“But you had an affair!”
“But you started drinking … again!”
What is a grudge? The Oxford Dictionary website defines it as ‘A persistent feeling of ill will or resentment resulting from a past insult or injury.’ As you can imagine, nearly everyone who walks through the doors of my office to get divorced has a grudge or two in their pocket. I’m sure some are well deserved. Certainly, past insults and injuries are what lead to divorce in the first place. But are grudges useful in negotiation? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Tim Herrera, in the New York Times’ Smarter Living newsletter, thinks not. “Let Go of Your Grudges. They’re Doing You No Good,” he says. The author asked (on that most wonderful of all surveys, Twitter!) how people felt when they let go of their grudges. Here are some of the answers: cleansed, free, relieved, liberated…
Wouldn’t we all want to feel cleansed, free, and liberated? But how do we get there?
I addressed this a little bit in my last post, What’s Your Story? One answer is to reframe the way you tell the story to yourself and others, and to realize that you are an actor, not just acted upon.
Another is to look at your role in the past harm and figure out how you would change your actions or reactions if a similar situation ever arises again.
And yet another answer is to practice forgiveness, which has its own benefits. Herrera quotes Dr. Frederic Luskin, Director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, whose website states, “The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression, and stress, and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self-confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health. It also influences our attitude which opens the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.”
How could you possibly do this? You ask. Luskin’s website has a page of 9 Steps you can take to learn — and to practice.
One thing I’ve noticed in my practice is that it is much easier to negotiate when parties are no longer living together, and when, in their perception, the harm is no longer occurring. It is also easier to negotiate once time has healed some wounds, and as people feel liberated from each other, and from their prior relationship. It is very hard to focus on the practical things, like division of property, or creating a parenting plan, until a certain level of distance has been achieved.
Divorce negotiations, by definition, involve people who have had an intimate relationship, have been intertwined on many levels, and have had disappointments mounted and have had to adjust their expectations of each other. Such relationships often go to the core of our very identities.
On one hand, forgiving an intimate partner who has violated a feeling of safety is the hardest thing in the world. On the other, I believe it is the beginning of true self-healing, and yes, perhaps even liberation.