Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Hidden Costs of Conflict

Everyone understands almost instinctively that whenever there is conflict, the outcome produces at least one "winner" and at least one "loser". In the vast majority of divorces, both the ex-husband and the ex-wife often feel as though they were the "loser", when all is said and done. Each party ends up believing that they got the poorer part of the deal.

If that is so, then just who, exactly, won? And what did they "win"?

There are some interesting answers to that question, and we'll talk about some of them in a second. Meanwhile, it's important to point out there is usually far more "lost" in a conflict than most people realize.

If you recall your most recent conflict (which is more difficult than it sounds, because of the way conflict and memories are stored in our brains), you can probably assess the most obvious losses. You probably lost some time by fighting the fight. You probably used some mental, emotional, and physical energy while fighting the fight. These are losses that we don't usually think too hard about, other than to agree that we would have rather spent that time and energy doing something more pleasant instead.

You can probably assess the most obvious damage, too. Maybe you had to pay money to someone. Perhaps you suffered physical or emotional wounds. Your conflict might have resulted in damage to property, relationships, or your reputation. And, more serious, you may have lost your job, your home, your family, your lifestyle, or your peace of mind.

Some of the things you "gained" from the conflict might keep costing you in the future. It may be that you have "gained" an enemy, from whom you now have to take extra steps to protect yourself. You probably "gained" resentment toward the other person in the conflict, which you must now carry as a burden until you take actives steps to resolve and dismiss it. You might have "gained" a smear on your reputation; a court order requiring you to pay money to someone else for a long period of time; or a load of embarrassment or shame associated with the conflict behavior.

Then there is the collateral damage. There are often innocent bystanders when a conflict takes place. The children in a nasty (actually, *any*) divorce. The neighbors, friends, and family members who find themselves drawn in to the conflict against their will. School personnel who must take extra steps to comply with court orders. Colleagues who must compensate for your poor work, or for the days when you cannot come to work. When you start to truly look hard at it, the list goes on and on.

Finally, there are the long-term fall-out costs that everyone bears. Think through how many actions you take in a day that are regulated in one way or another. You probably are not even aware of the amount of energy that is expended complying with laws, regulations, and statutes whose very existence traces back to someone else's previous conflict. Here is a simple example: Warning labels. You see warning labels on products everywhere. A lot of them are so obvious you find yourself laughing at them. Yet every warning label you see costs money, exists solely for the purpose of protecting that company against a future conflict, and is based on a previous conflict that cost that company money in the past. You and I pay long term in the price of goods and services, the time it takes to cut through 'red tape', and the energy expended to remain abreast of ever-changing regulations.

Once you start to assess where all the costs come from, it gets a little easier to guess who benefits from conflict, doesn't it? Just keep on following the money and see where it goes. The average contested divorce in America starts at $5,000 (average retainer fee of $2,500 to initiate the divorce, times the two parties who each hire an attorney) and goes up from there. Not counting the high-profile celebrity divorces -- examining only divorces from working-class and middle-class families -- the average contested divorce in America costs $43,000. And that's just to get to a final decree; that doesn't count the motions to modify that continue to pour in for years after the divorce has been granted. Recall that half of all marriages end in divorce, and do some rough math, and you can see that divorce is big business for attorneys! They have a H-U-G-E stake in stirring up the fight.

But -- this is your power: those costs are all under your control. Every single one of those costs cannot exist unless you make the choice to fight. Yes, it's true that there is still the other party, and yes, your spouse may be the one to initiate the divorce and you cannot do anything about that. But you can do something about how you will handle it. That's the sort of guidance that a Divorce Consultant can give you. And that is why I am here.


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