Dealing with a difficult spouse during divorce concept

Let’s face it: no one is at their best during divorce. At a minimum, everyone going through divorce is going through loss, even if they were the person who decided to end the marriage. Divorce represents the loss of a dream for how your life was going to unfold, and it’s natural to be upset about that loss. That said, some people are more challenging to deal with than others during a divorce. Let’s talk about why that is, and discuss some strategies for dealing with a difficult spouse during divorce (and beyond).

Why Some Spouses Make Divorce More Difficult

Every marriage is different, and so is every divorce. There are many reasons a spouse may make a divorce more difficult and unpleasant. Here are a few of the more common ones.

One Spouse Wants a Divorce, the Other Doesn’t

Sometimes people come to the realization that what they really need is to end their marriage, even if there is no obvious external factor “causing” the divorce. Typically, those people have been thinking about the possibility of divorce for months before they ever consult a divorce lawyer. They’ve had time to envision and plan a future in which they are no longer married. By the time they mention divorce to their spouse, it seems like a foregone conclusion — to them.

Unfortunately, the other spouse is blindsided, which can lead to panic, anger, and heels dug in. While one spouse has gone through all the stages of grieving the marriage and reached acceptance that it’s over, the other still needs to process this major loss.

Mental Illness

Any type of severe chronic illness, including mental illness, can put stress on a marriage. Mental illness can also make divorce more difficult. A depressed spouse may be easily overwhelmed and feel unable to take the seemingly simple steps needed to “move things along.” A spouse with a clinical personality disorder, such as narcissism or borderline personality disorder, may be unable or unwilling to work toward a reasonable settlement. Individuals with the most severe personality disorders can lack empathy and a sense of personal responsibility, leading to high-conflict divorces.

Adultery or Other Marital Misconduct

Often, adultery isn’t really the cause of a divorce; it’s just the first external symptom that something is wrong in the marriage. But an affair can lead to a more uncooperative spouse during the divorce — and not just for the spouse who cheated.

It’s not uncommon for the spouse who was cheated on to be furious and to want to make the divorce as painful as possible for the spouse who hurt them, especially if that spouse is leaving to be with the affair partner. But sometimes it is the spouse who was unfaithful who is more difficult in the divorce, trying to rush the process along so they can “move on with their life.”

A Need to Reassert Control

Divorce can make people feel out of control, and some people dig in their heels as an attempt to reassert control. This sometimes happens in a marriage where one spouse is the primary breadwinner and the other cares for the children. If the breadwinner seeks a divorce, the other spouse may feel financially vulnerable. They may threaten to take the higher-earning spouse “for everything they’ve got,” or threaten to withhold the children from the other parent.

As mentioned above, these are only a few of the reasons a spouse may be difficult to deal with during divorce. How to communicate with a difficult spouse depends, in part, on what’s causing the difficulty. Below are some strategies to use, but be aware that some are not appropriate for all situations.

How to Communicate With a Difficult Spouse During Divorce

These tips and techniques won’t automatically make your spouse easy to work with, but used appropriately, they can make the divorce process easier.

Don’t Take it Personally

Divorce is one of the most personal things you can go through. That doesn’t mean you should take your spouse’s behavior personally, though. Their words and actions reflect much more about who they are and what they are feeling than about you. Some of their behavior may strike close to home. Avoid getting defensive and escalating the conflict.

Apply Empathy

Particularly if you are the spouse who filed for divorce or did something that led to the divorce, it may be helpful to try to look at things through your spouse’s eyes. As it is said, “hurt people hurt people,” and if your spouse is in pain, they may be lashing out at you. That doesn’t mean you have to give them everything they ask for, but understanding that your spouse is hurting can help you feel more kindly toward them and avoid taking things personally. You may even want to consider apologizing for hurting them. Some divorcing spouses don’t really want to hurt the other spouse; they just want their own pain to be acknowledged and for the other person to take some responsibility.

However, beware: if you are dealing with a narcissistic or manipulative spouse, they may view any apology as a sign of weakness and try to wield it against you like a weapon. Apologizing to a narcissistic or manipulative spouse rarely helps and often hurts.

Set Limits with Your Difficult Spouse During Divorce

You usually can’t shut off all communication with a difficult spouse during divorce, but you can set limits. You may need to communicate about your children exclusively by text or using co-parenting apps. You may need to communicate about other issues exclusively through your lawyers. To the extent you do choose to speak directly to your spouse, you can refuse to engage on certain topics or when they are behaving in a certain way. The phrases “I’m not going to discuss this topic,” and “We can talk about this when you are able to speak calmly” are valid ways to end a conversation. Just because someone invites you to an argument doesn’t mean you have to attend.

Hire a Good Attorney and Listen to Them

Most people only go through a divorce once, or perhaps twice, in a lifetime. It is usually an unfamiliar process and a highly emotional one. When your spouse is being difficult, for whatever reason, divorce can be even more challenging to navigate.

Your attorney has the objectivity of not being personally involved in your divorce, and the experience of having guided hundreds of others through theirs. You are paying for this experience and objectivity; take advantage of it. Your attorney’s advice can protect you from saying or doing something you shouldn’t, and can help you preserve your peace of mind through the divorce process and beyond,

To learn more about dealing with a difficult spouse during divorce, contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Divorce