Divorce/High-Conflict Divorce


Divorce is a stressful, life-changing transition that requires much adjustment, often at a faster pace than we are ready for. Going through a divorce usually triggers many uncomfortable emotions. You’re grieving the loss of your relationship and the vision of the life you wanted and expected. You are also faced with the uncertainty of the future. If you have children, you’re striving to offer them as much support and stability as possible to ensure they are not negatively affected by the transition. All of this can be further complicated by legal issues, financial strain, the challenges of co-parenting, new partners, and dividing assets. Therapy can be a powerful, cathartic space to support your healing as you move through this trying time in your life.

There are many people you can love; not a lot of people you can make a life with. A love story and a life story are not the same.”

Esther Perel

Stages of Divorce

Although non-sequential, many people experience some variation of the stages of grief during or after a divorce.

  • Denial/Shock: “This isn’t happening. I can try to save my marriage”
  • Anger: “Why is this happening to me? I don’t deserve this. This is my spouse’s fault.”
  • Bargaining: “I would do anything to turn back time and make things right with my spouse. I can change. My spouse can change. We can fix things.”
  • Depression: “This is horrible. I have lost so much.”
  • Acceptance: “I no longer idealize my past. It could not have been any different.”
  • Rebuilding: “I am now closing this chapter and ready for a new future.”

Moving Through Grief

Regardless of the reasons for your divorce, the aftermath is likely to include a lot of intense emotions including anger, depression, anxiety, and stress. Life during and after divorce can feel heavy and uncertain. This tends to be true even for those initiating the divorce. Therapy can help you make sense of what unfolded in your marriage, including your responsibility for the issues in the relationship so those patterns can be broken. You will have a nurturing space to gain closure and build a narrative that leaves you feeling empowered. Often having a witness to your experience makes you feel less alone during this isolating time.

In therapy, you will be guided through various present-focused techniques to process your emotions in a healthy way, rebuild your self-esteem and confidence, create a new identity or role for yourself in your new life, rediscover your relationship with yourself and/or future partner.

Don’t be afraid to start over again. This time, you’re not starting from scratch, you are starting from experience.”


High-Conflict Divorce

Separation and divorce have the potential to bring out people’s worst tendencies which may result in a “high-conflict divorce.” A high-conflict divorce occurs when one or both partners are still emotionally or psychologically entangled after they separate. There is an inability to disengage and resolve conflict in a healthy way. In fact, high-conflict people create more unnecessary conflict to inflict pain on their ex-spouse.

If you’re going through a high-conflict divorce, you may be facing lengthy litigation or custody battles. You might repeatedly find yourself seeking legal help because conflict resolution is impossible with this person. If you have children with a high-conflict individual, they may use the children as pawns to continue hurting you.

High-conflict people typically have poor coping skills or difficulty figuring out how to meet their own needs. They may feel like the divorce is a personal failure and look for anyone to blame except themselves, and the ex is usually their target.

The only way to win with a toxic person is not to play.”

Raj Parashar

Effects of High-Conflict Divorce

A high-conflict divorce can feel like complete chaos and misery. You may find yourself in a state of constant dread and anxiety as you fear what your ex will do next or when you receive correspondence from them. People going through a high-conflict divorce tend to feel increased levels of anger, stress, anxiety, physical and/or emotional exhaustion. High-conflict divorces are often lengthy, highly litigious, and acrimonious. Sometimes people feel a sense of hopelessness that things will always be this way which may lead them to feel incredibly depressed and even have thoughts of suicide at times.

Stress and anxiety during a high-conflict divorce can cause a number of emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms. You might have trouble eating or sleeping, mood swings, difficulty focusing, irritability, angry outbursts, social isolation, somatic issues, anxiety and panic attacks.

To everything I have ever lost: Thank you for setting me free.”


Goals of Divorce Therapy

Therapy is tailored to meet each client’s needs. You and your therapist will explore your feelings about your divorce and decide on goals of treatment. Here are some of the most common goals we address:

  • Processing emotions: Anxiety, grief, anger, shame, and disbelief are all normal emotions to experience during divorce. Therapy provides a safe, judgment-free environment for you to acknowledge, process, and move through these feelings.
  • Gaining perspective: We find it is helpful to look back on your marriage to understand the patterns that were dysfunctional. Understanding the relationship dynamics can give you clarity as you try to heal, and it can help you avoid those issues in future partnerships.
  • Developing coping skills: In therapy, you can explore healthy coping skills (rather than numbing coping) that empower you to carry on with your daily life while holding space for your emotions throughout your divorce journey.
  • Improving Communication: You may have ongoing communication with your ex, especially if you have children. Your therapist can help you communicate in a way that would deescalate conflict and support your children’s best interests.  
  • Improving Legal Negotiations: Individual therapy is a place separate from the legal aspects of your divorce where you can process the emotional issues of divorce. You are likely to make better judgements and decisions when you’re clear about how you feel and what is best for you (and your family) emotionally.
  • Helping you and/or your children cope with the changing family. Family therapy provides a safe place for you and your children to process the break-up of their family as they have known it. It will also provide you with age-appropriate ways to relate to your children’s grief.
  • Managing your co-parenting or parallel parenting relationship: Learn skills to manage your parenting relationship with your ex even if they are a high-conflict individual.
  • Looking to the future: Work through the unresolved feelings and experiences of this marriage to come out a healthy, stable version of yourself.

Your therapist is here to offer support and share effective strategies for managing your divorce, whether it is an amicable or high-conflict divorce. Divorce is one of the most stressful life events, but you don’t have to go through it alone.

We understand how important it is to have support during a divorce and are here to help. Please click here to schedule an appointment or consultation call.

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