Divorce is not known for bringing out the best in anyone. But, if you are going through a high conflict divorce, you have probably had at least a few homicidal moments. (Not that you would actually act on them, of course! But boy, have you dreamed!)
If you are living through the drama of a high conflict divorce or its equally high conflict aftermath, hold on! Here are 10 tips to help you regain your sanity when you feel like ripping your ex, limb from limb.
1. Breathe! When your ex has just done something that pushes every button you have, and you feel your heart rate rising and your blood pressure mounting, stop and breathe! It may sound cliche, but practicing “box breathing” can immediately reduce your stress level and change your state.
Box breathing is an exercise in which you think of your breath as moving in the shape of a box. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out gently through your mouth for four seconds, then hold for four seconds. Repeat this exercise until your brain clears and you feel human again.
2. Limit face-to-face communication. If your ex starts World War III every time s/he sees you, the easiest way to reduce the tension is to expand your demilitarized zone. In plain English, that means: stay away from each other!
Use technology to communicate. Instead of talking on the phone, text. If texting doesn’t help, use email. If email doesn’t work, use parenting software like Our Family Wizard to communicate with each other. Also, do your best to avoid all but the most necessary contact with your ex. It may take a little creativity, but the more you can limit your contact, at least as long as you are prone to high conflict outbursts, the better off you will be.
3. Practice Using BIFF responses. BIFF stands for brief, informative, friendly and firm. Developed by therapist Bill Eddy, the Director of the High Conflict Institute, BIFF responses are designed to convey necessary information without intensifying conflict.
BIFF responses are best used at first in written communication. That’s because crafting a short, polite and informative response to your ex’s two page single-spaced rant takes practice! Eventually, though, you will be experienced enough to create BIFF responses to all of your ex’s crazy communications.
4. Book a session with your therapist! There is no shame in getting help. Whether you are stuck in the middle of a contentious divorce or your divorce is already behind you but you find that you are still fighting like cats and dogs, a good therapist can help you handle your emotions and regain your perspective.
Another benefit of therapy is that venting to a therapist allows you to let out all the negative emotions that might otherwise explode at the most inappropriate times. There is nothing worse than being wound up so tightly that your ex can easily goad you into engaging in a very public fight that makes it look to the world like you are the crazy one.
5. Stay off Facebook! Yes, it’s hard to go cold turkey. But you can do it. Social media can be a wonderful thing for sharing family pictures or keeping up with friends. But seeing pictures of your soon-to-be ex with his/her new squeeze while you are trying to damage control with kids and can barely get yourself out of bed in the morning, makes your life so much more miserable.
Facebook-stalking your ex, or blabbing about details of your divorce that no one should know is more than just a bad idea. It can completely devastate your divorce case. (Do you think lawyers don’t use Facebook?!) Do yourself a favor. Close your Facebook account.
6. Keep focusing on the big picture. It may not seem like it right now, but at some point, this craziness will pass. Your divorce will end. Your kids will grow up. You will build a new life. Obsessing over all the drama that is in your life right now will do nothing more than make you crazy.
Make goals for yourself. Take some time to think about what is really important. Hopefully, you and your kids are healthy. (If not, make getting healthy your primary goal.) Focus on what matters, and try to let the small stuff go.
7. Spend time doing anything other than talking about your ex. Did you ever notice that when you are feeling blue, and you listen to sad songs, you end up feeling worse? Dealing with drama is the same.
Whatever you focus on expands. If all you can think about is how crazy your ex is, then all you will see is craziness. If you spend all your time trying to get even with your ex, your life will be a never-ending tit-for-tat battle. On the other hand, if you focus on what is good in your life (you are still alive after all) you will begin to see more good in your life, and less drama.
8. Exercise. Yes, we all know we should exercise. But when you are going through something as stressful as a divorce, exercise moves from the “Yes, I know I should do this,” into the, “I have to do this or I’m going to kill someone!” category.
Not only is exercise a great stress reliever, but it is the quickest way to change your emotional state. It is biologically impossible to be depressed when you are running full out, gasping for air, and hoping you don’t keel over on the spot. Plus, exercising is almost guaranteed to make you feel good about yourself. When you are going through a divorce, that is something you desperately need.
9. Write everything down. Journaling is an amazing tool. There are few better ways to get the craziness out of your head than to dump it onto a page.
When your ex does something completely insane, write it down. When you are at the end of your rope, write it down. When you want to cry, scream, fight, or stay in bed with the covers over your head for the rest of your life, write it down. When you are done, burn your journal. Psychologically, that will help you let your negative emotions go.
10. Change the rules of engagement. We all establish patterns of behavior in our relationships. Your ex screams at you, and you scream back. Your ex pushes your buttons, and you become a raving lunatic. Your ex becomes a bully, so you give up and he gets his way. Look at what your normal reaction pattern is. Then, do something to change it.
Of course, changing your reactions means that, instead of focusing on changing your ex, you have to change yourself. That’s not easy. But, in reality, you are the only one whom you have control over. The interesting thing, though, is to watch your ex’s behavior after you change. When you don’t do what you have always done, more likely than not, your ex will change his/her behavior too.
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