Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How experts predict whether couples will divorce

Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, has emerged as a leading expert in the understanding of marriage dynamics and in predicting divorce. After more than 25 years of research and therapy with married and divorcing couples, a number of basic patterns in how married couples interact can be used to predict divorce (in the absence of change in these patterns).

First, there are two periods in married life when the risk of divorce is highest:
• After 5-7 years of marriage when conflict is usually highest
• After 10-12 years of marriage as a result of lost intimacy
It should be noted that marital conflict often increases when a baby arrives, which usually happens during the first few years of marriage (see bullet one above). After the first child is born, 40 to 70% of couples report significant declines in satisfaction with their marriage. So, a period of marital dissatisfaction is the norm after the first child is born, and in the absence of malignant interaction patterns, does NOT necessarily lead to divorce . (Remember, most unhappiness is temporary.)

The process that leads to loss of intimacy takes longer to result in divorce, and Gottman's research has identified the malignant interaction patterns that DO predict divorce. These are:

• A one to one ratio between positive and negative interactions (for happy couples the ratio of positive/negative interactions is 20 to 1)
• Mutual criticism (personal attacks on character not complaints about behavior)
• Defensiveness (“no I didn’t”, “yes but…”, “let’s talk about what YOU did…” or other denials of any personal responsibility)
• Stonewalling (refusing to talk in order to avoid conflict)
• Contempt for the partner (eye rolling, sarcastic humor, mocking)

Of the last four factors, those Gottman called the “four horsemen” (of the Apocalypse), contempt is the worst.

Here are some other findings from the research by Dr. Gottman:
•Conventional wisdom says it is not a good idea to “go to bed angry”. Gottman discovered that “flooding” – a physiological phenomenon triggered by emotional conflict — leaves people’s heart rates too high for them to clearly concentrate on the conversation at hand. He found that taking the time to calm down before finishing an argument is more likely to help couples stay close and connected.
•He learned that couples therapy with battering couples actually makes things worse for the woman—not better—another significant departure from the conventional wisdom. Partners both need to get individual therapy.
•It is extremely beneficial for both parents to express their own emotions, and it is especially important for fathers to express their feelings—especially sadness. This is critical for helping children develop "emotional intelligence",which is a better predictor of success than IQ.

The Positive Divorce bottom line

If your relationship is not overwhelmingly positive in your pattern of interactions with your partner, but rather is characterized by Gottman’s “four horsemen” of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and especially contempt, your odds of being divorced are more than 4 out of 5.

If you want to stay married, you both need to change the way you interact.

If you are in the process of getting divorced, now is the time to begin learning new ways of interacting with your intimate partner (current or future) to change the outcome of your next relationship. Use this opportunity to learn to identify and change your contributions to the interactions that poisoned your relationship, so that history doesn’t repeat itself. (The odds of a second divorce are VERY high for once-divorced people.)

Learn about yourself, change your own intimate behavior, and make your own future better.

Copyright 2008 Kevin Karlson All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Client request--Video conferencing/telephone consults

After more than 25 years of working in a traditional face-to-face conference room setting, technical improvements in video conferencing technology now make desktop video conferencing a viable method of service delivery.

As with the normal consulting process, a contractual relationship with the client's attorney as a "consulting expert" is necessary to maintain the attorney-client privilege in discussions with the client.

For more information about video or telephone consultation, contact Dr. Karlson:

Phone: 972.839.2394
Email: kevinkarlsonjdphd@swbell.net

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Divorce myths exploded #1: My spouse is a jerk, I will get everything

For reasons not altogether clear to me, the idea that “my spouse is a jerk, I will get everything” remains a widespread and mistaken belief among women (and a few men) seeking divorce. Whether you live in a community property state, like California or Texas, or in one of the other 48, judges in divorce cases rarely deviate very much from a roughly equal split of the couple’s assets in a divorce.

In my experience in hundreds of cases, property division of 55/45 is about as good as it gets for the "innocent" spouse, even in cases where the other spouse has been unfaithful, abusive, or both. Judges just don't punish unfaithful spouses, especially men who have been primary bread winners, by a grossly unequal property division in a divorce, even though many divorcing spouses believe that such a ruling would be "fair" or "justice".

As a consequence of this mistaken belief in the eventual outcome of the divorce litigation, many women spend an inordinate amount of time and money to document the extent of the indiscretions. As they describe their motivation, it is primarily in hopes of persuading the judge to “punish” the unfaithful spouse through a “90/10” property split in favor of the injured spouse. Regardless of the value of the marital estate, up to billions of dollars, I know of NO case where such a punishment has been meted out by a divorce court.

Any competent attorney and the financial expert he hires will attempt to document how much of the couple’s money was spent financing the affair, and will ask the court to reimburse the injured spouse for those expenses, before the court divides the marital estate in a final decree. While the total expenses for these extramarital recreational activities may reach into the thousands of dollars, it never reaches a number which represents a significant percentage of the couple’s assets.

The Positive Divorce bottom line: bad conduct by a spouse MAY move the court to divide the marital estate 55/45 in favor of the “innocent” spouse, but that’s about as far it is likely to go.

So, have reasonable expectations about how divorce courts divide property and be prepared to settle when your lawyer tells you the offer is as good as you can reasonably expect.

Develop a vision for your financial future based on those realistic expectations for your starting point, develop a strategy for building on it from there, focusing on factors YOU can control.

Positive Divorce means accepting the challenge of being in charge of your own financial life again, and building on the opportunity to start a new and more prosperous life.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What qualifies me to write about divorce?

Simply put, I am the most qualified expert on divorce you’ve never heard of. I have devoted my professional life to working with divorcing people, and have been involved in one way or another with thousands of them. Literally NO one has as much experience with as many aspects of divorce and divorce recovery as I have, and now I want to share that experience and the lessons that I have learned with you.

Here’s a list of my qualifications for writing about the legal and psychological aspects of divorce, and for talking about divorce recovery:

• PhD in clinical psychology from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas (1983)
• JD in law from Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas (1984)
• Contributing author to an award-winning psychiatric/psychological evidence book
• Adjunct faculty in forensic psychology and psychological evidence--8 years
• Co-author of custody evaluation system (UCCES published by PAR, Inc.)
• Co-author of a parenting book (Loving Your Children Better by Nolo Press)
• Co-facilitator of Divorce Recovery Workshop at NCC in Dallas-8 years
• Co-convenor of divorced singles Sunday school class
• Invited presenter to Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists Trial Workshop-10 years
• Invited presenter to Texas Advanced Family Law Course- 2 years
• Former member of American Psychological Association Committee on Practice and Professional Standards (setting child custody evaluation standards)
• Former lay member of Dallas County Bar Grievance Committee
• Former Chair, Dallas County Psychological Association Ethics Committee
• Psychotherapist to divorced/divorcing clients-10 years
• Custody evaluator-10 years
• Litigation consultant in hundreds of divorce/custody cases--25 years
• Certified in Collaborative Divorce—member of Collaborative Law Institute of Texas

The point of that list is that I have been involved in divorces and divorce litigation as a court-appointed expert, as a therapist, as a law clerk to a nationally recognized divorce lawyer, as a marriage counselor, as a consultant to lawyers and their clients, as a facilitator of divorce recovery workshops, and as a friend to divorcing people. Last, but not least, I am divorced myself.

Seven Secrets to Peak Performance

Seven Secrets to Peak Performance During Divorce Litigation

INTRODUCTION Stress is a direct result of a person being focused on, and trying to control the "un-controllable" external forces and events in their divorce (i.e., judges, tactics or stunts of the other party, economic or business conditions, reactions of friends and family, etc.). When a person focuses on these uncontrollable external forces, he/she is more likely to experience the high stress-related symptoms and the resulting questionable thinking and judgments that can follow. Here are some ways to cope with the stress of litigation more effectively.

HAVE A PERSONAL VISION THAT IS NOT CONNECTED TO THE OUTCOME OF THE LITIGATION The biggest challenge for people involved in divorce is to stay focused on what matters to them personally and to avoid becoming trapped in the daily chaos of the divorce/litigation process. Litigation always ends (15 months seems to be about average for divorce litigation in the US). In the meantime, remaining connected to the things that provide real meaning to life and committed to something bigger than and outside of one’s self is a critical component of successful coping.

UNDERSTAND THE STRESS/PERFORMANCE CURVE Divorce is stressful and requires additional energy and attention not needed during less stressful times. This is not the time to “relax”, but it is a time to understand that being either too “relaxed” or to “hyped up” can interfere with peak performance. The graphic illustrates the relationship between stress and performance. Notice that peak performance is in the middle, so the goal is to use your body’s natural responses to maintain levels of stress that are neither too high nor too low. Regular routines, regular exercise, and good nutrition contribute to the ability to operate at peak levels.

LEARN COPING SKILLS THAT HELP TO MANAGE STRESS SYMPTOMS Here are the strategies that have been proven to lower your stress symptoms.
• First have a regular daily routine that includes 8 hours of sleep and regular times for going to bed and getting up and stick to it (A disrupted sleep schedule for one night lowers your body’s ability fight infection by more than 50% for the following day).
• Second, walk or do some aerobic exercise for 30 minutes every day (It will take your body more than two hours to calm down after this so don’t exercise right before bedtime).
• Third, eat more fruit and protein and few carbs a minimum of three meals and preferably 5 smaller meals per day (but none late in the evening).
• Finally, spend 15-30 minutes per day sitting quietly in a chair in a quiet room and focus only on your breathing (or listening to a relaxation tape). All of these strategies will improve your performance by increasing your stress tolerance, and the effects are cumulative-the more things on this list that you do, the greater the benefit.

LEARN HOW TO BE GRATEFUL IN THE PRESENT One of the natural and unavoidable effects of stress on every human being is a narrowing of perceptions- “tunnel vision” that can make the stressful situation appear to consume the entire world. The anti-dote to this tunnel vision is a constant and intentional focus on a daily “gratitude journal”. This means making a written list of the five things in life that you are most grateful for AT THIS MOMENT. For many divorcing people, first on the list is their children, but the list is different for each person. An intentional focus on the good things in life counteracts a world of temporary if overwhelming situations by reminding us of the more important and enduring parts of life.

MAKE TIME TO PLAY AND HAVE FUN The surest way to perform poorly, during divorce or not, is by being too serious. Peak performance in everything comes out of having fun. While the circumstances of divorce make having fun a bit more challenging, they also make having fun more important. Many people immediately eliminate recreation when they get overwhelmed and frantic, and report that they “don’t have time for anything fun”. Peak performance depends on giving your body and mind a break; make time for fun.

SEPERATE SELF-WORTH FROM PERFORMANCE Whether in marriage or divorce, you are NOT defined by your successes nor by your failures, but rather how you handle both. Learn to separate your value as a person from your performance at the same time that you learn to get better at handling both success and failure. When your personal worth is on the line for every decision you make, you are making a difficult situation even more challenging by increasing your own stress level. Give yourself a break and remind yourself of your inherent value regardless of your performance. You’ll feel better and you will do better!

FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Practice living life like you want it to be, even if you can only do it for a few minutes at first. Focus on what you want for yourself, your family, your career, your home, your relationships. Most people are much more resilient than they give themselves credit for, so focus on your track record for bouncing back to boost your confidence that you can succeed.

In contrast to peak performance in athletics, peak performance during divorce holds the possibility of being transformational in a way that no other life experience can be. Because divorce dissolves so many of a person’s life structures and expectations, it creates an opportunity to rebuild them in a new and better way that can lead to a much happier and more satisfying life. Seize the moment!