You’ve finally decided to divorce and now you just want to be free and out of it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just move out and get on with your life? But life isn’t always like , and for many people they’ll have to stay in the same house until the divorce is finalised and the home is sold or transferred.
For some, this will be ok, if it’s an amicable agreement and both parties are acting like adults. But a lot of people are not that lucky. If you’ve been in a high conflict, toxic or coercive relationship, staying in the same house will prove very challenging and you may wonder how on earth you’ll cope.
If this is you, then realise what you’re dealing with, especially if your partner has strong narcissistic personality traits they’re not going to play fair and are going to make your life as miserable as possible for having the audacity to ask for a divorce and abandon them.
Being prepared and realistic is really important in order to cope, as you have to know that the abuse is likely to ramp up to a new level.
Firstly, if you are at risk of physical harm then your priority is to keep safe. You must have an escape plan before you even speak about divorce. Have a bag packed and at a friend’s house or another safe place, even ask them for a key so that you can bolt there if you need it. Make sure friends are aware what you are going to do so they can check on you and look out for you. First and foremost think about your safety.
If you decide to leave, it will help to if you can take with you things from this list or get them out of the house beforehand. Only do this if you are sure it is safe to do so.
- Identification and important papers (e.g. birth certificates, passports, benefit books, bank account details, medical cards, court orders, marriage certificate)
- Phone numbers – emergency and personal
- Spare set of house and car keys
- Medicines and toiletries
- Clothes for a few days
- A few of your children’s favourite toys
- Proof of the abuse (e.g. notes, photos, crime reference numbers, diary, taped messages, emails, texts)
Leave a note saying that you have left with the children, that they are safe, and that the solicitor will contact them in the near future. Keep a copy of the note.
The Refuge website has a helpline, further advice and the location of your nearest refuge centre.
If you decide to stay
If the abuse is verbal and emotional you may feel you are physically safe to stay and there may be good reasons why you should. You may feel that if you move out you’ll never get him out or you just can’t afford the rent and need to wait until you can sell the home. But just know that it’s probably going to get a whole lot worse now, with periods of rage, the strength of which you may not have seen before. You will be accused of all sorts of things, made to feel you are at fault, that you’ll never cope on your own or that you are totally and utterly in the wrong. Your self-esteem is going to take a further bashing at this time and you will likely be manipulated into feeling guilty and the one who caused the break up.
You are going to have to call on all the resilience and resources you have at this time. But do know that you can get through it. It will be horrible at times, but you can get through this and come out the other side more resilient and stronger than you ever thought possible.
Having been through this, what advice would I give?
Well, hopefully, before you even broached the subject of divorce you got your ducks in a row. If not do this now before you go any further. Read these main ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ that will help guide you through this testing time so that you can get the best possible outcome.
So you’ve decided it’s safe for you to stay or that you have no choice, then how do you cope with the day to day.
Try to create a personal space
You will probably find it really difficult to share the same bedroom, living room and even the kitchen with your ex-partner. They may intentionally do things to upset you, such as leaving dirty dishes, making a mess, having the television on louder than normal – if they know it pushes your buttons they will probably do it. Know that this is their way of acting out and trying to punish you for daring to leave, which they see as abandonment. You are going to have to develop a thick skin and decide what is important and what is not. If a clean kitchen is important to you and they keep leaving it a mess then either clean up a little space or the whole lot and just know that this is only for now.
If possible, have separate bedrooms or get a sofa bed or pull down bed. You really don’t want to be sleeping with them.
You need your private place to get some headspace and take a break from the tension.
Do you have a spare bedroom where you could create a living room or create a small sitting area in your bedroom?
You might want to put a lock on the door but definitely keep your personal stuff under lock and key or get it out of the house and with a trusted friend or family member for safe keeping.
Talk to friends and family
They will be worried about you, they will understand what you are going through more than you think. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about how difficult this time is. You need all the support you can get. You might find it hard to do this as you’ve probably been ground down and made to think your problems don’t matter, but they do and you matter a lot to the people who love you. You may find that one or two friends or family members are your ‘rocks’ through this, the ones who are good at listening and believe what you are going through. Lean on them now, you know you’d do the same for them.
Perfect the ‘grey rock’ technique
OK, so what’s this? It’s really simple but very effective. The idea is to become as uninteresting to the narcissist as a boring, large, grey rock. Unattractive, bland, and a poor energy source. If you can do this you will become a poor source of narcissistic supply and they will seek another source, leaving you with your energy to use for you.
Get as much rest as you can and take care of yourself. You are going through a really rough patch and you need to make sure that you are physically as well as you can be. You might find that it’s hard to do this if you’re very stressed and anxious but try to get into a routine that helps you to stay as healthy as possible. Can you try to fit in, say, 10 minutes of yoga or meditation in the morning for example? Stress takes a toll on the body and you need to support it. You might notice you’re looking older than you’d like to at this time, don’t worry, it’s stress. This reverts once you are out of it and happy again. You’ll get your sparkle back.
Be kind to yourself
You are in a difficult situation, anyone would find it stressful and upsetting. Be kind to yourself – try to spot the positives in a day, even the very small things and focus on those. Even in the darkest of times there will be something positive, even if it’s something as simple as a good cup of coffee or a smile from a stranger.
Be aware of your self talk.
We all have an inner critic, that’s normal, but when you are going through something like this your inner critic may become quite negative and derogatory. Know that this is not your voice. Challenge your unhelpful thoughts, recognise them for the stories that they are and also know that many of them have probably been learned from your abuser. So be careful how you speak to yourself, your mind is listening all the time. And remember, just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Take breaks away if you can
If you can get away for short breaks to stay with family or friends or if you can afford a holiday the do it. You’re living in an emotional pressure cooker at the moment, anything you can do to relieve the stress is good. You may not be able to afford much and want to conserve your money, and I understand that, but if you have any money put away for a rainy day now is the time to use some of it, because believe me it’s going to be pouring down. If you can’t get away for breaks get outside and walk in green space, spend time in nature, go to the park, visit gardens, climb a hill. It will all help you to keep your sanity.
Finally remember this isn’t for ever
Bear in mind that this is a temporary thing. As horrible as it is, it’s not forever. You may not believe it now but this will pass. Your divorce will get settled eventually. It may take a while but it will happen. And when it does and you move on you can be happier than ever. I know that may be hard to imagine right now but believe me, it’s true. Think of a mantra for when times get hard. Mine was ‘This too shall pass’. Think of something that you could say to yourself when it’s really tough to help you get through.
Keep your reasons for staying in the house in mind and know that you can and will get through this, but don’t be afraid to ask for help and allow people to support you.
And think of the brighter days to come. And come they will.
This too shall pass.