Tag Archives: Contentious Divorce

Extra Difficult Divorces

What makes highly difficult relationship dissolutions extra difficult?

divorce heart lamp clockProtracted. Reasonable people attempt to get through a divorce as efficiently as possible and with as little drama as possible. They often seek mediation. An abusive person often continues to abuse their partner through the divorce process regardless of whether mediation or the court system is involved.

Abusive partners will use the divorce process to punish their partner economically. Examples are delaying signing financial documents, hiding financial documents, sabotaging the sale of the home, pressuring their partner to sign a financial document that is not in their best interests, etc. are a few examples of economic abuse tactics used by abusive partners.  Prolonging the Divorce unnecessarily and pecayune tangents is a common way of economically punishing the other partner, even though both suffer.

Protracted custody battles. The abusive partner fights for sole custody of the chidren to get revenge on the other parent, who is the more nurturing and constructive of the two parents. Triangulation of the children – putting children in the middle is common. This does not mean that parents who ask for sole custody are abusive – many are legitimately trying to protect their children from physical, sexual, and psychological harm. Nor does it mean that parents who attempt to help their children process feelings about abusive behavior are triangulating. There are ways to do this that focus on the behavior and the child’s feelings, but don’t bad mouth the other parent. These parents usually enlist professional help for their children if they can afford it.

Abusive partners lie about their partners blatantly, but often present better in person than their partner (who may present confused, uncertain, depressed or anxious due to the chronic stress of living with an abusive person). Court officials, counselors, guardians ad litem, etc. can be swayed by the abuser’s charm. Their arrogance sometimes passes as confidence.

Abusive partners stalk their estranged partners, physically or via technology and the court system.

Abusive partners may physically threaten or physically abuse their partners.

Abusive partners refuse to be reasonable and make unreasonable demands in ways that are unusual, even for a divorce.

And of course, when both parties are abusive as a style of relating, a highly contentious divorce will result. Note that when even one party is personality disordered, divorces usually get very contentious. The abused party often has to “fight” very hard for the welfare of the children and basic financial security. A mistaken belief is that if a divorce is contentious, both parties are equally at fault or equally dysfunctional. Abusers can be male or female.

Length of time of the relationship – Gray Divorces usually involved complex separation of property and emotions.

If you are in involved in a difficult divorce, it’s important to assemble a profesional support team, including an emotional support team.


The Mirroring of Group Work helps Women leaving Abusive Long-term Relationships

mended heartDivorcing after Decades in an Abusive Relationship involves complex grieving. There is deep regret for staying so long, shame for not recognizing the abuse earlier, confusion, and a deep sense of betrayal and rejection. Then there is the incredible stress of divorcing an abusive spouse who manipulates the legal system to further abuse and stalk their partner, even if the abusing partner asked for the separation. These are “difficult divorces,” known as contentious divorces in legal circles. There is deep grief over the long years spent in a painful relationship with little in the way of emotional nurturing. There is deep grief over having much less time to create a satisfying new life and doubt and fear about their ability to create a new relationship that is loving.

Many of the participants have voiced the fear that they were the only one who stayed in an abusive relationship so long. The mirror effect of group is highly effective in breaking down the shame, isolation, and confusion shared by members. Group members sometimes exclaim, “Are you sure you didn’t marry my husband?” Group members benefit by learning ways to cope with abusive behavior during and after the divorce. And group members increase compassion for themselves as they feel compassion for each other’s suffering.

Typically, the abuser has mental health issues – often a personality disorder. The  attachment issues of being abandoned, neglected, and abused at an early age fuel the persecutory behavior of the abuser during and after the divorce. People with personality disorders are deeply conflicted about attaching to another person. To the outside world the abuser may look very normal, but inside the relationship, the old terrors fuel abusive behavior. This is of course a sad, unfortunate situation for both parties and any children involved.

Unfortunately, people with personality disorders can be highly resistant to change. Because the abusive partner may look wonderful* to the outside world, the abused partner may not be believed when she* shares her difficulties. This further serves to isolate the abused partner. Inside emotionally abusive relationships, the abuse is relentless (although sometimes subtle) and abused partners can find themselves in a painful, isolating Catch-22.  Group breaks down the sense of isolation and helps heal the pain.

Group counseling can help members to see these patterns and break through the confusion and brain washing in ways that are hard to do through individual counseling alone, although a combination of individual and group counseling is ideal for healing. No longer confused, group members can see themselves more clearly, separate themselves from the abuse, and start reclaiming their worthiness and identity.

*Men can be in emotionally or otherwise abusive relationships too. Personality disorders are fairly common among men and women. I see men in my practice who are in emotionally abusive relationships. Sometimes, they join the Circle of Healing group. In some cases, both parties have personality disorders or other complex mental health issues.

*Wonderful: Under close examination, this perception by the abused partner often doesn’t hold out as the abuser often has friends that have serious issues, may have acquired a number of enemies, and be involved in unethical behavior. The abuser is perceived as wonderful by his/her group of friends, which the client sometimes shares and may lose in the divorce.