Your Brain During Divorce: How to Have Constructive Interactions During an Emotional Event

In our series with Dr. David Rock, we’ve covered how our brain inextricably intertwines logic and emotion, which can make divorce particularly challenging. Our brain sees emotionally provocative situations as a threat, pulling resources from the prefrontal cortex of the brain to deal with it. This means that the area of our brain associated with decision making and logic is physically impaired during times of great stress or emotion. In other words, the strong emotions of divorce can actually impact our ability to think logically, thoughtfully reflect and consider, or even process simple information or questions. Obviously, this can be a problem if you need to work with your former partner to make decisions about the end of your marriage.

Suppressing Emotion Doesn’t Work

Your first instinct, heading into a stressful meeting with a former partner or another emotionally laden event, may be to simply pretend everything is OK. If you suppress your anger and smile, everyone will believe it, right? Wrong. According to Dr. Rock, people can see right through this. If you try to hide that you are angry or upset, other people instinctively read your body cues. Their heart rate and blood pressure increase along with yours, and they will start to make cognitive errors right along with you. We need another solution.

Reappraise the Situation

Instead of suppressing your emotions, a good way to overcome your emotional response is to alter your interpretation of events. According to Dr. Rock, reappraisal can help you reframe a situation if you plan ahead. You need to make a conscious decision to come up with a differing interpretation of a conversation you are about to have. According to Dr. Rock, you can say to yourself:

“Hey, maybe this is an opportunity to gain some positive ground so you can get some of the things that you want,” or, “Maybe this is an opportunity to show the kids that we’re adults,” or, “Maybe this is an opportunity to…,” [do] something positive that’s important to you. The more you focus on that, the less the emotions will kick in[.]

Reappraisal can work if you catch yourself at the beginning of an emotional reaction. If you can stop it before it starts, you can reframe the situation, keep yourself calmer, and hopefully retain your ability to think rationally. It may take practice to effectively reframe an emotional situation, but reappraisal can work if you can catch yourself before your emotions become a run-away train.

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.