8 Effective Strategies for Surviving a High-Conflict Divorce

There’s bound to be some conflict when a marriage ends. For spouses who decide to go through a divorce, they should be aware that there are different levels of conflict and unmanaged emotions that can come up during this process. High-conflict personalities might have a more difficult time when it comes to disentangling their marriage.

A high-conflict divorce is a situation where the divorcing couple experiences intense emotions and their separation is anything but amicable, often due to high-conflict personalities. The term high conflict divorce is used to describe divorces where one or both spouses engage in negative behaviors to intentionally derail the process and/or inflict unnecessary emotional pain on the other spouse. Examples range from the refusal to disclose financial accounts, to sending bullying text messages, to refusing to exchange the children, to cutting off a spouse financially. This type of divorce should be avoided if at all possible, as it can be damaging to the individuals involved and any children who may be present. 

If you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself or your spouse, you might be engaging in a high-conflict divorce: (1) rigid in thinking; (2) inflexible in demands; (3) unwilling to negotiate to a settlement; (3) always blaming the other spouse or the attorneys or the court system; (4) unmanaged anger around your spouse and children; (5) extreme behaviors toward your spouse; and (6) threatening your spouse. The most common trait of a high conflict spouse is one who escalates a small disagreement into a major fight. 

Every year, thousands of divorces are filed around the St. Louis metropolitan area and while some settle quickly, many take a lot longer due to the complexity of the situation. High-conflict divorces often take much longer to unfold than the average time of 6 months — in fact, they can take up to a year or sometimes even more. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect when going through a high-conflict divorce, but there are ways to proactively manage the repercussions. 

1. Understand Your Legal Rights and the Process of a High-Conflict Divorce

Going through the process of a high-conflict divorce can be a difficult journey. It’s important to understand your legal rights so that you can be properly prepared if tension arises.  Consulting with an experienced divorce lawyer and understanding applicable Missouri statutes are great places to start. A skilled divorce litigator or family law firm should be able to answer any questions or concerns you may have, provide an overview of the legal proceedings associated with a high-conflict divorce case, and advise you on what legal documents need to be filed to move forward in the process. It’s also important to create realistic goals as they will help lay a proper foundation for the resolution of disputes during the process while minimizing negative comments between spouses. Taking the appropriate steps and being aware of your legal rights is key when attempting to maneuver through this difficult time.

2. Don’t Broadcast Your Divorce Story

Telling everyone around you what you are dealing with in your high-conflict divorce might lead to more stress, not less. It might also cause a high-conflict spouse to intensify their behavior if they find out. Resist that urge. Instead, hire professional support, like a therapist, who can help prevent those intense feelings from spilling over into the rest of your life.

3. Seek Legal Advice on How to Best Handle High-Conflict Situations

Trying to navigate the waters of a high-conflict divorce can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to balance your emotions and needs, while also protecting yourself legally, especially when confronted with an aggressive or hostile spouse. Seeking legal advice on how to best handle high-conflict situations with your spouse is essential to ensure that you are making the right decisions and getting all the help you need. Hire an attorney with experience in helping a spouse work through volatile divorce disputes such as child custody battles and financial disagreements. 

4. Create a Strategy for Co-Parenting That’s Positive and Effective

Creating a working strategy to co-parent after divorcing a borderline can be one of the most challenging endeavors imaginable, especially if there’s built-up animosity between both parties. It requires designing a structure that will allow for effective communication, respect, and appreciation. To accomplish this, start by emphasizing that consistent communication is key. Both partners should feel comfortable talking about their kids together and setting ground rules. Additionally, bad-mouthing your spouse in front of the kids is a definite no-no. Research reveals that children of high-conflict divorce have negative mental health outcomes. Specifically, high-conflict divorce cases keep children in constant emotional turmoil and put them at higher risk of mental illness, substance abuse, educational failure, and parental alienation. In fact, the level and intensity of parental conflict are considered one of the most dominant factors in the outcome of a child’s future life. In short, one spouse’s negative comments about the other are only going to make the situation worse for their children.

5. Understand Your Feelings and Emotions Throughout the Process

When going through a high-conflict divorce, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the intensity of emotions that often arise. It is important to understand these feelings to move forward in your healing and recovery process, and you’ll want to practice self-care along the way. Recognizing anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration, fear, and loss are all part of the journey during a high-conflict divorce. Taking time to actively listen to yourself can help identify those emotions and validate them as they resurface. Accepting that you have gone through a great deal of pain can be difficult but necessary to move towards healing and new beginnings. Through this understanding of self and your own emotional journey, you can provide yourself with the compassion and forgiveness needed for true closure.

6. Take Care of Yourself by Not Immediately Responding to Every Text or Email

Instead of firing off an emotionally charged response right away, you should write down what you want to say, then let it sit for a day and come back to it. That way, you will have time to calm down and not react to your high-conflict, soon-to-be former spouse, which is often what he or she wants. Recognize that your spouse might be trying to drag you into a high-conflict exchange. Don’t take the bait.

7. Learn to Keep Communications Neutral to Reduce Conflict

When possible, avoid being reactive in divorce negotiations. Instead, try to keep communications brief, informative (i.e., only providing the necessary information), friendly, and firm in that the communication does not engage in conflict. No matter what response you get, stay in that neutral zone. Getting too high or too low will only result in increased legal fees and a ride on the emotional rollercoaster. Staying in the neutral zone is good for you and your kids.

8. Develop Healthy Coping Strategies When Dealing with Conflicts

Conflict and disagreement can lead to conflict and tension, making it difficult to find a solution with the other party. One way to minimize stress is by developing healthy coping strategies when encountering disagreements or extreme behaviors, especially if they’re related to high-conflict divorces. These strategies can include: (1) active listening; (2) remaining open-minded; (3) not blaming; (4) problem-solving; (5) setting boundaries for yourself; (6) learning to compromise; (7) being respectful, and (8) expressing feelings in a positive manner. Engaging in these behaviors will not only allow more effective communication but also better equip you to confront such experiences without feeling overwhelmed.

Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions about your divorce situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.

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