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How to Deal with an Aggressive Spouse During Divorce

Every divorce looks different because every relationship is made up of two unique people. However, not every divorce is easy—especially when one spouse constantly meets your attempts at compromise with aggression. Don’t lose hope, though, because you can learn how to deal with an aggressive spouse during your divorce and still cross the finish line in time.

Aggressive spousal behavior during divorce

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the stress and painful emotions that come with separation. Some avoid conflict at all costs. But sometimes, spouses cope with these feelings by retaliating or acting out in a way that is aggressive and even scary. 

For example, your spouse may raise their voice or yell during negotiations or discussions. They may do this to get you to agree to their demands or to intimidate you in some way. Other times, spouses say mean things or bring up past transgressions with the intention of bruising your pride or hurting you in some way. In some cases, a spouse may even resort to verbally abusive behavior because they want to scare you into a submissive role during the divorce.

Sometimes, this behavior is simply a temporary snap in a person’s emotional stability (a term which many experts refer to as divorce psychosis). In these situations, people lash out or act in other erratic ways because they don’t know how to cope with the pain of divorce. 

Other times, people simply take an aggressive stance during their divorce because they feel unhappy and want to watch the world burn alongside their anger.

However, nothing is an excuse for aggressive behavior, and spouses should never put up with abuse of any kind, no matter the reasoning behind it.

Reasons behind aggression

Anger is a complex emotion. In fact, people often use aggression to mask their true feelings during a divorce. Anger creates distance and serves as a defense mechanism to protect people from other painful emotions. But what is your spouse’s anger hiding?

Expressing frustration

Sometimes, aggressive behavior is simply a spouse’s way of expressing their frustration or anger about the failed marriage. Even if your spouse is actually frustrated or angry with themselves, they may project those feelings on you through their behavior. Although this may infuriate you, it’s important to remember that your spouse’s aggressive behavior isn’t a reflection on you.

Masking pain

Other times, aggressive behavior is a mask for the pain they feel or the grief they are experiencing over the divorce. Depending on the specifics of the divorce, they may feel betrayed, blindsided, or hurt. In these situations, meeting your spouse’s aggression with kindness and understanding may help diffuse the situation.

There is never an excuse for aggressive behavior before or during divorce proceedings. However, understanding the reasoning behind your spouse’s aggressive behavior may help you meet them with empathy and compassion.

Tips for dealing with aggressive behavior

Use grounding techniques

Unfortunately, you cannot change your spouse’s behavior. However, you can control how you respond. Aggressive spouses typically want you to respond with aggression. So, if you use grounding techniques to remain calm and collected, your spouse won't get the satisfaction of seeing you squirm with frustration and discomfort.

Many people find that paced breathing exercises work well as a simple grounding technique that you can perform anywhere at any time. You can try exercises like square breathing, where you imagine a square inside your mind as you breathe in, hold, breathe out, and hold. Similarly, some people find visualization exercises or other forms of distraction a helpful escape from stressful moments.

Set boundaries

When we sat down for a Q&A session with Michelle Dempsey, she suggested that spouses set boundaries. According to Dempsey, “High-conflict people do not like being told ‘no’ or that they’re wrong. For this reason, I always advise my clients to harness the power of silence—a boundary in itself.” 

Still, sometimes you just need to walk away from the situation and spend some time calming down on your own. You can take a moment to walk around the building, grab a glass of water, or do another activity that helps calm your body and mind.

Hire a mediator

If nothing else seems to work, you may want to hire a mediator to help you and your spouse work through the details of your divorce. A mediator acts as a go-between so high-conflict spouses don’t have to be in the same room together. This can help remove communication problems and allow you to make decisions without focusing on the other person’s emotions.

Mediation comes as a standard part of Hello Divorce's cooperative plan or as a standalone product couples can add on as needed. This assistance can help you work through disagreements and ultimately come to a resolution in your divorce.

Amicable divorce may still be possible

Even if your spouse is acting aggressively, that doesn't mean you can't still work things out amicably. As long as you both have the same end goals in mind and make a concerted effort to deal with aggressive behavior, you may be able to eventually reach a resolution you both feel comfortable with. 

Many couples find mutual ground once they work through the intense emotions that occur during the initial stages of divorce. Just know that it will require self-control, strong boundaries, and acceptance at first.

Unfortunately, there are also times when amicable divorce just isn’t possible, and that’s okay. If you are dealing with a particularly problematic or narcissistic spouse, you probably will never see eye to eye on anything. 

At the end of the day, your safety (and your child’s) are paramount no matter what is going on in the divorce. Abuse of any kind should not be tolerated, even if that means you need to walk away and secure a safe place to live while the dust settles on your divorce. 

And, if you need immediate assistance, don’t be afraid to utilize resources like the Domestic Violence Hotline to get the help you need.

Protecting your safety and health

No matter what happens during and after your divorce, your health and safety should stay at the forefront. Luckily, there are numerous ways to get help and support during this difficult time.

Individual therapy

You might benefit from individual therapy during your divorce. It can be helpful to have a safe, non-judgemental outlet for your emotions during this trying time. Therapists can also point you toward resources for during and after the divorce process and give you suggestions on how to handle situations with your soon-to-be ex.

Family therapy

If you share children with your spouse, they may also benefit from individual or family therapy sessions that you attend with them. Divorce can be tough on children, especially if you are dealing with an aggressive, angry spouse. Therapy gives children the emotional outlet they need without making them feel like they’re “taking sides” in the divorce.

Support groups

A divorce support group can be a wonderful place to find people who understand what you’re going through and are willing to help you along the way. These groups offer a supportive, confidential space for you to connect with others and share what’s going on in your divorce. 

Of course, the ultimate goal is finalizing your divorce without compromising your health and happiness. Just remember that even divorces with high-conflict spouses do eventually end, and you’ll get there in time. Until then, remember that you don’t have to tolerate abuse in any form, and safety comes before anything else. Remain strong, and you’ll eventually see the light at the end of the divorce tunnel.