Divorce is a difficult transition for almost all couples. There is no one-size-fits-all transition. Separation usually involves hurt, guilt, a wide gamut of emotions, but the tone and level of conflict between divorcing spouses can vary greatly.
Some couples divorce amicably. Others separate under a cloud of acrimony. And then there are divorces that can only be described as “toxic” to all involved.
What Makes a Divorce Toxic?
Pop culture tries to convince us that all divorce is toxic. Fortunately, this is more myth than face. Of course, you wouldn’t guess it if you trusted Hollywood (and social media) but plenty of couples create a new friendship, post-divorce. Even within marriages that end due to infidelity, the separating spouses remain civil throughout the process.
A toxic divorce is different. It is what some legal types call “high conflict.” Some of the ingredients of a toxic divorce include:
Interactions and settlement agreements get purposely dragged out
One spouse refuses to cooperate
One spouse displays destructive and/or threatening behavior
Sadly, the list of potential destructive and/or threatening behaviors is too long to fully supply here. However, divorces also become toxic when one partner engages in actions like:
Harassment and stalking
Threatening the safety of others
Taking steps to ruin a person’s reputation
Bringing the children into the conflict and/or withholding child support payments
The partner being targeted may find their family, friends, employers, colleagues, and neighbors are also on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior. If there is a new love interest in the picture, it is almost certain they, too, will find themselves the target of toxic behavior and abuse.
Toxic divorces can also drag on for many years and may end up involving legal steps like lawsuits, restraining orders, and other protective measures. Therefore, it’s important to find ways to safely navigate the process and move forward.
3 Basic Steps to Help Survive a Toxic Divorce
1. Find the Right Attorney and Financial Advisors
This is clearly not the time to rely on that second cousin or friend of a friend who happens to have a law degree. Seek guidance for finding an experienced lawyer. Your toxic journey may end up involving trustees and a court-appointed judge. Moreover, if your lawyer is not a financial specialist, find one. Until your legal team is in place, keep your distance from your spouse, the paperwork in order, record any interactions, and be sure to get everything in writing.
2. Communicate With Those in Your Life
As mentioned above, toxic divorces encompass far more than two people. Just about everyone in your life will feel some level of impact. This could range from a co-worker picking up the slack for you to a family member being directly targeted by threats. Get these folks in the loop. You need them as part of your support team and to be aware of any threat. Be blunt with them. Warn them about your toxic spouse. Lean on those who step up to support you.
3. Practice Daily Self-Care
It will be easy to forget the basics when enveloped in a noxious nightmare. But you need to be the strongest version of yourself to resolve this conflict effectively. Be sure to practice regular sleep patterns, engage in daily exercise and activity, and keep your diet healthy and steady. Also, use relaxation techniques as a form of stress management. Taking me-time is not selfish. It’s survival. So, as you reframe your expectations and dig in for the long haul, prepare your mind and body for the struggle.
Therapy as Detox?
When toxicity is a daily reality, you need a trusted emotional guide by your side. You might want to consider regular therapy sessions as part of your self-care protocol. It’s your time to regroup and process mentally. Along with your counselor, you will create a safe space — free of phone calls, demands, and frustrating updates.
Therapy time is when you can vent, strategize and air out your emotions. Toxic divorce is a terrible challenge. You do not have to tackle it alone. In addition, if your toxic spouse will not leave your kids out of the drama, you may consider giving them the option of counseling too.
Please reach out for help during this trying time. Contact me for support and counsel to ensure you exit your marriage able to pursue a new future stronger than ever.