Divorce is never easy. It’s a rearranging of lives and a shift in visions for the future, even in the best cases. But some divorces go far beyond that. When one or both parties are intent on dragging things out, bringing ill-will and chaos to the process, or even intentionally causing pain and stress, you are dealing with a toxic divorce.
Courts sometimes call these “high-conflict divorces,” and when you are in the middle of one, it can feel like you will never be free of it. Here are some tips for managing a toxic divorce:
Rely on Your Support System
Friends and family can be essential to helping you wade through the toxic sludge of your divorce to get to the happiness on the other side of the muck. Know who you can call in the middle of the night if your anxiety feels overwhelming.
Do you have a friend who calms you when you are especially angry or one who will read email and text drafts before you send them to ensure they aren’t doing more harm than good? (When in doubt about important communications, ask your divorce attorney for advice.)
If violence has been a part of the relationship, you may even ask someone to check in with you at a specific time every day to ensure you are emotionally and physically safe.
Your loved ones want to support you. Don’t be afraid to rely on them or tell them how they can help.
Choose Your Attorney Wisely
Well-intentioned friends may advise you to “find a shark,” but it isn’t always wise to choose the most aggressive Salt Lake divorce attorney. You want someone who will be assertive and work to protect the things most important to you but who can also shield you from some of the toxicity. An overly aggressive lawyer can provoke your ex-partner and increase bad behavior. Choose someone experienced who knows how to keep their cool even when the other side
A great divorce lawyer will have seen dozens of toxic divorces and can predict behaviors you are likely to see. Their experience will help them craft decrees that protect you. For example, your ex may be tempted to engage in malicious compliance, where they follow the exact wording of any agreements in the most inconvenient ways possible. If the decree says that visitation ends on Sunday, a toxic ex might drop off the children at 11:58 pm. An experienced attorney will know to specify a specific time for the end of the visitation to prevent inconvenient disruptions.
Experience matters far more than aggression. Choosing your attorney wisely is one of the best ways to shield yourself from some of the toxicity and shenanigans of your ex.
Protect the Kids
If there are children involved, the toxicity can quickly spread to them. While you can’t control what your ex says and does beyond the limits of the courts, choose to take the high road with your children.
Don’t speak ill about their other parent, don’t involve them in the drama, and be the safe parent they can come to with concerns. If they worry they will hurt your feelings by maintaining a good relationship with their other parent, it can harm your relationship with them.
If they ask about reasons for the divorce, keep it general. It is okay to say, “That is your father’s story to tell,” or “It’s best to ask your mother about that,” if they ask you about questionable choices. Resist the temptation to recruit them to your side, even if their other parent behaved and continues to behave inappropriately.
If they repeat opinions or lies spread by your spouse, stay calm. You can correct the story without bad-mouthing your child’s parent or making them feel uncomfortable.
Help your children feel secure during tumultuous times. Reassure them that you love them and that your issues with their other parent are between that person and you. None of it is their fault.
Toxic divorces tend to take longer than amicable splits. You need to be prepared to deal with this for the long haul. One way to do that is to carve out divorce-free times of your day – like a curfew. Maybe that means no dealing with divorce matters after eight o’clock each evening. This can allow you to downshift from the stress of your day and give you a chance to decompress before bed, hopefully improving your sleep.
If that doesn’t work, find another time to allow your brain to escape the worry of your divorce. Maybe it’s an hour in the morning while you get ready and enjoy a cup of coffee or a lunch break where you take a walk and handle other errands.
Whatever works best for your life, find a time when the divorce is off-limits. This break gives your brain and emotions time to rest and can help you remember that there is life outside this divorce and happier days to come.
Divorcing a partner determined to make things difficult can quickly poison your everyday life. Taking these steps to contain the toxicity will help you stay healthy during the process and prevent the divorce from becoming all-consuming.