that you were looking forward to the weekend because you didn’t have any obligations. You didn’t tell me you already had something you had to do.”
She: “Just because I told you I didn’t have any obligations doesn’t mean I wanted you to find one for me.”
He: “But you told me that you like this couple and wished we could spend more time with them. I don’t understand.”
She: “Just don’t make plans for me without asking first, okay? I’m not some kind of plug-in partner whenever you want to do something.”
Unfortunately, there are intimate partners who are so afraid that their desires will be thwarted that they imagine the worst possible outcome and pre-defeat their needs. Any partner behavior that smacks of a potentially positive outcome will be met with a rapid invalidation. They would rather live an unfulfilled life than risk disappointment or disillusionment. They usually attract positive people who want to save them from their continuous expectations of doom. Those locked-in expectations of loss can defeat even the most ardent of rescuers.
Nothing ever works out for the better, so why even try?
She: “Hi, honey. I’ve got great news. I got the promotion and the raise. We can finally plan that great vacation we’ve always wanted.”
He: “Does that mean you’ll have to work longer hours. You’re never home as it is.”
She: “Well, probably for a while. But why are you focusing on that? This is the opportunity of my life to finally make it and you were all for it. What’s the problem?”
He: “I’m not trying to spoil your deal. I just know that things don’t come for free and we’ll have to make sacrifices. I don’t want to count on something without knowing what it’ll cost. And it always does, you have to admit. So we get to go on a great vacation. They’ll take it out on you some way, and we’ll be the losers.”
Successful Default Positions
It is not possible for couples to eliminate all default positions. Everyone needs a confident and secure platform to fall back on when they are in a conflict situation. If relationship partners understand each other’s core attitudes and evaluations, they know what to expect in a disagreement. Until those core evaluations are clearly seen and changed when necessary, the couple will drown in repeated disagreements and are doomed to repeat them.
For positive conflict resolution, both partners must be willing to re-evaluate their default positions on a regular basis. They must strike a balance between validating each other’s positions while being while simultaneously being realistic about their differences. When couples are willing to openly communicate their core default positions to one another, they can evaluate together whether they are relationship supportive or destructive.
If a couple understands the danger of extreme negative default positions, they can begin making them more realistic. They must also reevaluate what they truly feel inside as a disagreement begins. Negative extreme positions highly correlate with eye-rolling, extreme doubt, and words of invalidation or defense. They are impervious to new data. It is similar to a courtroom situation where the gavel has come down and no new discovery is allowed.
Successful default positions have several things in common:
They are objective
They are flexible
They search for old negative patterns that hurt the relationship
Both partners are eager to rid themselves of any locked-in prejudices that can keep them from learning more about each other. They are interested and intrigued by where their fixed biases were formed, and why they have continued to use them.
Examples of Successful Default Positions
Most partners get into trouble when they argue because each loses perspective and holds more tightly to their own reality. As the disagreement takes on energy and fear of loss, they are more likely to fall prey to an old pattern that erases any reality but their own.
Intimate partners, as they strive to be deeply heard and validated by the other, can feel the negative energy begin to destroy that possibility, and stop it before it takes hold.
Successful default position:
You are important to me. Your way of looking at any situation matters to me. I never want to win at your expense or erase what you are feeling and thinking. Our best solution to any argument is a new truth forged out of mutual respect for each of our positions.
He: “I just don’t like that restaurant. The food tastes old, the waiters are rude, and the prices are too high. Don’t ask me to go there again.”
She: “I think you’re being really rigid about this. We’ve had good times there before. You’ve even recommended it to our friends. Why should one bad night make you want to cross them off our list forever?”
He: (heating up) “You’re not listening to me. I had a lousy time tonight. Why can’t you just accept that I’m angry and stop trying to change my mind?”
She: (Realizing they are losing objectivity) “Hold on, sweetheart. I think we’re sliding. My default position in the past was to make everything nice and yours has been to not get ripped off. We need to listen to each other. The food was bad tonight and I shouldn’t be making excuses for it.”
He: (relaxing) “And I shouldn’t be so goddamn opinionated. I had a day filled with stupid, rude people and I’m way overreacting. Sorry, babe. Let’s call the manager and tell him how we felt about it. He’s a great guy.”
When couples begin to differ, they often become rigid in their positions. As the argument heats up, that rigidity has to wipe out any other data in order to survive. What could have been an opening for seeing the world from more than one perspective quickly becomes a top-down need to win. As each partner stiffens, the other pushes back, mocks a giving-in, or disconnects. Both seem to fear that one opinion will stand at the expense of the other.
With the loss of flexibility, both partners are likely to forget that they can damage their intimacy if either of them is sacrificed. Childhood patterns of submission or rebellion increase, and maturity diminishes.
Successful default position:
I trust you. I know that you want me to feel heard and validated. Even if we are disagreeing in the moment, I know we will find a way to stay open to each other’s way of thinking. I need to stay flexible and not jump to conclusions because staying close is better.
She: “I am really upset about the way you treated my mom today. She didn’t do anything to hurt you and you were so rude. She left upset and now I’m going to have to fix it. I want you to call her and apologize. At least tell her you were just in a bad mood and didn’t mean it. And you need to do it tonight so I can get some sleep.”
He: (surprised and rebellious) “Your mom is the most overly sensitive person I’ve ever known. I didn’t do anything that bad. She loves being a martyr and sets me up. Why aren’t you calling her and telling her that she overreacted to me? Why is it always my fault? You cater to her.”
She: (getting angrier and more rigid) “There you go again, making it someone else’s problem. Why don’t you ever own up to your contribution when things go wrong? My mom tried to be nice even after you were so critical. I’m not backing down here. You were wrong and you need to admit it.”
He: (realizing that they were slipping into negative default positions) “This isn’t good. We’re both hardening and making the other person the bad guy. I know you want everyone to be okay and I love that about you. It’s just hard when you want me to be the fall guy and I know that your mom isn’t helping.”
She: (taking a breath and listening) “You’re right. I do always defend her and that ends up making the problem between us. It shouldn’t be that way. I guess I trust you to do the right thing more than I trust her and it’s hard for me to listen to her complain about you. That’s not fair to you. I need your help to figure out a better way to handle this.”
What Are Your Default Positions?
Here are some questions that will help you identify and change your automatic default positions if they are turning your conflicts into disconnects and destroying the love between you.
When you and your partner begin to argue, what emotions and thoughts are behind your words?
As a conflict between you heats up, what facial expressions would you see if you were to look into a mirror?
Once you are locked into an argument, what do you believe your partner is thinking about you?
When you are arguing with your partner, do you remind yourself of people from your past that modeled that behavior?
Which of your default positions bring you closer or turn you farther away from your partner?
Once you are backed into a corner, can you alter your position?
Have you practiced the same default position in other close relationships?
Does your default position in your relationship truly reflect the way you feel about your partner?
It is a very helpful starting point for positive change if you and your partner honestly answer these questions and then share your answers. Come out from behind any negative default positions. Encourage each other to integrate what you consistently feel inside with how you present yourself in a conflict interaction. That process may uncover deeper heartaches between you at first, but you will become closer over time. Ignoring them will cause much more damage in the long run. What you can see, you can change.
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Was there a moment you knew your marriage was over? The split-second you saw the writing on the wall–even if you didn’t acknowledge as much until later? We put the question to the Twitter-verse (hashtag:#themomentiknew), and collected our favorite responses below (and the most surprising–who knew bacon could figure in the demise of a lifelong union?)
Add your own favorites to the list by taking a screenshot and clicking the “Add a Slide” button.
The news is out — you’re getting a divorce. For many couples, breaking the news to friends and family is the toughest part of the process. How you go about it sets the stage for the future. Welcome your parents’ and well-meaning friends’ support, but stand firm. They should respect your privacy and not pry. Understand, however, that once the news is out, your divorce is in the public domain.
So what are you going to say when you get all those phone calls and emails?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Script your responses to the obvious questions. Stick to the party line, and make sure your parents, kids, colleagues, etc. are on the same page in terms of what you want them to say.
- Don’t make headlines by dumping on the in-law(s). You will do more damage than good by stoning his or her whole bloodline.
- Think about your kids when you spread the news. Think about them again and again and again, and put yourself in their place.
- Forget about private confidences. There is no such thing as “keep it under your hat.” Hats blow off in the wind.
- Return phone calls when you aren’t angry or tired and likely to ramble.
- Avoid daily updates.
- Practice switch-hit topics. Have a ready list — the movie you saw, your vacation plans, your uncle’s hernia operation.
- Practice deep breathing for those who want the itty-bitty details. There’s nothing like a long pause to get the point across. “I really don’t want to discuss this any further.”
- Distract yourself. My aunt has a great technique. If you have to talk to someone who is going to get your goat, keep a coloring book handy and focus on staying within the lines.
Can’t keep from exploding or perseverating? Sit down and write (in long-hand) every nasty thought you ever had about the ex. Read the letter out loud (to yourself) and then put it in the safe deposit box for good.
By Jennifer Nagy
Age is just a number… except when it comes to marriage.
Let’s look at my stats:
Current age – 29
Divorced for – 8 months
Separated for – 1 year, 9 months
Age when I met my ex – 19
Age when I married – 24
Which brings me to my point: couples should not be allowed to get married before age 25.
While I know that this statement is going to make me very unpopular with readers, I do believe that it would be for the best — better both for the institution of marriage and the individuals getting married — if we could change the law to prevent couples from getting married before the age of 25.
In my experience, marriage before 25 was not the smartest idea. I met my ex at the tender young age of 19 (just a few months after my birthday). I was enjoying the freedom of drinking and partying legally for the first time (I live in Canada where the drinking age is 19). I had yet to figure out who I was or what I wanted in my life. I was naïve and impressionable, and when I met my much older ex, I was perfectly happy to let him take control of my life, creating a relationship dynamic that continued for the nine years we were together.
We decided to get married when I was 24. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time because everyone knows that after five years, you should be married or at least engaged, right? It was definitely the message that I was getting from all of our friends. So we took the plunge, getting married on the beach in Miami Beach in front of our friends and family.
That’s where the problems began. Once the excitement of planning a beach wedding was over, after the suntan had faded, I was left simply living my life with my husband. Don’t get me wrong, I loved him — and a part of me always will. But because we had started dating at such a young age, he was marrying someone who had absolutely no idea who she was and what she wanted in her life. In short, it was a recipe for divorce.
People under the age of 25 are still discovering themselves; they are figuring out what is most important in their lives. They are discovering the joys (and heartache) of being in a relationship, and then the partying that often characterizes life between relationships. They are figuring out what their relationship “deal-breakers” are and who their most appropriate partners would be. While a person may be 100 percent certain that they love something — or someone — at the age of 21, by 29, they will most likely completely change their mind. Life is anything but certain.
My opinions are based solely on my personal experiences and the experiences of the people that I know and have observed. That being said, marriage and divorce statistics do support my claim. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 60 percent of marriages in which the couple marries between age 20 and 25 will end in divorce. A scary figure for young lovebirds… but definitely one that validates my opinion.
Who knows? Maybe there are 20-year-olds that get married and stay madly in love for their whole lives. Maybe puppy love can last forever.
Could be. Maybe there is such thing as fairies and unicorns too.
Co-founders, Divorce Detox™
When a marriage is on the verge of divorce, there is an early stage in the process where change is imminent, but normalcy needs to be maintained for the children. Children depend on structure, ritual and consistency, so parents must keep the family ball rolling even in the face of the despair and confusion they may be experiencing.
Sitting through family dinners with gritted teeth, putting on a happy face for friends and family, and biting their tongues in front of the kids are just a few of the ways couples keep up the marital façade. Parents go to these lengths partly because normalcy is a distraction from the uncertainty that comes with separation, and partly because routine is often the only glue holding a fragile situation together. This is not an easy life to live, and it becomes even more challenging when these tactics have to be maintained through a family vacation.
If a vacation has been planned prior to the split, canceling may be an option. However, the commitment to going often far outweighs the discomfort that comes with vacationing within the confines of an expired marriage. In addition, the financial cost of canceling can be perceived as being much higher than the emotional cost of going. If you are one of the many couples facing an untimely family vacation, don’t worry. There are many ways to make the best of an imperfect vacation situation.
Here are some tips to have a good family vacation when there is trouble in paradise:
While spontaneous vacations are fun and adventurous, they can even create conflict amongst couples who are discord-free. Knowing how things will unfold and planning things out in advance will help you avoid any unpredictable pitfalls. Decide ahead of time who will be in charge of what. For example, if the trip is to a city where you will be exploring, pick days where each parent will be the tour guide. Fighting over directions or getting lost can easily push hot buttons that create unnecessary conflict. Planning the days out with schedules and specific spots to visit or eat will eliminate standing on a street corner in a state of indecision and agitation. Get on the same page before the trip even starts.
Leave issues behind
If you are someone who holds a grudge, this would be a good time to let things go for a bit. Bringing marital baggage on the trip will weigh everyone down. There are inevitably going to be things that bug each of you throughout your vacation. Remember that you can convey how you feel with a look as much as your voice, so be mindful of rolling eyes, or glaring stares. Setting an intention before you leave for your trip about how you will maintain a sense of peace for the family would be a good idea. Double beds in the room can do wonders.
Many families have very unrealistic expectations of family vacations in general. This leaves everyone vulnerable to disappointment when things don’t go the way everyone imagined. When a marriage is rocky or even over, expectations need to be even more realistic. For example, expecting to spend tons of quality time as a family might not be possible this time around. It’s also unrealistic to expect all of your problems to disappear the minute you arrive at your destination. Let things unfold and find an organic rhythm. Be open to accepting whatever the vacation looks like or turns out to be. Overly high expectations are a sure fire way to feel chronically disappointed.
Use the kids as a buffer
Most couples do this anyway, but your kids can really ease a tense dynamic. We are not implying that your child be used as a pawn, but children can be a good distraction from having to be intimate or spending too much time one on one. Don’t be afraid to tag team with each parent taking one kid, or taking turns getting some alone time while one parent fills in. Children are pretty perceptive so if you are having trouble being pleasant or even civil with your partner around, it might be best to spend time with the kids on your own.
Keep the conversation light
Bringing up heavy issues, or trying to talk things through while on vacation can be complicated. There is nowhere to go if someone wants to walk out and raised voices are not usually welcome in hotels or public places. It’s better not to risk a blow up, so conversations should remain topical and fairly superficial. If issues come up, and they will, write them down. You can even journal about your feelings. It’s not about pretending nothing bothers you, the idea is to tuck it away temporarily. It doesn’t have to be unrealistic or inauthentic. You can commit to simply being aware of your actions, behaviors and moods so you aren’t unconsciously punishing each other without realizing it. If things don’t shift for the better on the trip, you will have plenty of opportunity to revisit any unresolved issues when you return. Think of your vacation as a big time out.
Take space for yourself
Taking time to oneself is important on any vacation. Couples, especially divorcing ones, often feel that they need to be together 24-7 on vacation “for the kids”, but you each deserve to have some rejuvenation time on your own. Everyone needs some self-nurturing and personal space, particularly when going through a challenging time. Doing this will make many things on the trip more tolerable, and will increase your patience for the inevitable stress that comes with family traveling.
Contemplate and self-reflect
Traveling inevitably shifts perspectives and changes perceptions. Getting out of your daily routine and environment provides a great opportunity to see things more clearly. Use your travel experience as a springboard for enlightenment. This might even be a time to start brainstorming about your future, but keep it light and positive. Avoid focusing or ruminating on “all that you have to do” when you get back.
What are your own tips for traveling when there is trouble in paradise?
This family lawyer presents eye-opening “real life” examples of how concealing information during divorce can backfire.
By Joseph Cordell, Esq.
We tell our clients that the most valuable thing they have in their case is their credibility — their credibility with their lawyer, with their children, with social workers or the GAL, and especially with the judge. “The moment your credibility is called into question, even slightly, is the moment you start to lose ground in your case,” we warn. “The judge has only a very short period of time to get to know you and form an impression of you. If the judge hears one inconsistency, one lie or untruth, it colors everything else you have to say.”
Of course, sometimes a client might honestly forget about a tiny retirement savings plan from three jobs and 15 years ago, or about a small plot of property in the woods that his great-aunt left him 20 years ago. But don’t try to tell your lawyer — or a judge — that you forgot about that offshore bank account you set up two years ago, or about your part-time job as a carpenter. And even if it’s an honest mistake, it makes you look bad if the other side’s lawyer brings up something you have not mentioned. If your wife knows about it, she probably told her lawyer. At trial is not the time to find out that she paid better attention to your financial affairs than you thought she did.
Two Types of Men
Some clients don’t provide any information at all. Two types of men seem to fall in this category. One type doesn’t want a divorce. We tell them what we need, over and over, but they simply don’t give it to us. They think that if they don’t hand over that bank statement or don’t produce those tax records, maybe this whole nightmare will go away. They’re in denial, and thereby denying their lawyer time to review the information and plan the case. Further, they are only delaying the inevitable; opposing counsel will obtain the information by subpoena eventually.
The other men who drag their feet on providing information are the high-flyers, often professionals or executives. Maybe they don’t like the idea of someone telling them what to do when we insist that they “get those records for us.” Maybe they think it’s beneath them; that it’s something that an administrative assistant should handle. Well, we don’t care. Have an administrative assistant handle it. Just get it to us. If you say you can’t find your bank records, we can contact the bank and get them for you, but it is going to cost you time and money, and add significantly to your legal fees. (Most lawyers really do work hard to keep fees down. We profit more by keeping fees down and getting more referrals than by running up avoidable costs.)
I’ve had men try to hide their gambling problems, or “forget” to mention that little detail about a DWI arrest. Inevitably, those things come back to bite us — and surprise us, to make matters worse — at a trial. If your wife knows something about you, then you’d better assume her lawyer is going to know it, too. And if your wife and her lawyer know something about you, they may use it against you. If you once threw a shoe at your wife, I want to know about it — even if you missed her on purpose — because she might cite that as an example of your violent tendencies. If you once said, “I wish I was dead,” I want to know, because she could claim you are suicidal. If you once stuck a few free samples of Claritin in your pocket in the examining room when your doctor’s back was turned, I want to know, because she might cite it as an example of your dishonesty or your reliance on drugs. You might think those are ridiculous examples, but they’re not. Your lawyer needs to know anything and everything your wife might say about you to hurt you or your case.
Even if you are sure it’s something your wife doesn’t know about, tell us anyway. I once had a client who was absolutely sure his wife did not know about a bank account he kept secretly on the side. He had used the money in the account to fund a number of affairs over the years, paying for dinners, drinks, and hotel rooms with his girlfriends. If the client had told me about the bank account, we would have had to include it in the financial statements, and his soon-to-be-ex-wife would have been entitled to half of the money in the account. But the client didn’t tell me. He figured there was no way his wife could have found out about it. But she did. One of his ex-girlfriends was angry with him for dumping her, and she told the wife about the account. The wife’s lawyer sprung it on us in court. As often happens when a judge finds out that a guy is trying to hide assets, the judge awarded the entire amount in the account to the wife.
It’s Not Always “Case Closed” After the Decree
Some men think that if they can hide an asset until the divorce decree becomes final, they’re in the clear. Not so. I had a client who sold a lot of stock when he realized a divorce was on the horizon. He sprinkled the proceeds into a bunch of bank accounts here and there. He disclosed a couple of the accounts, but not all. His wife’s lawyer hired financial consultants — which is not unusual in cases involving a lot of money or complicated holdings — to go through the books. The consultants found almost everything, except for a couple of offshore accounts that had a combined total of about $100,000. I asked the client if what the wife’s consultants found was everything and he said yes. The two sides reached a settlement that was approved by the court, and the case was closed. The client figured he had saved himself about $50,000, since his wife hadn’t found the $100,000 in offshore accounts and avoided having to give her half.
About six months later, a statement from an offshore investment house came to the client’s former home address, where his ex-wife still lived. Puzzled, she handed it to her lawyer. Her lawyer handed it to the financial consultants, who quickly tracked down the account. My client was busted. He came dragging back to me crying for help, but there was nothing I could do. He had lied to his wife, the financial consultants, to the court, and to me, his lawyer. The ex-wife’s lawyer petitioned the court and the case was re-opened. The settlement decree was altered and my former client was ordered to give his ex-wife an additional $100,000 plus her lawyer fees in reopening the case. Why lie and risk losing not only your self-respect but twice as much as it would cost you to tell the truth?
Nothing but the Truth MEANS Nothing but the Truth
Speaking of perjury, clients do ask us about that. Sometimes they have done something wrong, and they want to know if it’s all right to shade the truth while under oath. I think they expect us to wink at them, or give them some sort of signal that it’s okay because this happens all the time in court. Well, we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to encourage or endorse or in any way approve any sort of testimony that is not accurate. Under oath, in response to questioning from your wife’s lawyer, you can answer the questions as narrowly and precisely. But you must tell “nothing but the truth.”
We were recently involved in a case where the wife was independently wealthy, an heiress, and she was asked questions specifically about her trust fund. The heiress answered artfully. She made it sound as if the trust fund was her sole source of income, about $500,000 a year. When it eventually came out on cross-examination that the heiress actually had two other trust funds paying her more than $1 million a year, she ended up paying through the nose, and her lawyer ended up on the wrong end of an ethics investigation.
Revenge and Punishment: Two Traps
Men often misjudge the importance of one particular fact: cheating wives. As lawyers, we try to be sympathetic and listen. We know it’s tough any time someone you love has betrayed you and wants to leave you for someone else. You were good enough for her once, but not anymore. She’s found someone better. That used to matter much more, years ago, in divorce law. If one party committed adultery, that party was at fault, and that was cause for divorce. But things have changed. Many states have no-fault divorce, and even states that still ascribe fault tend to downplay infidelity. In truth, in most divorce cases, and especially in terms of dividing the property, the law and the courts don’t much care if somebody had an affair as long as the children weren’t harmed or marital funds weren’t misused.
But some guys can’t get over it. They want revenge. They need to make it public, they need to punish her, and they need to make her suffer. I remember we had one client who simply couldn’t let it go. “This is the worst thing she could have done to me,” he told us. “Killing me would have been better.” He said this made her a horrible person and a horrible parent. He wanted full custody and wanted her to see their kids as little as possible. It took the judge about two minutes to shoot down that whole rationale. Having an affair typically doesn’t mean the mom is a bad parent. It means she fell out of love, or she found someone else. It happens, it’s human. The law has become less and less interested in the emotional side of divorce and more and more focused solely on the contractual aspects. If that client had been running the case, he probably would have showed himself to be angry and irrational; his wife might have won full custody. Instead, we finally got him to focus a little on other aspects of his wife’s life — she mishandled their money, she kept getting fired from jobs, she didn’t get along with his parents — and we built on a series of small things to the point where we were able to get the guy shared custody.
Sometimes in divorce cases both parties have skeletons that they’d like to keep in the closet, and they tacitly agree not to bring them up. She won’t mention that he hit her, and he won’t mention that he hit her because she was waving a butcher knife. I once had a client who told me that he and his soon-to-be-ex had been swingers. They would go to parties where they’d swap partners with other couples and have sex orgies, sometimes with multiple partners over the course of the evening, one after another, and sometimes multiple partners at once, threesomes and foursomes. His soon-to-be-ex told her lawyer, too. They were involved in a custody battle, but everybody sort of reached an unspoken agreement not to mention the wife-swapping — “don’t ask, don’t tell” — since both were equally involved. It never came up during the proceedings. I’ve got to tell you, though, that throughout the proceedings, the soon-to-be-exes often looked at each other with blazing, angry eyes, and then looked away. I wondered if they were thinking (a) hey, I could destroy him or her if I told about the wife-swapping, and then, (b) oops, I’d be destroying myself, too. It was like a staredown. I, for one, was glad neither of them blinked.
The bottom line is that we know it’s impossible for a client to tell his lawyereverything. A wife might bring up something the husband said seven years earlier in the heat of an argument, and it hadn’t made any difference then or any time since then. But she might bring it up. The important thing is for a man going through divorce to at least hit the highlights of things that might work against him, and then let the lawyer explore the various topics if necessary. If you cheated on your taxes or with another woman, tell your lawyer. If you sometimes holler or sometimes get sullen, tell your lawyer.
Don’t make a stupid mistake: Tell your lawyer everything that might work against you.
This article has been edited and excerpted from the book The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce And How To Avoid Them by Joseph Cordell, Esq. Copyright © 2010. Published by Three Rivers Press. Joseph Cordell is founder, with his wife, Yvonne, of Cordell & Cordell, P.C., one of the leading law firms in United States representing men in family law cases. He is also the creator of http://www.DadsDivorce.com. For more information, visit http://www.cordellcordell.com.
How often do you read about what men really deal with emotionally and mentally after a divorce? I would dare say not often at all. We rarely hear about the not-so-obvious mistakes that many men — including myself — have made and are making right now. Here are the top three most common mistakes that men make after their marriages have ended:
#1 – Rush back to the altar too soon
Fortunately, I did not make this mistake; I do, however, know many men that have. Men are creatures of habit. If you are in the habit of having a woman cook, clean, or do any of a number of other tasks for you, then it is very difficult to break that pattern. It may sound old fashioned, but many men like having the “lady” around for these reasons, as well as for the company. Unfortunately, this enjoyment sometimes clouds their judgment. Many men are so desperate to have company after a divorce that they marry the first thing in a skirt. They never get to know who this person really is or whether or not they are truly compatible. Before saying “I do” for the second time, take time to become aware of who you really are and learn what matters most to you. When you rediscover yourself, you will be able to easily see if the new person in your life is compatible. I personally recommend that you take two years before even thinking about getting back into the dating scene. During the first year, evaluate what went wrong and start rebuilding your life. During the second year, take time to discover who you are without a wife. For example, go to self-improvement seminars, read self-help books and find a support group or coach. You may be surprised as to what you learn about yourself when you have no one but you to answer to. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Intimate relationships do not cause pain and unhappiness. They bring out the pain and unhappiness that is already in you.” This can, however, lead us to mistake #2.
#2 – Become the town playboy now that you are single
I must admit that I had a bit of “playboyitis” after my divorce. It felt good to come and go as I pleased, but it gets old pretty fast. I had been out of the dating world for seven years. What was amazing to me was that a lot of the same games that people were playing when I was in college and high school were still being played by people in their 30’s! I was blown away. When I was doing research for my divorce recovery book, I discovered that the herpes virus is most common among persons that are divorced, separated or widowed. What I realized was that people still had extremely casual feelings about sex. In addition to the dangers of sex, there was also the risk of unplanned pregnancies. I know of divorced men that had children with women they didn’t love simply because they used sex as a band-aid to medicate their pain or loneliness. Think about what this may mean for that child. A good question to ask your self is, “Who do I have a chance to become now that I am single again?” Please let it be more than the town playboy. Find one woman that you can settle down with, but please don’t make mistake #3!
#3 – Introduce your children to the new woman in your life way too soon.
I am definitely guilty of this one. I wanted the feeling of my family unit back so badly that I took my kids through a lot of unnecessary heartache. Men, you have to remember that your children have gone through a lot emotionally with the tearing apart of their family. The last thing they need is to see dad with a new woman so soon after the divorce. Children love their parents, and deep down they desire to have them back together. Give them time to adjust before bringing someone new into their lives. If the woman you are dating is really the one for you, then she will understand your decision not to rush into meeting your children. If she does not understand, then you may need to reevaluate your relationship. Does she want what is best for everyone involved? Do what is best for your children.
I hope that these three mistakes have made you stop and think. The key is to remember that you control your actions and decisions. Take this time for self evaluation in order to make the best decisions for you and your children. The last thing you want to do is be the victim of any of these three mistakes!
For continued support for men after divorce, go to www.SingleAgain-ForMen.com.
Carlos Phillips, founder of Healed Without Scars Ministries and Joanie Winberg, founder of the National Association of Divorce for Women and Children have joined forces to support men during and after divorce.
Wondering how cheating could affect your divorce case? Here’s what you need to know, from Katherine Eisold Miller, a collaborative lawyer and family mediator. Have questions? Ask in the comments.
Marriages can end when one member of the couple discovers that the other has had an adulterous relationship. How important is the impact of the extra-marital relationship on the divorce itself? Legally, the answer varies from state to state. In some states, there is very little impact at all while, in others, it can have a substantial influence on the outcome.
Historically, there was a much higher correspondence between adultery and divorce then there is today. Adultery by a woman was often viewed more seriously and punished more harshly than if committed by a man. This remains the case in some countries today, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, where an adulterous wife could face a violent death. In the United States, adultery remains a crime in some states but is rarely prosecuted.
These days, adultery rarely has much of an impact on the distribution of assets — except in cases where one spouse has used marital assets to support the extra-marital relationship. For example, if a husband borrows against a marital asset in order to support his mistress, that fact would likely be taken into account in distributing the assets of the marriage.
Adultery is also unlikely to affect a custody determination so long as the wayward spouse has not carried on the relationship in front of the children or exposed them to inappropriate people or situations during the course of the affair.
In some states where fault is still a factor in divorce proceedings (even where no-fault divorce exists, in some states there is still fault-based divorce that — when proven — can impact support or property division) an adulterous relationship can seriously reduce (or even eliminate) the obligation of one spouse to pay alimony to the unfaithful spouse regardless of need. In addition, alimony already in place is often terminated when a spouse or ex-spouse lives with another person.
If the straying spouse happens to pick up a sexually transmitted disease, and later infects his or her spouse with that illness, that can give rise to a personal injury action between spouses called an interspousal tort.
Far and away the biggest, most likely and most problematic influence adultery will have on a divorce is in the negotiation of settlement. Statistically, divorce cases are overwhelmingly likely to settle — over 90 percent or more in most jurisdictions. A cheating spouse often feels guilty or sheepish in the aftermath of discovery or confession and the cuckolded spouse typically feels angry and retributive. The emotional stance of each party coming into the negotiation can drastically affect the terms of the settlement.
When making important decisions about your finances, your children and your lifestyle it is important to be in as calm a state of mind as possible. People who make the best choices in their divorce negotiations are able to separate their actions from their reactions — in other words, they are able to think about what is best for themselves and their families separately from the emotions they feel about the adultery. Choosing divorce lawyers and other professionals who can work together to support a family through all aspects of this painful situation is probably the best way to get through it successfully. More information about how this can work is available at CollaborativePractice.com and WestchesterFamilyLaw.com.