Sally and Bob are nearing the end of their divorce. Both are represented by excellent experienced family law attorneys. They have already separated and are finalizing the list of household goods and furnishings that Sally will be taking from the marital residence. Things are going well, e.g. Bob is taking the master bedroom furniture and Sally is taking the guest bedroom furniture. Sally is taking the set of red dishes, and Bob is just fine with the set of white dishes. Then . . . the wheels fall off. Sally is taking the living room furniture, but Bob is insistent that he keep the bookcase. Bob is keeping the marital residence, which has four built-in bookcases. This bookcase goes with and was purchased at the same time as the rest of the living room furniture. It’s not an antique, it is not furniture that came from Bob’s family, nor is it special in any way. What’s behind Bob’s strong desire to fight over the bookshelf? What’s going on here?
For many couples going through a divorce, there will come a time in the process where things come to a standstill for no apparent reason. When that occurs, it is the job of Bob’s attorney to question Bob about what’s behind his position. Usually, it is the often-unrecognized feeling that Bob is not emotionally ready to be “done” with his marriage to Sally. If he pulls back on the bookcase, then the negotiations will go longer and he will remain married for a longer period. He doesn’t actually want to reconcile with Sally, but it is traumatic to think of himself as a single person after being part of a married couple for so long. He is scared of the unknown. Another possibility is that Bob is still angry about the divorce, and knows that one way to “stick it” to Sally is to break up a set of furniture. The furniture may have come from Ikea and be easily replaced or very inexpensive, but Sally should have to go through some difficulty to replicate it in her new home.
These are irrational positions, but the feelings behind them are not invalid. Dealing with those feelings with the help of a mental health practitioner can help prevent Bob and Sally from spending thousands to fight over a $200 bookcase. Most of the time, the cost of the item – a used piece of furniture valued at what it could sell for on Craigslist – pales in comparison to the attorney fees spent arguing over it.