First of all this article should actually be called, “How to divorce yourself from bullying behavior”, but that just doesn’t sound as sexy, does it? Still, it’s so much easier to say, “No” to “bullying” behavior, than to say, “No” to a whole human being, especially one that you love, or have loved, or with whom you share children. Best of all, if a couple can figure out how to divorce themselves from bullying behavior maybe they won’t have to divorce each other after all.
Dr. Gottman does one of the best jobs I have read describing bullying behavior and how destructive it is in relationships. When these dynamics don’t shift, Dr. Gottman has completed longitudinal studies that document well over 90% likelihood of divorce.
It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge that there is “bullying behavior” in our relationship. Once we have, it is usually too difficult to shift this dynamic on our own, or to develop the courage to leave, without the help of a therapist who is both patient and experienced. In order to shift the dynamic both people have to be equally willing to work on their part. It is also important not to wait until too much resentment has built up to try and do this work. If you decide it would be healthier to end the relationship, it can be a difficult, even dangerous proposition. Outside of finding a good therapist, here are some guidelines to help get you through your divorce in one piece. I have grouped them into five parts:
- The most important thing to confront and overcome is the fear of being alone. Usually this fear even outweighs the fear of our partner’s abusive behavior. Being strong enough to leave doesn’t mean we have to, it just means we know we could. Ironically, I think that overcoming the fear of being alone is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. In this way, each day we spend together is based on choice, not on fear. We know that it will be devastatingly difficult to lose our loved one or to break-up, but we also believe we are strong enough to be on our own.
- Additional therapeutic work includes, but is not limited to: Developing a strong support system and a deep belief that you deserve to be loved and cherished for who you are. Work on understanding your part in the break-up, be accountable for it, learn from it and forgive yourself for it. But don’t take on the other person’s part as well as your own. Learn to trust that there is someone out there with whom you can be safe enough to be vulnerable when you are ready.
- Commit to learning healthy communication skills and healthy boundaries, especially for conflict resolution. Specifically, learn phrases like, “Please say that in a way that is more respectful”. “That’s not okay”. “I can’t negotiate with you when you seem so out of control – I will need to leave for a bit, but I will come back and try and figure this out with you when we are both calmer.” Learn to come from the position of one who is neutrally witnessing bad behavior rather than participating in it by reacting out of fear or anger. Forgive yourself when you invariably lapse. When verbal abuse loses some of its ability to control you, the person being abusive may initially get angrier and will sometimes become physically abusive. If you are worried about this, find non-violent ways to defend yourself. For-example, try not to be alone in their presence and have your cell phone with you at all times so you can let someone know if you are in danger. If you become the victim of physical abuse, call the police, right away.
- Get a good lawyer or mediator, one that will expect each of you to follow agreed upon rules of engagement. Remember that someone who has a tendency to bully you will partially try and get their way by isolating you. Also, remember you have been conditioned to “keep the peace”, often at your own expense. Only agree to things that have been vetted as “fair” by a third party.
- Lastly, learn to trust, if not in the system, at least in the idea of justice. Fight for it. Fighting for what’s truly best for you, will be what’s best for everyone in the long run. A quote I love is, “Everything will be all right in the end… so if it’s not all right, it’s not yet the end.” (From the movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.)