A "divorce bully" is someone who hasn't previously displayed bullying behavior towards his/her spouse, but who starts to do so during the divorce process.
By Mel for Divorce Magazine
Within the context of a marriage, bullying can take many forms. Verbal or physical abuse and violence are common forms of bullying that come under the umbrella of domestic violence. Less familiar is the concept of the divorce bully -- often a partner who hasn't previously displayed bullying behavior, but who during the course of a divorce starts to do so.
Being the victim of bullying is never pleasant, but it can be particularly devastating during a divorce when you're already coping with the end of a relationship. If you find yourself in this situation, learning how to cope with a bullying partner can help you get through your divorce with minimal pain, and get on the road to recovery.
What Does Bullying Look Like in a Divorce?
Bullying is often subtle, and divorce-related bullying tends to take this form too. Examples of divorce-related bullying might include:
- Lying about past incidents in a way that makes you look bad
Bullies habitually operate by playing on the fears of their victims, and unfortunately, there are few people who know more about you and your fears than an ex-partner.
A bullying partner isn't always an abusive one and isn't always a dangerous one. But if there's a risk that your ex might become violent in any way, take whatever steps you need to ensure your safety. The danger is highest for women who leave abusive or violent partners, but that doesn't mean that men in similar circumstances aren't at risk too. No matter what the situation, first and foremost make sure you and your children - if you have them -- are safe.
Take Care of Your Health
Being a victim of bullying can have long-term consequences for both physical and mental health. Mental health consequences can include depression and anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, fearfulness, loss of self-esteem and confidence, and agoraphobia. In terms of health, common problems include headaches and muscle tension, digestive problems, fatigue, and increased frequency of illness.
As well as this, many victims of domestic abuse or bullying come to neglect their health, may eat less, become less physically active, and stop engaging in social activities. Nutritional deficiencies and other signs of poor health are often the result. An important step in dealing with the consequences as you move through a divorce is simply taking care of your own health by eating nutritious food, exercising, and returning to activities that you once enjoyed.
Set Clear Boundaries
People are bullies for a variety of reasons, but one issue that's common to many is that they don't respect the personal boundaries of others. Another thing that's common to bullies is that they're almost always cowards; they bully people who they perceive as weaker, often because they themselves feel insecure.
Setting boundaries doesn't always stop a bully, but it's important because it's a way for you to stand up for yourself and make it clear that you are not willing to tolerate their behavior. As well as this, when you set boundaries that are consequently ignored, it's then impossible for a bully to claim that their bad behavior is unintentional.
For example, if your ex-spouse persists on coming to your house unannounced and uninvited, setting boundaries might include telling them in person and in writing that they're no longer welcome unless you specifically invite them.
Keep Records of Incidents of Bullying
When you're in a situation where you're being bullied, it's very common to feel as though you can't stand up for yourself, and that you have no way of holding your bully accountable for their actions. Combat this by keeping a record of each incident of bullying: the date and time on which it occurred, the medium through which it occurred (e.g. phone, email, in person), and the details of what happened.
While it's useful to have witnesses to incidents of bullying, don't worry if this isn't possible. Bullies know that they're more powerful when they don't have witnesses, and as such a bullying ex is more likely to behave when they know they are being watched. However, simply having a record of the incidents that occur can help you feel more empowered to stand up for yourself, and more prepared to discuss the bullying when the time comes.
Consider Working with a Mediator
Working with a divorce mediator can be very useful in situations where one partner has become a bully during divorce proceedings. Mediation is an alternative method of resolving divorce disputes that don't involve litigation, and as mediators are trained in skills that help them defuse tense and emotional situations, it may be useful in cases where divorce bullying is occurring.
Note, however, that when abuse has been a long-standing problem in the marriage, mediation is not always an appropriate option because mediation requires that there be a certain amount of trust between the divorcing couple for it to work effectively. Another issue is that mediation emphasizes that both parties in a divorce have equally legitimate viewpoints. If one partner has been consistently abusive or violent, this can have the unintentional effect of legitimizing the abuse that occurred within the relationship.
Therefore, mediation is an option that can be very useful for situations in which bullying has started as a result of a relationship ending, but it may be best avoided in cases where abuse has been a long-standing issue.
Don't Let Yourself be Rushed
A common tactic for divorce bullies is to try and rush the divorce proceedings in an effort to force their ex to make an agreement that's unfavorable to them. For example, the bully might claim that they need the divorce to be completed quickly because they want to invest their share of the assets or claim that they want to rush the process for the sake of the children.
If you find yourself being rushed along faster than you're comfortable with, remember that it's okay to slow down and take your time. You may feel that you want the divorce to be over with as quickly as possible too, but even so, it's important to take the time to make sure that assets are divided fairly - not just for your children, but for your own sake too.
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