I do not use the term “control freak” in a derogatory or insulting way and hopefully none of the control freaks reading this post take it that way. Control freaks, like me, want to be in control of their own actions, reactions, thoughts, plans and ideas. Some would like to control other people around them, maybe even the entire world, but that’s not going to happen. Ultimately, we can only control ourselves. So how do control freaks deal with an experience like divorce, where so much of the change they’re experiencing appears, at least, to be out of their control?
Begin by recognizing the need for control. Be aware of it, acknowledge it and don’t try to deny it or minimize it. Openly state that you are most comfortable when you are in control of yourself and you feel the need to control yourself in order to be an effective person. It’s not a character flaw or a mental disorder. The more you can acknowledge and accept this desire to be in control, the more you can recognize how that desire influences your thought processes and decision-making. Then you can look at the need for control in a more objective way.
If possible, develop an awareness of how that desire for control influences your interactions with others. Take a step back and look at your interactions with other people as objectively as possible. It’s difficult, especially at first, but it gets easier with some practice. Do you automatically assume other people are wrong if they don’t agree with your opinion or approach to a problem? That assumption will surely influence your interactions with others. Do you assume that nothing will get done (or get done correctly, according to your definition of “correctly”) unless you do it yourself? How about the assumption that everybody with whom you interact understands and shares your needs, goals and interests?
You will be dealing with others in the divorce process – at a minimum, your spouse. Most likely two attorneys and your spouse. Maybe two attorneys, your spouse, a divorce coach and a financial professional in the collaborative process. The attorneys, your spouse and a mediator if you choose mediation. In litigation, you may be dealing with your spouse, two attorneys, expert witnesses, fact witnesses, custody conciliators, support conference officers, divorce master, judges and court personnel. And don’t forget your children and other family members. With all of these people involved, who can you control? Only one person – yourself. No matter what you do, you cannot control other people.
If you can’t control other people and you’re involved in a stressful process that involves interacting with lots of other people, you must recognize and accept that you can only control your reactions to these people and situations. One positive, concrete step you can take is to steer your divorce process away from court. If you and your spouse can agree to use an alternative dispute resolution method, you’ve arranged to keep the decisions within your control – meaning the two of you making the decisions instead of having a court make the decisions for you. This conversation about what process you’ll use to resolve your disputes is probably the most pivotal conversation and decision the two of you will have. If you don’t affirmatively decide to make these decisions yourselves, you are by default opening the door for someone else to make them for you. And I know you don’t want that to happen.