Your Brain During Divorce: 5 Situations the Brain is Always Tracking

In this post, we explore Dr. David Rock’s ideas about how the brain influences us during divorce and how we can improve our interactions with all of the people in our lives.

In our discussions with Dr. David Rock, he shared how the brain treats many social threats like strong emotions or conflict with the same intensity as physical threats. This threat response can impair our ability to make decisions and work with others collaboratively, particularly during a divorce. But there are also rewards that can drive our behavior in a more positive way.

There are five main rewards and threats that motivate much of our behavior. Together they form the SCARF model.

Status: Status is about our importance to others.

Certainty: Certainty is about the ability to predict what will happen.

Autonomy: Autonomy concerns our control over events.

Relatedness: Relatedness is about how safe we feel with others and whether they are friends or foes.

Fairness: Fairness is the perception of equity in exchanges between people.

In social environments, our brain is constantly tracking the SCARF elements, and these can drive our behavior from moment to moment. If you realize that you’re having a strong emotional reaction, Dr. Rock suggests looking to the SCARF factors to see where your negative reaction falls. Even knowing why you’re having your negative reaction can help you control and perhaps mitigate your response. Moreover, awareness of the SCARF responses can help you separate real threats from those that are imagined or overexaggerated. Dr. Rock hypothesized that more than three quarters of the time, if we’re upset, we are misreading someone’s intent or purpose, or we don’t have enough information to understand their motivation. Awareness of the SCARF factors can help reduce that.

SCARF can also help you understand the motivations and behaviors of others. For example, if your former partner is having a negative reaction to you, look to SCARF to see if you can balance or allay the reaction. For example, if your ex-partner is reacting as if something is unfair, maybe you can provide more information and thus more certainty. Or let them have more control over the situation and thus more autonomy. If someone is having a “status” reaction, meaning that they feel as if they aren’t important, you can offer more choices and thus more control.

The SCARF model can help all of us understand more about our relationships with the people around us and how to improve our interactions. By appreciating how the brain works, and what others perceive as threats and rewards, we can improve all of our personal relationships.

If you’re contemplating divorce but would like to try a different approach, one that might have a brighter future, call us for a confidential consultation.