Being seven months deep into a high conflict divorce with a narcissist, I have learned a lot about what “not to do” in order to protect myself and my children.
More importantly, I have learned to stick up for myself through appropriate channels, rather than allowing my soon to be ex husband (and his mistress) to dictate the life my children and I should lead as well as protecting us legally, financially and emotionally.
How To Protect Yourself During a High Conflict Divorce
1. Let the negative and derogatory statements made to you by your estranged spouse “go in one ear and out the other”. That is, narcissists and other passive or overtly aggressive people will say anything and do anything to make you feel low and terrible about yourself. They are notorious for blaming, rewriting history, and making you feel crazy in order to protect their fragile egos.
I learned the hard way that you need to develop coping mechanisms to ignore these types of statements and behaviors because trying to reason, argue, and set the record straight is absolutely pointless. For instance, to justify living a double life and abandoning his family, my estranged spouse tried to say that I was suicidal for the past 3 years and that I wouldn’t let him leave.
This was completely false and I came right back at him (via text) stating all of the facts that completely countered such outrageous and ridiculous claims. Although it made me feel better at the time to prove him wrong, it made no difference in his behaviors or how he was treating the kids and me.
So, now, instead of even engaging in any such banter I have decided to have limited contact with him. Experts suggest no contact when dealing with such a person, but with 2 young children that is impossible. Limited contact means that you do not communicate with the estranged spouse unless it is regarding the children. I have gone as far as to only communicate via text or email. This is a difficult one because his visitation with the children is currently in my home, but I limit my verbal interactions to “hello” and “good-bye” as much as possible.
I cannot say that I stick to this 100%, but it does help to limit interactions as much as possible. I did slip up yesterday when he arrived at my house with his hair clipper set (indicating that he would be giving himself a haircut during his short visit with his children and making a huge mess of MY bathroom), I broke the limited contact rule and said, “There will be no haircuts in my house. One of the perks of no longer being with you is that I don’t have to deal with all of your hairs in the bathroom.”
His response (in true narcissistic fashion) was “I haven’t decided if I am going to do it yet or not”. Although, I broke the limited contact rule, I had stuck up for myself with this statement and left out everything I wanted to say like “what your girlfriend doesn’t like your mess either” and “you have 3 hours with your kids and you are going to spend an hour of it giving yourself a haircut?” Instead, after he declared that he hadn’t decided yet, I said, “No, it is decided you will not give yourself a haircut at my house, you will do that on your own time in your own home” and walked out the door. He did not cut his hair last evening- a small victory for me!
2. Get a lawyer who understands high conflict divorce and will protect your legal rights. I of course acknowledge that this is not always possible financially and I am lucky to have a very good support network, one of them being a lawyer who does not specialize in divorce but pointed me in the direction of one of the best in my state because she “does it for all the right reasons.” I also have many friends and family members who helped financially, one of them, to whom I will be forever grateful, who gave me enough for the retainer.
My lawyer has been a phenomenal advocate for my children and me and has helped me to understand my rights as a mother as well as spouse. She has empowered me to stick up for myself legally and financially. I couldn’t imagine trying to navigate the legal system alone and would never recommend it for anyone dealing with a high conflict divorce. She also “keeps it real” and has helped me to delineate by legal rights from my emotions.
3. Seek out a counselor who understands the divorce process. My phenomenal lawyer guided me in the direction (when I called her one day to tell her that my oldest had started pulling his hair out and now had a bald spot) of a counselor who is also a divorce mediator for the kids and me. She even went so far as to have the court mandate co-parenting counseling for my estranged spouse and me to attend with this same counselor. Luckily, the counseling is covered by the kid’s health insurance.
Our counselor is another “tell it like it is” person and has been instrumental in helping the kids and me. This is another example of “standing up for yourself” during this process because I have brought a trained professional who will guide us through this situation and set my estranged spouse straight so that I don’t have to argue with him. She also is a witness to how our children are coping and his lack of involvement in the mandated counseling is also noted.
4. Develop a “new normal” for you and your children that doesn’t include your estranged spouse. The hardest lesson that I have learned so far is that you cannot make someone put their children first. I tried for a few months and still think it’s despicable that he has chosen to not make his children his first priority, but I no longer say it. The kids and I are going to get on with our lives and “keep on trucking” as they say. Most recently, we went on a trip, just the 3 of us to a place that we typically went as a family with their Dad.
This was enlightening for the kids in that we can still have fun as a family without daddy there. We talked about it that way too which helped them to make that connection well and we had a blast! It is okay to be a family without your estranged spouse and you shouldn’t avoid doing things you used to do because he is not there anymore.
5. Get your feelings out through writing. I cannot say enough about writing to get your thoughts out. Whether you blog, journal, write hate letters to the soon to be ex and rip them up right after- writing the thoughts and feelings down helps immensely! It is another way of “sticking up for yourself” because you are helping yourself heal.