Center for Shared Insight, PC

Stuck in the Fight: Obstacles to Moving on After A High Conflict Divorce

December 1, 2021
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Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.

If you find yourself stuck in a challenging divorce due to a difficult ex-spouse, you may feel like your anger and frustration will never end. Perhaps you are working through a divorce with someone who has narcissistic tendencies, or is being difficult by hiding assets, playing games, and/or trying to turn your children against you. If you can relate to these scenarios, you likely have already had a long legal battle surrounding your divorce and what feels like a continuous fight. 

Unfortunately, staying in the fight due to your ex-partner’s resistance to cooperate also means it prevents you from moving to other stages of grief and phases of healing. It is nearly impossible to find the space and time to feel sad or reflect on the important lessons of your marriage when your partner is consistently re-engaging you in arguments, push and pull dynamics, and games. There are a lot of emotions to move through in the recovery process of divorce, especially once the legal details are settled. Prolonged fighting delays those more advanced stages of healing, grief, and bereavement. 

In this post, we identify what to keep in mind if you feel stuck in the fight of your divorce, for days, months, or sometimes even years. We provide insights into how you can find peace and begin the true healing process.

Moving on to Other Stages of Grief

Contrary to what many people may think, the process and stages of grief are non-linear and may come and go throughout your life. The stages of grief are phases necessary for full healing. They are:

1. Denial

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance

6. Meaning

Notice which stages of grief you may have even partially gone through, either as you considered separating, early in your divorce or in the post-divorce healing process. Recognize where you might be stuck due to the ongoing fight with your ex, and also honor that there is no set duration or order for these stages. In fact, emotions tied to these stages may bubble up throughout your life. If your ex has been difficult throughout the divorce process and even after the legal battle is complete, you may feel you should be in a more advanced stage of grief than you truly are. You may even get that feedback from others, who may say things like “you have been divorced for years, I can’t believe you are still feeling sad”. The reality is that when your ex re-engages you in fights and prolongs the process, or you initiate another legal step in order to protect/defend your children and/or your interests, it’s not uncommon to move slowly through these stages and to experience more complex healing. Not to mention, when so much energy was put into a difficult divorce, there was often no energy left to invest in proactive healing. 

In order to manage your feelings within these stages, it is essential to do everything from finding an outlet for your healing, like hiking or painting or journaling, engaging in therapy and/or a divorce support group to heal and to understand your triggers or situations that might easily send you on an emotional roller coaster ride. Once you know and define those triggers, you can anticipate those feelings in advance. For example, maybe a certain time of year makes you sad again about your divorce as it is when you and your ex met or fell in love. Know that even in high conflict divorces, it is still normal to feel some sadness and miss who your ex once was to you. Sometimes places or having contact with your ex when co-parenting can be a trigger. Understanding these patterns can help you prepare accordingly and plan for more self-care, gatherings with friends, and reflection during those moments in your healing process.

Allowing Yourself to Feel

As you distance yourself from your ex and let go of the fight, you’ll start to move through the other necessary stages of grief. More space also might create an environment where you start to feel things you might not want to feel. Feeling angry at your ex has become a patterned response and a comfortable feeling you have likely “settled into”. After the fighting has settled down, you might start feeling emotions that are harder to manage - including sadness, regret, doubt, fear, and more. Notice what else you are feeling alongside the prolonged anger and frustration. Name it. Own it. Allow yourself to feel into the edges of it. Move through these waves of new feelings without feeling the need to create a story to explain them. 

This willingness to feel uncomfortable emotions, choose self-care, and design healthy boundaries during this phase of your journey will help you truly prepare for what’s next in your life, without taking the unresolved pain of your divorce into your next relationship.

At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we talk regularly with clients who are stuck in the fight of their divorce, sometimes even months or years after their official settlement. Identifying healthy approaches to address and move beyond the anger and frustration shown by their former partner is essential, and we can help. Contact us for a free consultation and share more about your divorce story, or ask about our divorce recovery group. We can help you overcome the fight and help you move into your best life post-divorce.

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