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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

REFUSING TO LET GO OF THE ONE YOU HATE: FORGIVENESS IN FAMILY COURT, PART II

     

Jonathan D. Gordon, Ph.D., J.D.


REFUSING TO LET GO OF THE ONE YOU HATE:
Part II of
IS FORGIVENESS POSSIBLE IN FAMILY COURT?
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2012



          It is counter-intuitive that you would have a problem letting go of someone you can't stand, but it is not easy, nevertheless.  As I said previously, anger against a former partner is a weight that a person drags around with them.  Anger takes many forms from overt aggression, to quiet loathing, resentment or simply harboring (or sharing) poor opinions of the other person indefinitely.  A person can also be what is called passive-aggressive which is a sabotage of the other person's needs by:  forgetting to do something, losing a document, not showing up for visitation, not returning the child on time, showing up when you're not supposed to show up,  twisting the facts, making excuses (that aren't true), etc.  That is a form of the expression of anger in a passive, non-felonious manner.  But it gets the job done, namely to upset the other person, push their buttons, sabotage their needs.  It sends a message that the other person is not important, and that the saboteur has power and dominion over the recipient-target.  It is also a form of invalidation of the other person's needs.


The Dance of Hatred:
     This is a topic very relevant to family court issues, since some people never end their relationships even though they may think they did, for example because they are separated or divorce.  The same dynamics can be played out in court for years after a dissolution.  The couple simply changes the venue--the place--where they do battle, switching battlefields from their home to the family court.  They go through the same dance.  Some things actually never change, only the method of doing those things changes.  Instead of yelling and screaming at each other, lawyer's letters dress-up the previous accusations, epithets and name-calling.  Now instead of being called a "freaking" liar, an attorney can write a letter, attesting to your poor credibility, saying that it is "hard to believe" that what you said could be true.  Instead of an intoxicated spouse coming home and threatening to kill a partner who didn't clean the house or make a good dinner, etc. (by the way, that is not cool;  that is domestic violence!), your partner's/spouse's attorney can devastate you with an unanticipated motion designed to wipe you out emotionally and financially.  That motion (also known as a petition or application) can ask the court to fine you for failure to follow a court order, or to diminish your parenting time with your child, or to change custody, or to decrease support, or to jump through any number of hoops which may or may not be reasonable.  Along with the requests for relief, comes a Certification or sworn Affidavit in which your ex will describe with particular detail, all of the reasons why you lied, cheated, did not comply with previous orders, alienated the child, neglected the child, abused the child, embarrassed him/her in front of the child, did not show up on time, etc., and the list is endless.  Maybe it's being done to you; maybe you are the one doing it to the other party.  Regardless, it keeps you both bonded together.


Same Dynamic, Different Location:
          Instead of being ignored or not listened to at home, now you can experience silence from your spouse/partner in response to something you want or need.  That can come in the form of a failure to pay support on time, not cooperating with deadlines or with parenting time schedules, failing to provide previously ordered documents (e.g. annual  tax returns, health insurance ID card, etc.), not answering the phone when you call to say hi to your child, etc.  You were accused at home; now you are accused in Court.  The difference is that the first one was free, but was also out of control and nasty.  In Court, there is control (or else), it is less nasty (nicer vocabulary), but very expensive and hurtful.   You might have been beaten up at home (hopefully not). You can be beaten up in court by the opposing lawyer, by the accusations of your ex, by your own clumsiness, by the financial and emotional costs that you incur over long periods of time, etc.  The bottom line is that instead of being verbally and emotionally abused in  your home, you may now be verbally abused by your ex's attorney (in a professional way, of course) and emotionally abused by your ex who can't seem to stop directing that attorney to go back for more relief.   It is the endless anger dance of tit-for-tat, slinging mud back and forth, angry recriminations, one-upsmanship, malice, victim-hood, competitions (for a child's affections, for example), etc.  You were embarrassed in the relationship in front of your friends.  Now you can experience a similar embarrassment in Court when you are there, as your ex airs all of the dirty laundry in front of an audience of onlookers (other attorneys and litigants).  And the Judge listens carefully, may not yet know who is lying or telling the truth, and you feel your face flush from knowing you are being looked at and scrutinized by someone in a position to criticize you officially. You might get reprimanded by the Judge, and you were criticized plenty at home in the relationship.  Now you can be dragged into court and get criticized there.  And it all might be false, but maybe with a little grain of truth?  Or maybe you are the frequent accuser?  Either way, it makes you--or the recipient--feel sick to your stomach.  And it keeps happening, maybe month after month in the beginning; then year after year.  For some, it's endless.


Justified or Not?
          While attorneys and clients can be sanctioned for filing frivolous claims, the problem is that many requests for relief in court are not obviously frivolous; they are ambiguous in their validity.  It's just not always clear on its face.  The frivolous nature of the request is not always apparent.  Sometimes it takes numerous visits to court before a Judge will see that one of the litigants is using the process as a weapon, to harass.  Then, the Judge will usually intervene and put a stop to it, but often after tens of thousands of dollars are squandered. Also, conversely, it is sometimes necessary to ask the Court for help when all else fails.  We are talking of the more extreme example of people who choose to act out their dysfunctional relationship in Court when it could be different.  Most of the time, applications for relief in Court are justified, however, and attorneys try to ensure that the relief sought is reasonable and based on reality.  The Court needs to step in when two people cannot solve their own problems, cannot agree on what is best for their child, or are actually hurting their child or each other.  Then, the Court is essential.  The Judge makes the decisions because the two parties cannot.  Unfortunately, however, when it is more than just a stubborn disagreement over a good faith issue, such as which summer camp the child will attend, or which school is best for the child, etc., it often takes a lot of litigation to get through all of the emotionality, the mud slinging, unproven allegations and drama.  Very often, even after a long, protracted trial takes place (costing tens of thousands of dollars), the outcome, as decided by a Judge, is often quite close to what the original settlement proposal was, months earlier.  Stubbornness, chronic anger, demonization of the other party, reactive narcissistic behavior and self-righteousness take people to trial, or to frequent motion hearings.  When that happens, for those reasons, it is quite destructive, both emotionally and financially.  And the suffering of the children is untold and the damage long lasting.


Nostalgic, Dysfunctional "Post"-Relationship Warfare (Huh?):
          The fact remains that in a marriage or in the dissolution of any relationship, a party--or both parties--may find it very difficult to sever the old ties.  Because for some, the severance of those old ties may be too extreme, too final and too isolating to bear.  Some will find it impossible to move on with their life, needing to go back, time after time to re-experience the same misery and heartbreak that characterized their relationship when the couple was together.  Walking around with chronic anger or a chronic sense of victimhood feeds the litigation.  Playing the role of victim, feeling self-righteous, repeating the self-talk of demonization over and over again, keeps it all going indefinitely.  


          What is the self-talk of demonization?  Simply, it is playing the same script over and over in one's head;  maintaining the beliefs one has, repeating the mantra if you will, that a person chants day after day, that justifies remaining in battle mode.  Demonizing the other party will feed into--and justify--the repetitive litigious behavior of the person experiencing Reactive Narcissistic Behavior (RNB).  That motivates a person into returning to court time after time, expecting a successful result, namely being vindicated by the Judge because you're right and the other party is wrong.  It is that black and white.   The demonizing party insists that the other party is an idiot, or a terrible person, or a bad parent, and expects the Court to believe all of that in its entirety.  While it might be actually true in some cases, it usually is not as bad as is being alleged.  Some parents are inept, or insensitive, or downright abusive.  But most are not--at least not enough to land in Court or for a child protective services agency to get involved.  So the demonizer walks around almost obsessed with the exaggerated negative qualities of their ex.  It is a ball and chain that the angry person walks around with.  It is a destructive force.  And it is the cement that bonds dysfunctional relationships together.


Possible Explanations for Holding On:

Set me free, why don't cha babe
Get out my life, why don't cha babe

'Cause you don't really love me

You just keep me hangin' on
You don't really need me
But you keep me hangin' on.
Why do you keep a coming around
Playing with my heart?
Why don't you get out of my life
And let me make a new start?  

Copyright ©The Supremes, Motown Records (1966)


Sometimes a person cannot let go and it could be for a variety of reasons.  Here are a few to consider, but may not necessarily include what your particular issue is. These are just some ideas:
  • Low self esteem
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Need for drama (adrenaline rush)
  • Need to play role of victim
  • Need to blame problems on someone else, such as:  
    • overeating, over-drinking, substance abuse, failure at work, poor relationships with others including one's children (convenient to blame the other parent), anger outbursts, insomnia, poor interpersonal relationships, depression, anxiety, phobias, etc.
  • Fantasizing about reunification/reconciliation with the ex
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Fear of going out and establishing new love relationships, future abandonment, etc.
  • Need to control and dominate others.
What is the Answer?  Is There a Way Out of This?
       Sometimes it is useful to speak with an objective outsider who has no bias, no axe to grind, no agenda except to give a dispassionate opinion to you.  Sometimes a therapist might be a good idea, especially when some of the listed "reasons" above are operative.  A therapy candidate should seek out a licensed mental health professional who will actively engage in the therapy, not simply listen and acknowledge.  You might need to have your beliefs and premises challenged.  A cognitive-behavioral approach is very useful in this type of scenario.  

          You should conduct a cost-benefit analysis with the help of an attorney and your therapist, to ascertain if the anticipated benefits, likelihood of success, and the importance of the outcome justify the financial and emotional costs of pursuing those goals.  Sometimes people spend thousands of dollars litigating over some object that is worth hundreds of dollars.  That just does not make any sense.  Using children as weapons against the other parent is one of the worst things a parent can do to their child.  The child needs both parents (assuming both parents are fit and appropriate, not abusive or dangerous) and has a right to love and be loved by their parents.  If a parent finds themselves speaking inappropriately about the litigation or about the other parent to the child, or in front of the child, this is emotionally abusive to the child and does damage.  That parent will pay the price in the future when the same child expresses their anger at the parent who did not want them to have a relationship with the other.  

          Sometimes even when the goals are reasonable, there is simply not enough money to pay for ongoing litigation.  Sometimes it is wise to cut one's losses and get out before financial ruin sets in.  This should be fully discussed with your attorney before making any decisions.  You also have a right to get a second opinion from another attorney to ensure that the advice you are being given is accurate, reasonable and in your best interests.

          Ask whether you really need to have all this contact--or any contact at all--with your ex.   Maybe your life would be calmer and quieter without the contact.  Maybe it's time to let go and to move on with the next phase of your life.  When you are still fighting with your ex, you cannot do this effectively, or at all.  You deserve to be happy, but that is largely your responsibility. Blame does you a disservice and keeps you rooted where you are.  Think about the possibility of forgiveness and letting go.  Forgiving does not mean you have to forget, or to be naive, or to expose yourself to danger or misery.  You can be cautious without being paranoid. You can realistically accept that your ex has some positive characteristics and is not the personification of evil.  You can try to look forward, in a more positive light, and make your own plans for self improvement and growth as an individual.  If you need help doing that, there are resources for you to use.  But blaming your ex, and living in the past, or continuing the warfare unnecessarily, will not allow you to effectively move on.  Re-assess your game plan, your strategies and your goals.  Question everything.  And look forward to a better, happier future--not by magic, not by litigation, but by your own efforts on your own behalf.  You will be a happier, more well adjusted person and a better parent if you do.  Good  luck!  And please let me know your thoughts.  Post a comment and let me know if this is something that has affected you and what you did about it.
Copyright © Jonathan D. Gordon, Esq. 2012

    Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. It is not legal or psychological advice and it does not create an attorney/client or psychologist/patient relationship. If you have a question about a specific matter you should seek out an attorney or mental health expert to assist you.
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