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How to Stay Sane During a High-Conflict Divorce

A high-conflict divorce can be stressful enough to unravel even the strongest and most resilient of us. The expense, frustration, and negativity of it all can wear you down until you barely recognize yourself.
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Young woman walking in the field toward the sun holding a poppy flower.
Young woman walking in the field toward the sun holding a poppy flower.

A high-conflict divorce can be stressful enough to unravel even the strongest and most resilient of us. The expense, frustration, and negativity of it all can wear you down until you barely recognize yourself. You get caught up in the day-to-day battles and forget to maintain the things that mattered before life became so complicated. Having a plan that helps you stay focused on the big picture is the only way to survive. Below are some tips for getting through without losing yourself or your sanity:

1. If you don't already have a therapist, find one. The best therapist is one who will let you vent, but also challenge you, call you on your stuff, and keep you from becoming stuck in a cycle of misery and stress. You should leave her office feeling lighter and stronger. If you don't, keep looking.

2. Get a Good Lawyer. A great lawyer is everything. A bad lawyer can sink your ship, clean out your savings and leave you with a mess. Choose someone who has experience with your particular situation and will advocate for you (and your children if you have them) in a fair, efficient, straightforward and intelligent manner. Courtroom drama is for TV. Choose someone a judge will respect.

3. Stay solution-oriented. Back-and-forth arguing is not only stressful and time-consuming; it's non-productive. Engage with your ex in a polite, businesslike manner. Offer solutions rather than blame. Be brief. Communicate in writing. This way everything is on record and there is less room for misunderstanding or error.

4. Keep your dignity. A high-conflict divorce can bring out the worst in anyone. Try to remember when you feel like lashing out that it is better to choose your words wisely and keep your dignity. You can't fault someone who stays respectful and calm in the midst of an emotional tornado.

5. Surround yourself with support. Spend time with people who know big-picture-you and not just divorce-you. A chat with a friend you've known forever can remind you that life is bigger than this difficult time. Call the friend who makes you laugh. Have a PJ party with your best friends. Find your cheerleaders and ask them for what you need. Have someone who will hold your hand in court.

6. Get physical. Long-term conflict and stress build up in the body. Find a physical activity you enjoy (or used to enjoy) and make time for it. Release the anger or grief in a healthy way. Boxing and yoga are two of my favorite ways to clear emotional and physical toxins. You'd be surprised what 10 minutes with some gloves, music and a heavy bag can do for the soul.

7. Escape. One of the best ways to refresh your mind and get yourself back on track when you're losing perspective is a bit of healthy escape. A book, movie or Netflix binge can take you out of your brain and stop any cyclical thinking or negative focus. Sometimes the answers we need show up in the most random places. Give your mind somewhere else to go.

8. Notice the good. Your child's laugh, a delicious meal, the smell of rain, an ocean breeze, new sheets, a blank sketchbook... appreciate the good things in your day, even when you don't feel like it. This breaks the cycle of stress-thinking or worry. Put down the legal documents and go look at the full moon. Make yourself notice something good every hour until it becomes a habit.

9. Remember this will pass. As much as it may sometimes feel like it, divorce can't go on forever. At some point, things will calm down and you will no longer eat, sleep and breathe negotiation and conflict. Make some long-term plans so that you have things to look forward to at the end of it all.

10. Most importantly, remember who you are. This is my favorite piece of advice from my yoga teacher. Remind yourself that this is just a temporary window of time. It will not define you. Make a list of your good qualities and read it when things get really tough. My grandmother always said "Forget insults. Remember compliments." The same applies here. Don't let the negativity change you. You are so much more than what is projected onto you in times of conflict. A high-conflict divorce will shake your sense of self, but if you know who you are, it will also distill it in the best way.

You will get to the other side of this, I promise. At your lowest points, have faith that at the end of this challenging time is a new and better life - one where a stronger and wiser you is in the driver's seat. You always get another chance to create an amazing life.