The Lamp & The Knife...
The difference between the old style of divorce and the collaborative approach is a new way of thinking, for lawyers as well as clients. Lawyers have been taught to act as adversaries. They have been given the tools to press an argument and win a case. Their purpose is victory for their side by defeating the other side; even when a smashing victory might not be in the best interests of their client.
Think of the story of Psyche and Eros, as related by Robert A. Johnson in his book "She". In this wonderful 75-page book, Johnson, a Jungian therapist, uses the Greek myth of Psyche to explain anima, which is the psychological make-up of a woman, and the feminine side in men. In the story, Psyche is living in paradise with Eros. He is a god, and therefore can't let her see him.
Psyche's evil-minded sisters convince Psyche that Eros is really a serpent who will devour her soon-to-be-born daughter. They give Psyche a lamp and a knife. They tell her to wait until Eros is asleep. Then she is to shine the lamp on him, and cut off his serpent's head. But when Psyche uses the lamp to shine the light on Eros, she sees him for the god that he is.
Until just these last few years, our only method of ending marriages was to use the knife. We would go to court and fight our hardest to hurt the other side and to get the most out of him or her. The result would be a costly, protracted battle that caused pain to both sides, along with their family and friends. In most cases, even when there was a clear "winner", both parties would feel more of a sense of failure than of closure. This was because a judge, with limited knowledge of the circumstances and who deals with his own biases, would have made an arbitrary decision that might not fit all of the facts.
Whatever a judge might decide, it would never be as intelligent decision as the two parties could worked out on their own had they sat down together and come to a fair agreement themselves. That is the collaborative process. The two parties and their attorneys work with, instead of against each other. They use the light to illuminate the facts, so that both sides know exactly what the other knows. And that includes both the tangible assets of a marriage, as well as the emotional needs and bonds that they have forged together and must now be restructured.
The collaborative process is about both sides getting what they need out of the residue of the relationship. It enables the two people who got together with the best of intentions to separate with all that they can take away from their time together. To give and take in a dignified manner. To leave each other, if not happy, then at least with respect.
[Robert A. Johnson is a Jungian therapist who explores psychological issues using the ancient Greek myths, and some more current archetypes. He has written a dozen short but important books, including "He", which examines the masculine psychology through The Grail Myth, and "We", a look at the psychology of romantic love using the myth of Tristan and Isolde.]