Empathy in Divorce


An initial reaction is likely to be, “Why should I have any empathy for my divorcing spouse?” In fact, empathy is a skill that can help you better settle your divorce issues.

Empathy is the ability to see things from the other person’s point of view. When you can do that, you reach a better understanding of where they are coming from and how you can reach a divorce settlement with them. Understanding the other person’s point of view allows you to focus on what is most likely to help you reach an agreement, and to come up with creative solutions.

For instance, if you understand that your spouse’s biggest fear is being left homeless, working with them to come up with some creative ways to ensure the spouse will have a home they can afford can ease their fears and help them come to the table in a more cooperative mindset. Even just showing that you are concerned with understanding their viewpoint and addressing their concerns will go a long way towards fostering cooperation.

This doesn’t mean giving up what is important to you, it simply means focusing on the things that are most going to help get the case settled rather than spinning your wheels on other things that matter less to the other party. If your spouse cares about the house and you care more about being able to retire, a good settlement might leave your spouse with the house while you take more of the retirement assets.

Even if you both really want to have the house, it helps to understand WHY each of you wants the house, as that may open up ideas as to how to address both person’s concerns. Maybe one of you really just wants to keep the kids in the same school district, while the other has a sentimental tie to the house itself. I heard of a case recently where the wife figured out she wanted to stay in the house because she loved her window seat. She was able to start looking at other options once she realized that she could build a window seat just they way she wanted it in a new house, and could then go looking for houses that would be suitable for her dream window seat.