The more I coach, the more I see patterns. This appeals to the nerdy scientist in me.
Here is my latest discovery: In a high-conflict divorce, your emotions move from fear…to anger…to amusement.
As you emotionally mature through these phases, your success on the battlefield will grow stronger. This will propel you to move from high-conflict engagement with your ex to becoming peacefully disentangled.
Stage 1: Fear
At the beginning of your high-conflict divorce, you will feel fear. The fear will be amplified by the veracity of your opponent. Fear of poverty, litigation, and your children’s suffering. The experience of my child was my greatest fear and exactly what kept me in an intolerable marriage 10 years longer than I would have otherwise chosen.
Upon separation, I prayed that my ex would be reasonable and child-centred. I gingerly asked him to vacate the home when he chose to continue his extramarital relationship. For child access, I tiptoed and accommodated him in an attempt to keep him happy. I held off my lawyer and tried to broker a deal myself.
The temperamental husband became the vicious ex-husband and proceeded to engage in warfare I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest nightmares.
On a weekend in the fall of 2014, his behaviour escalated to the point of danger. That was the weekend I changed the locks and holed up with my son. And, I finally gave my lawyer the green light to proceed.
I stayed up all night worrying. I scrolled the internet to try to find solutions to manage the hostile ex. That is when I first came upon the words Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I read the DSM description of NPD and I felt like I was reading his biography. This only served to intensify my fear.
Moving out of fear
Here is the problem with your feeling of fear: your kids feel it too.
Even if you think you are hiding it and speaking carefully scripted words, your words and behaviour will be covered in the residue of what you are thinking. And the thought driving my fear was – I am under attack and I am not sure how to survive this.
I could see that my son was afraid. That gave me every reason I needed to figure out how to stop being afraid. I was the barometer of the house and I needed to fix this.
Moving out of fear is done by learning skills. The skills of creating a legal strategy, creating a fierce team, the skill of documentation and strategic communication. These are the skills we work on in my Lifeline Sorority.
Moving out of fear doesn’t just take courage. It takes grey matter. The smarter and more stealth you are, the less you have to fear.
Stage 2: Anger
Anger is perhaps a more functional emotion than fear, as it will drive you to take action, but not always the best possible action. Action from a place of anger is often impetuous and unstrategic. Things like text messages where you seem like the crazy one. This can cost you big time.
The other problem with anger is it feels toxic. It is like marinating in a pickle-jar of rage and victimization. Yuck. Hard to live your best life from this pickle jar. Good luck dating. This toxic energy is repellent.
The last problem with anger is that your kids will feel this vibration. My clients always tell me they hide it from their children – but even the best actors emanate their feelings through their pores. Disdain will cover your words like icing on a donut.
Your anger will contribute to your children’s experience of the divorce. For some children, it may harm their relationship with their other parent. If your children sense that you are upset with your ex, they will hide things from you to protect you.
But really, we want to protect them. For that reason, and many others, the anger needs to go!
This is where you can use many resources to scrub the anger away – life coaching, therapy, meditation, yoga, narcissistic abuse recovery programs. Just do the work so you can show up as a healthy parent.
Anger will dissipate in layers. Again – this is skill-based. First, we must acquire the skill of not being surprised by our ex’s behaviour. Words to live by: What else would you expect? Try that on for a few weeks and watch your anger dissolve to mere annoyance. I have a staged process to reduce the trigger meter.
Stage 3: Amusement and beyond
When you start feeling amused by your ex’s shenanigans, you have just reached a new level of divorce authority. Welcome to the big leagues! This is the place we land in the Sorority: Control the controllables, exert your influence, and learn to be amused by the rest.
We even have a channel on Slack for the Lifeline Sorority called “shit my ex did”.
Are there stages beyond being amused?
The emotional gold standard of high-conflict divorce mastery is indifference. Kind of like feeling bored by the toddler having a tantrum on the floor.
I have recently hit platinum status. Believe it or not, I have discovered an even better emotion than indifference when it comes to my ex. It is irrelevance. I have no idea what my ex is up to, and months go by without even a thought about him.
This is emotional freedom. Come and join me!