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David’s Divorce Dictionary: Kellems


Definition: a mechanical gripping device used to splice the ends of steel cables in elevators so that the harder they pull away from each other, the tighter the bond gets.

A Kellems grip is like that “Chinese finger torture toy” most people played with as kids—a sleeve you put between your two index fingers which gets tighter and tighter the harder you try to pull your fingers apart.

I’d say that some couples—when they fight like cats and dogs in divorce—subconsciously engage the force of fighting like a Kellems grip to bond themselves together. The harder they pull and tug against each other, the more cemented and resistant to finalizing the divorce they become.

We have all seen couples who demonstrate this type of behavior: the ones who have 6-inch thick files in Probate Court; the ones who file motion after motion and seek delay after delay of court hearings; the ones who fight and scream and slander each other but keep coming back to mediation sessions or settlement conferences.

Why do they do this if it keeps the family in turmoil?

Why do they do this if it depletes the family finances?

Why do they do this if it sends their children bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball?

The fighting is an emotional Kellems.

The couple cannot detach though their functional marriage was severed long ago. They cannot end the divorce battle for fear of being alone. They must win to prove the other spouse wrong. They must control the process and the outcome. They see compromise as an act of weakness rather than as an exercise in true power.

And they are very afraid. Couples fighting viciously in divorce most likely fought the same way in marriage. The fighting is familiar. It feels safe in a perverse way. Ending the battle would require the combatants to go forth into a frightening and strange new world of relationships.

What’s The Takeaway?

Strategic compromise will release clients from the emotional and financial torture of a divorce battle. But it may feel preferable for some people to remain in the emotional Kellems than to cut the marital cord. To be able to settle their conflict, clients must envision the safer reality of a future without scorched-earth battle. Attorneys and mediators should encourage clients to enlist therapists, life coaches, or addiction specialists as crucial aids to the cause.

If you have any questions or comments about this article or suggestions for future topics, please feel free to contact me.