By Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC   |   May 1st, 2010

diff_beh.jpgThroughout life, we sometimes encounter difficult people. We may argue with them, fall silent, comply or take distance. In a divorce, particularly an acrimonious one, difficult behaviors abound. No one is on their best behavior under this amount of stress. Figuring out how to cope with difficult behavior is a bit easier once you can identify why a person behaves in a certain way and what he/she hopes to accomplish. Here is a list of the most common behaviors that frustrate us all and suggestions for dealing with them:

The Bully – uses temper tantrums to overwhelm you; makes insulting and cutting remarks. Needs to feel superior and not lose control of the situation. Wants to get his/her own way.

*Stand up, listen, do not attack back, and take time-outs. Keep to the agenda.

The Complainer – gripes about everything incessantly. Needs to keep looking like a victim, does not take any responsibility, tries to bring others down to make her/himself look/feel better.

*Listen. Try to pin down specific complaints. Offer no apology. Ask, “How do you think we could fix this?”

The Silent Type – the most response you get is “nope,” “maybe,” and “I don’t know.” Needs to punish, hurt and control. Also may be evading resolution as a way to maintain power.

*Try a direct approach to the behavior. “I cannot read your mind, so there are things you need to tell me.” Do not badger or nag. Set a time limit, and then walk away. Part of the reward for being silent is the constant attention and urging. Do not reward the behavior with this response.

The Promiseragrees with everything, but then doesn’t follow through on anything. Needs to be liked and accepted by everyone.

*Try saying, “I really want to know what is on your mind.”

The Wet Blanket – finds something wrong with everything. Tries to deflate your optimism. “It will never work” is their battle cry. Wants power and control over your life. Is threatened when you feel good about something.

*Do not argue. Do not get drawn into a power struggle. Do not ask for advice from this person.

The Staller afraid to make a mistake. They never can decide on anything. They stall a major decision until it is made for them. Their sense of self is often tied to getting approval from others.

*Do not become irritated. Examine the facts and work on problem-solving.

The Big Shot the “know it all.” Condescending, imposing and pompous. Sometimes doesn’t know what she/he is talking about, but thinks she/he does. Seeks approval and respect. They build their self-esteem on knowing “the facts.”

*Do not correct or counter. Do not get involved trying to “out-expert” this person. Listen and validate. Be sure to affirm their stance when they are right.

Here are some steps to help you cope and stop pulling out your own hair in frustration!

  • Assess the situation. Is this really an issue you have to win?
  • Stop wishing and hoping things were different. That sets you up to be blind-sided again – and again.
  • Plan a strategy for getting your point across.
  • Stick to your agenda. Do not be distracted by techniques designed to infuriate or diminish you.
  • Do the best you can and then let it go.

As you assess your situation and your estranged partner’s behavior, make sure to look at your own style as well. Without realizing it, you may be implementing some of the above behaviors and creating roadblocks to resolution. While it is always easier to see the flaws of others, looking at your own behavior is where you can create real change.

donnabio.jpg©2010. Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, is a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut. Her newest book is available at bookstores everywhere, or at her website. This article is from her first book, From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, which won an Honorable Mention Award by the Independent Publishers Association. To read more about the author and her work, please visit

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Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADCAbout The Author: Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
Donna F. Ferber, is a psychotherapist in private practice for over 31 years. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and an educator. Donna works with individuals and in groups. Her office is in Farmington, Connecticut.

Coping with Difficult Behavior
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2 thoughts on “Coping with Difficult Behavior

  • Avatar
    May 19, 2010 at 7:57 am

    I stumbled across your site in the middle of my morning bourbon and have spent an enjoyable hour and change reading your posts. I especially like this one – excellent work!

    My own attorney and good friend, Johnny the Hammer, refuses to take divorce cases. John informed me that the nicest, most reasonable people in the world prove themselves capable of hurtful, bizarre behavior imaginable, and some stunts that cannot be imagined. Truth or fiction?

    Thanks for your contribution to the web. Please keep up the good work.

  • Avatar
    May 26, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Thank you for this post. The information about the different types of behavior was very helpful. I am going to take a look at your new book!

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