Over lunch recently I was talking with a dad who’s going through a divorce. They were married over 20 years and they have an 11 year old son. We discussed how it’s been going so far since he and his wife separated, and what their custody arrangement is. He explained that he had wanted to have custody because he had always spent more time with their son and done more of the day-to-day care because his wife traveled a lot for her job.

The legal system required that they each get depositions from friends and family. He said that his friends and family members wrote very positive comments about his relationship with his son and his parenting skills. He and his wife were given copies of each other’s depositions and he was shocked to discover that her family members had said very negative things about him, including statements that were completely false.

Unfortunately these types of situations in divorce can bring out the worst in people, primarily because people go into fear and defense mode. They are afraid of being attacked or having something taken from them, and so they go on the offensive and attack first. Then, often, even if the other person wasn’t going to do anything ugly, they feel the need to defend themselves and they end up striking back. And the battle begins.

In the case of my friend, he realized that if she and her family were willing to “play dirty” at this point, that it could possibly get a lot worse if the case continued. He didn’t want that for himself and he certainly didn’t want it for his son. So he decided to agree to joint custody, rather than “fighting” for more custody. This was a difficult decision for him, but he felt it was in the best interest of his child.

He thought about how she would react and what she (and her family) might do if he “won” the custody case. How much animosity might there be between them and in what situations might she fight him just because she was angry about “losing”? These are very important points to consider when you’re deciding if a battle is worth it. It’s important to step back and look at the big picture and what your values are, before continuing down a certain path.

Some choices will have obvious short-term consequences, but some will have life-long consequences. Figuring this out, and putting your own pride aside, could mean the difference between a stressful life always waiting for the next explosion, and a stress-free life of cooperation and compromise.