There is no way to completely eliminate the stress of dealing with an abuser during this difficult time; however, there are many coping tools you can use to reduce it so that you can function effectively and take care of your children, your job and yourself.
Try to remember that this stressful conflict is not going to last forever and that you are in the home stretch to achieving your freedom and a path to happiness, something that would not have been possible if you had chosen to stay in this toxic relationship.
Abusers tend to escalate their bad behavior during a divorce because aggression, manipulation and dirty tricks have worked so well for them in the past.
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Here are some useful coping tools and techniques that you can use to reduce stress and stay on track to not only limit the damage inflicted, but also to achieve your goals in the divorce.
1. Limit or eliminate contact with the abuser. If you must communicate with him or her about children, send a brief text. If he or she sends you lengthy emails, phone message, or texts, choose not to respond. They are trying to tear you down and wear you down. Don’t take the bait. You are not obligated to allow a toxic person to take up any of your precious time. Conserve that time for what you need to do to take care of yourself and get the divorce. Remember that they are dangerous and keep healthy boundaries.
2. Do not allow them to try to negotiate the terms of the divorce directly with you to save money or for any other reason. They will use that to make unreasonable demands and to wear you down. They won’t keep any promises made anyway. Don’t fall for it. Tell him or her to have their attorney contact your attorney to discuss all aspects of the settlement. Be realistic about what you can expect to receive in the divorce and then fight for it. Get your attorney the documents and evidence he or she needs promptly. Eliminate unnecessary delays to reduce your stress and save expenses.
3. If you aren’t seeing a therapist already, go see one now. Many survivors can develop eating disorders, chronic anxiety, depression and PTSD. You will need to work on self-esteem issues, as an abuser's toxic behavior can erode your sense of self-worth over a long period of time. Please see my article, “Therapy For Stress and Healing.”
4. Take time for yourself. Exercise for at least 30 minutes, three to four days a week. Go for a walk outdoors for the sunshine and fresh air. Exercise helps to reduce stress by releasing chemicals that increase our sense of well-being. This regimen will help you to be alert and give you the stamina you need. It will also improve your memory and mood.
5. Clear your mind. You will improve your ability to handle things if your mind is clear, you have enough energy and you are well rested. Get enough sleep, pay close attention to your diet and drink plenty of water. These simple things are very important.
6. Breathe. When you are under stress, breathe deeply through your nose into your abdomen to the count of four, hold to the count of two, then breathe out slowly to the count of four through your mouth. Do this from five to 10 times until you are relaxed. Repeat this often throughout the day, every day, as needed. This will give you time to decide how you are going to respond. Don’t react out of emotion and fear. If you do, you will make mistakes. Respond from a position of clear-headedness.
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7. Massage therapy will help you to relax and reconnect with your body. The caring touch of another person in a safe space is healing. Research suggests that massage reduces high blood pressure and may boost immunity, as several studies have found there are dramatic decreases in the stress hormone cortisol after massage sessions.
8. Play music. Since ancient times, people have understood that music has healing properties. Because positive mood affects the capacity for memory, it is important for you to listen to positive music in the car or wherever else possible. Change the channel or turn off music that is depressing or has lyrics that degrade or objectify women. What you listen to affects your perception of the world. See “The Survivor’s Playlist” for some ideas.
9. Being grateful. I found bubble baths to be very important in helping me to de-stress. Prayer, meditation, positive affirmations, being with family and friends, and gratitude are also very helpful. Being grateful that I had a family, we were all healthy, I had a good job. These things matter, especially now. Gratitude will help you to keep things in perspective, so keep a gratitude journal and write in it every day.
10. Empowerment. You will feel better about your ability to handle the divorce if you take responsibility for the outcome, inform yourself as much as possible by doing your own research, and are proactive in taking steps to protect yourself. You will feel more empowered and that will reduce your stress, too.
You can do this. Taking care of yourself, even when you don’t feel like it, will help you to keep strong and reduce your stress.
Editor’s Note: Rosemary Lombardy is a financial advisor and portfolio manager with over 35 years of experience. Although her professional expertise is in financial matters, her perspective on marital abuse, divorce, and recovery is deeply heartfelt and holistic. She draws on decades of personal experience, as well as the experiences of others who have gone through similar situations, to help inform abused women so that they will become empowered to leave their abusers and begin to heal. This article originally appeared on BreakingBonds.com. It is reprinted with permission.
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