How to respond to bullying during divorce
Any divorce is a very charged emotional process. Nobody starts a marriage with the expectation of not being able to sustain it and when it becomes clear that it is not working, it is always sad. It is the death of a dream and the disappointment of failure. When along the way new little people have joined, it is extra painful because the little ones have to face the consequences of the mistake of their parents.
Divorce can also be a messy business as people might look to ‘translate their emotions’ into power games, spiteful actions or nasty communication. When us becomes him and her, it often takes the form of a battle with attacks, defends and clever war games. People forget that there is no winner after a divorce and try to manipulate and bully the other person to come out ‘better’.
Recently I was interviewed for an online training for women who were in the process of a messy divorce. The topic was bullying and we discussed examples of being bullied around money, child arrangements, practical support, decision making and more. And of course, how to deal with it.
The bully, in this case the ex-husband, uses a series of power tools, intimidation and manipulation to work against the ex-wife. At first he is looking for a fight, but eventually, he is looking for the win.
A few tips from this training that will help anyone who is on the receiving end of bullying (you don’t have to be in a divorce situation to benefit from these tips):
1. Be realistic
A bully will not change his/her behaviour and is not open to change - remember that at all times. This means that discussing someone’s behaviour and hoping for a change is wasting your emotional energy. It is not going to happen. Don’t trust promises either, as they could be manipulative and just being given to keep you calm for the moment. So, manage your expectations and don’t get your hopes up.
2. Stay rational
When in a discussion, never engage with your emotions. I know, easier said than done. But when emotions pop up, find ways of either suppressing them, changing the topic of conversation or ending it to resume at a later stage. Don’t be seduced into an emotional exchange. What needs to be discussed is rational and logical and emotions will get in the way.
3. Be clear
Be clear about what you want and present that as a statement. ‘I want the kids during half term’ or ‘This is the amount of money I need’. Don’t explain, justify or defend your statement. The moment you open up and give more information, you will give ammunition to the bully.
4. Schedule encounters
Avoid impromptu exchanges. You need to prepare to keep yourself safe. When you are off-guard you are vulnerable and that is the moment the bully will give you a full-blown blast.
The purpose of the bully is to present themselves as top dogs and making you smaller. A bully will always present him/her self as the person who knows better than you, who can laugh at you, be disrespectful and pretends to not take you seriously. Often, the person being bullied then starts to doubt themselves: ‘Am I really that nasty?’, ‘Is it selfish to do this?’ Thought processes that seemed all clear and logical all of a sudden become doubtful and as a result, your confidence is undermined. Any engagement with the bully will challenge your confidence.
5. Don’t play tennis
In tennis, the game starts with someone serving the ball over the net to the other side. The other person is supposed to return this ball and the rally goes on till the ball is out or missed. But if the serve is not returned, nothing happens. There is no rally and certainly no game. No matter how wonderful and skillful the serves are, they only have value when someone returns them. This works similar for when you face a bully. The bully is looking for a fight because he/she wants to win. If there is no ‘game’, because there is no engagement, the bully’s role is non-existent. It is not easy but a very effective way to protect yourself and keep yourself (and others) safe.