Amicable or Contentious?


Divorce, just like many things in life, can be either amicable or contentious. Or some of both. Depending on the circumstances, it can really come down to your intentions. How do you want things to go? How will you behave to make things go that way?

I’ve been witness to some very friendly separations and divorces where there is no outward anger or hostility and they’re both genuinely seeking what is most fair. In these cases, they work together to figure it all out making each other (sometimes very generous) offers for a settlement. They want the other person to be taken care of and comfortable and unhurt.

And then I’ve seen some really ugly, mean-spirited, spiteful divorces where the goal is revenge. These are the ones that drag out for months or years costing thousands or tens or thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. There’s a lot of blame and resentment and declarations of victimhood. There’s dishonesty and deception, name calling and worse.

So what’s the difference in people who handle things amicably and those who go into attack mode as soon as the reality of divorce becomes clear? For the amicable ones, they continue to profess their love for the other person and their wish for them to continue to be happy beyond the divorce. They themselves seem like they’ll be okay after all this and are handling it realistically, patiently and well. For some folks on the dark side, the feeling of rejection is too much for their ego so they feel they have to fight back. Others actually enjoy the competition of the fight. Or worse, they get a rise out of hurting the other person.

Ironically, there’s one quality that is actually shared between the two extreme types of people, the kind and the cruel. And that quality is intention. In either scenario, the participants are choosing how they’ll treat their soon-to-be ex during the divorce process and after. They have the bigger picture in mind and they’re working toward it. They want certain things for their ex and they want to be the one to make it happen for them – be it success or despair. With every move they make, what they intend to do and how to be guide them.

All this is to say that even under the very hard circumstance of divorce, people can and do choose to be kind, calm and fair. Keep this in mind as you head into a challenging situation or even in everyday life: what you intend is usually what you end up doing. I say usually because not everyone is going to have the same kind intentions and sometimes we end up reacting in a way we didn’t plan.

But if we live our lives ready to react to unkind people then we become one of them. On the other hand, if we want more kindness in the world and we want people to treat us kindly then we have to start with our own intentions. It’s the only thing we can control.



For those who don’t want to hurt the other person and want to keep things calm and fair the one thing that keeps them motivated is intention. They set out to do things in a certain way to achieve certain outcome and if they are true to their intention then they will accomplish their goal.

You can’t control the other person and how they are going to act. You can only control yourself and that is best done by thinking ahead about how you want to be, react, behave.


 It’s hard to imagine the people in these types of case were ever in love and treating each other kindly. But they must have been, right? To get married is no small deal and usually means they at least liked each other at some point. So what happens to make people turn so vicious? Who knows? There are many reasons why couples split including infidelity, money issues, personality differences and so on. And, as with all of us in all things, there are underlying psychological issues that play a part in the whole matter. We don’t usually go that deep in mediation so I can’t say what a therapist might see there but for the really angry folks, there’s some unresolved stuff for sure.