Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When Divorce or Separation Turns Ugly

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When Divorce or Separation Gets Ugly

Ending a long term relationship is always hard but sometimes it gets ugly – really ugly – despite the most courageous efforts for it to be otherwise.

It doesn’t always take two to tango – unless you count one to set the pace and one to get dragged along in a savage tailwind. Of course, when there are two people acting to maim, the ugliness will be all the uglier, but it only takes one person being nasty, unreasonable and manipulative to turn a relationship malignant.

Ending a bad relationship doesn’t make the toxicity immediately wash away. Sometimes it will get worse before it gets better but always, if the relationship was a bad one, it will be worth it. Walking away takes self-respect, self-love and courage and is the only way to position yourself (and your kids if you have them) for the life you deserve.

You can’t change other people, but you would know that by now – it’s probably this wisdom that walked you out the door. If your divorce has turned into a slugfight, there are ways to look after yourself (and your kids) until you reach solid ground – which you will. 

  1. Be honest. And don’t let them change you.

    This is important. It’s also really hard. Ask yourself, with an open heart, if you’re doing everything you can to be reasonable. None of us are perfect and a divorce can make the best of us act … how to put it without losing you … in ways that we might not be proud of.

    If I’m being honest (and this is the time for it) I’m not divorced but I can tell you that I’ve had fights with my husband where I’ve been a bit of an arse for a day or so following – not because he’s deserved it, but because I’ve felt so jaded. It may have happened more than once. But definitely probably less than 10 50. I’m sure it will happen again. High emotion, shame and heartache can steal you – I know – but don’t hand over your dignity by acting in ways that are beneath you. Sometimes it’s the only thing they can’t touch. Be honest, brave and always self-respectful. If you’re acting like someone you wouldn’t want to go camping with, stop.

  2. A divorce is many things. Failure is not one of them. 

    The end of a relationship doesn’t mean your decision to be with your ex-partner in the first place was flawed. The success of a relationship isn’t determined by how long it lasts. The investment of love and energy in a relationship will always be worth it, but it won’t necessarily guarantee forever. The past is the past and sometimes love, time, commitment and desire don’t stretch as far ahead in years as we’d like them to – and that’s okay. 

    People change. Circumstances change. Relationships change. In a Harvard study, psychology researcher Daniel Gilbert and colleagues found that people underestimate how much they will change in the future. We change a lot. Sometimes it’s in the same direction as the person we love and sometimes we veer sharply in a different one. Sometimes we wake up next to each other and realise we couldn’t be further apart. It happens. It’s part of being human.  

  3. You don’t have to do it all. You just have to do enough.

    Life changes sharply when a relationship breaks down. You don’t have to do everything the way you used to. You don’t have to do everything, fullstop. You just have to do enough. Figure out what that looks like and go with it. You deserve the freedom that comes from that.

  4. See the response of your ex-partner for what it is.

    When a marriage or relationship breaks down it will likely bring shame, and breathe life into every fear of not being good enough, normal enough, successful enough and perhaps most heartbreakingly, loveable enough. People have all sorts of responses to shame, some of which are completely unfathomable to those of us looking in from the outside. When shame is involved, people will do anything to protect themselves. Here are a few. You might also recognise some in yourself from time to time.The more awareness you have around what you’re doing, the more capacity you’ll have to stop it:

    ♦    They might be cruel. 

    If you were the one to leave, there’s probably been a shift in power from your ex-partner to you. It’s likely he or she will be feeling disempowered, ineffective and small. Cruelty is an attempt to reverse this by shrinking you. You can’t stop them trying. But you can stop it working.

    ♦    They might criticise your choices and accuse you of being out of control.

    You’re not out of control – just out of their control. Any choice you make in independence will send a message like a slap that yor’re no longer under their influence. As with anything, when what people have always done (control, disrespect, manipulate) stops working, they will do it even more before they stop. It’s human nature. Hold tight and keep going.

    ♦    They might manipulate.

    Manipulation is a way for people to get what they want without being rejected, by taking away the option to say, ‘no’. For people who manipulate, ‘no’ doesn’t feel like a rejection of a request, it feels like a rejection of them. As a result, they’ll do whatever is necessary to get their needs met without putting themselves in the position of being rejected. You might not be together any more, but you’ll still have things that they want – the kids, attention, co-operation, your happiness, your power. Sadly for some people your disrespect will be easier to handle than your ‘no’.

    ♦    They might get angry.

    Anger always exists to protect more vulnerable feelings such grief, fear or inadequacy from pushing to the surface. When a relationship ends, there will be feelings of deep loss, sadness and disconnection that can feel frighteningly bottomless. It’s much easier to attach these intense feelings to a target (you) than to acknowledge them..

    ♦    They might try to control you.

    All control is an attempt to relieve anxiety – around uncertainty, around not getting what they want, about things not going to (their) plan, about losing you. It’s not the best way to go about it and there are plenty of people who deal with their anxiety without needing to control people, but some people don’t know how to do it any other way.

  5. Just because it feels bad to stay, doesn’t mean it will feel good to leave.

    Even if it’s a change that’s going to be good for you, there will still be huge life adjustments that need to be made. Don’t take bad feelings as a stop sign. You’re acting with courage and positioning yourself for what you deserve – a life filled with love, happiness and security. Keep going. Take the discomfort as evidence of the gap between the life you’ve been living and the life you’re about to. That’s a good thing. You deserve more than you’ve had.

  6. Kids: The opportunity to teach them.

    If you have kids, know that you’re teaching important lessons, no matter what. Even if your ex partner is being a toxic, nasty, manipulative [insert your own word here], the way you deal with that will model important life lessons for your kids. If everything is always honey and roses, kids won’t have as many opportunities to learn about the challenges that come with living life. Here are some of the lessons you’ll be teaching:

    They’ll see: A relationship gone bad.
    Teach them: ‘The good ones are worth the greatest risk. The bad ones always have something to teach. It’s always okay to walk away.’

    They’ll see: Their other parent is good to them and awful to you. 
    Teach them: ‘You won’t get on with everyone – and that’s okay. You don’t have. It doesn’t mean the other person is bad, sometimes they can be wonderful. It just means the combination of the two of you doesn’t work.’

    They’ll see:  The people they love and depend on get sad. 
    Teach them: ‘Even grown-ups get sad sometimes but that doesn’t stop them from being happy most of the time. I’ll be okay and so will you. People feel better after crying because it’s the body’s way of feeling better.’ (According to biochemist William Frey, sad tears contain stress hormones and toxins that accumulate in the body during stress. Crying is the body’s way of cleansing itself.)

    They’ll see: People aren’t always nice to each other and sometimes, they’ll try to turn you against people you care about.

    Teach them: ‘When people say mean things it’s always because they’re trying to make someone feel as bad as they do. Just because someone says things, doesn’t mean those things true. People have all sorts of reasons for saying mean things and sometimes the truth isn’t one of them.

    They’ll see: Sometimes life gets hard.
    Teach them: ‘The greatest lessons come from the hardest things. Whenever you go through anything difficult you’ll always – always – come through wiser, stronger and braver than you were before. Wherever there’s a dip a rise will always follow.’

  7.  Have self compassion.

    It doesn’t work when other people are cruel to you (because you have too much self-respect for that, right) and it doesn’t work when you’re mean to yourself. Self-critism, self-blame and your inner self critic will fall you if you let it. There is a part in all of us that’s vulnerable, receptive and open to love, approval and being noticed. Speak to yourself as though that part is always listening, because it is. Make sure the things you say to yourself are kind, loving and compassionate. If it’s not your way to be kind to yourself, try it – and watch things change for you. 

  8. Accept that it’s going to get unacceptable.

    Unhappiness comes from the divide between what we expect and what we have. Let go of thinking that this whole situation might feel okay soon. You’ll find a freedom in that. If the situation is bad enough, it might not feel okay until the kids are grown and left home and there’s no need for you to talk to each other any more.

    If your ex is truly awful, their attempt to win at any cost may be relentless. They’ll decide on the issue and the fight will be on – money, custody, how awful you are, whose turn it is to have the kids for Christmas, whether you should be breathing in first or out first.

    More than likely, the topic will be irrelevant. The issue will be one of control, probably born from losing you. Keep your perspective and remember what’s important. Being good for your kids will always be more important than winning the fight. Let them see you modeling resilience, strength, compassion and emotional muscle. You’ve got it in you. It might take all you’ve got, but it‘s in you. There will be things said and things done that you just can’t control. Fight the important ones, let the others go. Be who you are and let the truth fight it out for you.

We all have within us the courage, strength and wisdom to deal with the challenges that life sends our way. Trust this and reach for it. It’s there. Nothing we go through is ever wasted and it’s important to be open to the learnings. Rather than, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ try, ‘What can I learn from this?’ 

You might lay awake at night, cry in the shower, scream in the car and fall apart in front of your closest friends. You might wonder how it got to this and when it will end. Just hold steady and keep moving moving forward. When you put yourself on the right path, good things will always come.

You might also like TOXIC PEOPLE: 12 THINGS THEY DO AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM.

See here to understand why a breakup feels like it does: YOUR BODY DURING A BREAKUP: THE SCIENCE OF A BROKEN HEART

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78 Comments

shay

I was with my ex for 2 years and he cheated on me so many times so we split up, before he left me, we were planing to get married in the future, I loved him so much but I became tired of him lying to me every time he opens his mouth, I went into search for help in the internet, I tried many different spells from almost every place locally as well as online and none of them worked, I almost gave up hope because I thought i will never see my lover again forever, one day i saw some testimony about this powerful spell caster Dr.Mack, i emailed him and i asked him to help me bring back my lover and he did A Lover Spell for me And after some days, my lover returned back to me I’d like to say that i got a positive result from ( dr.mac@yahoo. com ) ever since i used his love spell, my lover have learned to appreciate me more and more day by day, and he doesn’t take me for granted

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Al T.

Hello… My wife left our marriage after 36 years by writing a secret email to our three grown children announcing her intentions, then taking thousands of dollars from our credit lines and began this bizarre behavior towards me, as if I had been the one to end things.

I still love my wife, or the person she used to be, but realize I was blinded by my stubborn believe in commitment, and the idea that our issues could be resolved, if I just persevere.
Your comments and perspective are comforting, and are helping me to re-gain perspective. Unfortunately after 6 months, my wife, who ironically was the one who initiated our separation , is now taking pleasure in dragging it out, and has become, threatening, and vindictive towards me.

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Neil

Karen
I catch my wife of 24 years cheating, locally and multiple online affairs. She files almost immediately and charges irreconcilable differences for the last 4.5 years. Problem was she forgot to tell me. The last year was certainly not good due to her increasing irrational behavior. I was always the peacemaker, calm one. She offered no appologies and cut off communications. I’ve accepted the divorce however now, some 8 months later, the anger and rage is stronger than ever. Primarily due to me being treated as an economic sponge; I’ll have to pay her a ridiculous amount of alimony even though she is willfully underemployed/lazy. I’m infuriated all the time knowing all she and her shark lawyer want to do is mentally/economically rape me. And the laws in NJ favor her. I’ve been to a therapist for 4 months but not much help. I’m at my wits end and cannot accept the inevitable, being betrayed, defrauded and used for the rest of my life. I argue with the Judge morning, noon and night in my mind and just want to hurt her in any way possible. Any insight would be helpful. Thank You

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Neil I can hear how upsetting this is for you. The worry is that the longer the divorce hearing lasts, the more of an emotional and financial toll it will take on you. The sooner you can bring the divorce to a close and go your separate ways, the better. I hope you are able to find some peace with this soon. Keep working with a therapist to find ways to move through what sound like very valid feelings of hurt and betrayal. Sometimes things are so unfair, and we are hurt through no fault of our own. I wish it wasn’t this way, but this is how things are sometimes. Know that there will be an end to this. I know at the moment, it doesn’t feel like it, but keep pushing forward. There will be a time you will feel peace again.

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J.lo

I needed this today. 5 weeks ago i left my EA relationship (21 years together, last 3 hell). We have two kids, aged 9 and 5. He is switching from being nice and caring and saying he knows he needs to change, to being manipulative and stone walling me. Whenever I see him to drop the kids off he starts pushing me for answers about getting back together. i am 99% sure i won’t go back, but I certainly won’t make that decision on his erratic behaviour in the last 5 weeks. Every time he gets angry with me, I remember why I left.
I am quite angry with him, but keep that to myself, for systematically destroying my inner self, while trying to make himself feel better, which he says he only realised when I left, despite telling him for ages. Its soul destroying, I am exhausted. He is doing what he has always done and expecting me to make it right and because I can’t is trying to hurt and manipulate me into feeling guilty enough to return.

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Ty

I have read this over and over. We separated almost a year ago. We tried making it work but it was so up and down. The last contact we had ended physical. Not real bad but bad enough. And now it’s really over. No going back from this. I’m at a loss because I love her and still wanna be with her. I sit at home and dread as she’s out as we speak with friends enjoying herself. It’s like she could give two shits we aren’t together. Like she forgot all about me. Is this normal. Am I normal. It’s been 3years of marriage. It’s not like dating. I can’t just get over the break up. I wanna be able to make it work. She doesn’t. I get the bad thoughts now and then. I just wanna be back together. Yet I know it won’t work after all this. Will
It get better everybody ?

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Kristin

Thank you. I needed these words exactly at this moment. I had been a bit naïve about the possibility of a friendly separation, but after a horrific weekend, I realize those expectations are not very realistic. Your article helped jolt me back to reality in a kind and humane way.

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Jimbob

My wife walked out after a decade with our two month old son then filed for divorce 4 months later. I still don’t recognise the reasons, but they all paint a picture of me being a terrible and crap husband.

Quite frankly, since the divorce petition, I’ve realised more and more that she isn’t right for me any more. I don’t want to be with someone that thinks everything I do is always crap. Someone that never says anything nice.

There is a song called “mean” by Taylor Swift. Well, I’m the one living in a big city now and she’s the one living in a village, banned from driving, living nowhere. And all she is, is mean.

And since then I met someone else, who says nice things, who I trust, I can say anything together.

We’re still not divorced, it’s like she’s playing games, but I don’t care any more. She can be mean on her own or if there is anyone stupid enough to fall in love with her then I hope they like mean. When she needs my help I wonder if she will remember being mean. And wonder why she had to be so mean.

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Abe

Great article and well organized and clear and most importantly honest. Thank you for this great work. It speaks the truth.

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Johannah

Hi I am about to divorce my husband after our marriage broke down. But he is making things. Very difficult from he won’t sell family home, and his only offing me £20,000 settlement I need more then to live on
He is trying to scare me and forcing me to stay in a unhappy marriage he messing my mind up and bulling me to staying with him I have tryed to go to the housing
But they said they can’t help
I need to get out of the fast. Please help I don’t want to stay with him if I don’t love anymore

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Eloise

I to am in the same situation with a husband who flipped between caring & a bully..love & control are not the same thing I have learnt..3 have 3 teenagers & he has turned them against me. Im from uk but live in his home town in Ireland I would love to move home but the kids will not. Going through separation with no family support is horrendous & I have very few close friends here.
He is refusing to move out & has rented out our second home..we had an income from his business which he is reducing & I am desperately trying to find work. He is manipulative & abusive to me in mediation & so far nothing has been resolved all he does is shout that I took money in cash back from groceries & that I have it hidden..he is now trying to stop me going home for one weekend a month but if I didn’t have that I don’t know what I’d do. He is trying to force me to stay for the sake of his equity in the houses. My kids turn on me to when he turns agressive so I’m not just facing one bully but 2 or 3.
He is evil then nice again & I am afraid of how he will react so I say nothing until we are in the mediators.

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Johannah

Hi Eloise
Even though you are facing three of them bullying you , build up all your strength and walk out I know you probably feel afraid but stand up to them all he won’t like it if you stand up to him
If you are unhappy in the marriage its time call time on the marriage and find some one who is going to love you and respects you for who you are.
Hun. We all have to fight back

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Veronica

After 16 years together, I left the marital home due to emotional, financial and physical violence. My husband has done everything possible to punish me and continues to do so. He has denied me access to the house, even to collect some furniture, blocked me from our joint savings, has taken the car from me, moved to part-time position for 6 months and redundant after. I am working extra to ear more money and he has successfully reduced the child support to 25 % of what it was before. He still wants to impose when and how he has the kids. I tried 2 mediation processes w/o any success. He used to travel so much for work, not anymore. He also said to me that he wants 50 % custody of the children to get a fair settlement. ….. Its has been close to a year since I left and I have now started a legal process through the family court of Australia but gosh …it will take another 2 years until we get a resolution. I try to stay focuses on the kids and do the right things for them and me… but I do not know if I will have the energy and strength to continue with this process…

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Tom

I am currently in the beginning stages of the divorce process. The root cause for the divorce was my own insecurity and inability to control my own emotions, especially by being angry. My wife, who I feel has always been my best friend, has cut off all contact with me. I have children from a previous marriage, and they are completely devastated by all of this. I am using this, myself, as a teaching and guiding moment, although I feel the moments will be multiplied for good reason. The kids love my wife deeply and I am trying everything to remind them that the love she has for them is still strong and that we both still love and care for each other. The hurt that I feel on a daily basis is so deep. I am living on my own but due to no communication from my wife, I am unable to talk with her and settle the property division with her in an amicable manner. Lawyers are ruthless and seem to turn those involved in a divorce into bitter enemies. I want happiness for my wife in whatever way that works for her. I pray that we can communicate with each other son and maintain our own self respect in doing so. Sorry to ramble on but this kind of grief and sense of loss just leaves one to wonder what comes next. I can only work on myself, teach and guide my kids and pray that my wife, and myself, rediscover that love and happiness that has always flowed freely within our hearts. Thank you for this article. I have printed it off and will read it over many more times.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Tom I’m sorry this is happening to you. I’m pleased this article has helped. It sounds as though you are dealing with this with enormous strength and grace. I wish you all the best.

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Jimbob

On lawyers, I’m gobsmacked how nasty they can be. They are quite happy to make up lies, make it far worse than it needs to be. How this is possibly in the best interests of the children I have no idea. Maybe divorces should be done by doctors and nurses, lollipop ladies and cub scout leaders, not lawyers.

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Johnathon

Thank you for this article. It really helped me, I think I just needed to hear someone put things into perspective for what they are. I was the one to leave and my ex-partner has been on tenterhooks every since. It has meant a lot of stress and worry on my part.

Thank you for your words and assistance.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome Johnathon. I’m pleased it helped. Separation can change people for a while, so it’s not surprising your ex-partner is on tenterhooks. I hope you are able to find comfort soon and find and a way forward that works for both of you. All the best.

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Magnolia

I’m in the middle of an ugly, nasty and vengeful separation. We moved from the UK to The US and I want to return to the U.K. With my kids but my spouse is adamant he is staying in the US as he is a US citizen. Separation and divorce is difficult, but going through one in a foreign land with no family or friends to support you is the worst nightmare imaginable. To make matters worse, my spouse is turning my kids against me and I’m having to suffer the injustice of my own children being mean (hitting and kicking and saying mean things) to me. Sometimes I think it would be best if I go home by myself and let my spouse win the custody battle because I don’t know if I have it in me to endure the road ahead. I’m also not working so have no idea how I will survive financially.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

I’m so sorry you are going through this. I can’t imagine how awful this must be for you. All I can say is that kids tend to see the truth for themselves eventually. Stay strong and stay honest to who you are. Love and strength to you.

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End of the Rope

I appreciate your article. My husband of 3 years left me for another woman in early June and is now fighting me for custody of our 1 year old daughter. I have tried to be reasonable for her sake, but I have had to hold firm on some things that have been affecting my daughter negatively (overnight visitation, for example). He is very much as described in bullet point 1 – one day he’s reasonable, the next day he’s impossible to deal with and I never know which one I’m going to talk to. I feel powerless to help my child and I’m struggling with feeling so alone in this. I’ve been through hell with this – I’ve had two hospitalizations in 30 days (one where I almost died), everything is a constant uphill battle. And yet I STILL try to work with him, because I believe he needs a relationship with his child.

I am so lost and afraid. I’m in therapy but it’s not helping. I keep taking blow after blow after blow and it never seems to end. I’m praying that it will someday.

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Susan

I found this article when I really needed it today . It’s very helpful and I thank you . I was married for 25 years . I was married to a narcissistic, selfish, verbally abusive man. I was raised by amazing parents and was taught that once married you work through your problems . I tried. I remember every hurtful moment and every special moment he took away from me. I have three kids with this man and I felt pretty much like a single parent throughout . My hurt built and built and built until I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt my kids would have a better relationship with him if I walked away and let him live the life he wanted. It’s been six years since we divorced . It’s been 30 years of emotional hell for me. My last child just went away to college and two weeks ago my ex husband remarried . It still kills me thinking now at the age of 50 our kids are raised and now you decide you want to be married …. I had the hard years and now she gets the easy years. I wish I could tell all of you it gets easier but for me I hurt everyday. I walked away from a bad situation but I sacrificed my life for this man . It’s a tough pill to swallow knowing he didn’t love me and it’s even harder having to share my children and future grandchildren with another woman. How do you cope and deal with it? I really don’t have the answers. I think it does help talking with others who are going through it though .

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kathleen

I totally understand what your saying. I was married for 37 years and he walked out on me and remarried within a year. He told people he was on another path but did not regret being married to me.. Yeah all that is a coverup for what really happened. People don’t like it when you tell them you dumped your wife and took 1/2 her mothers inheritance and lied to the court. He was verbally abusive and I tried to work out the marriage but he didn’t try so I resent the years I spent supporting him emotionally etc for this kind of end. I know in the end I will be better off but wish it had happened at a younger age. Hard at 68. Dating is not fun, etc etc. I cry often but move forward and try to figure out what I want in life. Hope to have a peaceful rest of my life. Woman need to support each other in this process.

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jude

My husband walked out on me and my son 2 months ago and stopped talking to me. I was completely blindsided with divorce papers and a RESTRAINING order against me for domestic violence ( he was very abusive, emotional, verbal ) and would not help us at all. he has gone a revenge campaign against me that has ruined me. He has pulled out all the stops, lies, manipulation, still not having to face me or talk to me. He has taken everything from me and is leaving me barely able to survive .. he was able to afford a good ruthless attorney that would help him do his dirty work.

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Diana

I had been with my husband for almost 10 years it was always kind of unstable we split up it seemed he was looking for any excuse to leave I just recently found out he was talking to someone after I asked him if that was the reason; it’s been almost 4 weeks it’s been very tough for me but for him it’s like nothing he’s going out every night and making new friends, when ever we cross words it always ends bad he’s telling me to move on and calls me all sorts and names. Why does he hurt me with ugly words? When all wanted was closure. But it seems as he enjoys putting me down.

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q

I am dealing with this type of person right now in my divorce. All I wanted was middle ground and she has made everything about her narrative “if you don’t want me as your wife you get none of your life”. Said thing is. She is a child psychologist and she is dragging out kids into the fight she has created. It’s awful and tearing me apart more and more every day.

I thought once we started the divorce there was no way she could hurt me anymore. I was wrong. She still does consistently.

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Hey Sigmund

So often, the ugly mess starts when the divorce does. Intense, raw feelings and the grief of letting go of a relationship can really bring out the worst in people. You will make a difference to your kids by being the strong, stable, loving presence. It’s even more important if your partner is wanting to hate you more than she wants to love the children. I understand how devastating this is to be a part of. The fact that she is working so hard to hurt you means you still matter too much to her. There will come a time when you won’t, and that’s when things will hopefully start to ease up. In the meantime, it’s a struggle. Be gentle with yourself and when you can, take time to look after you.

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David

Yes…guilt and manipulation. It’s extremely tough to strive for an equal fair split when both don’t agree what that is? In the end it truly is ones integrity and values that matter. I’m currently in the process of a divorce where midlife has kicked my spouse and find it heart wrenching that I have to hurt the person I love in order to receive a proper settlement. (I did not want the divorce)
The manipulation being placed on me becomes heavy. I constantly have to remind myself that I’m not a bad person…..that I need to properly take care of myself and that I am doing my best NOT to hurt my ex ……. I must and deserve to survive.
I’ve kept the two adult kids in the loop every step of the way and ask them constantly AM I BEING FAIR and I listen to what they say.
I have told my daughter….”If I don’t follow thru with things then I have set an extremely BAD example for you….in relationships there are consequences for bad choices. It’s not like in the movies where we just get up and go home”

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Jill

I left my narcissistic ex 2 years ago, but it has been very hard. Your article was helpful to remind me that doing the right thing isn’t always easy. I left when our child was 13 and I was afraid of physical violence. Now our child repeats some of the awful things his dad used to say to me. I know he is better of living with me and seeing his father occasionally and the courts agreed, but it is very difficult for me. His father continues to control me and my child tries to manipulate me as well. New year, new resolve to be assertive and stand up to them. I know I did the right thing, but some days are so hard. Thank you for an inspirational and helpful article.

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Hey Sigmund

Jill you have absolutely done the right thing. Adolescence is a turbulent time anyway, but hold steady, set your limits and know that your son will be so much better of for your strong, courageous decisions.

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Sarah

I get everything you are saying but my situation is the aggressor whom I left has taken control of my daughter- she has left me- I am now in charge of her college financials- he can’t- tho he visits every month-but can’t contribute to college. She will never even sleep here for one night

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Hey Sigmund

I know how impossible it feels to stand with grace and not retaliate when an ex is behaving badly. The thing to remember is that if your ex has so much influence with your daughter, everything you do or say in relation your him will likely be judged by your daughter. This is regardless of whether or not he deserves it. If you can, try to keep your eye on the big picture, which is preserving every chance of a relationship with your daughter. She will be watching and listening to everything you say and do. It is also very possible that everything you say and do will be twisted to seem worse than it is. The best thing you can do is to do whatever it takes not to give your ex any extra ammunition he can use against you. Again, I really understand how difficult this is. I wish you all the very best.

Reply
Laura

This was a bitter pill to swallow, realizing that I’m the one deploying those tactics to make him stay. It’s desperate and manipulative and a last-ditch effort to save an unsaveable marriage. Thanks for the reinforcement that we just need to move on.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Separation and divorce can turn the most sane people crazy. It’s understandable that you would try everything in you to save it. It takes guts to realise when it’s done, and it sounds as though you’re there. If this relationships keeps hurting you, letting go of it will be the first move towards opening yourself up to the things that will be good for you. I know how difficult that is though. I wish you much love and strength as you move forward.

Reply
Christina Rousseau

As a child psychotherapist this also one of the best articles i have read on this subject. Its honest abd clear and that is just so helpful at times of separation. Great work .. Thank you .

Reply
Andrea

As a mediator and collaborative lawyer, this is one of the best articles I’ve read to help someone be his or her best self during the divorce process while dealing with a spouse who is using anger, bullying and other less evolved tactics to get what he or she wants in the divorce. I’ll be passing this on to a number of clients.

Reply
Mak

Hi, i have been separated from my husband for 2 years. Unfortunately the families became involved and my husband and his family were quite horrible to my family. I never wanted the separation as we didn’t have many issues and we were happy and have two beautiful children. Now he is trying to reconcile, i am happy to try but the circumstances of the separation and his treatment of my family has made my family unwilling to even consider. I am stuck with wanting to try and see if we can make it work and my families feelings.

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.








Hey Sigmund on Instagram

The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to fight or flee anything that presents itself as a threat - and shame, punishment, judgement, exclusion, humiliation all count as threat, even if they come with loads of love.
.
When our kids or teens mess up - which they will, because they’re humans not robots - the way we respond can open them up to our influence or shut them down to it. It can expand the fight and the disconnection, or it can shrink it. In time they will learn to be more in control of their urge for or flight, but for now, we will need to lead the way. (Of course, we are also human, and sometimes despite our biggest efforts to stay calm, we will step into the ring rather than wait for them to step out. We’re human. It’s going to happen. And that’s okay.)
.
If we want them to be open to our influence, we first need to calm their active amygdala (the seat of anxiety and big emotion) by sending the message that we aren’t a threat. We can do this by validating their feelings or the need behind their behaviour (if we know what that is).
.
Validation doesn’t mean agreeing with them, and it doesn’t mean approving of their behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we want to understand the world through their lens. ‘I can see you’re really upset about this.’ ‘It sounds as though you’re worried I’m going to get in your way. I can see this is important to you. I really want to understand. Can you talk to me about this?’
.
When we do this, it sends a message to the protective, powerful, emotional amygdala that it’s safe and that it can back down. This will start to switch off the need to fight us or flee (ignore) us and open them up to our influence, support, warmth and guidance.
.
It also doesn’t mean giving them a free pass on ‘unadorable’ behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we see them, and that we understand there is something important they need. When things are calm, they will be much more open to exploring their decisions, their behaviour, the consequences of that (including any consequences for them), and what they can do differently in the future.
⠀⠀

The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to fight or flee anything that presents itself as a threat - and shame, punishment, judgement, exclusion, humiliation all count as threat, even if they come with loads of love.
.
When our kids or teens mess up - which they will, because they’re humans not robots - the way we respond can open them up to our influence or shut them down to it. It can expand the fight and the disconnection, or it can shrink it. In time they will learn to be more in control of their urge for or flight, but for now, we will need to lead the way. (Of course, we are also human, and sometimes despite our biggest efforts to stay calm, we will step into the ring rather than wait for them to step out. We’re human. It’s going to happen. And that’s okay.)
.
If we want them to be open to our influence, we first need to calm their active amygdala (the seat of anxiety and big emotion) by sending the message that we aren’t a threat. We can do this by validating their feelings or the need behind their behaviour (if we know what that is).
.
Validation doesn’t mean agreeing with them, and it doesn’t mean approving of their behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we want to understand the world through their lens. ‘I can see you’re really upset about this.’ ‘It sounds as though you’re worried I’m going to get in your way. I can see this is important to you. I really want to understand. Can you talk to me about this?’
.
When we do this, it sends a message to the protective, powerful, emotional amygdala that it’s safe and that it can back down. This will start to switch off the need to fight us or flee (ignore) us and open them up to our influence, support, warmth and guidance.
.
It also doesn’t mean giving them a free pass on ‘unadorable’ behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we see them, and that we understand there is something important they need. When things are calm, they will be much more open to exploring their decisions, their behaviour, the consequences of that (including any consequences for them), and what they can do differently in the future.
⠀⠀
...







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