Today, we’re going to do something a little different. I was thinking the other day that really for the past 16 years, I have professionally lived my life in a world where day in and day out, I am sitting with people who are experiencing the brokenness in life. It can be brokenness from a broken promise, brokenness from a broken relationship, a broken heart. Sometimes it’s broken family relationships, maybe with children or grandchildren. In all of this brokenness, there are some amazing life lessons that I’ve learned.
I wanted to sit down and really kind of reflect on some of those and share some of those experiences. My hope is that maybe some of these will resonate with you. Maybe you have your own experiences to share, and I would love to hear what you’ve learned about dealing with the brokenness of life and how you have found a way through that.
Divorce, Life, and Courage
I’m Jennifer Hargrave. I’m the owner of The Hargrave Family Law. I have focused exclusively on the area of family law since 2006. Before then, I was an attorney who worked initially at a civil litigation firm and then I worked in-house in the financial services arena for about 10 years. Making the shift to family law was a very big change. I remember when I first started practicing family law, I had no idea what I was getting into, but it definitely felt like it was my calling. What attracted me to family law was an article I had read by somebody I knew, her name was Gay Cox, and she had written an article on collaborative divorce. Before then, when other people had always said, “Jennifer, you should do family law.” My initial reaction was, “No, I don’t like conflict.” I didn’t want to do family law, but collaborative divorce really opened up my mind and my heart to what is possible for people who are facing the decision to divorce.
Now, while my practice initially was a lot of collaborative divorce, it has expanded. So,I do work in cases where, unfortunately, they’re not collaborative. But again, this is just an area where I’ve had an opportunity to really sit with people and to learn from my clients who have taught me a lot.
I think the first big lesson that I learned as I started doing family law was that it takes a lot of courage to get a divorce. It was very different than the belief that I had, which was that divorce was the easy way out. I think before I started doing this work, I just assumed that people gave up on their marriages and it was too hard and so they just decided to end them. What I’ve really learned is that anytime you’re facing a huge life change… I mean, divorce is one of those life changes. There’s certainly other types of life changes. Maybe you’re moving or you’re getting married and you’re starting a new relationship or whatever that is. There’s so much fear that comes with that.
As humans, we’re hardwired for things that are familiar. Even if it’s broken, it’s still familiar. I have learned from so many of my clients that they stayed in the marriage, they really lived with the question of whether to divorce or not to divorce for a really long time. The thing is when you’re living in the question like that, it can be really confusing in part because we’re hardwired to not have that kind of change.
Look for moments of clarity
One of the things that I’ve seen over and over again is that people will begin to experience moments of real profound clarity, and that clarity becomes their anchor as they navigate through the decision. So I’ve seen a lot of courage when facing the decision to divorce. I also know that living in that decision is such a weighty place. It’s a very heavy place. And oftentimes, people will live with that question for many, many years. There’s a huge sense of relief that I see when somebody finally makes the decision and they begin to take the actions and the steps towards creating a better life. They’re not deciding to end the marriage because it’s a great marriage. They’re ending the marriage because it’s a painful place and they have a vision for something better.
So I think that’s sort one of my first lessons is really to look for those moments of clarity. If you’re in a place where you are facing a really, really big decision and you’re experiencing a lot of confusion, the confusion isn’t necessarily a sign you shouldn’t do it. It’s a sign that your subconscious is trying to keep you stuck because that’s what the subconscious does. So look for those moments of clarity, look for the affirmations, for the people who support you through that. If you have good friends, they’re honest feedback as you wrestle with that.
Real power comes from truth
Okay. Another thing that I learned, and this has taken time for me to learn, is power. What is power? When I first started in family law, I remember I could be easily intimidated by somebody who seemed to know a lot more, was a bully or mean. That’s just not really how I move in the world, but it certainly is how a lot of lawyers do. If you’re going to practice family law, you got to be ready to stand up to that. I thought those people were operating from a place of power. What I’ve really come to learn is that real true power comes from truth. Intimidation and bullying is not really power, it’s fear and insecurity masquerading as power.
When you’re in a relationship with somebody who intimidates you or is a bully sometimes people think, “Oh, what I need to do is I need to become a bigger bully. I need to become more manipulative. I need to outsmart the narcissist.” This isn’t true. What is true is that when you’re standing in your own truth, there’s nothing more powerful than that. That takes work though. You really need to know who you are and know what your truth is. I think a lot of times we grow up with other people trying to tell us what our truth is and trying to define that for us and really it’s the journey of life to be able to figure that out for yourself.
One of the things my father always taught me was that truth is what ends up eventually. It’s a long game and sometimes you may lose an initial battle or lose an initial fight, but when you’re standing in truth, truth is what ends up in the end. So I take a lot of comfort in that and I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again. And I’ve also learned how to claim my own power and really how to help my clients begin to claim theirs. It’s been a very, very powerful experience to learn the power of truth.
The power of hope during a divorce
Another thing that I’ve really been in awe of as I witnessed this, is also the power of hope. When you’re facing a situation and a challenge, it’s not at all uncommon to feel hopeless, especially if you can’t envision the next thing. You just know you’re in a really bad place and you don’t know how to get out and you’re feeling stuck and you’re experiencing all the confusion that we’re talking about earlier and you’re experiencing a lot of powerlessness and it’s really hard to picture what life can be like. And so when somebody comes in and they’re talking about divorce, I always remind them. I’m like, “Look, here’s the deal. Every divorce, it has a beginning and it has an end.” Now. I mean, there are some divorces that go on for a lot longer than others. In my experience, most divorces, average divorces will take about six to nine months, sometimes shorter, sometimes a lot longer. I mean, there’s not a guaranteed timeline. It’s just my anecdotal experience, but there’s an end. And that end marks the beginning of the next chapter.
And so when I’m sitting with somebody who’s sort of, maybe they’ve forgotten how to dream. I ask them, “Tell me some things that you’re looking forward to.” Or if they can’t remember that, I’ll ask them to tell me things that they really enjoyed in their life maybe before the relationship turned bad, maybe before they even were in the relationship. And I can just see this whole shift in somebody as they sit there, maybe they’re angry or they’re distraught or they’re hopeless and then they’ll begin to remember a time when they were passionate about hiking or passionate about the arts or the artwork they were doing, or they are just connecting with that part of themselves that is their own desire and the whole energy shifts. And then you can begin to see them, imagine their life in this next chapter. And I love to do that. I think it’s a beautiful way to start off a divorce process or anytime you’re experiencing a big change is to look for the opportunity in the midst of that change.
I used this in my own life when my mom, two years ago, was diagnosed with cancer. We were facing a terminal diagnosis and it was the one thing that I didn’t want and I couldn’t imagine in the moment a way through it, but I knew because I’d learned that if you look for the moments of opportunity in the midst of this incredible challenge, you will experience great blessings. And so while it was definitely a very hard time, just like so many stages in life are, I personally got to live through how incredibly transformative that was to be present with her and to find the opportunity. So if you’re facing something that’s hard that you don’t even want to think about, that’s unimaginable, I invite you to really get curious and to really look for the opportunity in the midst of this challenge, because your life may change in ways that are beautiful.
Why marriages and relationships fail
A lot of people ask me “Why do marriages fail?” or “What’s the cause of a failed marriage?” Of course, there are all kinds of answers. I think sometimes we confuse the cause for the symptom. So, if somebody’s having an affair, it’s more likely than not that the affair actually wasn’t the cause of the divorce. The marriage had probably already failed at that point when somebody was susceptible to somebody else showing a little love and affection. I’m not justifying affairs, but they do happen and they often happen after a marriage has already failed. Same thing with financials. If you’re not able to make financial decisions together, there’s probably already a failure in the marriage, whether it’s just the communication or the ability to make room for both people to share dreams and aspirations and talk about fears. So, I don’t really see those as the cause of the failure of a marriage.
More often than not, what I see as the cause of a failure of a marriage is number one, it can be complacency. You just begin to take your relationship for granted. You stop making it a priority. If you think of it like a plant, you just stop watering the plants and then it dies. If you’re lucky, you can get to it in time before it’s really dead and maybe save it. And I’m all for that. We have great resources, great resources for people who can see their marriage beginning to die. There are definitely things you can do and steps you can take to save your marriage.
Another cause for failed marriages is conflict. And so what I always say is that marriages don’t fail because they have conflict. Any relationship with more than one person is going to have conflict. Even if you’re just one person, you probably still have internal conflict, so you don’t even need another person. But marriages really failed because of unresolved conflict, because we don’t know how to make room for two people who have very different ideas.
When I think of romance movies, I know when I was in my 20s, my date, who’s now my husband, we went to see Jerry McGuire and there’s that line in the movie where she says, “You complete me.” And I just remembered thinking, “Oh, that’s the most romantic thing ever. I want a relationship just like that.” I mean, that’s total bullshit. I think that’s probably one of the most destructive lines out there. Because in a marriage, your partner is not going to complete you. It’s not their job to complete you. It is your job to complete you. And then you take that complete you and you have something to give to somebody else.
That’s kind of like the work of marriage I think, is to experience those kerfuffles, those challenging moments and to really know your truth and to stand in your truth and then make room for the other person to have theirs. We do not all have to see the world the same way. We don’t have to like our pork cook the same way or whatever, the same salad dressing, but it’s okay that we have differences and those differences are what make life so interesting. And so if instead of being so judgemental and so really, I think is afraid when somebody has a different idea about something, we can get really fearful that somehow they’re going to threaten our ideas or our preferences or our likes. But again, I kind of come back to that truth. When you know the truth of who you are, you don’t need somebody else to validate it. Like, that’s it, this is who I am. I like sweet pickle relish in my tuna salad. That may be totally not your gig, and that’s okay. I’m talking to my husband right now.
But how do we resolve conflict? How do we look for those common interests? One of the things I loved about coming into family law through the collaborative door was the fact that we focus so much on interest-based negotiation on really helping people identify, what are your common interests? Because more often than not, we want in general the same thing, it’s just our ideas about how we go about getting those things can be very different. And so if we can just let go of the fear that somebody who has different ideas is going to threaten us and we can feel secure in our own truth and make room and space to hear somebody else, it’s incredibly powerful.
Asking your spouse the important questions
I’ve really focused on that and learned a lot about that in my own marriage, in terms of really showing up as a whole and complete person with something to give to somebody, as opposed to turning to my spouse to have all my needs met. It is not my spouse’s job to meet my needs. If I’m feeling uncomfortable because of something he said or something he’s done, that’s on me. That’s my discomfort. I don’t need him to change. I did in the first part of our marriage, but it’s something that I’ve really learned and wrestled with. So if that serves you, I’d love to hear a little bit about your experience.
So often when people come into divorce, they’ve been really hurt. One of the very human responses, like normal, I mean, I see it all the time is that when we are hurting, we want somebody else to hurt and it can really be hard to overcome that. I think that’s sort of where divorces can go way off the rails is because I’m hurting, I want him to hurt, or I want her to hurt. And so I’m going to do things that I know will hurt and humiliate the other person. It’s really hard to come back from that, when people go down that road. Also, it doesn’t serve you. If your sole focus is to try and make the other person hurt, then what you’re not focusing on are the things that are going to make your life better. And so you’re going to stay stuck in that place where you are really, you’re just giving your power over to somebody else. If your whole focus is to make sure they’re hurting, then you’re not doing those things that are life-giving for yourself.
I mean, I have this conversation a lot with people. When they make the shift and when they can begin to recognize the difference between doing something to get at somebody else, to get under their skin, to hurt them, to do something to them and instead they can shift and really begin to do things for themselves. I mean, again, it’s one of those moments where the whole energy shifts in the room. A lot of times this will happen in a mediation. We’ll come into mediation with a lot of ideas about what you want to get. And so one of the questions I’m always asking my clients is, is this for you? Is this to make your life better, or is it to make their life miserable?
And so I think it’s a really important question to ask when you’re feeling really hurt by a situation is, what’s your next step? Is it something that’s going to help you overcome it, help you grow, help you become a better person, help you build the life that you want, or is it something you’re just doing to try and teach somebody a lesson or for the principle of the matter? I think one of the things lawyers sit around and talk about all the time is, “Oh, for the principle of the matter.” That makes us a whole lot of money. A whole lot of conflict is caused for the principle of the matter. And really it’s not like when you go down a road to try and hurt somebody, I mean, usually, you’re not really hurting them, you’re really just hurting yourself. So there’s a little nugget in that.
What do you think? – Dallas Divorce Lawyers
There are so many other things that I can think about and talk about, but I hope maybe that this has been helpful. These were just some of the things that came to the top of my mind. Again, I would love to hear from you. Maybe you’re a family law attorney and you have some of your own bits of wisdom to share, I hope you will in the comments below, or if you’ve kind of lived through one of these big life changes and have had an opportunity to gain a little wisdom and a little insight and are willing to share that, I’d love to hear from you too. If this was valuable, I hope you’ll subscribe and tune in for more episodes. We will continue to be interviewing awesome guests, but maybe from time to time, we’ll take a little time and do a reflection like this.