Your Brain During Divorce: Can you Change Another Person’s Behavior?

In examining brain science, divorce, and negotiation with Dr. David Rock, we’ve tackled how the brain reacts to an emotional stressor like divorce. The body sees strong emotional threats as real physical threats, reallocating resources in the brain in a way that actually physically impairs our ability to think rationally. Dr. Rock shared with us how we can work to mitigate this stress response by preparing ahead of time to reframe the conversation, choose the right time for conflict, and setting shared goals. But what do we do about the behavior of others? Can we change it?

Our Reactions to Others Drive Their Behavior

Dr. Rock shared that he believes the way we believe people are can impact how they actually are. So, if we expect our ex-partner to be intransigent and stubborn, they probably will be. If we believe someone can change and improve, that will also affect how they react to us. In a divorce, it’s important to reframe the situation and make a conscious decision to expect positive change from others.

Work on Your Own Response

Our responses to other people basically drive our relationships. Working to understand the motivation of your former partner’s behavior during divorce can help you mitigate the damage and the stress from an emotional situation. Dr. Rock explained the SCARF model, which includes five things that are the main rewards and threats driving much of our behavior day to day.

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.

If you realize that you are having a negative reaction, it can be helpful to look to the SCARF factors to see why you’re having the reaction. Likewise, if your partner is having a negative reaction, you can look to SCARF to understand why they’re reacting negatively and how you might mitigate that response. For example, if your partner feels that something is unfair, you may be able to balance that reaction by offering more information and thus more control, or perhaps you could offer them more control over the situation.

By controlling your own behavior and having an awareness and understanding of the motivations of others, it will be easier to navigate your divorce or any personal relationship. As Dr. Rock says, “The more language we have for the brain, the more we can actually catch these things early. Language for mental experience is a tool that helps us to reappraise quickly as we see these things coming on.” While you can’t change the bad behavior of others, you can work to control your own emotional response and keep logic and rational thought in charge of your brain.

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.