In the first of two special posts, Marilyn Stowe explains the difficult journey faced by the newly divorced, as they make their way through dark times into the dawn of a new life – with help from professionals, family and friends.
Throughout the course of my career I have dealt with a vast number of family law disputes. In fact, I recently worked out that I have encountered almost 30,000 people as part of my job, with around half being clients. A number that high is quite astounding when I stop and think about it. With all of that interaction, I have learned a lot about human nature. The biggest takeaway from this is that although people can be very different from one another on the surface when it comes to race, sex or religion, they can actually be more similar than people might otherwise expect.
The things I’ve learned from dealing with all those people could equip me to make a comfortable living as a fake fortune teller. When you interact with as many people as I do for as long as I have, it becomes quite easy to predict what they are going to say in a particular situation. The same goes for how they feel and react to what is undoubtedly one of the most trying periods that anyone can go through. Not a lot of what a client tells me comes as a surprise.
I can tell by how they are dressed and how they react to taking off a coat and placing a cup on the table in front of them what questions they ask me and how they’ll they react to the advice I give them.
Then there’s who the client has come in with – a friend or family member – and their body language, down to the colour of their neck as they are speaking to me: I have seen this become blotchy red unbeknownst to clients as they tell me implausibly that they feel calm and fine. There are many different factors involved with any new client but I think I am now wise enough now to recognise who and what I am potentially going to be dealing with even before they have finished answering my questions. And such insights provide me a valuable steer on how to take the client forward in the right direction.
I can, for example, take an educated guess that a client is not telling the truth. Or that they are being evasive and I’m not getting the full picture. In such cases usually either someone else is involved in the marital breakdown or the client is in denial and refusing to discuss the real subject that has brought him or her in to see me in the first place.
Whether a couple is married or not, the breakdown of a romantic relationship is emotional for all involved. Usually, by the time a couple seeks my help and advice, their relationship has reached the point of no return. The only way forward in those situations is for them to divorce or permanently separate. However, making such a huge decision is extremely difficult so I make calming my client down my first priority. This will hopefully give him or her time to adjust to the reality of their situation and stop them from rushing ahead until they are truly ready to proceed. However, time can sometimes be a luxury. Sometimes a case has to begin as quickly as possible in order to secure an injunction or to make sure it is heard in the right jurisdiction in the right country. In cases like those, it might be a good idea for any therapy to run alongside the proceedings.
I divide clients into two general groups: those people who want to get divorced and those who don’t. There will then be sub groups. There are those clients who do want to get divorced because they can clearly see the end of the road even though they may be racked with guilt at what they’re doing and deeply worried about their spouse and children, finances and outcomes. And then there are those clients who think they want to divorce, but who are in reality being manipulated into it and can’t see with any clarity what is happening. They have little or no idea what to do, they see the future as a completely blank canvas.
Clients who don’t want to get divorced can again be divided into two sub-groups. There are the clients who do actually believe the marriage has broken down, but are refusing to divorce as a means of ‘pay back’; and there are those who genuinely refuse to believe it has broken down at all. They are waiting for some miracle to save the marriage even if the situation is in reality hopeless.
Notice anything about everyone in all these groups?
They are all filled with emotion, whether it’s shock, pain, anguish, hurt, vengeful feelings, loss, remorse, guilt, fear, or pressure. All those negative feelings can profoundly affect a person, pulling them into deep unhappiness or depression. It’s hardly a surprise when someone reacts badly to the breakdown of a relationship. In fact, I would say it was perfectly normal. However, the prospect of divorce can hit some people much harder than others. It is therefore very important to get good medical help and, if necessary, therapy. One of the aspects of my job is to help clients see this importance while also dealing with the legal process.
In part two Marilyn explains the road to recovery