As a first-generation American, raised by immigrant parents who sacrificed to give me a good life, I embraced the American Dream without question, eagerly pursuing external success. My first stop was law school and later, practicing divorce law in California.
I envisioned helping people divorce with dignity, but the reality of litigation shattered that vision. I was expected to drain family savings to pay for legal fees, arouse animosity between couples for a strategic advantage, and use children as pawns to press emotional buttons. The process left good families in shambles and it didn’t resonate with my soul.
I have since left this field in order to teach yoga and meditation to children. But I did learn some spiritual lessons from my years as a divorce attorney that have helped me in my own marriage, made me a better teacher, and greatly improved the way I connect with others. Here are a few of those lessons:
1. Communication skills can make (or break) a marriage.
Many marriages deteriorate because couples don’t adapt their communication technique to fit their partner’s style. Successful communication is not about how eloquently we speak, it’s about what the other understands. Most of my clients needed me to facilitate communication so they could understand each other’s desires. At the end of the divorce, many clients would say “If we could have communicated like that during our marriage, we probably wouldn’t have divorced.”
2. Divorce doesn't traumatize children; parents do.
It’s not the act of divorce that traumatizes the children; it's the anger and contention between parents during the divorce process that scars children. Couples who disrespect each other during the divorce process carry those unresolved issues and wounds after the divorce is filed.
In my experience, couples who are amicable during the divorce process are better able to communicate and successfully resolve co-parenting issues after the divorce without court intervention. This results in children having a meaningful relationship with both parents.
3. You have to understand someone's feelings before you can reach a solution.
For example, the wife who says “I deserve $6,000 a month for alimony" (even if this means squandering a couple's life savings), is often revealing the desire to be appreciated and acknowledged for being a good mother and wife during the marriage. Behind a statement like, “I don’t want her to have the kids more than three days a week" (even though they have young children who need their mother), is a father’s fear that his children won’t need him if he doesn’t see them regularly.
These underlying fears dictate our positions and must be uncovered for meaningful discussions to occur. It was my duty to uncover the core desired feelings underlying their alimony, parenting and child support positions so the couple could agree on a common goal. This was the space where mutually beneficial agreements were made. This is true for all disagreements. A lasting solution can be reached, if all parties let go of their rigid positions, and focus on their common goal.
4. Sometimes, you need to let go.
I’ve been in mediation sessions with couples who have mutual respect and kindness towards the other. They make sure the divorce is fair, quick and peaceful. I could never understand why these couples, who got along so well, were getting divorced. These couples acknowledged their relationship had run its course on a deeper, more spiritual level. They understood that some people are brought into our life to teach us how to let go with dignity and understanding. They found closure from their divorce without letting their friendship get affected.
5. In family matters, the best solution is usually the one that benefits everyone.
Divorce means the death of a relationship. The emotional aspect of divorce is just as important as the legal side, but unfortunately this gets lost in legal battles. Courtrooms are not equipped to handle the emotional needs of families dealing with divorce because the law functions on the premise there are winners and losers. In family affairs, the resolution must mutually benefit all members that are affected, with no winners or losers.
6. Divorce takes courage and strength and should be honored.
Many of us see divorce as a failure and acceptance of defeat. Walking away from a marriage that no longer serves your highest good takes courage and strength. We have to support and honor others who take the harder route to leave a relationship that has run its course rather than view it as a weakness. Divorce forces us to break open, release our past identity and make a new life.
By using my experience as an attorney, I now focus on helping children cope with unexpected life challenges, like divorce, by using the tools of yoga and meditation to express their emotions.
Photo Credit: Chirag B. Patel