November 26, 2019 Stacey Mendelson 0 Comments

Normally when I blog, I keep my posts pretty gender neutral. I am going to stray today to explore a particular dynamic I regularly see with many of my female clients.

I am often retained by a woman around 35-50 who is trying to leave a marriage that has become untenable in terms of verbal abuse or coercive control. She has tried as hard as she can to stay in the marriage to protect her children, and wants to create as little damage as possible on exiting.

She may be working, and she has been the primary caregiver to the children for the duration of the marriage. In fact, her mothering ability may have been one of the reasons he was attracted to her.

The husband may have spent the past few years engaging in adulterous behaviour, being verbally or physically abusive, and may have been consuming excessive alcohol or drugs.

Typically a client like this attempts to peacefully exit the marriage, but is met with hostility, so she stays. Often, the spouse threatens to make her life hell or to file for custody of the children.

This type of husband knows my client’s pain points: the children and staying safe. He plays both of these cards if she does not comply with his demands.

In this situation, it is often beneficial to take a step back and not react to these tactics reflexively. Think about what your opponent’s pain points might be. They might be any combination of the following:

  • public reputation
  • public reputation of his parents or siblings, especially if they are well known important members of society
  • the potential of a psychological assessment by a professional
  • the potential for criminal allegations
  • having to care for the kids as much as he says he wants to
  • having a place to live


Consider a few examples:

I have a client who’s ex husband’s brother is a prominent physician and well known in his cultural circle. If her case goes to litigation, his behaviour toward her and his child will become a matter of public record. This would be very upsetting for her ex-brother- and sister-in-law. The family may want him to quietly settle and avoid the exposure. She can use this pain point to negotiate her must haves.

My own ex had a pain point that I was able to exploit on negotiation of the final settlement. I discovered that his pain point was the castle in which he kept his throne, ie – our chalet in a resort town north of the city where he lives and entertains his friends. He did not want to have to leave this lovely home of which I was half owner. What would his girlfriend think if he was suddenly homeless? This gave me a tool to negotiate my must haves.

Pain is what brings any adversary to the negotiating table.It can be used to persuade (or even force) your opponent to make decisions that will reduce his (or her) pain. Think hard about your opponent’s pain point and use it to your advantage.