Separation & Selling
We need to talk about control.
This series about selling due to separation would not be complete without talking about the games people play and how they try to manipulate each other.
Incredibly, the blazing hot emotions involved with divorce can turn a previously loving relationship into a battle zone. Sometimes, the sale of a house becomes the last pawn in that battle to the death.
As a real estate agent, I get a front row seat to such gladiator games.
It’s not a fun sport to watch.
I also don’t plan to out anyone’s real, personal story, so will instead paint a picture with broad strokes that have applied to many situations.
One common situation is when a couple has separated, but continues live in the same house until it sells. She never wanted the divorce, and is resentful about it. He just wants to get out of there as soon as possible.
Guess how that pans out during negotiations.
Any buyer who comes along to make offers will be roped into the manipulation and mind games these two end up playing together. Offers – even ones perfectly matching the seller’s requirements – will be rejected. Or stalled. Or have a last-minute change added. Anything to hang on – to keep the unwanted future from unfolding. Anything to keep him around, even if it’s just to fight.
In another common situation, one spouse has moved out, and the other remains in the house, which is for sale. The animosity between them is thick enough to slice.
He decides the house is the battlefield where he will win back control over her. He’ll sign no papers. Or he’ll leverage the house to renegotiate divorce terms. Or he’ll simply stall, perhaps suddenly “needing to talk to a lawyer”, so the buyers who have finally come with an offer walk away, tired of waiting for these two to get their heads on straight.
Sometimes the attempts to manipulate are successful enough to wreak emotional havoc.
Most often though, the result of all this arm-bending is financial loss, even to the point of bankruptcy.
When people sell due to separation, the dynamics are tricky.
Tips For Buyers:
If you’re trying to offer on a house where separation is an issue, bring an extra helping of patience and compassion. These are hurting people in an emotional volatile state, neither responsible for the other’s actions.
Try to remember none of their antics, behaviors, or inconvenient requests is about you. Most of the time, it’s about their last desperate attempt to control or at least hurt their spouse. Try to cut them some slack.
Tips For Sellers:
The best advice I can give to couples selling due to separation is to decide as much as possible before you sell.
Any decision you can make before separating and before selling, is better.
If one of you is leaving the house, try to decide division of assets before actually leaving. Get it in writing and sign if you can. Once a spouse actually leaves, it seems sad emotions ignite into flames of rage and bitterness, and the control games begin.
Don’t think it won’t happen to you. Or that you and your spouse are too sensible to become like “those people” who break down and lash out. You’re not. This happens. And not just to ‘other people’.
The best thing you can do is not underestimate the power of emotions involved.
Head trouble off at the pass – discuss and agree on as much as you can before walking out that door.
The phone rang. It was a past client.
“My marriage is over…” She explained they’d decided to end it, and wanted me to list their house.
I was able to head over to her place right away. Before hanging up though, I encouraged her to rethink the separation. “Relationships are more important to me than transactions.”
“No, it won’t work. We need to sell and end it.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
On the drive, I prayed. For wisdom. For their relationship. That healing could happen.
At the house, they both waited for me, and together we three signed the papers and listed their house. They didn’t really want to sell it. They had custom built their dream house only a few years prior. But it was unthinkable to stay after ending the marriage. It had to go.
It was a peaceful meeting. They were not angry and yelling as some do, instead they seemed quietly resigned to the story unfolding this way.
As we passed papers around and signed on lines, I said, “Just so you know, you’re not locked in here. You can change your mind. All you have to do is say the word and we’ll withdraw it from the market. No questions asked. You don’t owe me an explanation.”
They thanked me, and I proceeded to market the property.
Two weeks later they emailed, asking to withdraw the listing.
I drove over to their house to sign a different set of papers. This meeting was peaceful too, but hope hung in the air.
Afterward, he walked me to the door. “We want to make our marriage work.”
I smiled. “I’m so glad.”
I didn’t regret for a moment the money I spent to market their house (and by then I’d spend quite a bit already).
Now I see them having fun together, posting smiley photos of them together at Jets games and eating out with friends, and I am so thankful. I’d much rather see their happiness and success than a sold sign.
Divorce happens. Sometimes it needs to.
But sometimes it doesn’t need to.
Their courage to try again is something I greatly admire.
Separation is emotionally volatile.
What’s surprising is that it surprises people.
I’m not sure why. It’s perfectly logical.
When a previously deep and intimate connection disintegrates, it does not go quietly into the night.
The connection doesn’t simply become dead. It becomes… undead.
It continues living, but in a new, twisted form.
Divorce seems to poison its victims, transforming one or both into claw-bearing, fanged creatures who rip and tear relentlessly to satisfy their new thirst for blood. What was once passionate love becomes an insatiable desire to inflict pain, ironically in an effort to relieve pain.
Logic becomes calculation.
Reason becomes justification.
Love becomes hate.
Suddenly the dining set bought together years ago, while holding hands in the furniture store, becomes the mountain on which each is willing to die.
Discussions about the house, the furniture, and the car, each become an opportunity to slash and bite and howl.
Unfortunately, the children also fall victim to the poisonous effects of divorce. They, however do not grow fangs. They become the table or the car – a thing to fight over. There, smack-dab in the middle, they can’t help but get in the way. As they watch their parents slash at each other, and as they are tugged and coaxed and pressured back and forth, they are soon scarred by slash marks too.
It’s an ugly unfolding.
As a real estate agent, I’ve had a front row seat to many such stories. My clients have suffered the grief and shock and pain of divorce. Luckily for both of us, the deep pain of divorce is something I’m personally acquainted with, so I can empathize.
I understand. I’ve been there.
My experience – both personally and as an agent helping my clients through this gut-wrenching process – also means I can hopefully start a conversation that helps others understand how to help their clients.
Whether you’re a real estate agent, banker, or lawyer, it’s tough to watch clients suffer, and difficult to navigate the volatile transaction.
The biggest way we can help our clients is by empathizing. Let’s not be surprised or critical of their emotional state or outbursts. This is the nature of the beast. Instead, let’s look past the claws and fangs and realize all the howling is not about dining sets or houses. These are the final twitches of death – the pangs of regret and hurt that themselves cause hurt.
Hurt people hurt people, as they say.
Let’s not add salt to the wound.
As the professionals helping them through it, we can offer an ear, a kind word, and maybe even suggest alternative, more effective ways to salve their wounds. But our advice can’t come out of a desire to fix them. It has to come from a place of compassion and empathy.
It’s all any of us wants – to be loved the way we are. To be understood. To be known.
Luckily, every human interaction – even acting as a real estate agent – offers the opportunity to provide exactly those things for another.
When I arrived, I found her hunched over a box, in tears.
She had been packing, getting ready to list her house. Well, their house.
They had lived there for decades. Now the marriage had come apart at the seams, and she was left to tie up the loose ends. She would pack up the house and ready it for sale.
It looked like about the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.
There, with tears still streaming down her cheeks, she held a stack of photos in one hand and a wad of tissues in the other. She still wore her wedding ring.
When someone in a happy marriage looks through photos, it’s a refreshing, satisfying time of reminiscing. Laughter and tears of joy accompany the cozy memories. But when a person is in the midst of separation – especially one they don’t want to happen – it is anything but cozy. Each memory stabs the heart, leaving a gaping ache for what will never be again.
I’ve been there. I know the deep grief of separation.
As I put a hand on her shoulder, a fresh wave of tears flowed from her eyes. Her head hung as though a weight were tied to it.
As I scanned the room I realized she would never get the house packed in time without some help. Little was packed, even less was cleaned. Grief overwhelms. At that point, a simple task like putting photos in a box or sweeping the floor can be too much to even think about, much less accomplish.
Just then, she looked up at the wall and sighed a heavy, hollow sigh.
I followed her gaze to a photo on the wall. There, in an ornately carved wooden frame, their wedding photo hung, looking as though nothing had changed since the day it was taken.
After a moment of thought, I removed my hand from her shoulder, walked over to the photo, and lifted it from the wall. For a second, I felt like an art thief.
“Let me help you,” I said, looking back at her for any sign of disapproval. Her mouth parted slightly, as though to speak. Then she closed her eyes, nodded, and hung her head for the next wave of tears.
The offending photo was turned to face the wall, and tucked behind the sofa. Then, together, we packed a few boxes.
“See if you can get some friends to help you with this,” I suggested, “It’s a huge job on a good day but it’s overwhelming and feels impossible when you’re going through separation. You need help.”
She nodded and, before I left, called some friends to help her pack up what was left of her married life.
People sell their homes for all kinds of reasons, but there is a unique dynamic when the sale is due to a separation. And it raises all kinds of issues for everyone – the sellers, buyers, and the agents caught in the middle.
Oddly, no one really talks about it.
Which is why I’ve written this series of posts about selling due to separation. It’s important to talk about it so we can understand when the issues come up, and know what to do about it. Maybe we’ll have some compassion or be able to avoid surprise attacks if we’re aware.
Wherever I’ve been, professionally or personally, it’s been because God has led me there. Helping sellers in the midst of separation is just another such opportunity I see Him giving me. I am not afraid of crisis. Lord knows I’ve had my share of it. And I’m honored that He uses me to serve others in their own crises. Whether it’s to help sell a house, pack boxes, or just pull a photo off the wall.
No one wants to talk about it.
But it’s happening more and more.
People are selling their houses due to marital separation.
I’m not sure what’s worse though – the crisis many couples are in while they try to sell their house, or that no one is talking about the swirling mess of issues that come up as a result.
I may not be able to rescue anyone from crisis, but I can sure initiate a conversation. Hopefully it helps dispel a few myths, open a few eyes, or foster a bit of compassion and understanding for those who are hurting and either ruined by the pain or lashing out as a result.
Over the next bunch of posts I’d like to talk about selling during a separation.
Can I be honest with you about the games people play during the sale to control, manipulate, or exact revenge on their spouse? This isn’t about being gossipy or telling juicy stories. People in crisis have a hard time seeing what’s going on. Also, after years of marriage, one doesn’t anticipate how separation can stir up a vengeful beast. So, when the games start, they come as a shock. Let’s talk about it so you can be prepared.
So you’re not shocked out of your socks.
So you can recognize a gamer’s ways and protect yourself.
I’d like to tell you why I removed one woman’s wedding photo from the wall – and why she didn’t do it herself. The stages of grief are not reserved for death.
Sometimes people will get into a heated argument, even shouting at the top of their voice, over a dining set. But in a separation, it’s never, ever, ever about the dining set.
Then there’s the experience of a real estate agent caught in the middle. I’m not allergic to helping people through crises, and I’ve certainly been through my own.
Maybe I’ll even talk about the time a couple decided not to sell their house, and how it saved their marriage. That was the best money I never made, and I’m thrilled every time I see them together.
Separation is like a fire – it blazes with red hot emotions, damages everything it touches, and people get burned. I know. It hurts. It’s gut-wrenching. And it changes your life forever. It’s also isolating.
That’s why we need to talk about it.
And, maybe by talking about the many issues that flare up, we can minimize the damage and put a bit of salve on the burns.