Before I was involved, John’s divorce case had been dragging on for four years. John and Cathy were constantly bickering and negative intimacy was their modus operandi. They could not live together, yet they could not disentangle from each other and create separate, peaceful lives. The chronic conflict was unbearable for the entire family, including their three children. As soon as John saw Cathy at a conference or in court, settlement discussions went out the window. Emotional outbursts were quite common. Love, hate, anger and hurt spilled into everything, making rational settlement discussions impossible. The divorce was even bringing childhood traumas to the surface. Deep therapy was sorely needed for both parties.
I had to inject some calmness and civility in our legal meetings and at court appearances in order to move this couple forward. One day before we entered the courtroom, I showed John a diagram of the brain on my iPad. I pointed out the amalygia, in the limbic part of the brain. I explained to him in rudimentary terms that when he and Cathy climbed the steps to the courtroom, saw the judge or saw the other with a lawyer, the emotional arousal in his amygdala would overwhelm his ability to use his frontal lobe’s reasoning and problem solving functions.. Thus, no reasonable solutions could penetrate. I explained that it was important for him to be aware of this neurological process and step away and “reset his brain” when he felt overwhelmed by emotion so that he could listen and communicate in a more productive manner. John’s self-awareness and control positively affected Cathy’s behavior as well, resulting in a change of dynamic that allowed the parties to finally focus on the issues that needed to be resolved in their divorce.