Divorce, separation and the end of any significant intimate relationship, whether it’s a same-sex or heterosexual relationship or marriage can cause distress, grief and upset. This life changing event continues to happen in life and yet most of us don’t know what to do or how to handle it when it happens to us.

Whether we are the initiator of the breakup or the one that is left behind the feelings of guilt, shame, fear and uncertainty of the future can cause panic and dread even amongst those who appear strong.

Not only do you have to come to terms with the end of your significant relationship, but you also need to find resolution to the issues that may arise from the divorce and separation.

Where you have children with your ex or you have property together or you have intermingled money, such as joint bank accounts or joint property, at some point you will need to discuss, negotiate or mediate resolution of these matters. Of course, for those who can’t resolve these matters, the family court system is available to assist and facilitate the finalisation of these matters and make decisions for you.

The purpose of this article is to draw your attention and raise your awareness to the difficulties created when you settle and split the difference in negotiations with ex-partners, especially when those ex’s are toxic or narcissistic.

If you are reading this article, you are most likely new to separation or having to negotiate with an ex- partner. If you have consulted with a family lawyer, mediator or counsellor – you may hear them tell you to quickly settle, compromise and ‘just split the difference’.

I’m here to tell you something different, splitting the difference is not the way to negotiate with anyone, let alone with a toxic, self-absorbed and narcissistic ex -partner.

Although ‘splitting the difference’ may sound fair, and sensible and perhaps a way to move forward and finalise your matter quickly – it comes with huge costs, often to children, your finances and your self-esteem.

Headlock of 2 deers

Here’s why:

1. Splitting the difference will never meet or satisfy your interests, needs or concerns.

Here’s an example- you and your ex own a property together, you want to keep the property and all you can afford to give your ex- partner, after (having spoken to your mortgage broker) is $600,000 but your partner wants $700,000. If you split the difference , that would mean that you would agree to pay $650,000 to your ex- but in that scenario you won’t be able afford to keep the house !

Splitting the difference doesn’t meet your needs or interests. So, what do you do? – you throw in a ‘surprise’ – in this case, it may be that you agree to meet your ex’s-car petrol costs for 6 months or a year (you can cap this) – by throwing in a ‘surprise’ this sweetens the deal and because you know that your ex enjoys long drives, you’re on a winner.

2. You will get ‘ripped off’.

I’ve seen first hand how a difficult ex-partner can start with very high expectations and when the negotiations stall – the automatic response is let’s ‘split the difference’ – the considered response of anyone who knows that splitting the difference means getting ripped off is a polite ‘no’.

I recently dealt with a matter where the ex-wife was of the view that everything belonged to her after a 30-year marriage and managed to negotiate that she kept all the assets and no debts – (the negotiation was done amongst themselves without the assistance of mediators or lawyers). When I met with my client, he explained that he agreed to this, because his ex-wife had somehow convinced him that he was a lazy, no-good so and so and she was a long-suffering wife and was entitled to the lot. Talk about getting ripped off- this woman was able to start at the highest point of negotiation with her “all mine mentality” and my client having been abused the whole duration of the marriage, simply agreed.

3. You will become resentful in the long run.

I know for many of us we have been conditioned to ‘compromise’, to be ‘nice’ and to ‘co-operate’ – and this has been our way of functioning the world. We have absolutely survived being this way – but if you want to thrive, then don’t split the difference if it means that you will be compromising or getting less than what you deserve. Seriously, there is nothing joyful about rolling over too quickly to find that in 12 months time, you resent the compromises you have made.

4. You won’t get the opportunity to change the way you deal with your ex in the future.

If you have to co-parent and maintain a relationship post your divorce or separation- splitting the difference- may mean that you get stuck with being and behaving in the ways that you have always done in your marriage or relationship, this may even be the reason why your relationship struggled or you felt unappreciated or under-valued.

If you really want to re build your self-esteem and confidence, start with the way you negotiate with your ex. Find ways of showing your ex, how you want to be treated. Once you place value on your needs, your interests and your self first, your ex will have no choice but to do the same.

5. It hurts children.

Sadly but true, in divorce and separation matters, children are used as ‘pawns’ and ‘traded’ for child support or other forms of cash payments. Splitting the children is not an option. It’s simple, either your ex is a good parent and you both agree that an equal time arrangement or( whatever arrangement you have agreed to) will work for them and both of you or you don’t.

If you agree to split the care arrangements of the children or add additional time here or there or take less time because of some perceived financial gain or advantage, the children will inevitably be hurt. This is because these negotiations are based on fear or desperation to settle.

A classic example is where a primary carer, agrees to an equal time arrangement, because he or she fears that unless they agree, their ex-partner will make life emotionally and financially miserable. In no time, the children are unhappy, crying out to be back in the care of their primary carer and the other parent relinquishes responsibility the minute they have gotten their way.

Seriously, splitting the difference, hurts the children.

If you are negotiating with a difficult, narcissistic or toxic ex-partner- get prepared. Find ways of negotiating that will leave you empowered, where you get to resolve your issues in a way that meets your needs, interests and concerns.

If you have separated or divorced and require legal or negotiation advice, please contact Pamela Cominos – Pamela is the Principal of Cominos Family Lawyers. She is more than a family lawyer- she is also a mediator, coach and facilitator of The Healthy Divorce Program.

She knows how to manage difficult people with confidence and care.