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Compassion and Divorce

Introduction

Experts in non-violent communication say that much of the anger, resentment, and hurt that arise during the course of a divorce could be avoided. One method for doing this is to tap into our innate compassion for our fellow human beings.

Compassion for oneself

The biggest obstacle to being able to feel compassion for another human being, is the fact that far too many of us do not feel compassion for ourselves. Some psychologists note that one of the greatest challenges they encounter in helping clients overcome the hurt and anger of divorce is that clients are critical of themselves. They have condemned their own behavior long before they begin condemning the behavior of their spouse. In fact, self-denigration is so prevalent in our society that it is much more the norm than the exception. People involved in divorce need to understand that self-denigration adds to the problem instead of reducing it. Just as criticizing a child learning how to play ball fails to help the child improve his or her performance, criticizing ourselves maintains poor self-image and causes us to project it upon our partners. In the same way, compassion for ourselves allows us to perceive how compassion feels, and to project it out to others.

Me first, always

While it may seem counter-intuitive, what actually works best in learning to be compassionate towards others is a me-first attitude. The way it works, proponents say, is this:

  • When feelings of hurt and anger arise because of the words or actions of your spouse, rather than going on the attack against the other spouse, recognize that much of the hurt and anger is happening because of one's own self-condemnation

  • Allow yourself to recognize how often you may condemn yourself for getting yourself into this situation, being stupid, etc

  • Decide to have compassion for yourself - see yourself as doing the best in a situation where you have never been before, take a breath and encourage yourself

In other words, tend to what is going on inside you first, then the process of how to tap into compassion for another can be addressed.

Reframing

Reframing is the art and practice of seeing a situation from a new perspective, in a different light, or in the context of a different attitude. To reframe your spouse's behavior or words, ask yourself the question, "What would be a very good reason for this behavior on the part of my spouse?"

  • Think of three very good reasons why your spouse might be doing, saying or acting as they are...reasons that would actually cause benefits to accrue to you

  • Write down the reasons in sentences that your spouse may use to explain the behavior if given the chance

  • Read through the explanations with an open mind and compassionate heart to see if your feelings of anger, hurt or resentment have changed

  • If your feelings have changed, it is likely this is a result of your ability to have compassion for your spouse's position

  • If your feelings of hurt or anger have not changed, you may need to give yourself some more time to recognize those feelings, and then start the process over again

Finally, write out your own response to your spouse's original words or actions. Your response is likely to be one that offers real solutions, attends to the feelings of yourself and your spouse, and leads to a resolution of the conflict that has arisen during the course of your divorce.

Conclusion

The result of this process may just be that the number of conflicts in your divorce decrease, and the time needed to resolve conflicts less. Even if they are not, those who practice the art of feeling more compassion for themselves and their spouse in the divorce process will surely find that the feelings of anger and hurt are alleviated, and that residual divorce resentment disappears.

Questionnaire: Compassion and Divorce

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Compassion and Divorce

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