Relationships fall on a spectrum of emotions, and our default view is to see them at their most positive – people form, and remain in, relationships and marriages when they are in love.  But at the other end of that spectrum lies love’s equal and opposite number, hate.


When people separate, it is natural to expect that there are things about each other that they no longer cherish and accept as they once did – there will inevitably be times when they are not each other’s favourite people.  But every now and then, unadulterated hatred is exhibited – one or both of the separated parties loathe each other to their very core.  Hate now lives where love once dwelled.  That is a depth of emotion which pervades life – hatred creeps into, and motivates, every thought and action of he or she who feels it.


I’m no social scientist, but as a lawyer, I certainly see this dynamic from time to time, and here’s what I have learned it means – despite the separation, those 2 people are still in a relationship.  Could that even be possible?  Yes.  In some cases, it is why, despite the statistical odds, people get all the way to Court in an otherwise easily resolvable case.  Just like forming a relationship, where each person has to commit, so it is with the end of that relationship – to separate, each person has to turn their key, and turn off the machine.


When both parties feel that hatred, they will limp along, still in a relationship together, until they work through those emotions.  The most difficult dynamic to manage is where one party has made their peace with the end of the relationship, and is ready to get on with life, but where the other party is still smouldering with white hot hatred.  In that situation, one spouse is pulled into the vortex of the storm of emotions still brewing in the mind of their former partner.  In essence, it’s a hostage situation – where once these people loved each other, they are now connected only by hate.  That is an emotion at the other end of the spectrum, but equally consuming and powerful.  It keeps 2 parties in a relationship, albeit a negative one.


How does this manifest itself in real life?  Simple – everything is harder.  The reaction to each and every situation is extreme.  Every text message is dripping with vitriol.  Every piece of correspondence is toxic.  Every action is driven by a wish to cause pain.


When overlaid with litigation, this means 2 things – time and money.  Everything will take longer, on a playing field where time is money.  A case which should have settled instead becomes impossible to resolve.  That is a situation which will continue until the spouse perpetuating the negative relationship is able to make their peace with the separation, and resolve to move on.


So, if you are a spouse taken hostage in a negative relationship, how do you manage it?


Rule number 1 – Do not fight fire with fire.  A spouse consumed by hatred wants everything to be on fire.  So resist the temptation to escalate situations.  That is really hard some days, but it works.  Fire can only burn so long without fuel.


Rule number 2 – Don’t fall for traps.  When a spouse hell-bent on conflict wants to increase the temperature, they will set up situations which are conceived to deliberately ramp up the agro.  They will attempt to land blows below the belt, on subjects they know you will find irresistible to ignore. So recognise when you are being goaded.  Don’t buy into it.  There is nothing more infuriating for someone provoking conflict than your not engaging in that conflict.


Rule number 3 – Take emotion out of the equation.  Emotion is subjective, and you’ll never convince your spouse that you were right and they were wrong.  Legal problem solving is not about emotion, but the law, and its application to the facts.  Stick to the facts of the matter – the numbers and the documentary evidence.  Those things will trump emotion every day of the week.  It’s just not possible to maintain, long-term, a position that is founded only on emotion, when the facts and evidence point to a different outcome.


Rule number 4 – Be prepared to adapt.  The pace of litigation often moves at the rate of the slowest person.  You may want the case done and dusted yesterday.  Recognise, however, that your spouse does not, and will be doing everything they can to slow the pace. If they can see that you are becoming frustrated, you are giving them what they want.  While it is ideal to save time and money, if your spouse is preventing you from saving time, focus on saving money.  Do what needs to be done to properly advance the case, but otherwise do not be pulled into the quicksand.  Deflect all issues which are irrelevant and non-essential to the case.  The process might end up looking different to that which you had in mind, but you will still get to your destination.


Rule number 5 – Recognise that your spouse’s hatred means they have not been able to achieve closure on the end of the relationship.  Isolate whether there is anything you can do assist them move their mindset forwards.  For example, can you participate in some separation counselling?  While your initial inclination may be that you cannot imagine anything worse, think it through – if it helps your spouse achieve acceptance, then you have done something which has helped you both. Some hard work now makes for smoother sailing later on.


These rules are hard – let’s face it, remaining silent when you are infuriated takes some discipline.  If you break these rules, you are only human.  But if you can stick to them as much as is possible, you will be unshackled from the hostage situation earlier, and out the other side of your separation with much less legal cost.


Dan Bottrell

January 2020

Leave a Reply