Cultivating Emotional Intelligence: Not Me vs. You but Me and You

Intense emotional conflict often fuels the problems that lead to divorce, and divorce itself challenges even the most emotionally even-keeled people because it touches the most sensitive areas of their lives. Yet trying to push emotions aside and remain strictly logical is not the answer. Emotions, surprisingly, can be useful in a Collaborative Divorce. The trick is for both people to use emotional intelligence to handle the issues that divorce raises.

Daniel Shapiro, the founder and head of the Harvard International Negotiation Project, says that feelings drive people towards conflict, but they can also drive them towards resolution. Whether the conflict is between countries, he says, or between divorcing spouses, a small shift can make all the difference in moving a situation from a conflict where anger, fear, and hurt push both sides to stubbornly hold onto their opposing positions, to a situation where they can manage their differences effectively. “Shift the relational stance so it’s no longer ‘me versus you’ but the two of us working side by side facing a shared problem,” Shapiro says, and that will create a shift from emotions of stubbornness to emotions of curiosity, commitment, and maybe even compassion. Then, progress becomes possible.

In addition to creating opportunities to more effectively manage differences, using emotional intelligence brings other benefits to the divorce process —

  • Emotionally intelligent parents can be more emotionally available to their children to continue to meet the kids’ day-to-day needs, while also finding ways to help buffer the children from some of the stresses of the divorce.
  • Emotionally intelligent parents also are good role models for their kids, setting examples of how to handle difficult situations.
  • Emotional intelligence can help divorcing spouses process, rather than repress, the end of the marriage. Giving themselves permission to grieve allows natural healing to take place.
  • Cultivating emotional intelligence puts divorcing spouses in the best position to start their new postdivorce lives without being paralyzed by overwhelming feelings of regret, anger, or self-recrimination.

Emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and cultivated. In an emotionally difficult situation like divorce, the payoff for the effort can be enormous.

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