On a daily basis without fail I get a panicked phone call or email about a “threat” one of my clients just received. “Is it true? Can he/she really do that?” Inevitably the threat, just like a fever, comes in the middle of the night when you can’t reach anyone for help. Scared and stressed, you suffer all night waiting until morning to call your lawyer for an answer. The threats, no matter how scary are usually nothing to worry about.
Keep in mind that I am NOT talking about threats of bodily harm or injury. Those are different, and none of the below applies to THAT kind of threat. Any threat of harm to you, your home, or children is one that needs to be reported and acted upon immediately.
These are but just a few common “threats” that are made all too often, and reality is, they seldom come to frution if ever, and as you get wiser you will know exactly how to respond.
“By the time I’m finished with you, you’ll have nothing”
“You’ll never see your kids again”
“I’m getting sole custody”
“The kids are going to have to testify”
“The house is getting sold and you will be on the street”
“I’m moving out of state”
“I’m quitting my job”
“I’m calling your boss”
“Wait until the Judge finds out that you…”
What can you do?
Write it down. Yes, like my “lists” this too should be written down. Hearing the threat is very different than seeing it. When your spouse calls, emails or texts you in a rant, all kinds of emotions and buttons are triggered. Under this state, it is very difficult to keep calm and impossible to think straight.
Let the threat come and go. Do not respond to the threat. Do not make a “counter-threat.” Write the threat down. Now read it and think about it. Chances are that within a few minutes of calming down, breathing and reading, you can see that the threat is often unrealistic, unlikely and the product of some other trigger.
A good friend, excellent therapist and colleague who practices in the field of family therapy once told me, “the dynamics of the marriage are the dynamics of the divorce.” Simply stated, if he was a bully in the marriage he will be a bully in the divorce. If she was controlling in the marriage she will be controlling in the divorce. Do not expect your spouse’s personality or style to change during the divorce, if anything, you will see it reach peak extremes.
Tell your lawyer. Do not believe your spouse’s claims unless your lawyer tells you it is true. In a contested divorce your spouse has two basic goals, first to make your life as difficult as possible, and second, to “win.” If you keep that in mind, you will begin to train yourself not to react to his/her threat. If you react to the threat in a way that your spouse hopes you will, i.e. by caving into unreasonable demands and/or giving him or her anything he/she wants just to “end things” then your spouse’s tactics have worked and the threats will keep coming!
A word about “lawyer letters.” Lawyers write a lot of letters. Some letters are necessary, some not so much, and others to appease their angry and upset clients or make them feel better at your expense . These letters can be very upsetting. I know it is probably easy for me to say it, but truly, do not take them personally. Believe me, your spouse’s attorney isn’t (and your spouse is paying A LOT of money for these letters).