Aug 02

Overcome Emotional Turmoil: 10 Essential Tips for Surviving a High-Conflict Divorce

Written by: Megan Dell


Going through a divorce and dealing with issues such as division of assets, child custody, alimony, and child support is stressful even when you are on good terms with your soon-to-be ex. But when one spouse has a high-conflict personality, the divorce process can be particularly grueling.

Should you be dealing with a high-conflict spouse, it is, therefore, important to do what you can to limit your exposure to them and not ratchet up the stress. 

Couple going through divorce, tensions are high during a high-conflict divorce.

What Circumstances Can Cause a High-Conflict Divorce?

Though many marriages end in divorce, only a small percentage are high-conflict divorces. A person with mental illness, including personality disorders or substance abuse issues, is more likely to experience intense emotions (including anger). 

When one party has engaged in physical abuse against the other person or spouse, it is likely to be a high-conflict divorce. Such a person will treat the other spouse as “lesser,” which will make negotiations more complex and lengthy.

Personality disorders seen in high-conflict divorces include borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and dependent personality disorder. However, divorce attorneys will tell you: spouses often misapply these labels to each other, and clients should explain their spouse’s behavior, rather than trying to diagnose them.

Some people have high-conflict personalities or personality traits — or, in other words, they’re just jerks! — that makes maintaining relationships, managing emotional outbursts, and engaging in appropriate behavior difficult. Often, these people will be high-conflict spouses during a divorce.

Tips for Managing High-Conflict Divorces

If you are going through a high-conflict divorce in Charleston, South Carolina, or have a high-conflict spouse you anticipate will not only be uncooperative but will do everything in their power to make your life as miserable as possible, you are not powerless. There are ways that you can begin to manage your situation better, despite feeling overwhelmed and alone. 

A couple in a verbal argument

Here are 10 tips for navigating a high-conflict divorce to protect your financial interests, children, and yourself.    

1. Understand you cannot control your ex, only yourself

As you embark on divorce, it is important to get into the right frame of mind, understanding that you will not be able to control everything that goes on during your divorce case. Unfortunately, if you are divorcing a person with a high-conflict personality, you will feel like you have 100% of responsibility for working through differences while your spouse actively undermines your efforts.

Once you adopt a mindset that you only have control over yourself ‘your mind, emotions, and actions’ you will put yourself in a position to focus on what it is that you can control during your divorce. Your control begins with the boundaries you set. 

2. Set boundaries with high-conflict personalities

In a high-conflict personality, people tend to allow behavior from their spouse they would not tolerate in other relationships.

Once you are going through a divorce from a high-conflict personality spouse, it is critical to set boundaries. What this step does is create an expectation. Your ex will have notice of what you expect from them and, with that, that there could potentially be consequences if they fail to respect the boundaries you set. 

Remember that boundaries work both ways, so even your high-conflict spouse will have their own. This means if your ex violates your boundaries, it will not be an excuse to violate theirs. Taking the high road can often equate to keeping the peace or as much peace as possible at the moment.   

Women taking of her wedding ring, setting boundaries in a high conflict divorce

3. Limit how much contact you have with your ex

As much as possible, limit your contact with your high-conflict spouse. If you are co-parenting, you will still need to communicate. The good news is technology can help co-parents limit their communication while keeping a record of their interactions. 

Divorce apps have come a long way. There are numerous options to help you and your ex manage logistics, such as child visitation and financial matters while providing a platform where you can communicate without seeing or speaking with one another directly. Simply reducing unnecessary contact with your spouse is likely to make the divorce easier to deal with.     

4. Communicate as much as possible via writing and keep a written record

One of the perks of technology is that it can be the keeper of records, which is a positive in any high-conflict divorce. But if you are not using a divorce app, a pen and paper will work great, too. 

Write down dates, times, and notes about a specific interaction. The more organized you are during your high-conflict divorce, the easier it will be for you if you have to call on this information later. 

5. Don’t react if your ex tries to bait you

You will likely be unable to avoid your ex altogether during the divorce process. A high-conflict spouse will do their best to take advantage of those moments by baiting and trying to get a rise out of you. 

Should this happen, your best bet is to remain calm and not react. An experienced family law attorney in South Carolina can help you navigate these interactions, speaking on your behalf. 

Couple in mediation during divorce proceedings

6. Turn to law enforcement if necessary

Unfortunately, especially with high-conflict personality types, you can end up in dangerous situations due to your ex’s toxic behavior. Domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, and other forms of abuse are not uncommon in a high-conflict divorce. 

Therefore, you should turn to law enforcement and seek professional guidance, if necessary. Depending on the criminal behavior, you might need to seek an order of protection or another form of temporary relief. In those situations, you should only meet your spouse in a public place and pursue a court order with very specific terms.

7. Keep your children out of disputes during a high-conflict divorce

Your high-conflict spouse might want to use the children as pawns. Though it might be difficult, do whatever you can to keep the kids from being placed in the middle of conflicts between you. Your children are already adjusting to having two households, and they do not need to be involved in conflicts between their parents.

Additionally, the standard in South Carolina child custody cases is what is in the child’s best interests. Therefore, you don’t want to do anything that will not align with this standard, and your parenting plan can be affected by your ability to keep your children out of the fray.

Even though it might pain you, do what you can to not tarnish your ex’s relationship with the kids. Or yours. 

African American Child with parents arguing during a high conflict divorce

8. Find the right support network

Having a group of people supporting you during a high-conflict divorce can be a lifesaver. Parents, siblings, friends, clergy members, and people in the divorce community can all be that empathetic ear or sounding board you need to help you through a difficult time. There are a few caveats, though. 

Every divorce is unique. As a result, it can become confusing when seeking advice from others, especially those who have been divorced or are currently going through divorce. Consequently, you might receive unreliable, inaccurate, or biased advice. 

Though people generally mean well, the best place to get legal assistance is from experienced attorneys

9. Channel your energy into positive activities

Tensions with a high-conflict personality can negatively affect your health and well-being. This is why taking time out for yourself is important, particularly during a high-conflict divorce, when tensions are usually at their worst.

If you are a parent, allocate the time when your child is with their other parent to positive activities that keep you alert and strong. Get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and engage in hobbies and pastimes that you find enjoyable and will offer you some type of mental relief from the stress you are under.    

Couple not communicating, getting ready to divorce

10. Enlist the help of a therapist for added support 

Enlisting the help of a therapist or other mental health professional can turn a seemingly unbearable situation into a manageable one. It should preferably be an individual experienced in treating individuals going through a high-conflict divorce. Having professional help and someone to talk to about challenges can make your circumstances seem less overwhelming.

Various types of mental health professionals can help, from licensed clinical social workers to psychologists and psychiatrists. Experienced family law attorneys can usually provide recommendations to individuals in their professional network.   

a child covers her ears as her paretns argue

Find a South Carolina high-conflict divorce attorney near me.

Few life passages are more stressful than engaging in a divorce with a high-conflict spouse. With so many moving parts and the potential for unexpected situations, having an experienced family law attorney who understands how to manage a high-conflict divorce is critical.

At Dell Family Law, our skilled team of South Carolina family law attorneys understands how trying a high-conflict divorce can be and the toll it can take on you and your children if you have them. We will work closely with you to come up with solutions so that you can move forward with your life with dignity and ease and realize the post-divorce life you want and deserve. Call our Charleston office today.