When we think of bullying behavior, we might picture children calling each other names on a playground or in school. Bullying is more widespread than that, however, both among children and adults. When going through a divorce, you might be tempted to bully your soon-to-be ex to make him or her “pay” for hurting you. This can be an extremely costly mistake. Not only can it cost you much money in legal fees, it can cost you self- respect, close relationships and the opportunity to plan for your future.
It is important to realize that bullying exists where there is an absence of compassion for yourself and others. Granted, when going through a divorce, you often feel hurt and angry. You might therefore be tempted to show your spouse that he or she is “wrong” and that you are “right.” You might even believe that it is possible to “win” your divorce case. Therefore, you might choose to hire a divorce attorney who is aggressive and claims to “fight for you.” So you pay your attorney to steamroll your spouse (or his or her attorney) with one nasty letter after another championing your cause and arguing why your position is most certainly “right.” This forces your spouse to defend himself or herself and before you know it, neither one of you is listening (or cares to listen) to the other.
This is bullying behavior, plain and simple. You have no compassion for yourself because you are casting your children’s needs and your most important values aside in the hopes of “winning.” You also have no compassion for your spouse, and what he or she might need. Believe it or not, this is important information because once you can listen and understand what your spouse needs, you can settle your issues through creative negotiation. It is possible – and certainly more productive – to assertively communicate what you want without being aggressive or hostile. Perhaps you even have goals and interests that are the same as your spouse, such as where your children should attend school. Certainly, knowing this reduces the amount of issues to be resolved and puts you on the same side as your spouse, with the issues on the other. This is the approach recommended by the authors of Getting to Yes.
You should also be forewarned that bullying serves only to increase your legal costs while maximizing hostility, which in turn moves you farther away from achieving what is most important to you in the long run. These are the cases where the legal fees run the highest with the least satisfactory results. You are keeping the fight going, continuing to stoke your anger and hurt, while seeking to get “vindication” from the court. You might subscribe to a fantasy where the judge will point an accusing finger at your soon-to-be ex spouse and declare you the “winner.” You might believe that as a result, your anger and hurt will miraculously disappear. The only thing that will miraculously disappear, however, is your money – into your lawyer’s pocket. Also, I know of very few, if any, cases where at the end of a divorce trial, one or both parties cheerfully skip out of the court house and jump for joy.
Ideally, allow yourself to feel anger and hurt before you enter the divorce process by taking advantage of the many resources available to help you. For example, you can seek out a competent counselor or coach that you trust to help you work through your difficult emotions and establish priorities. You can also read material targeted to those going through divorce, such as Crazy Time by Abigail Trafford.
Remember, when you have children together, the reality is that your soon-to-be ex will remain part of your family even though the family is no longer intact. Therefore, instead of attacking the other parent, wouldn’t it be more productive and satisfying to focus on the exciting task of renegotiating what your family might look like after divorce?
It is important to separate your difficult emotions from your positive concrete goals for the future because it is your future that you can create in the divorce process. And remember, when you think you can “win,” you will most likely lose.