When people think of a bully, we think of the grade-school, junior high or high-school kid who eats your lunch or pushes you in the hallway or excludes you from a friend group or makes fun of you. A bully can also show up on social media, he or she can belittle you, and make you feel like you have no worth. A bully seeks to harm or intimidate his or her victim over and over again, and the bully chooses people they know are vulnerable or who they perceive as weak. Well, guess what? Bullying happensin divorce, and in this article, I want to talk about the divorce bully, specifically what he or she looks like, and how to handle it.
What does a divorce bully look like?
A divorce bully might threaten you with custody. He or she might say things like, “I’m going to take the kids and you will never see them,” or “By the time my lawyer is done, you won’t have a dime left,” or “You are going to regret this.”
A divorce bully might also make false accusations about you, he or she might make up lies about you, or the person might put pressure on you to agree to what they want in the divorce. Perhaps the worst thing a divorce bully might do is manipulate you–try to wipe away all your self-confidence so that you are so afraid of him or her, you give in to whatever he/she wants.
Why would someone become a divorce bully?
Just like your parents told you when you were in grade school, the bully is scared and insecure, and bullying is the way they know how to cope and in their mind, survive. Bullying in divorce is no different. Your spouse is frightened and desperate to try to get what he or she wants, so they resort to intimidation and trying to scare you.
The harm caused by a divorce bully.
When bullying is present in a divorce, it causes so much more conflict, which in turn could create a litigious type of process, which means more time and money spent on lawyers. Mediation (which is the best way to divorce) becomes challenging if there is a divorce bully because the last thing the bully wants to do is talk in a productive, amicable way about things like: child support, custody, and the division of assets. The bully is focused on threatening that he/she will take everything.
Bullies are also hurting the kids because kids feel the conflict of their parents divorce, as well. The kids might also see the victim crying or stressed or scared, and become angry with the parent who is the bully. They also might see the bullying firsthand and start to resent the bully or become afraid of him or her.
But mostly, divorce bullies are hurting themselves. How? Because when the divorce is over, the victim of the divorce bully will walk away with resentment, and the chance for a healthy co-parenting relationship is diminished significantly. The victim will always remember the bullying, and the bully might stay in that bully mindset even after the divorce. But, if the bully decides to become nice after the divorce, it might be too late.
What’s the best way to deal with a divorce bully?
1. First and foremost, your safety and the safety of your loved ones should be your top concern. If you ever feel threatened or at risk of abuse or violence, don’t hesitate to call 911, reach out to the authorities, seek legal protection, and consider alternative living arrangements if necessary.
2. Setting clear boundaries is another vital step when dealing with a divorce bully. Make it known that their bullying behavior will not be tolerated and communicate your expectations firmly.
3. Keep a detailed record of incidents. Documenting what happens is essential for building your case and protecting yourself. Write down the date, time, and descriptions of each incident. Try to write down word-for-word what your soon-to-be ex said to you.
4. Preserve evidence of bullying, such as text messages, emails, or voicemails. These can be crucial in establishing patterns of behavior and supporting your claims.
5. Focus on the facts rather than emotions. Divorce bullies often try to manipulate your feelings to gain an advantage. By concentrating on the facts and staying rational, you can avoid falling into their traps and make decisions based on what is fair and legally sound.
6. Build a strong support network of friends, family, and professionals to provide you with emotional support, guidance, and reassurance during this challenging time.
7. Practice self-care. Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being is crucial. Engage in activities that reduce stress, such as cardio exercise, yoga, meditation, coaching or therapy. Also, pursuing your hobbies will provide you with the strength and resilience to face the challenges ahead.
8. Consider alternative dispute resolution methods, like mediation or collaborative divorce, to create a more respectful and cooperative environment, minimizing opportunities for bullying tactics.
Remember that you are not alone on your divorce journey. By prioritizing your well-being ad the wellbeing of your kids, and surrounding yourself with a strong team of divorce professionals, you can navigate the challenges of dealing with a divorce bully. Just like when you were dealing with a bully in school, it’s not easy to deal with a divorce bully, and it can feel scary to stand up for yourself. But this is the time to find your strength and courage and fight for what you know is the right and fair thing. Only then will the divorce bully stand down.
Rita Morris, M.A., LMHC is a Certified Life Coach, a Parenting Coach, a veteran therapist, and a mom of two. Rita, who holds a Masters degree in education and who has been a practicing psychotherapist since 2003, specializes in helping men and women during and after divorce with coparenting through strategies to ensure their children thrive. Rita also has a concentration in helping parents with kids who have ADHD and anxiety disorders. Learn more on her website.