We have all heard generic advice for dealing a bully on a playground, in a classroom or in the office. “Just ignore it” and “walk away” seem to be the common wisdom, along with an occasional suggestion to stand up for yourself. But what do you do when the stakes are high, and the bully is across the table from you in a divorce negotiation?
First step: recognize bullying when it happens.
Bulling in a divorce may not involve physical violence like pushing and shoving, but it is no less painful and damaging. A bully might lie about the past in a way that makes you look terrible, threaten to take full custody of the kids or promise to leave you financially destitute. A bully might try to isolate you from your support network of family and friends, or hire a particularly scary lawyer to do the dirty work. No matter what bullying looks like in your situation, taking back the power begins with recognizing what’s happening.
Next step, call it out.
You might begin by taking notes on specific instances of bullying: the date and time it happened, the details of what was discussed. Simply having a record of the behavior will make it easier for you to point to examples.
You will also have to define your boundary. I know that I am sounding like a therapist right now, but if someone is stepping on your tail you had better let them know that it’s not acceptable. Defending a personal boundary can be done in a way that is fierce, or in a way that is subtle. The style is up to you; just be sure to get your message across clearly. Use direct, simple statements like “I don’t like that” or “That behavior is not okay with me”.
Get informed and recruit some help.
The power of threats is strongest when you believe them. You must educate yourself on what is and is not possible or likely in a divorce. Can your spouse really leave you destitute? How likely is it that he or she would get full custody? An experienced attorney can help you evaluate your relative position in the case and structure the negotiations to get the best possible outcome. He or she can also help you dismiss the threats that simply have no basis.
Above all, don’t let yourself get frazzled.
The goal of the bully is to get you so scared or frazzled that you begin to make bad decisions. If you are feeling the pressure, don’t be afraid to ask your professional team for more time, technical advice or options. Dealing with a bully is challenging. It is probably a big part of how you ended up in divorce negotiations in the first place! So, remember to breathe slowly – or deeply … not just breathe. Trust your professional team to help you make good choices. Stay safe and keep looking for the next constructive step. One step at a time, you can make it to the other side!
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