Many people see divorce as a game – and one they definitely want to win! Actually, they don’t just want to win. They also want to make sure their spouse loses! To achieve those ends, these players adopt divorce strategies that they believe will catapult them ahead of their spouse. What they don’t realize is that in the world of divorce, if you want to play, one way or another you’ve always got to pay.
… But I’m Not Playing a Game!
In spite of the fact that so many people see divorce as a game, they usually don’t consider themselves to be players. They see their spouse as a player. But, game playing usually goes both ways.
The same people who loudly protest that their life is not a game will continue to do things that drive their former spouse insane, just because they can. They will pick fights, steal money, hide income, ignore court orders, and push their spouse’s buttons. At the same time, they will complain that their spouse is abusive, cheap, arrogant, and insensitive.
No matter what you call that kind of behavior, the truth is, its game playing—and it’s destructive.
Divorce Strategies That Only Seem Like They Will Help You “Win”
Game playing in divorce comes in many different forms. Whether you want to admit it or not, if you are doing things on purpose to make your spouse suffer, cost him/her money, or just play with his/her head, you’re playing a game. If you’re using divorce strategies that are illegal, unethical, dishonest, or just mean, you’re playing a game.
The problem with trying to “win” the divorce game is that the same divorce strategies that you use to “win” your divorce, usually cause you to lose in the big picture or your life.
Refusing to trade weekends with your kids when your spouse has a conflict may hurt your spouse. But it can also hurt your kids. Plus, next time, when you need a favor from your spouse, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
Purposely staying unemployed or underemployed just so your spouse has to pay you
alimony may feel good in the moment. But ultimately it eats at your self-respect. It also erodes your relationship with your ex. While you might think that doesn’t matter, co-parenting with someone who can’t stand the sight of you is never easy.
There are countless games people play in divorce and innumerable divorce strategies for playing them.
Here are seven of the most common (and destructive!) divorce strategies people use to try to get the upper hand over their spouse in divorce.
7 Divorce Strategies to Avoid
The Scorch and Burn Approach
The scorch and burn approach to divorce is exactly what it sounds like. Those who adopt this divorce strategy do everything in their power to burn their spouse, no matter who or what else gets burned in the process. These people hire pit bull attorneys. They fight endlessly in court. They make up stories and spread lies about their spouse. In short, they do everything they can to make their divorce a living hell.
People who take a scorched earth approach in their divorce tend to be those who feel truly wronged. Maybe their spouse had an affair, squandered all their money, or destroyed their ideal of the perfect family. Whatever happened, these people are mad! What’s more, they’re determined to get even!
On one hand, adopting a scorch and burn approach to divorce is completely understandable. When you’ve been hurt, especially when you’ve been deeply hurt by the person you love the most in the world, you can’t help but want to make sure s/he is hurt too!
At the same time, taking this kind of an approach in your divorce is almost always counter-productive. It’s just like starting a small fire in a dry campground. You might think you can control the flames, but you often end up burning the entire forest down by accident.
The Constant Mind-Changer
Another frustrating and ineffective divorce strategy is being perpetually indecisive. This strategy can take two forms. The first is when one spouse can’t (or won’t) commit to anything. The second is when one spouse continually changes his/her mind about what s/he wants. S/he commits to one thing on one day, then changes his/her mind the next day. … and the next day. … and the next day. … and, okay you get it!
In fairness, locking yourself in indecision purgatory is rarely a conscious divorce strategy. It usually comes from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). The constant mind-changer doesn’t want to lose too much. S/he doesn’t want to look like a fool for making a bad deal. S/he doesn’t want to end up on the short end of the stick. Consequently, the constant mind-changer is always second guessing everything.
The problem with constantly changing your mind in divorce is that you never move forward. Every time you have a deal, it changes. So nothing gets done. Meanwhile, time passes and your expenses mount. All the while, everyone involved in the divorce process gets progressively more angry and more frustrated.
Not only will refusing to make important decisions cost you a huge amount of money, but it can also cause you to lose control over the ultimate outcome of your divorce. If you can’t make decisions yourself you’ll end up having to live with decisions someone else—i.e., the judge—made for you. As the old adage goes, not to decide is to decide.
The Ostrich Technique
Another unproductive divorce strategy is the ostrich technique—otherwise known as burying your head in the sand. The ostrich technique isn’t just denial. It’s denial on steroids.
People who employ this technique seem to believe that if they just ignore their divorce long enough, it will magically go away. They don’t hire a lawyer or appear in court. When their spouse tries to talk about divorce, they ignore him/her. They purposely stall the divorce proceedings every step of the way. In short, they do everything in their power to get their spouse to just drop their divorce completely.
People who are locked in denial not only don’t want a divorce, they won’t deal with their divorce. They often use guilt and shame to try to keep their spouse from leaving them. Why? Usually it’s because they’re terrified of change. (Or, they’re too comfortable with the way things are!)
The problem with using denial as a divorce strategy is that it never, ever works. If your spouse is determined to divorce you, you can make your divorce take longer. You can make your divorce cost more. But you can’t stop it from happening.
The Expert in Everything Approach
While some people take a completely hands-off approach to their divorce, others make their divorce worse by being too hands-on. These are the people who think they know everything. They think they know what’s best for themselves, their spouses, and their children. They know more than their accountant, their therapist, their lawyer and even the judge. Or, at least they think they do.
The problem with these “experts” is not just that they usually don’t know half as much as they think they know. The real problem is that they don’t listen. Or, rather, they listen to the wrong people.
For the most part, these “divorce experts” don’t listen to their lawyer. (… if they even have a lawyer!) Instead, they get legal advice from their co-worker or friend who just went through a divorce. They spend hours scouring the internet to get information that proves that they’re right, without bothering to look at the information that shows that they’re wrong. They ignore the fact that every divorce is different, and that not every website is credible.
Educating yourself about divorce is smart. If you want to give yourself the best chance for getting the outcome you want, you need to understand as much as you can about divorce. But, just because you educate yourself doesn’t mean that you should ignore everyone else, especially the real divorce experts.
Nickle and Diming
No one wants to get taken advantage of during their divorce. No one wants to miss something in their divorce that costs them big time later. But nickel and dimers don’t want to miss anything. No detail is too small for them to argue about.
Negotiating with a nickel and dimer is like dying from a million paper cuts. Every time you think you’ve got a deal, the nickel and dimer thinks of one more thing s/he wants. S/he points out one more small thing you haven’t divided. S/he pushes for just a little bit more, and a little bit more. No matter what you offer, it’s never enough.
While adopting this kind of divorce strategy is a lot less aggressive than some of the other divorce strategies, it tends to be equally ineffective. Even if the spouse who’s being nickel and dimed caves in at first, ultimately the nickel and dimer pushes too far. When s/he does, the other spouse usually explodes, and the deal you’ve spent weeks or months negotiating gets thrown out the window.
The problem with nickel and diming is not just that it tends to blow divorce settlements up into giant mushroom clouds of wasted effort. The bigger problem is that all that wasted effort costs an enormous amount of time and money. What’s more, it’s ten times harder to negotiate a decent settlement after your first deal exploded, than it is to come to terms the first time.
The Righteously Indignant
Like constant indecision, righteous indignation is usually a sub-conscious divorce strategy. It is played out when one spouse assumes a position of moral superiority over the other. (Usually the spouse who didn’t want the divorce or didn’t have the affair acts like s/he is the “good guy” and his/her spouse is lower than dirt.)
While righteous indignation seems to be about ethics and moral values, it’s really about power and control. It’s a strategy borne of anger and vindictiveness, cloaked in the mask of doing what is right. Unfortunately, this is a divorce strategy that too many parents use to get the upper hand with their kids. When they do, the kids always suffer.
To prove his/her moral superiority the righteous spouse turns every clash of parenting techniques into a moral issue. S/he paints him/herself as the long-suffering saint and his/her former spouse as the devil incarnate. To the outside world, the righteous spouse’s only concern is the well-being and moral upbringing of the children. In reality, the righteous spouse’s goal (whether conscious or not) is to cut the other spouse out of the children’s lives forever so that s/he can be in control.
Of all of the divorce strategies parents can use in their divorce, this is one of the most devastating. It can destroy relationships and permanently damage children. It can also backfire big time. Being righteously indignant can quickly turn you into a martyr. While you may think that’s not so bad, remember – life didn’t end well for the martyrs, either!
The Eternal Victim
The final divorce strategy is the strategy of victimhood. No matter what happens, it’s never the victim’s fault. In the victim’s mind, their spouse, their lawyer, and/or “the system,” have done everything to make them suffer. Meanwhile, the victim’s spouse gets to do whatever s/he wants.
Victims take no responsibility for anything that is happening in their world. If a victim is good at playing the game, s/he can make virtually anything his/her spouse does appear to be abusive and unfair. Just as with the righteously indignant, the eternal victim assumes a position of moral superiority. But the eternal victim wants more than just sympathy or an ego boost. S/he wants the whole world to see what a schmuck his/her spouse really is!
Playing the victim can be an extremely successful social strategy in divorce. Most people are quick to jump to conclusions and judge others. When they only hear one side of the story (the victim’s side) most people will immediately assume that the perpetrator (the victim’s spouse) is a horrible human being. Even judges will often initially side with the victim in a divorce. But, just as with the nickel and dimer, the eternal victim almost always pushes too far.
The problem with playing the victim is that it gets old really fast. People get tired of hearing you whine. What’s more, as the real facts in a situation come out, others (including the judge!) will eventually start to see that the victim’s misfortunes are often caused, at least in part, by his/her own behavior. Once that happens, people will forever discount what the victim has to say. The bottom line, then, is that while being a victim may get you a ton of sympathy, it rarely gets you what you really want in your divorce.
Don’t Play Games With Your Life
Unless you have the risk tolerance of a high-stakes gambler, playing games in your divorce is rarely a good idea. No divorce strategy that involves anger, deceit, lack of responsibility, or any other destructive behavior ever ends well in the long run.
Sure, you may “win” your divorce on the surface. You may end up with more (or all!) of the money. You may destroy your spouse. But, what about your life? What about your kids? What about your self-esteem and self-respect?
Regardless of how you view your divorce, the truth is that divorce is not a game. In most divorces, no one wins. The best outcome you can usually hope for is the one in which everyone loses the least.