Divorce brings out the worst in people. During divorce, most people do things, say things, think things, and feel things that they’ve never done, said, thought, or felt before, and that they will never do, say, think, or feel in the future. About half the divorces in America involve some kind of physical violence, and almost all of them involve at some point (usually at many points) an exchange of harsh, bitter, hurtful words.
I think there are four things you can do to deal with irrational behavior on the part of your spouse:
The best way to understand irrational behavior on the part of your spouse is to read and understand the three divorces, and pay particularly close attention to the emotional divorce. It’s typical for both spouses in divorce to behave in ways that are erratic, sometimes even cruel. Just because your spouse does this doesn’t mean your spouse is evil. This is just a cruddy time for both of you.
Keeping Your Cool
Understanding why your spouse behaves this way should make it easier to keep your cool. What you must do is to think strategically and keep your eyes on the prize.
- It’s okay to let your spouse get the last word, because you’re not going to negotiate based on who gets the last word.
- It’s okay for your spouse to yell and for you not to respond, because the judge isn’t going to decide your divorce issues based on who yells more or who yells more loudly. If this is an issue, check out Let’s Get This Straight about emotional abuse.
- It’s okay for your spouse to tell your children or your friends what a terrible person you are and for you not to respond in kind, because your children and your friends will ultimately respect you more for keeping your mouth shut.
Keeping your cool does not mean you allow your spouse to endanger anyone. When push comes to shove, you need to do whatever you must to protect yourself and your children. I’m not just talking about rushing out to get a restraining order, although restraining orders certainly can be helpful in some circumstances.
I’m talking about care in your interaction with your spouse. If your spouse tends to get violent when you meet him or her in a particular place, don’t meet them there. If there’s a third party involved, and if the conflict escalates whenever the third party enters the scene, try to get some separation for a while. It’s just common sense.
Often, counseling can help you deal with your own feelings and those of your spouse in divorce. With the help of counseling, often you can spot when your spouse is about to behave irrationally and head off that behavior before it starts. Or you may use counseling to help think through the possible responses to your spouse.
One warning about counseling is in order here: if you have children, and if there is any chance that you may be arguing over children in adversarial divorce, STOP.
Before you enter counseling, check with your lawyer about whether your spouse’s attorney might be able to force your counselor to disclose what you talk about in counseling. Some states disregard the privileged nature of your counseling sessions when the welfare of children is involved. Just make sure you understand this before getting started.