Updated: Feb 21
By Virginia Gilbert, Contributor Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 01/18/2017 12:17pm EST | Updated January 18, 2017
Going through a high-conflict divorce is like living with a chronic illness. There are periods of relative calm, followed by stretches of gut-twisting agony. Flare-ups consume you and peaceful moments make you wonder when the next bomb will be tossed. When dealing with a high-conflict ex, the only thing that's certain is that this person will not change. He is a drama addict, and to get his fix he will bad-mouth, cyber-bully, manipulate children, remain gainfully unemployed, perform feats of vanishing-income magic, threaten litigation, twist words, cast aspersions, steal your thunder, all while managing to convince the public he is Father Of The Year. If, somehow, your ex were able to stop her shenanigans, she would have to deal with her own shortcomings. And what fun is that? She needs a target on which to project her sense of personal failure, and that target, unfortunately, is you.
Forever. Now that you know your ex is not going to have an Aha Moment, and you will remain together till death do you part, you must examine your own actions and thought patterns that keep you engaged in a losing battle. You must change the way you relate to your ex, both in the real world, and in your head. How you interact with your ex is a habit, and breaking any habit takes discipline. Set aside five minutes in the morning and before bed to meditate. You don't need an altar and incense to do this. You just need to reflect on the things you can do to feel less crazy. You need to stop letting thoughts of your ex take up so much space in your head, and swap them out for empowering mantras. Read on for a sample of conscious intentions — and how practicing them can improve your life. 📷 You can’t control your ex, his attorney, or the family court system. But you can control your own actions, so be mindful of your thoughts and choices. Set intentions for what you need to do now — file a child support modification or e-mail your ex about therapy for your child — and don’t obsess about what will or won’t happen. White-knuckling your way to the future will take you out of the present and keep you from enjoying non-divorce-related activities. 📷 High-conflict people aren’t reasonable. They only see their side of things. They have intense emotional reactions to minor situations. They lack healthy conflict resolution skills. Trying to “talk sense” into someone like this is like going to the hardware store repeatedly looking for milk — and then getting upset that there’s no milk to be found. You will feel much more grounded once you stop expecting a crazy person to act sane. 📷 Your high-conflict ex creates drama to keep you engaged. You know you’ve taken the bait when you catch yourself yelling, crying, cursing, or sending an invective-laded email. As tempting as it may be to retaliate, responding to your ex’s drama with your own drama will just invite more attacks. So stick to the facts when communicating. Deflect outbursts with “Nevertheless,” or “I understand.” You will never truly be divorced until you learn to manage your own emotional reactivity to your ex. 📷 Family courts deliver answers, not necessarily justice. Children sometimes align with a toxic parent. People you thought were your friends fall off the radar. You work a full-time job and live in an apartment while your gainfully unemployed ex lives in a mansion and is supported by a wealthy fiance who seems oblivious to her shenanigans. Wallowing in bitterness and resentment won’t change your circumstances. Accept that suffering is part of life and try to shift your focus to what’s going your way. 📷 No matter how you feel about your former spouse, your children still deserve to love and be loved by their other parent. Unless your ex is truly unfit, you need to support your kids’ relationship with him. Trying to change your ex’s parenting style is futile and interfering with the bond between him and your children is unfair to your kids. Focus on your own parenting: is there anything you need to change? Develop patience? Improve time management? Set better limits? Have fun? Stop trying to control your ex, or worrying that your kids love him more, and work on yourself instead. 📷 You probably are not the stupid, crazy, incompetent person your ex says you are, so stop taking what he says personally. Remember: high-conflict people are always looking for someone to blame and you are a convenient target. He is likely spouting off as a way to defend against the shame of divorce, or to project his unowned sense of inadequacy on to you. What he thinks of you is about him, and you can’t change it anyway, so get on with your life.