During a divorce or separation, an uncooperative coParent may be showing another emotion behind the belligerent façade that some people display: fear.
We saw this most vividly in the case of Kristen and Jim. Kristen pretended to be cooperative, but when it was time to sell she became combative, putting up roadblock after roadblock. That was actually a defensive posture to cover up what she was really feeling.
“Most of what happens is fear-driven,” Marriage and family therapist Joyce Tessier Tessier observes. “What’s going to happen to me? What’s my life going to look like?” Whatever the motivation, the resulting behaviors can be exasperating when there are decisions to make and papers to sign. The resistance can manifest in many ways, according to Tessier. You may recognize some of the tactics she describes: delay; being argumentative about some small fact; being non-cooperative; ignoring meetings or deadlines. Their expectations are unreasonable in terms of what they can get from it, what they can receive from some kind of agreement; making unreasonable demands for time with the children; or being unavailable for the house to be shown.
That last point illustrates how an ex-partner’s passive resistance can foil even the simplest plans. You may have decided to sell the house; your ex may have even agreed. But if he or she is still occupying the home and refuses to let prospective buyers in to see it, you’ll have a hard time closing a deal. There may be many situations like this where you need your ex’s cooperation— and the former spouse knows it. After the disappointment of losing control in the divorce, your ex may enjoy these fleeting moments of power and exploit them ruthlessly.
That’s when it makes sense to enlist the aid of professionals who can mediate for you. After all, that’s why you have an attorney—and a real estate agent. As an agent, I’m often appointed by the court to represent both spouses in a sale. In these situations, I’ve learned to treat the parties with equal respect, which has helped to defuse many volatile conflicts. I can provide a listening ear and acknowledge each party’s grievances while offering practical ways to break the deadlock. When there’s an impasse, the presence of a neutral third party is essential.
In the case of my combative client Kristen, who was obstructing her own sale with a barrage of petty demands, I said, “Kristen, I understand you have a number of concerns, and at this point I think we should make a counteroffer. Here’s what I would suggest…” I then proposed an offer that advanced her interests while not haggling over every little item. She saw the wisdom of this broader approach, and we were able to move the process forward.
The bottom line: when you can’t gain the cooperation of your ex, let others take on the task. With the right approach, professional expertise, and objective posture, they’ll have a better chance at succeeding.