When It Comes To Divorce: If You Win, Must I Lose?

by Betsy Ross LICSW CGP on February 11, 2011

If one spouse’s gain (having some extra time with the kids over the holidays or keeping the family home) is viewed by the other spouse as a loss (I want the kids for the whole summer if you’re getting that extra 10 days during the holidays…) then trouble is on the horizon!

“We are at war here” is a position many couples take as they battle it out with a take no prisoners gusto that leaves painful wounds and casualties in its wake. When children are involved in the struggle, this can be devastating. Now you are entering a different and more dangerous arena. Approaching divorce with a win or lose mentality can be especially harmful to your children.

In situations where one spouse really doesn’t want the divorce, a spouse’s secret love affair has been discovered, or in some other way the husband or wife is feeling particularly wronged or mistreated by the other, trying to ‘win’ can seem especially appealing. Why not go for the whole 401K,   of the valuable jewelry her mother left you both, or the entire house for that matter? It would feel so good to ‘win’ and see him/her squirm and suffer the way you feel you have, right? You might tell yourself that revenge could feel so sweet and might even make up for the pain and suffering that has preceeded it.

If it were just the two of you fighting it out, this kind of attitude and behavior, though not admirable, would be yours to pursue if you chose to. Trying to clobber your spouse so you can ‘win‘ and they will ‘lose‘ is most unhealthy for the most vulnerable members of your family: your children. Having your kids witness the consequences of your disappointment and upset (continuing to battle with your spouse in front of your kids, making negative comments about them to your children, waging an expensive and protracted war with your spouse in court, etc) will negatively impact your relationship with your children. It will also negatively effect their self esteem and drain off the precious energy they need for focusing on schoolwork, sports, hobbies, etc.  Living in a war zone can increase your child’s anxiety (with thoughts like ‘If he/she gets mad at me, will they treat me that way too?’ or ‘I’m worried about Mom or Dad, will they be ok?’), lead to depression (‘It feels like this will never end’, or ‘Why don’t I deserve parents who love each other?’) or a host of other potential difficulties.  Remember, you are waging war with the person in this world, besides you,  that your child loves most. Even if your child is angry, upset, or not getting along with your spouse presently, even if they are, outwardly, agreeing with your negative comments/behavior, your child is suffering because their parents are at war. No one does well living on a battlefield.

Instead of  adopting an ‘If you win then I lose’ mentality, consider the importance of setting aside the anger, resentment, or disappointment and working to come to an agreement you both can live with ( I win, you win). Letting go of the negative thoughts and feelings that are gripping you is not easy, but it is extremely beneficial for your health and the health and well-being of your children. You can choose to work to create a better life for each of you moving forward, and stay away from the temptation to rehash or remain mired in the past.  Not only is this a healthier goal you both can strive toward, but it communicates to your child a host of positive messages, such as:

Even though I am upset, angry, or sad, I am still willing to work toward a better future for myself and for you.

Your well-being is of utmost importance to me so I will keep our home as stress free and conflict free as possible.

I may not forgive your Mom/Dad for what has happened in our marriage, but I know you love him/her so I will be respectful and keep that in mind. 

You can choose to move away from the hurt and failures of the past and build a better future for all of you. You can continue down the slippery slope of trying to hurt or destroy your spouse. The choice is yours.

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