No doubt if you are reading this, you’ve been feeling like you have been existing in the Twilight Zone.

You left your partner after much soul-searching and doubt. You probably still doubt you’ve done the right thing. You lie awake at night thinking:

‘Maybe I should have tried that one more marriage-help technique or bought one more ‘Understanding your Partner’s Needs/Point of View/Irrational Demands with Good Humour‘ self-Help book by Dr. Reasonable-slightly-condescending Mental Health Professional. Admittedly, you might have a hundred books already, but maybe, just maybe you missed that one sacred text that had the key to it all. But because you never found it, you finally pulled the plug on the marriage.

Maybe you just couldn’t take it anymore: the mood swings, the treading on egg shells, the coldness, the loneliness, the put downs, the way they talked to the kids, the realisation this was going to be it till you died. Who knows? Maybe it was a mix of all of them. Whatever your reasons, you hit your wall and declared ‘enough’.

And boy were you elated. You thought, ‘ok time to get this mess sorted up. Get it done. Split amicably and move on with our lives.’ For sure, if you had kids, you just assumed that all negotiations would be based around their best interests and welfare.

But what was this? Instead you found yourself in some new prolonged hell-a-go-round. You may be a couple of months separated or years apart, but you are reading this because you have realised that your divorce is not the same as your sister’s or your mate’s or the guy down the street. No, your divorce seems to operate in a parallel universe to the rest of society. You searched Google and stumbled on the term High-Conflict Divorce and now you’ve found your way here.

What is a High-Conflict Divorce?

Firstly, I’m going to take a leap in the dark and say chances are if you are reading this, then you aren’t the problem here. You aren’t the source of the conflict.

No doubt you’ve been internet searching as if your life depended on it trying to find a way to learn the skills of negotiation and how to reach compromise and all such other reasonable activities undertaken by someone who just wants to see an end to this conflict. But well, here you are, fighting over an inch of ground.

If you feel like the back and forward to lawyers makes 0 financial sense, the delays in settlement is damaging the children, and there appears to be a real underlying competitive ‘I’m out to destroy you‘ vibe; then chances are you are in a high-conflict divorce.

If you feel like you are losing your mind because nothing your ex-partner does makes sense, for sure you are in a high-conflict divorce.

Where to start?

Let’s go back a step and start with your relationship: the one you left, the one that left you exhausted, the one that seemed to be so much work for so little reward. Yes, that one.

Well the first thing you have to realise is the person you are divorcing is the same person you were married to. They are just as difficult, draining and frankly destruuctive as they were when you were together. Separation does not come with a built in personality transplant.

If they didn’t care about the kid’s education, welfare or happiness before, sorry they ain’t going to suddenly care now. If they complained over every penny you spent, they are not giving up the money any time soon. If they put you down, portrayed you as the worst person in the universe, what do you think they are going to do now?

Yep, truth is you are divorcing this person because they were a nightmare to live with and you better get your head around that fact quickly, as they are going to be a hell of a lot worse now the brakes of ‘marriage’ are off and they don’t have those conventions to pretend to follow.

I hope you have got that because…

right now you have to deal with where you actually are. See who is front of you. This is not your partner of X years, who you loved and cherished and they reciprocated (Did they? Really?) this is someone who is out to win. And they are going to use every possible tactic.

– take the money from the bank accounts – for sure

– claim you are using the children against them – definitely

– enlist your family and friends against you – better believe it

– presenting themself as the victim – in a heartbeat

Whilst you are spinning your heels thinking about how best to make an amicable split, they can be robbing you blind. Whilst you are worrying that the kids may be damaged, they are planning how to destroy you slowly.

The quicker you get this into your head, the better you can protect your interests. You need to get ready to bunker down and fight. You are not dealing with a reasonable person.

The truth about your lawyer

Your lawyer is not the Devil Incarnate come to screw you of cash. S/he is not your counsellor, nor are they there to parent you. This is not their remit. Their job is to advise you legally. And quite frankly, the Law is not really set up to combat people like your ex.

If you are getting harassed, quickly make sure correspondence goes through the lawyers. Then you can be re-assured that it will be their lawyer being bombarded 24/7 by their irrational demands. Let that give you some small comfort during your 3am panic attack, at least you aren’t having to deal with your exes particular brand of crazy.

In respect to your lawyer, you need to accept first and foremost that your lawyer is not going to magically ask or answer those questions you long to have the information for. You need to ask them directly. You are going to have to get really good at facing your embarrassment and asking those ‘I feel like a total idiot asking this question‘ questions because I can assure you along this journey you will have a lot of them.

– how long is this going to take?

– how do I protect my children?

– how much is this going to cost me?

– what are all the steps in this process?

You have to ask these questions, as you need to know so you can plan how to survive financially through this prolonged battle. Take control and learn to face the anxiety of the truth of your situation as quickly as possible.

The truth about your emotions

I’ve read the professional manuals about dealing with high-conflict divorce; divorcing a narcissist, etc and I’ll be honest, it’s great advice but quite frankly, it’s sanitised crap.

You are going to be confused, lost, bewildered, frightened, angry, incandescent with rage, depressed, anxious and exhausted. And that’s in one day.

You are going to be doubted by loved ones, who suggest you are exaggerating. You are going to be regularly met with suspicion by educational providers, health professionals and the Courts. Why? For the same reason the advice is so bland, they haven’t dealt with someone like your ex.

They may have seen it from a distance, observed the pattern, but they have not lived it, so they can come across as patronising and dismissive. It’s not intentional and for sure some professionals are much better than others but be ready for it. You are going to find doubt and attack coming from directions you never thought possible.

So, I’m going to tell you the anti-professional road-tested survival advice because this is reality you are in not some psychologist’s bullet-point manual.

-Those days when you hesitate to vent on Facebook because you want the world to know what is happening, you know what? Do it. You can delete it later. Sure, if you can keep it in great, but if not have a rant.

– Do block your ex on Social Media. Do cut out their social circle. Look, I know you want to know what the b*tard/b*tch is up to with the money that could buy the kid’s shoes, but seriously that is just you playing their game and prolongs your pain. Step out of their hurricane. You need to focus your attention and energy elsewhere.

– When people you thought would support you, don’t, tell them to not-so-politely get out of your life. Be ruthless, cut them. Your sanity and recovery can depend on it.

– Find friends who will listen. If you can get a rota going because you are going to be hellishly boring for a good few years. It’s all you are going to want to talk about because you are trying to make sense of the insensible. And you will exhaust people. You will lose people along the way. Accept that now.

– Get a doctor to record your mental and physical state because you are going to need someone keeping an eye on you.

– Find quality mental health professional support. You want to find experienced services that can get you through this; that don’t pull any punches about what you are up against; don’t act namby-pamby about how rational you should be, you are going to feel at times like you are hanging over an abyss, rationality does not come into it; and that has a firm eye on directing you towards a future.

– If you have kids, get a Psychologist’s report as soon as is humanly possible to protect them. The sooner you get something official supporting your family experiences the better. The legal system likes facts, not hearsay.

– Exercise/deep breathing/karmic rechannelliing/Splunking. Whatever gives you space to mentally and emotionally detach, do it. You are going to need to have time that you can simply think about something else. You are in for the long haul and you need to start to get in touch with who you are going to be post-divorce.

The future?

I know that you are probably thinking of the future in a couple of basic ways:

One, ‘what future? This is never going to end’.

Or two ‘when I get my settlement/we reach agreement, then I am going to …..’

My advice? Stop both now. You need to get it into your head you are in your future right now. Every decision you make, every action you take is already a step away from your relationship. You are moving towards independence and the life you want to design.

I am not saying give up the fight. Hell no. Get what you are entitled to. I am saying don’t wait for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Why? Because it you are planning on starting your life some day when you have your money or when your ex has some sort of cerebral meltdown to be born again as a functional member of society, then you are prolonging your agony. This whole process takes a lot longer than you think, a hell of a lot longer.

Accept right now, in this moment, you are the Captain of your Boat and that means above all you need to take responsibility for where you are sailing. Do not wait for the Coast Guard to arrive to save you, the chances are they won’t turn up or at best they will be very delayed. You need to get your employment, finances and accomodation in order, as a priority, or you are going to sink, all hands lost. Do not wait for events outwith your control to happen, plan and act independently of the legal system. Life is happening to you right now.

Final words

High-conflict divorce is incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t been through one. Everyone assumes the kids come first and that only Machiavellian financial dishonesty and fighting just for the hell of it, only happens in novels and politics. And that, that being so, well, you must be exaggerating.

Let me tell you right now, you are not exaggerating, and you are not losing your mind. You are seeing clearly, very clearly.

To get out of this mess you need people around you, lawyers, doctors, psychologists, family, friends who know you and do not doubt or question your perceptions. Make no mistake you are in a battle and it will be exhausting, but you cannot face it alone. Find those who have been there before, to help you through, the future you fought for by leaving the marriage and your ability to survive a a high-conflict divorce primarily depends on you maintaining your energy to fight, and to stay afloat for that, above all, you need a crew.