Vertical Development in Divorce
By Jessica Bronzert
Founder and CEO, The Sparks Group
Divorce is a complex and emotionally charged process that can impact individuals at all stages of vertical development. Vertical development is a process of personal growth that involves a shift in mindset and perspective. At each stage of development, individuals may respond to the conflict in divorce differently, and the experience of divorce may promote further vertical development. In this blog post, we will explore how people at each stage of development might respond to the conflict in divorce and how divorce can both challenge and catalyze an individual’s vertical development.
Here's a model of vertical development to illustrate the set of linear, progressive stages that adults grow through:
Wins any way possible.
Good in emergencies and sales.
Few want to follow them long-term.
To meet my wants
Wants to belong; obeys group norms.
Supportive glue on teams.
Can’t make hard decisions to improve performance.
Rules by logic and expertise.
Good individual contributor.
Lacks emotional intelligence or respect for those with less expertise.
To be knowledgeable
Meets strategic goals.
Good for managerial work.
Inhibits thinking outside the box.
To be effective
Effective in venture,
Irritates team by ignoring processes and people regarded as irrelevant.
To be flexible
Generates change. Highly collaborative; challenges existing assumptions.
Can seem distant, judgmental.
To be integrated
Reinvents organizations in historically significant ways.
Leads societal change.
Can feel unanchored, lonely.
In thinking about conflict in divorce, here’s how people at each stage of development might be thinking and operating:
Self-Protecting - individuals at this stage of development are focused on their own needs and desires. They may struggle to see things from other people's perspectives and may be driven by their own impulses and desires. In the context of divorce, individuals at this stage may respond with anger and resentment, seeking to protect their own interests without considering the needs or feelings of their partner or children. However, the experience of divorce may provide an opportunity for these individuals to begin to see the world from a more complex perspective and to develop empathy for others.
Conforming and Specializing - Individuals at this stage of development are focused on following the rules and expectations of society. They may seek to maintain the status quo and may be hesitant to challenge authority. In the context of divorce, individuals at this stage may be hesitant to disrupt the social norms around marriage and family. They may feel a sense of shame or failure around their divorce and may be reluctant to pursue their own needs and desires. However, divorce may also provide an opportunity for these individuals to challenge their assumptions about relationships and to develop a more nuanced understanding of social norms.
Performing and Internalizing - Individuals at this stage of development are focused on defining their own values and goals. They may be more comfortable taking risks and making their own decisions. Individuals at this stage may be more likely to assert their own needs and desires in a divorce and to seek out their own path forward. They may be more willing to take responsibility for their role in the conflict and to work towards a constructive resolution. However, the experience of divorce may also provide an opportunity for these individuals to develop a greater sense of empathy and to consider the needs and perspectives of others.
Strategizing and beyond - Individuals at this stage of development are focused on integrating multiple perspectives and values. They may be more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and may be able to hold multiple conflicting ideas at once. In the context of divorce, individuals at this stage may be able to see the conflict from multiple perspectives and to find creative solutions that address the needs of all parties involved. They may be able to hold the tension of conflicting emotions and to use the experience of divorce as an opportunity for personal growth and development.
Here's a visual giving an idea of how people at each stage of development might think about conflict in particular:
Approach to Conflict
I’m oriented to my own needs. I will resort to emotional outbursts or aggression to get what I want.
I follow rules. I will confirm to an authority figure or the majority and generally prefer to avoid conflict altogether. I may yield too much to the other party.
I will believe there is a right answer and that I know what it is. I’m less likely to be open to other ways of thinking about or doing things. I may rely on an “expert” perspective.
I’m interested in outcomes and am better able to collaborate in conflict. I can negotiate and compromise to find solutions that meet your needs and mine.
I can see more now, and a lot of what I see doesn’t make sense. Who made these rules? Let’s ignore or change them. I’m interested in your perspective, but your drive and sense of “right-ness” may really turn me off.
I am comfortable with conflict. I can seek to understand your perspective at a deep level, and I’m willing to find creative, win-win solutions that work for everyone involved.
This is a moment in time and marriage and divorce are just constructs, anyway. Material possessions and money are as well, for that matter.
Divorce, while often focused on conflict and disruption, can also promote vertical development. Indeed, the very hardships associated with divorce can create the conditions that help people grow.
Here are some examples:
- Developing a more complex understanding of relationships. When individuals go through a divorce, they may begin to question their assumptions about relationships and love. They may realize that their previous beliefs about relationships were overly simplistic or idealistic. Through the process of divorce, they may develop a more nuanced understanding of relationships that is less black and white and more accepting of differences and complexities.
- Developing a more integrated sense of self. Divorce can be a catalyst for personal growth and self-discovery. When individuals go through a divorce, they may have to confront aspects of themselves that they have been avoiding or suppressing. This process can lead to a more integrated sense of self, where individuals can embrace their strengths and weaknesses and feel more whole and complete.
- Developing a more inclusive worldview. Divorce can also lead to a shift in perspective that is more inclusive and compassionate. When individuals go through a divorce, they may become more aware of the challenges and struggles of others. They may begin to see the world through a more empathetic lens and feel a greater sense of connectedness to others.
- Developing a greater capacity for emotional regulation. Divorce can be an emotionally charged experience that can trigger intense feelings of anger, sadness, and anxiety. Through the process of divorce, individuals may develop a greater capacity for emotional regulation, where they can manage and control their emotions in a healthy and constructive way.
Ultimately, divorce can impact individuals at all stages of vertical development, and the experience of divorce may promote further vertical development. By challenging assumptions and expectations around relationships and family, individuals may be able to develop a more nuanced and compassionate understanding of the world around them. By embracing the opportunities for personal growth and development that divorce presents, individuals can emerge from the process stronger, more resilient, and more capable of navigating the complexities of life.
Jessica Bronzert's candor is as invaluable as her curiosity. As an executive coach and founder of The Sparks Group, Jessica’s passion is helping leaders and teams develop the capacity – not just the skills – they need to be personally and professionally successful in the face of ever-increasing change and complexity.