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Positive thinking or positive action?

At CFLP it’s fair to say we have more than a passing interest in psychology. After all, we wouldn’t be family lawyers if we weren’t interested in the way people tick; we’d be doing something like property law or corporate tax. So we’ve observed with interest the recent backlash against the positive psychology movement. Instead of focusing on an optimistic mindset to overcome obstacles, we are now being told that a more rational and helpful response is to feel the grief instead, and to learn to live with uncertainty.

This led us to wonder what (scientifically) is the best way to approach a relationship breakdown. Is it to think “this too shall pass” and look ahead to a new life without having to share the remote control (see eg works by Martin P Seligman), or is it to let it all wash over you and to allow yourself to be miserable for as long as it takes for you to be able to move on to the next phase (see eg works by Oliver Burkeman)? We read with interest Alison Patten’s blog in The Huffington Post about her change of heart about from “positive” to “realistic” as being the way we should think about divorce.

In our view, however, these are just theoretical questions. We’re not going to tell you the best way to cope with your big life changes; whatever the psychologists say, they don’t know you and your circumstances (and they can’t agree even about a hypothetical person should approach change, let alone a real one!). All of us have to find our own way forward, whether following a path for which we have prepared, or whether a change comes unexpectedly. There can be no absolute “best way”.

Loss of a relationship can come as a shock to both sides. If the decision to move on is made by one party alone, it may come as a surprise that the “leaver” may take it just as hard as the “left”. You could liken the end of a relationship to a massive earthquake: the initial shock can be massive, or prepared-for but still traumatic and damaging; either way, the aftershocks vary in intensity but can continue for some time afterwards. You might find your anger coming out when you least expect it, sleep disruption, and an inability to make even small decisions. Your appetite might disappear or you might comfort-eat; you may lose the will to get out and about or you may become obsessed with exercise. Your reaction and the accompanying behaviour might not be helpful, and may even be harmful, requiring some assistance perhaps from a counsellor or psychotherapist. Change and loss affect everyone differently, but on the other hand your set of reactions is unlikely to be completely unique.

The point is that your way, whatever way, is ok.

If we have anything to offer by way of advice about your emotional journey, it’s that accurate information – given sensitively and at the right time – can help people feel less “at sea” about the personal challenges they face. There are a lot of myths around about the implications of the end of a marriage, civil partnership or significant relationship, and well-meaning friends may exacerbate the sense of insecurity you may well feel. What we aim to do at CFLP is provide on our website the kind of information that will start helping you to feel a bit more anchored: about how the divorce process works, about the way that the law approaches separating out your finances, about what you should be thinking about regarding the children and about the different ways that you could approach sorting things out when you are ready.

We think this is a pretty good start, but we also reckon that it is no substitute for seeing someone in the flesh and having a discussion about your own personal circumstances. Just like emotional responses to divorce, no two situations are exactly the same in law either. At the right time for you, it is important to consider speaking to someone who can give you advice tailored to your specific circumstances to help you make the right choices for your future.

The thing to remember is that going to see a solicitor does not commit you to any course of action. All the decisions remain yours. Many people do in fact come to see us before they have taken any final decision about the future of their relationship, so that they can understand the consequences of each available course of action. We don’t ever pressure people into taking decisions or impose our views; we give legal advice, but we understand that there are many more factors at play than the law alone. The law is only one part of the jigsaw, but it is an important part in terms of knowing where you stand. If uncertainty is the one of the factors that you find psychologically more difficult in contemplating a change in your relationship status, an initial consultation with a solicitor can help ease your mind.

If you’d like to have a chat about anything, do give Gail, Adam, Sue or Simon a call on 01223 443333.


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