In a controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves. – Buddha
I found this quote while randomly surfing the internet. At first glance, I realized how well it applied to my personal life and to my practice of law. I thought about times when my husband and I have been in disagreement. At the point I became angry, I had really become selfish. I was focusing on myself instead of our relationship. I can also apply the statement to my own lawyering skills. There are times when I do become angry about my cases. Now, thinking back and remembering the details, I realize that my anger usually stemmed from the lack of control over a situation; and I can admit that lack of control has more to do with me, than the case itself. I think what this statement truly means is when you put yourself first; anger creeps in, clouding the issues. However, I believe there are times when putting yourself first, and allowing anger in is a good thing. If the Buddha were a divorce lawyer, I think he would have put a disclaimer on his statement, and here’s why.
More often than not, I meet with clients who are hesitant about putting themselves first. They are usually women seeking advice about divorce. (Sometimes this is true of men, but men seem to get angry faster). Most of these women have been the caretakers during the marriage. They are so accustomed to taking care of their husbands and family, that they feel guilt and sadness about contemplating divorce. Moreover, these women are usually victims of physical or emotional abuse perpetrated by their husbands. The most common victimization occurs when the husband has committed adultery.
When considering divorce, people need to set aside guilt and sadness. Divorce is much like a death. Grieving over the loss of a loved one generally occurs in five stages. The first stage is shock and denial, the second stage is pain and guilt, and the third stage is anger. The final two stages define a “recovery” process.
I need my clients to be stage three clients; I want them to be angry. Now, I do not want vindictive or spiteful clients and I realize that’s a fine line; still, I need clients who are angry enough to put themselves first. Clients who have too much guilt or sadness have difficulty making decisions. They also tend to struggle with trying to protect themselves during the divorce process. I know they aren’t angry enough when I hear things like, “he won’t like it if I ask him to split the visa bill”, or “that’s okay, I’ll just let him keep the $15K in the home equity”. Now, there are times when I tell clients to cut their losses and run, which is very different from just rolling over because you don’t want to hurt their feelings!
If you are seeking a divorce, my advice to you would be to forget the otherwise profound wisdom of the Buddha, and get angry. It’s justified, it’s healthy and it’s helpful. It will motivate you to put yourself first, your children first, and it will most likely speed up your emotional healing…as you will be at stage 3, more than half way to full recovery!