Seventeenth Verse of the Tao Te Ching:

With the greatest leader above them,
people barely know one exists.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom the fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.
When a leader trusts no one,
no one trusts him.
The great leader speaks little.
He never speaks carelessly.
He works without self-interest
and leaves no trace.
When all is finished, the people say,
“We did it ourselves.”
Author’s Commentary:

We are all leaders in one way or another, at work, at home with our families, and even in the process of a divorce, you have ample opportunity to be the type of enlightened leader Lao-tzu describes in this verse.

I’ve seen plenty of participants in a divorce try to dictate the terms of their separation and force their will upon their spouse and children. Sometimes, they even have some success with this approach, but it’s always short-lived.

A spouse can “lawyer-up” as they say, and push for what they think they want, like punishing or controlling their estranged spouse. They may even get orders from the court to this effect, but what has been served?

Are they happier? Not typically.

Do they have a better relationship with their children? Not usually.

Is their spouse left feeling bitter and resentful, just waiting for an opportunity to get back at them? Most likely.

Have you ever noticed that when the strictest of disciplinarians is around, the children behave, but when the disciplinarian leaves, chaos ensues? I certainly remember quite a few over-stressed and burned-out substitute teachers back in grammar school.

I grew up with friends who had strict parents and hat I observed time after time was the inevitable rebellious behavior, particularly once these friends were away from their parents at college. Many turned to destructive behavior, never having found healthy boundaries on their own.

I was very fortunate to grow up with loving, supportive, and often permissive parents who allowed me to make my own mistakes and learn from them so I could make better decisions. Sure, there was guidance, but not an effort to control.

At the time, it would often feel like I barely knew they existed, but looking back, I can see they were always there if I needed them, but they trusted me to figure out what was best and allowed me to be exposed to life, not sheltered or overly protected.

I am forever grateful for their trust in me and it has served me well.

This does not mean we should take a completely passive approach, ignoring our situation, which equates to denial. I suggest being an astute observer of others and minimize the extent to which we try to control the situation.

This can be applied whether you’re a participant in a divorce, or a divorce professional (attorney, mediator, coach, or therapist).

For the participant, give your spouse the opportunity to act with integrity and be accountable to their family. When someone feels pushed into a corner, their reaction is often one based on fear and scarcity, but when they’re given the invitation to step up and do the right thing, they’re actually more likely to do it. Again, I’m not saying you should just sit back and hope.

An approach I find to be effective is to educate people as to their options, the possible consequences of their actions, and give them the opportunity to make fair and reasonable choices. By supporting well-informed decision making, the high costs (emotional and financial) of litigation can usually be avoided.

For a divorce professional, I believe the central focus should be on increasing awareness so clients can make those informed decisions. I’ve seen countless cases where the client hasn’t even been given options, their litigation attorney simply makes the decisions and sends them the bill. Unfortunately, the client has to live with the consequences (and the bill). What’s the result? The client feels powerless over his or her own life, which is compounded by the usually significant financial burden of litigation.

How can we turn things around and resolve issues like a greatest leader?

First, take the time to observe and assess your situation. Become as well informed as you can. Speak to different professional and ask a lot of questions until you gain a higher perspective. As I discussed in the last verse, every problem comes prepackaged with the solution, it just takes a higher perspective to see it. Once you can gather information and let your inner turmoil settle, the resulting clarity makes the solution practically self-evident.

Second, keep your side of the street clean! Be the example. Show your spouse what it’s like to be responsible and live with integrity. Show your kids what it’s like to take the high road. Don’t bad mouth your spouse or brag about how great of a job your doing. Give your spouse the space to make fair choices and give them the credit when you both come to an agreement.

Third, be grateful for the learning opportunities the Universe is providing you. Be genuinely grateful for your situation no matter how “bad” your ego says it is.

Our challenges in life are our opportunities for healing, learning, and growth. Without them, we would never evolve. Embrace them, be kind and loving to yourself, be kind and loving to others, and lead by example.

Love & Light Ahead!

Michael C. Cotugno, Esq.
Conscious Divorce Attorney & Coach
M.A. in Spiritual Psychology