Your Brain During Divorce: Misconceptions About How the Brain Processes Emotions

In this series of articles, we’ve been sharing the theories of Dr. David Rock, author of the bestseller, Your Brain at Work.

We’ve been speaking with Dr. David Rock about the brain science of divorce, emotional reactions, and negotiation. Dr. Rock’s theories on how the brain processes emotion offer great insight into how we can more effectively navigate personal and business relationships, including divorce negotiations.

Emotions and Logic are Linked

According to Dr. Rock, our brains don’t have specific centers for “emotion” or “logical thought.” This a key misconception about how the brain works. Rather, emotions are interconnected with almost every decision we make. While some of our memory, working memory, can be easily accessed and recalled, many of our memories are unconscious and not easily accessible. Meaning, we can’t just recall any memory or experience from our lives. Because emotions, or a feeling we have about a memory, can be more easily retrieved by the brain, we often use these feelings to make decisions in our daily life without even realizing it. For example, if you meet a new person and feel like you like them, they may remind you of people you have liked in the past.

Because everything in our brains is so interconnected, it can be nearly impossible to completely erase emotion from cognition. When we make a decision or interact with a person or situation, our brains call on both logic and emotion, like it or not.

Strong Emotions Can Impair Logic

According to Dr. Rock, while the prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that we associate with deliberate thinking, decision-making, understanding ideas, and solving problems, the prefrontal cortex is also affected by emotion. In a divorce, or any stressful or emotional situation, your body sees the situation or your former partner as a threat. In reacting to a strong emotional threat, your body treats it just as it would a physical threat and allocates fewer resources to your prefrontal cortex. In other words, the strong emotions involved in divorce can physically impair your ability to think logically.

Obviously, if you need to be able to negotiate more logically during a divorce, it can be useful to develop strategies to overcome this emotional response. In this series with Dr. Rock, we’ll share his theories about what drives our behavior, and the behavior of others, as well as how to better cope with the strong emotions of divorce. We’ll also share tips for preparing yourself for situations you know will be sensitive or emotionally wrought.

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.