By Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC   |   May 12th, 2012

divorceFrequently, a spouse is incredulous at their partner’s behavior during divorce. Why do we expect people to be on their best behavior during divorce? Does anyone actually behave better under stress? If you had a tendency to anxiety in your marriage, you are probably climbing the walls. If your spouse was controlling during the marriage, then s/he is probably exhibiting dictator-like characteristics. And if either of you had a tendency toward alcohol or drug abuse or domestic violence of any kind, then you can expect those frightening behaviors to escalate.

Divorce is not a catalyst for our finest behavior. During divorce, our negative traits are amplified as we become embroiled in a torrent of never ending finger-pointing and blame. Under stress, people do not communicate more effectively. Our foibles, weak spots, and least attractive characteristics often get called into play. How your partner reacted to adversity prior to the divorce gives you some fairly accurate clues as to how they will act during the divorce process. Yet, we have hope that transformation will occur. We want to believe that we can all act in a harmonious manner. We long to avoid conflict, confrontation and guilt. We have expectations that if our partner can “get it” then the transition from married to single will go smoothly.

Think about this rationally. If s/he were able to “get it,” would you even be getting a divorce? If s/he couldn’t make the changes, take the high road, end the affair, stop the abuse, give up the addiction or communicate effectively during the marriage, then what makes you think s/he will be able to do it now? Having expectations of sudden epiphanies and major behavioral changes only sets you up for further disappointment and perhaps even more acrimony.

It is more realistic and helpful for you to consider your own behavior as you navigate through the seemingly endless legal and emotional process. How are YOU behaving? Are your best traits shining through? Probably not. Refocus your energy; while you can’t change anyone else’s behavior, you can change your own. So, if you tend to be passive and compliant, work at being more assertive. If you have a tendency to control, explore ways of relaxing that control. If you yell a lot, try practicing restraint.

We can change ourselves for the better, but that does not happen without insight, desire and effort. By focusing on your partner’s behavior, you set yourself up for more hurt and disappointment while your own behavior goes unchecked and you continue to tumble into self-neglect. By looking inward, you work on awareness and self-growth. That mindset can move you toward feelings of empowerment and confidence.

When you turn toward self examination, don’t overwhelm yourself with self criticism and huge resolutions. Be honest about what you can work on; but also be gentle. Even the tiniest of changes can shift the dynamics of your divorce but, more importantly, foster your own self confidence. Only when you put your energy into changing yourself can you begin to bring peace in your life.

Lastly, it might be helpful to keep these three thoughts in mind:

♥ The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. 

♥ People only change if THEY want to, not because WE want them to. 

♥ If you put even half as much effort into working on yourself as you did on him/her, you will be amazed at how good your life can be.

donnabio.jpg©2011. Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, is a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut. Her newest book is available at bookstores everywhere, or at her website. This article is from her first book, From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, which won an Honorable Mention Award by the Independent Publishers Association. It was also posted on her excellent blog on April 23, 2011, which you can read by clicking here.  To read more about the author and her work, please visit

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Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADCAbout The Author: Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
Donna F. Ferber, is a psychotherapist in private practice for over 31 years. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and an educator. Donna works with individuals and in groups. Her office is in Farmington, Connecticut.

Shocked at Your Partner’s Behavior During Divorce?
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