How To Divorce A Controlling Spouse

When a controlling spouse gets a divorce, they up the ante in their head games, so be prepared for a spike in manipulation tactics. While you can’t control the controller, you can take steps to manage the chaos he (or she) stirs up.

How To Deal With Manipulation During Divorce

Even if your spouse was the one who initiated the divorce, he will want to continue asserting dominance by throwing you off kilter. Typical methods include:

  • Stalling the process by asking for continuances, counter proposals, refusing to sign documents.
  • Hiring a shark attorney who makes negotiation impossible and drives up legal fees.
  • Bombarding you with legal correspondence.
  • Walking out of mediation.
  • Cultivating a “reign of terror” by bullying you via emails and texts.

Your ex is used to pushing your buttons to get you to do what he wants, so you must change how you respond. Exiting your marriage means you are relinquishing your role as a compulsive accommodator and are acting from a place of strength. Here are some ways to regain a sense of control:

  • Minimize communication. Don’t give your ex unfettered access to your nervous system by responding to every crazy text and email. Ask for an order to use a court-approved messaging system. This may prompt your spouse to temper his correspondence since it will no longer be private (it can be accessed by the court).
  • Practice the “gray rock” method. Controlling people love drama, so don’t invite it by displaying emotion. Speak and write to your ex in the most boring, even-keeled way possible. Don’t debate or become defensive. Let go of the fantasy that you will ever get your spouse to see the light. When communicating, make it brief, stick to the facts, and disengage after making your point once.
  • Do not hire a shark attorney. Your goal is to make your divorce as expedient as possible. Therefore, you do not want a shark attorney who will just keep the fight going (and drive the legal fees up). You want a strategy-minded lawyer who will write forceful, but concise letters, avoid lengthy, expensive phone calls with opposing counsel, and not write outlandish accusations that invite outlandish responses.

Protecting Yourself From Domestic Abuse

If your spouse is physically and/or verbally abusive, you need to put protective measures in place to keep you and your children safe. Such measures include:

  • Temporary Restraining Orders. Ask the court for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against your abuser. A TRO will prevent your abuser from coming in contact with you. TROs can also include temporary custody and support orders. After you file your TRO, you will receive a court date for your Final Restraining Order (generally 10 days later), when you will state your case for why the order should be permanent.
  • Final Restraining Order. In order to have your TRO converted to a Final Restraining Order (FRO), you must prove that the abuse actually happened and that you have a need for ongoing protection. Take photos to record evidence of physical violence and screenshots of email harassment.
  • Attorney-to-Attorney Communication. Being on the receiving end of hostile communication is traumatic. Remove yourself from your spouse’s line of fire by having your attorney communicate for you, either to your spouse’s counsel or, if your spouse is representing himself, to your spouse directly.

Take Care of Yourself

It’s time to stop focusing on your controlling spouse and start re-building your self-esteem. Practice self-care by asking for support from friends and family. Get therapy if you can afford it. Cultivate mindfulness skills to regulate your nervous system. And remember: leaving a marriage to a controlling spouse isn’t easy, but staying would only get harder.