In Part I, Angela, the mother of an adult daughter divorcing a narcissist, educated herself on high-conflict personalities to learn how they think and why they create so much drama. In Part II, she sees a specialist to learn how to help her daughter manage her narcissistic ex.
Angela found a therapist who specialized in high-conflict divorce so she could learn strategies for dealing with her daughter Chelsea’s ex-husband, Jay.
If there were a way to make divorced life harder, Jay found it. Angela’s grandson Leo had recently developed allergies, which Jay blamed on Chelsea not cleaning the house properly. Angela was furious that Jay was more invested in criticizing Chelsea’s housekeeping skills than in coordinating Leo’s medical care in an amicable fashion. The therapist, Scott, normalized Angela’s frustration while also emphasizing that she had no control over Jay’s entrenched personality traits. What she did have control over was shifting her focus from Jay’s dysfunctional behaviors to the way she herself interacted with him. She could do this, he said, by adopting the following strategies:
4 Core Strategies For Managing High-Conflict Divorce
- Acceptance. Angela wanted to see her daughter and grandchildren thrive after divorce, and she was angry that Jay was causing so much trouble. Scott helped her see that resenting Jay didn’t make anything better. It only made her more upset, when she wanted to be a source of support for Chelsea. The first step towards managing her daughter’s divorce was accepting the reality of Jay’s personality – as unpleasant as it was.
- Communication. Scott told Angela that her well-intentioned attempts to reason with Jay, especially via email, were just triggering more conflict. Jay had no interest in hearing his former mother-in-law’s opinions, no matter how right they may be! When speaking or emailing with Jay, Angela needed to stick to facts and leave her feelings and advice out of it.
- Managing Reactions. Empathetic by nature, Angela often felt emotionally distraught over her daughter’s divorce. She was furious with Jay, afraid for her daughter’s future, and grief-stricken that her grandchildren were growing up on a battleground. Living with heightened emotions 24/7 was draining and at times generated more drama; when Angela was upset, she sometimes snapped at Chelsea and the kids or couldn’t focus on work. Scott helped Angela learn coping skills so she could better regulate her emotions regardless of what was going on around her.
- Boundaries. Angela’s desire to help her daughter was causing conflict between the two of them. Chelsea felt second-guessed and intruded upon while Angela felt frustrated that Chelsea wasn’t receptive to her input. Scott helped Angela realize that she needed to respect Chelsea’s right to handle her own divorce, even when she made choices Angela disagreed with. The last thing Chelsea needed was more conflict – with her own mother!
Therapy with Scott gave Angela the support she needed to accept that her daughter didn’t have the “good divorce” she’d hoped for. Eventually, she stopped trying to run Chelsea’s divorce. She also stopped reacting to Jay’s shenanigans. Chelsea felt relieved that she no longer had to take care of her mother’s feelings, and that her mother was available to listen to her without lecturing.
Bottom line? If you’re troubled by your adult child’s divorce, consider changing the ways you think and behave. Modeling resilience will show your child and grandchildren how to handle adversity and thrive after divorce.
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