This week I’ve been reading an article entitled, “The Role of Coercion” by Barbara J. Lonsdorf. Lonsdorf writes that the same coercive dynamics that played themselves out in a dysfunctional marriage often repeat themselves in the procedures of separation, divorce and post-divorce. She says, “Just as coercive ploys can take physical, emotional or monetary forms in marriage, so ploys can take physical, emotional or monetary forms in negotiations depending on the supply and demand of resources of divorcing parties.”
Lonsdorf poses the following key questions: “What was the prior use of coercion in the marital relationship? What is the current social/emotional involvement with his divorcing spouse? Honestly answering these help more vulnerable spouses to understand the depth of their susceptibility to being coerced.
The more I have been investigating, the more aware I have become that I cannot rely upon my lawyer to come up with the divorce plan and the strategies that go with it. Only I can defend my interests. I’ve been apprehensive about my STBXS’ reaction when she will be served the divorce papers. Left up to her she will continue to postpone her job hunt as a way of getting me to continue carrying the majority of the monetary support.
According to Lonsdorf, it’s in the vulnerable spouse’s interest to enter the negotiation tables with a more active and cooperative stance rather than passive or reactive. If the tone set by one party is cooperative it may help break the vicious coercive pattern. This part of the article is correct yet it throws me into confusion, because one side can be cooperative while the other side continues to play dirty. How do you enter the negotiation tables with a cooperative spirit without yielding to unreasonable demands?
I know that for me coercion was part of my marital history and that negotiations happened to be quite antagonistic. I want to now make a shift — learning how to defend my economic position and establish firmer boundaries. Lonsdorf says that being aware of the coercive dynamics in some cases is enough to assist someone in overcoming coersive ploys.
The problem is that cooperation can be equivalent to giving in in to coercive demands, so the demands only increase and escalate. I need to not only deal with the exploitation, but also balance between too much cooperation on the one end and too much rigidity on the other.