Conflict begins with fear. When you feel threatened, you pick a side — a desire, belief, objective, tangible goal or attainment — that opposes the desires, beliefs or objectives of another person or group. It’s human nature. But the real problems begin when you become fixed in your way of thinking about the situation. You may even begin to believe that dire consequences will occur if you don’t get your way. (EX: “If I don’t get the house in our property settlement, I’ll be miserable.”)
Moving beyond fear requires another aspect of human nature: curiosity. Global peace negotiator, John Paul Lederach believes developing “the ability to cultivate and sustain curiosity about the situation, rather than making assumptions,” helps us to begin to look at situations from a less dramatic, non-polarized perspective.
“Curiosity is a matter of respecting complexity, seeking something beyond what is visible, and discovering what it is that holds apparently opposed social energies together,” says Michelle Maiese, Ph.D. of Lederach’s principle. “It involves accepting people at face value, and yet looking beyond appearances and suspending judgment in order to discover untold new angles, opportunities, and unexpected potentialities.”
Developing a sense of curiosity about a situation, rather than judging it to be good or bad, prevents you from gravitating into a win vs. lose viewpoint. For example, your fear-driven statement, “If I don’t get the house, I’ll be miserable,” might become “I wonder if I would be happier living somewhere else?” Or rather than asking, “Why is he doing this to me?” you might consider, “Why am I reacting so strongly to this situation?”
But how do you “get curious” when your life feels like it’s falling apart? Self-help guru and author, Byron Katie, developed an inquisitive process called The Work, to help shine light on stressful beliefs that lead to resentments and aggression. In her best-selling book, Loving What Is: Four questions that can change your life, she writes, “Peace doesn’t require two people; it requires only one. It has to be you. The problem begins and ends there.”
Katie’s method doesn’t involve changing another person’s perspective. It requires exploration of your negative thoughts and how you react to them. She contends that the conflict is not between you and another person (such as your soon-to-be-ex spouse.) The conflict is within yourself. So although you cannot control how your ex responds to issues surrounding your divorce, you can control your own responses.
Ultimately, by becoming curious about your thoughts, you can begin to make peace with your fears. And with less anxiety, you’ll feel freer to focus on the important work of beginning a new life post-divorce.