It happens to all of us- a momentary lapse of reason that leads to incredibly severe consequences. We hear about it every day– someone might have a Woods moment and take a golf club to a car after finding out about an affair; another may get behind the wheel of a car after too many drinks and crash; sports players are notorious for their lapses in judgment– like Ryan Mattheus, who lost his temper after a game and punched a locker, which caused him to break his own hand. Not too long ago another Nats player, Bryce Harper swung at the wall and his own bat came flying back at him and injured him. These flashes of anger last a second, but sometimes their impact can last a lifetime.
When ending a relationship, we all run the risk of saying something or doing something terrible because our emotions are running high. The sooner you can visualize a line that should not be crossed, the better off you will be. Consider this is an exercise in impulse control– it is about learning self-restraint. The goal you need to envision is exiting with dignity and grace. With that clear goal in mind, and strategies for remaining calm, hopefully you can extricate yourself from a messy situation without too much regret.
Among the rules of engagement that I think are paramount when un-coupling are the following:
1. Stay focused- as fast as you can, try to unravel whatever ties you have that bind you together. If you need professional help, don’t delay– get advice right away.
2. No means no– if someone says “cease and desist from further contact” that really means leave them alone. Do you really want to wind up with harrassment charges?
3. Refrain from threats- these often backfire anyway, but do you really want the police at your house? No sane person really wants to explain their situation to a judge in an open courtroom.
4. Make requests, not demands- you can only control your own behavior, not anyone else’s so choose your words carefully, and be prepared for non-compliant behavior.
5. Try to be civil- please and thank yous go a long way, not just in the beginning, but in the end. Just because the partnership is ending doesn’t mean all modes of civility get tossed out the window.
6. Don’t involve the children- No matter what, the cardinal rule should be to minimize the impact to any children involved.
Every day for 15 years as a family law attorney, I have had to guide couples through this un-coupling process. For me, this is a clinical procedure– but I understand that for many the process of untangling your lives together is quite emotional. You need to tame the beast within you, and the best way to emphasize this point is to remind you of all those stories where incredibly successful, famous people have lashed out in anger, and as we all see in media headlines, the ones they hurt the most are themselves, and their families.
It will not end well if you let rage and thoughts of vengence consume you, and no one can save you from the path of self destruction but yourself. Try to minimize those lapses in judgment as best you can, and atone for those past sins as best you can. That old Catholic upbringing still lives in me, and I firmly believe through penance and acts of contrition you can find redemption.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.