Divorce is already a traumatic experience for most individuals and their families. Dealing with a toxic spouse who has it out for you makes the divorce process even worse by dragging out issues that could easily be resolved with compromise and agreements outside of the courtroom. If you and your spouse have children, child sharing might prove to be challenging even after the divorce if you are not able to get along and there is lack of cooperation from your spouse.
So what options do you have when you are dealing with a toxic spouse? Well, the first thing to remember is that you're not alone in this journey. There are many individuals who are dealing with similar struggles and who are learning to cope. While it is not an easy process, it is a workable situation especially if you're committed to living a more peaceful co-existence with your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
While I am not a marriage therapist, there are a few helpful suggestions I provide to clients to help minimize the stress of a difficult spouse during the divorce process. Here are a few of tips to consider:
1. Document, Document and Document: A spouse that fabricates the truth puts you in a very difficult position, especially if there is no hard evidence to back up your side of the story. That is why it is important to document everything in writing. This includes the time your spouse spends with the children, the monies that you notice he or she is taking from your joint bank accounts and any other issue of importance. If you document everything, including your communication with your spouse and there is any question as to the history of events, you will have a clear record of everything that has occurred up to that point in time. Stay organized during your divorce. The more organized you are and have complete logs of your finances and communication, the easier it will be to refute any lies that are thrown your way by your spouse. If you and your spouse have difficulty communicating especially when it comes to daily activities related to your children, you may want to look into web-based programs, such as "Our Family Wizard" that help you and your spouse easily communicate and schedule appointments.
2. Hire An Attorney: When you're dealing with a difficult and controlling spouse, you may want to consider hiring an attorney. Having an attorney to neutralize the situation may prove to be helpful when you and your spouse are having problems communicating related to day to day activities, in addition to legal issues. However, make sure you do your due diligence in hiring an attorney that is the right fit for you and your situation. If you are tight on financial resources, hiring an attorney that is highly litigious and not resolution focused, may put more stress on the situation and may also drag out your divorce longer than needed.
3. Keep The Past In The Past: One way to diffuse a situation is to keep the past in the past. In a recent settlement I attended, one party used very expensive attorney time to hash out the details of the relationship. This is not helpful in diffusing an already tense situation. While divorce is painful, it is more painful when your focus is on the past and not on moving forward. One of the reasons why your spouse may be making this a difficult process is because he or she is holding onto the past. By focusing on the issues at hand and moving forward, it could be that extra nudge your spouse needs to also move forward.
4. Talk To A Therapist: It is helpful if you talk to a seasoned professional to help you through the divorce process, but more importantly to talk about how to deal with a controlling and manipulative spouse. A therapist will provide you with helpful tools on how to respond to a difficult spouse and allow you to vent about some of the concerns and frustrations you are dealing with during this transition time. It will also help you keep in check your own actions and help determine whether you are contributing to the situation as well. By hiring a therapist, you may avoid excessive attorney's fees if it's become your habit to vent your emotional frustrations to your attorney.
For many of you with children, once the divorce is finalized, the problems you experience with your difficult former spouse may not be over since the two of you remain in constant contact for the sake of your children. This persistent tension isn't a new issue and is a continuation of the disagreements from marriage that the legal process unfortunately did not resolve. To alleviate the tension, you may want to consider the following:
- If possible, try to avoid limit any modification of the child sharing plan for at least a year. It's important to see if the current child sharing plan is workable, not to mention routine is beneficial for your children.
- Always make a Plan B for your kids when you know your former spouse may flake or intentionally not exercise visitation to hurt you.
- Communicate when your spouse upsets you, but try to do so in a rational, non-emotional way.
- Communicate missed visitations and reiterate the next scheduled visitation and request a confirmation from your former spouse so as to avoid any miscommunication.
- Document the visitation schedule, any missed visits or appointments and any miscommunication. This will prove to be beneficial should there be any issue related to modification of child custody and visitation.
One nugget of wisdom that is important, not only in divorce but in dealing with relationships in general, is that you cannot control your former spouse and how he or she acts during this difficult time. What you can control is how you react and behave. With these helpful tips, you will hopefully be on the path to a more peaceful co-existence with your spouse during and after the divorce is finalized.