HANDLING A BULLYING PARTNER DURING YOUR DIVORCE
During the marriage, Mark was charismatic and charming. But when the divorce got underway, Mark became a monster. He hired the meanest bulldog of a lawyer and threatened Patricia that he would take full custody of the kids. The more Patricia tried to reason with Mark, the worse it got. And then the cyberbullying began. Every time Patricia opened an email, Mark accused her of being a “terrible mother,” an “idiot” and threatened to drive her into bankruptcy if she didn’t cave to his demands. Patricia was in the midst of starting an online business. She was terrified that Mark would take his cyberbullying to the next level and trash her online. She couldn’t sleep without anti-anxiety medication and she couldn’t eat. Fortunately for Patricia, she wasn’t defenseless. Understanding what constitutes bullying, what doesn’t work and does is essential to take back your power if your ex is a bully.
☐ What does bullying look like in a divorce?
✓ Lying about past incidents in a way that makes you look bad
✓ Making threats about taking full custody of the children, and/or preventing you from seeing them
✓ Attempting to isolate you from friends and family members
✓ Hiring a lawyer for the purpose of intimidation
✓ Harassing with offending email or posting defamatory content online
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.
☐ What Doesn’t Work
You might think that reasoning with your ex to bring him to his senses will work. Wrong! Like the narcissistic ex, the bully is unconcerned with you or the children’s well-being. All that matters to him is that he regain control of what feels like an out-of-control situation—by bullying you. And while it may seem counterintuitive, the following things do not work with a bully, but only encourage him to continue his offensive.
✓ Pleas of fairness or reason—a bully will twist your responses and use them against you
✓ Attempts to set the record straight—the facts do not matter to a bully
✓ Signs of weakness or vulnerability—bullies prey on the weak
☐ What Does Work
✓ Set clear boundaries
Bullies don't respect the personal boundaries of others. And no one knows your boundaries, or lack thereof, better than your spouse. 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 is important because it's a way for you to stand up for yourself and make it clear that you are not willing to tolerate his behavior. When you set boundaries that are consequently ignored, it's then impossible for a bully to claim that their bad behavior is unintentional.
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 ex 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. Give this information to your attorney so that they can determine whether to take legal action to stop the abuse.
For example, if your ex 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. Or you can have your attorney send a letter to your spouse’s attorney outlining the unwelcome and unannounced visits and clearly stating that it must stop. It’s important to create a written record so that if you must go to court to obtain an order to stop the abuse, you have evidence to support your request.
✓ Handling the Cyberbully
Cyberbullying is harassment that takes place using any form of electronic technology. It is popularly committed by e-mail and is a form of harassment linked to stalking. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services includes "hostile, vulgar and insulting" e-mails in its definition of cyberbullying. It also includes impersonation and posting derogatory, embarrassing and false information about a victim online.
If your ex is engaging in cyberbullying, take the following steps:
· Clearly communicate that you want the contact to end and then stop responding
· Print out a record of all their communication
· Block their account
· Use privacy settings on social media
· Unfriend him
· Report him to the social media site
· Make a report to the Internet service provider (ISP), or the website moderator, and keep the record of your report
· File a police report if you feel threatened
· Provide the written record of their bullying to your attorney
✓ Stay safe
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. No matter what the situation, first and foremost make sure you and your children are safe. If your safety is at risk, talk to your attorney about whether to file a restraining order.
✓ 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.
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. 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. Engage regularly in mindful meditation to calm and center yourself. Make regular and frequent appointments with your therapist to work on managing your stress and setting clear boundaries.
✓ 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.