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Dealing with the Soon-to-Be Ex: You Can't Win an Argument by Arguing

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While most divorcing spouses do not fundamentally desire the additional pain and expense of a court battle, many wind up in a divorce war without ever understanding what triggered it.

There are always the obvious reasons, e.g., one or both spouses is greedy, angry, emotionally handicapped, has an unrealistic sense of entitlement, or is naturally stubborn, mean, or otherwise difficult to deal with.

However, there is one major cause that affects even reasonable people who have no particular axe to grind. It is a universal accelerant of ill feeling that catches most disputants off-guard. Simply put, and although we comprehend that our soon-to-be ex will likely see things differently from the way we do, we are not equipped to handle the actual pain and frustration that their erroneous thinking inflicts upon us.

We somehow get caught by surprise. We know their position is wrong, and we typically do not waste any time telling them so. This is not a good idea.

It is not a good idea for three reasons. First, no one has ever won an argument by arguing. Doing so just makes the other side dig in deeper. Second, people are not inclined to open their thinking when they are dodging arrows. Third, it is truly impossible to change your soon-to-be ex's mind, and don't ever think you can. You will not be able to change their thinking any more than they will be able to change yours.

This is where perspectives come in. By definition, perspective is how we understand something. It's our point of view. What we see is what we believe. Perspectives are involuntary, subjective, and extremely personal. They are formed over the years by our life experiences, they affect our thinking at every level, and they are impossible to change.

Once we have a perspective, anything we observe is seen with this perspective in mind. When we notice things that confirm the righteousness of our view, we accept them as evidence that our perspective is correct. When something does not confirm our view, we minimize or ignore it.

The more convinced we are of our view, the more we tend to filter out information that would lead us to question our underlying assumptions. Thus, the more entrenched our perspective, the more obvious it is to us that we are right and our partner is wrong. We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.

Our divorce courts are jammed with angry litigants who cannot understand why they cannot talk any sense into their partner. They are wasting their time trying to alter the other's perspective. Instead, they should be using their energy trying to figure out a way around it.

The most useful (and least recognized) tool in divorce dispute resolution is accepting the fact that your partner sees things differently. We don't have to agree with their thinking, we merely have to respect and validate their right to have an opposing position. And, it doesn't cost us a penny to "allow" them to do so.

Skillfully dealing with differences in our perspectives is the real heart and soul of conflict management. We must accept that it is normal for our spouse to see the world in a way that favors their position, and it is our job to deal with what they see, and not with what we see.

The hardest mind to pry open is often our own. Does this mean our spouse is actually in the right? Not at all. It just means that we have to make room in our thinking for their thinking, if we hope to persuade them to do the same.

It is not necessary for us to accept their perspective. However, it is necessary for us to accept it as it is, and not what we wish it to be.

Why should we care about our partner's perspective? Isn't that the magic of divorce, the freedom not to care what they think? Not yet it isn't. Not as long as we need their signature on a marital settlement agreement.

J. Richard Kulerski and Kari L. Cornelison are partners in the Chicago area, Oak Brook, IL divorce law firm of Kulerski & Cornelison. You may find them at www.civilizeddivorce.com and at their firm's blog dupagedivorcelawyerblog.com.

Richard is the author of "The Secret to a Friendly Divorce: Your Personal Guide to a Cooperative, Out-of-Court Settlement."

Follow J. Richard Kulerski and Kari L. Cornelison on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Chicago_Divorce