Here’s a scenario that may be familiar to many of you.
After years of dealing with a toxic marriage to a person who obviously had zero interest in playing the part of “wife”, a man decides to file for divorce. After the requisite waiting period and filing, the couple finds themselves in mediation, attempting to come to an agreement about finances and child custody… both hoping to do so outside of the courtroom. Everything is going well, very business-like, and then something is brought up that the wife doesn’t like. She expresses her displeasure. For example, she may say that instead of 50/50 child custody, she should have the kids most of the time… and dad should just get them every other weekend. Husband is dumbfounded. “Why would I agree to that?”, he says. The wife becomes irate… and then sad. She starts crying uncontrollably. “Because the kids will miss time with my parents and my family… they want to be with me for all of the holidays. They need a steady routine. They need to be with me in the house. Everything should stay the same for them.” The husband is further dumbfounded. “Wait… stay with you in the house? What? We haven’t talked about that yet. Are you planning on putting up the cash to pay off my half of the equity in the home? Why can’t I stay there instead?!” The mediator attempts to stop the couple from bickering, but the cat is out of the bag.
“You were the one that wanted this divorce!” the wife yells. “I wanted to go to counseling again and you said no and filed for divorce!” The husband, once again, is dumbfounded. “What? I offered counseling but then I found out about your affair! That’s why I refused counseling!” The mediator has had enough. “It sounds to me like you two still have issues to discuss outside of mediation. If the subject of counseling is still on the table, we should hold off and postpone to see what exactly you want to do.” The wife quickly says, “Okay, I’m open to counseling”, and the husband, not wanting to look like a total asshole that gave up on his marriage says, “Okay. Fine. I’ll call them tomorrow.”
How will this counseling session go? Not well. The wife will cry more. She will say what a shitty husband he was. How he’s trying to ruin her life and the lives of the children. It will feel like the hour will go by in about 10 minutes. The counselor suggests they meet again so that they can have more of a back-and-forth, and less of them just sitting and listening to wife emote. They both agree. They go back the following week. It’s more of the same, with the husband getting an extra ten minutes to state his case… only for the wife to cry and deny everything… and for the counselor to suggest a third meeting to iron things out.
Eventually, the man comes to the realization that we all come to in these circumstances: There’s no rationalizing or real negotiating when emotion enters the picture. You should just remain stoic and business-like through the entire process. Nothing phases you. The only responses out of your mouth in such legal matter are, “Yes” “No” and “Next item, please”. That’s it. This is a business negotiation. The time for he-said/she-said is looooong gone. The time for, “Oh yeah! But what about HER!?” is way in the past.
When the person across the table starts to get emotional… they lose. They know they’re losing. Their best course of action is to emote, hope for pity, and drag you over to the loser side of the table with them. As soon as you utter something like, “We both know that’s just not true, Karen”… she wins. You can’t see it, but in her mind, she’s pumping her fist saying, “Got him.” She has taken the first step to manipulating and morphing the situation to serve her desires. What should be a black and white “fair” legal issue suddenly becomes two people fighting over who was the most rotten person in the marriage.
None of that bullshit matters. At all.
This stoic “I’m not at all phased by you” approach is one that has been called the “grey rock method” by some in the mental health community. Picture this lifeless lump of a grey rock just sitting there. No matter how much the other person tries to push and manipulate the grey rock… it just sits there. Unaffected. Doing what grey rocks do.
Once you have separated from a toxic person in your life, this is the ONLY method for remaining mentally healthy and unaffected by their tactics to manipulate you. You DO NOT ENGAGE with negativity. Ever. In any way. Yes, I know she said something awful and terrible that is obviously a lie meant to smear your reputation and get you upset… you don’t react. I know she said something that goes against your legal agreement that you just ironed out in court last week. You don’t engage. You send her nasty text to your attorney.
Grey rock. Dead. Lifeless. Not a care in the world.
You most certainly don’t INITIATE contact with this toxic person. I don’t care if you have some grand speech or long email prepared that you want to send after the divorce. You just want to tell her how much she has hurt you! You must show her the err of her ways! No. Don’t do it. Just don’t. That shows her that you’re still invested and that she can very easily rope you back into her world. After all, she just had to sit there and you’re the one pouring your heart out to her. Major no-no. Don’t do it.
I know it’s tough. Very often the RIGHT thing to do is extremely difficult… but you still do it. In the long run, you will thank yourself.