Here’s the second half of the interview with Natalie Malonis, JD. To read Part One, click here. The second half of the interview touches upon the bias against men in the family court system, common mistakes people make who are embroiled in high-conflict divorce cases and some important advice for anyone who’s about to begin the divorce process.
Dr Tara J. Palmatier: During our conversations, we’ve discussed the bias against men in the family court system. Is this something you’ve always been aware of and how does it influence the way you work with male clients?
Natalie Malonis, JD: I regret to say that I bought into the bias against men in the family law system until I became more informed myself. So, not only was I not aware of it, I did my part to help perpetuate it. Before I gained experience with men who were victims themselves, I operated under the assumption that men were always the aggressors and women were always the victims in abusive marriages. My practice early on was almost exclusively representation of physically abused women extricating themselves from a violent relationship. It was not easy or intuitive to make the shift in awareness, but through experience I did perceive that the bias against men was in place, which made it that much more challenging to represent men who are victims of abuse.
I have also seen that bias diminish somewhat in the last couple of years. I attribute that to an increased public awareness—and in that regard, the work you have done, Dr Tara, is invaluable in bringing this issue into the public’s consciousness. We still have a long way to go, but I am pleased to report that the bias against men in the courts is not so firmly entrenched as it was a couple of years ago.
Dr Tara J. Palmatier: As you just noted, like many of our colleagues, we entered our respective professions (Psychology and Law) believing the lie that men are always the perpetrators of emotional and physical violence and women are always the victims. During my graduate school clinical training, I worked at a women’s domestic violence shelter and went through the 100+ hours of DV training. The only time men being the targets of abuse was mentioned was in the context of same sex relationships (i.e., a man abusing another man). The general attitude of the DV trainers was, “It’s too bad, but that’s not our problem.”
The only mention of women committing violence against men was a Burning Bed scenario. Namely, women commit violence, but only in self-defense after suffering extreme emotional and physical abuse at the hands of some horrible man. Statistics clearly show that women are the aggressors of physical and emotional violence in at least 40% of reported cases. I agree with your last statement that awareness about the fact that men can be the targets of abuse is growing. Can you tell us when you realized that women can be the perpetrators and what led to your realization?
Natalie Malonis, JD: My previous answers describe this dawning awareness, but I would like to remark on a related phenomenon. Early in my practice, when I had a new male client seeking divorce or defending himself in a custody battle—the men never even thought to describe abusive circumstances they were subjected to. It just did not even occur to them that what they were experiencing was abuse. It was normal to them, and they had no other frame of reference because it wasn’t talked about or recognized publicly. This is changing!
In the last year, I have seen a dramatic increase in men disclosing to me the abusive behaviors of their wives. Men are starting to recognize that they can be victims and that abuse can take many forms other than a blackened eye. I do not think this increase in reported abuse from wives is an indication that more abuse is taking place. I think it is a much-needed shift in public awareness and perception that is beginning to legitimize men’s experiences, and men are beginning to feel a little bit safer recognizing and disclosing the terrorism that has characterized their marriages.
Dr Tara J. Palmatier: What are the most common mistakes you see your male clients make in high-conflict divorce cases?
Natalie Malonis, JD: Denial. Men still have a very difficult time recognizing and accepting the fact that they are victims. Society has defined men as aggressors, problem-solvers, protectors, etc. Those stereotypes are extremely difficult to shake. When denial is strong, the man will make several mistakes repeatedly, and these mistakes usually have devastating consequences in a divorce or custody case.
Top on the list is his repeated assumption that his wife or ex-wife can be reasoned with. He keeps trying. He thinks that if he can just make his point or make her understand, she’ll be reasonable and see the light and they will be able to reach agreements that are mutually beneficial or at least not mutually destructive. This NEVER works.
Along the same lines, the man who is in deep denial will believe his wife or ex-wife when she says she will do something or refrain from doing something. In so believing, the man might change his position or give something of benefit to his wife/ex-wife only to fund out in the end that she never had any intention of doing what she promised. I have seen men repeat this same mistake over and over and over in the course of a legal case—each time thinking that this is the time it’s going to be different, this time she means it, this time she’ll do what she promised.
Another very costly mistake I often see is when a man fails to prepare himself in advance and in anticipation of the manipulations and egregious behaviors that inevitably await him. This will be the subject of my first post in which I will detail some very specific steps to take in preparing to divorce an abusive wife. Meticulous preparation can mean the difference between saving or losing a career, life savings, relationships with kids and family members, etc. I cannot emphasize enough the value of preparation.
Dr Tara J. Palmatier: Right! I see denial with my clients, too. I call it the Charlie Brown-Lucy Van Pelt Phenomenon. She keeps promising not to pull the football away and he falls for it every time. Aaugh! If there is just one thing you would warn or advise men about in these situations, what would it be?
Natalie Malonis, JD: When a man is divorcing an abusive wife, it is imperative that he have a battleground mindset—as distasteful as that sounds. This does not mean that he will escalate issues or engage in gratuitous fighting. It means he is ever vigilant that the woman he is divorcing is his enemy and seeks to destroy him. Guys, that is the unfortunate truth of the matter of divorcing an abusive wife. The men reading this forum wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t experienced the behaviors you describe. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t need help and support.
So assuming I am addressing an audience of men who are involved in relationships or ex-relationships with women who exhibit many Cluster B traits—my warning is this: If you’re divorcing, your wife is your enemy who is trying to hurt you. She will run through her repertoire of manipulations to get her way and to hurt you. She will threaten and throw temper tantrums and rage and give you the silent treatment and spread lies about you to people you care about.
And if you keep strong boundaries and all of those tactics fail to give her what she wants, she’ll resort to being nice and seemingly agreeable and humble. This too is another manipulation, and this is when it’s most important to keep your boundaries in place. Until your divorce is a final order of the court, signed by the judge, you cannot afford to let your guard down or think of your wife as anything other than an adversary whose purpose is to make you suffer.
Dr Tara J. Palmatier: Wow, Natalie, thank you. This is so important. The last two paragraphs are also important to practice even after the divorce is finalized when this type of woman (or man) inevitably begins to play games around custody and other ongoing issues.
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Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.