Reciprocal Altruism Versus I’m Only in It for Myself

According to Herb Guggenheim, writing for CapitalM, a Mensa newsletter, the “only two social strategies that human beings use” come into play in divorce negotiations. They are:

> “Reciprocal Altruism,” which is the psychological equivalent of the Golden Rule, or “do unto others that which you would have them do unto you”; or

>“I’m Only in It for Myself,” which is an every man for himself concept that works in a dog-east-dog world.

Reciprocal altruism is based on the belief that kindness is rewarded. As the French say, “You send the elevator up to me and I’ll send it back down to you.” I’m Only in It for Myself, on the other hand, appeals to people who see the world as a hostile place where only the strong survive. Social Darwinists believe “the inferior, weak people are busy being nice to each other, they will swoop down and take what they want, when they want, no matter what the consequences may be.”

When spouses use reciprocal altruism, the negotiations can move to an easy conclusion; when the spouses try to rip and tear, the negotiations often break down.

Uncontested Divorce Makes for A More Gentle Climb

Divorce is not an easy road, but uncontested divorce is a more gentle climb for both spouses. Negotiating an uncontested divorce means that the two spouses are in agreement about the terms and conditions of their property division, spousal and child support, custody and visitation. In short, they have nothing lest to argue and fight about.

When couple can agree on everything, they are in effect their own negotiators. Although each spouse may want her or her lawyer to check the paperwork, the involvement of the attorneys is greatly reduced.

So are the legal bills because when a couple negotiate for themselves, they can sit down and do at no cost what lawyers do at a great cost. The courts will approve anything the spouses decide that is fair and reasonable.

Interest-Based Bargaining Versus Position-based Bargaining

Collaborative negotiators describe two types of bargaining that happens when spouses negotiate a divorce. They are interest-based bargaining and position-based bargaining.

In interest-based bargaining, the parties focus on their underlying concerns, needs or interests; in position based bargaining, the parties lock in early on inflexible positions defining their needs and wants.

In interest-based bargaining, the parties communicate what is important about an issue rather than arguing for a specific position or solution. In position-based bargaining, the parties become adversarial and go one against the other.

Interest-based bargaining aims to understand the other party, and it is cooperative. Position-based-bargaining, the traditional approach, allows for little emphasis on future relationships.

Couples and their lawyers who can negotiate interest-based positions find the resolution of a divorce settlement must less painful.

Negotiating a Divorce Is a Matter of Timing

Rarely do the two partners mutually decide on a divorce at the same time. Invariably, after some long period of reflection and consideration, one spouse decides to end the marriage and, one way of another, tells the other the marriage is over. Call him or her the leaver; the other, the left. The leaver does not decide impulsively and he or she may think about divorce for years before acting. The spouse left may take the news “on a continuum from resigned acceptance to utter shock and surprise.”

According to divorce mediator and psychologist Sam Margulies a “good divorce” happens when both spouses are ready to negotiate, that is, when both accept that the marriage is over. “If you are the one who wants out,” says Margulies, “you have to give your partner time to adjust, time to mourn and time to explore his/her own possibilities. Push too fast and your spouse retreats to the perceived safety of a lawyer who she thinks will “protect” her interests. Then you will have a long divorce.”

No One Gets It All

Sometimes when a marriage crashes the spouses become possessed by an idea that they can vindicate themselves in the divorce negotiations. That is, an angry spouse uses the negotiations — and the distribution of assets and liabilities — as a way of vindicating their own conduct during the marriage. In particular one spouse may wish to punish the other for real or imagined misconduct during the marriage.

It is easy to see that angry spouse is not going to be able to negotiate a fair and reasonable – equitable—divorce. No matter how hard it is, anger has no place in the negotiations, and no one gets everything he or she wants.

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