Why does relationship breakdown hurt so much? Along with the death of a loved one, losing a job and moving house, relationship breakdown is one of the most stressful things that you will go through in your life.
As well as coming to terms with the loss of your spouse or partner, you may have to find a new home, make new friends, deal with the impact on family members, make new financial arrangements, perhaps become financially independent again, share time with your children, deal with lawyers and fight about money and children in court. All of those factors can increase the emotional toll.
Things are always made worse when parties engage in a bitter court dispute about children and money. It is my experience that, almost invariably, a separating couple’s ability to communicate is considerably worse after they have fought about their children in court, than it would have been if they’d been able to negotiate and agree on arrangements for their children and a property settlement.
Of course, both parties must be willing to engage in property settlement negotiations for there to be any possibility that this approach will succeed. If one person is determined to go to court, the case is unlikely to settle no matter how hard the other person tries to make reasonable offers. The frustration caused can create increased, perhaps unbearable, emotional strain.
In a case I know, the husband had been making what he thought was not only reasonable but generous, settlement offers beginning shortly after the marriage broke down. Unfortunately, the wife would not actively engage in any discussions but chose to go to court, seemingly to have the court “punish” him for what she perceived as his wrongdoing (even though it was she who ended the relationship).
The husband was a successful and usually calm and in-control professional. He found it increasingly difficult to cope with the stress associated with the court proceedings, in particular, his inability to control things or bring about any resolution. One day, the stress became so bad that he left the court building in the middle of a hearing day, got in his car and drove away, to take his own life.
Fortunately, he had made a promise to his girlfriend at the time that he would not “do anything stupid” without first speaking to her. He kept that promise and called her to say goodbye. She talked him into meeting with her to say goodbye in person. They met, and she convinced him not to kill himself and helped him get some counselling.
Ultimately, he settled the dispute with his former wife on terms significantly less favourable to the wife than the first settlement offer he had made several years earlier. The man and his then-girlfriend are now happily married.
This man is not the only client I have seen in severe emotional distress following relationship breakdown. Most family lawyers are caring, have excellent listening skills and try to be understanding and empathic about their clients’ emotional problems. But very few of us are trained as psychologists or counsellors or have the necessary skills to assist clients with the emotional issues of relationship breakdown.
For this reason, I frequently say to clients that while professional advice is needed to assist with legal issues, other professional advice can help them deal with emotional issues.
If you are going through a difficult time trying to reach an agreement with your former spouse, your lawyer can help you reach an agreement, hopefully without going to court.