How To Get Over An Affair When You Cheated

Man holding his head and wondering about how to get over an affair when you cheated.

The path forward won’t be easy, but healing is possible.

When infidelity quakes a marriage, concern usually rallies around the betrayed spouse. Figuring out how to get over an affair when you cheated is most often left to…well…you.

Overcoming infidelity is a gut-wrenching process, regardless of a decision to stay in or leave the marriage.

Your load of guilt, confusion and loneliness may weigh in close to the weight of your spouse’s pain. But you may not feel worthy of the same sympathy and support available to your devastated spouse.

The jilted spouse may feel surprising emotions like shame and embarrassment, and may not want to share the reality with anyone. But there will always be an abundance of supportive resources to guide him/her to healing.

Learning how to get over an affair when you cheated, however, and assuming you want to repair your marriage requires your commitment to healing two lives: your spouse’s and your own. And that can feel like a double life in itself.

Even if your marriage dissolves as a result of your infidelity, you will have to do a lot of work to heal from your affair. You will have guilt, loss and behavioral patterns to process.

And you will have to evolve into a person not forever mired in guilt, and also not predisposed to cheating again. If you don’t, you will most likely repeat old behaviors with similar outcomes.

If you and your spouse survive the early devastation with a desire to save your marriage, you can learn how to get over an affair. When you cheated, you may not have known what you wanted. But now it’s time to decide…and to begin the healing.

And that includes healing you. Yes, you chose to stray, and yes, that onus will always be yours. But creating a new and better marriage means you both have to bring the best of yourselves to it.

For this reason, you need to start with healing your own heart and self-esteem. You will then be much better able to embrace the humbling, challenging work of healing your spouse and marriage.

Self-love may sound like an oxymoron in the aftermath of hurtful, destructive behavior. But no relationship, whether with yourself or a current or future partner, can thrive if your heart pumps only self-disdain through your veins.

Please give pause to the following acts of self-healing. Once you understand these, you’ll be in a better position to do your part in healing your marriage.

  1. Forgive yourself.
    In no way is forgiveness a dismissal of accountability. It is, however, permission to pick yourself up and learn from your fall. It is the green light to move forward in gratitude for grace and the opportunity to grow.Take personal account of your beautiful gifts and your capacity to love. Write them down. Chant them to yourself. Express gratitude for them.And extend your self-forgiveness to a commitment to use those gifts in a transformational way going forward.
  2. Practice acceptance.
    You will have to come to grips with the choices you have made and the suffering those choices have caused. Acceptance is about owning that truth and being able to stand in that reality without immediately tossing the hot potato off to someone else.There may have been many defects in your marriage, but the choice of infidelity as a response was completely yours. Your acceptance will ground you so that you can take appropriate action.
  3. Give it up to your Higher Power.
    There’s a reason the 12 Steps have brought sanity, healing and livability to millions of people.You don’t have to be a religious person to believe that there is a “bigger plan” at work in our world and lives. By tapping into that seed of faith, you could open yourself to miracles you might never create on your own.
  4. Embrace the balance.
    Remember the Law of Duality that keeps the Universe in balance. There are two sides to every coin, but one coin.While you have caused a lot of pain, you are also responsible for a lot of good. Trust that your Higher Power is at work to bring these two extremes into balance, and that all will be well.
  5. Learn, learn, learn! And then move on.
    The essence of how to get over an affair when you cheated lies in what you learn from the experience.You can demonstrate your remorse by your ardent self-exploration and application of lessons. What are your beliefs, values and communication/behavioral/response patterns? What needs work?

    You can turn this painful chapter of your marriage and life into an inspirational life (and potentially an inspirational union too).

As challenging and “raw” as the above work may be, doing the recovery work with your spouse may challenge you even more. That’s why it is so important that you not neglect the work with yourself and your Higher Power.

You will draw resolve and strengthened virtues like humility and trustworthiness from that work. And these will nourish you, your spouse and your marriage-in-the-making during the work ahead.

The work of getting over your affair and restoring your marriage doesn’t belong to you alone. Both you and your spouse will have high-level tasks to complete. Some will be tasks you can “check off,” and some will be ongoing and evolving.

Because you are reading about how to get over an affair when you cheated, here are your five high-level tasks.

  1. Stop the affair.
    The cheating has to stop — completely. And only you know if you have forged a relationship that you want/need to end.You can’t work on any relationship while you are holding onto another. Saving your marriage means cutting off the potential for temptation by cutting off all contact with your affair partner.
  2. Commit to complete honesty.
    No more lying, and no excuses or justification for the affair.You are going to have to answer a lot of questions, and they likely won’t end anytime soon.

    The sensitive and fragile nature of this process is good reason to go into couples/marriage counseling as soon as possible. Therapists who specialize in couples only will be able to guide this very delicate process with wisdom and safety.

    They will also know how to ensure that your spouse gets deserved answers to their countless questions, while not sneaking into potentially traumatizing details.

  3. Take responsibility for your actions.
    If you have been committed to the above healing work for your own life, you will be prepared for this task.Taking responsibility doesn’t mean you sign off as a perpetual punching bag as punishment for your transgression. It means you don’t blame the marriage or your spouse — no matter how many defects they may have — for your choice.

    It also means you show up for the atoning work ahead, even when it’s uncomfortable. (And it will be.)

  4. Be sympathetic, loving, and patient.
    Your spouse isn’t going to seem like the spouse you once loved or even want to love for a long time. How could they?Regaining trust is a long earned-moment-by-moment process. You are going to have to be selfless and committed more than ever before.

    Your spouse has essentially “waited” for you. Now you have to “wait” for your spouse.

    When you feel your patience waning, call upon your gratitude that your spouse has agreed to stay and work on your marriage.

  5. Be willing to create a new marriage.
    If you have to formally say goodbye to your first marriage, do so. What’s important is that you don’t set yourselves up for failure by clinging to a relationship that no longer exists.Yes, you are the same people with the same children and the same “marriage.” And yet, you’re not the same people. And your marriage isn’t the same either.

    And that vulnerable, mysterious, unchartered place of creating a new marriage together is also where the power of choice comes in.

    Some of the greatest journeys have stepped out of original-plans-gone-wrong.

When you are the one who has been unfaithful, it’s natural not to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The self-damnation is often worse than any sentence your spouse or the world could impose.

But it’s important that you can look in the mirror and see a person whose goodness balances painful choices. It will never justify infidelity as a response to your dissatisfactions, but it will be the wellspring of new and better choices going forward.

Knowing how to get over an affair when you cheated starts in that deep, inner space where all “knowing” exists. And that means you are going to have to be the first to do what you eventually hope your spouse will do: trust you.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help individuals navigate the repercussions of infidelity. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about getting over your affair? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.

10 Tips For Healing A Child’s Heart After Divorce

By focusing on healing a child’s heart after divorce, his parents might have alleviated the isolation this boy is feeling.

Healing a child’s heart after divorce is tricky. Luckily your child can heal without lasting scars.

Healing your heart after divorce can be a long, all-encompassing journey. The thought of healing a child’s heart after divorce can take your breath away. Children are, after all, the innocent, powerless victims — the collateral damage with no say in the implosion of their family.

Children are, by their nature, resilient. But how they react and adapt in the case of divorce depends on a number of factors, including age, personality and circumstances.

And success in healing a child’s heart after divorce depends largely on you — how you react, adapt…and communicate.

Parents, even without intending, can be so engrossed in their own emotions that they forget about the emotional impact on their children. If the separation and divorce are especially hostile, they may not be able to see beyond their own anger and blame.

A common mistake parents make is failing to acknowledge and help children talk through the impact of the divorce.

Sometimes guilt gets in the way. Sometimes parents don’t have the awareness essential to be present to their children in the necessary way. And sometimes they don’t have the necessary emotional or communication skills.

No matter what the reason, your ability to rise above the negativity of your own emotions will determine how well your children adapt.

Ironically, if you’re going to succeed at healing a child’s heart after divorce, you and your ex will have to be on your best behavior. You’ll have to learn to do what you didn’t do well in your marriage: communicate effectively.

Healing a child’s heart after divorce calls upon parents to be the best of themselves: selfless, compassionate, dependable, uncompromisingly communicative. They will have to exercise healthy boundaries that protect the highest good of the child(ren), even as they work to heal themselves.

What children learn from the experience of living out their youth after divorce can shape the rest of their lives. And it can have a profound effect on the formation and stability of their future relationships.

How can you focus on healing a child’s heart after divorce when your own heart isn’t healed? Here are 10 important tips, with considerations for different age groups.

  1. Keep the ugly stuff away from the children.
    Never ever fight in front of them, and don’t discuss legal matters in front of them.

    If you need to vent your negativity or have a “blame session,” do so with your divorce coach, therapist or a trusted friend. But never speak derogatorily about your ex around your children. In their developing minds, doing so is the equivalent of disapproving of them.

    Your children are not only hurt and confused, but they are also extremely vulnerable and impressionable. The last thing they should ever believe is that they are somehow to blame or will lose their parents’ love.

  1. Remind them it’s not their fault, and that you will always love them.
    Divorce is one of the most confusing experiences children can go through. “How can I trust that Mommy and Daddy will always love me if they suddenly stopped loving each other?”

    Explain to them that sometimes parents can’t live together in a happy, healthy way, but they never stop loving their children. This is a message you will have to repeat over and over, both in your words and your behavior.

  1. Be predictable.
    Surprises are for parties, not divorces. When something is going to affect your children’s lives or routines, they have a right to know in advance. Children shouldn’t come to expect being shell-shocked by their parents’ choices and behavior.
  1. Keep their routines as normal as possible.
    A big part of healing a child’s heart after divorce is not doing things that hurt it more.

    The one great consistency — an intact family — has already been taken away. The only thing that will keep a child grounded and able to adapt is having as much normalcy as possible.

    School, friends, activities, rituals — from the big things to the little things, these routines can be a salve to a child’s heart.

  1. Acknowledge and validate your child(ren)’s feelings.
    This is one of the most important commitments divorced parents need to make to their children.

    If you have difficulty discussing your own feelings in a healthy way, you may benefit from guidance in talking with your children. A therapist or divorce coach can teach you how to elicit the expression of feelings from your children.

    Expressing your perceptions and asking direct “feeling” questions can give children the safety they need to open up. And if they hear you express vulnerability in the form of feelings, they will learn to do the same.

  1. Keep your language and explanations age-appropriate.
    Children don’t need to know the “whys” of your divorce. But they do need (and deserve) to know how their lives are going to be changed.

    Speak to the emotional and intellectual age of the children. And be prepared to answer questions and to listen to and validate their feelings.

  1. Remember they are children, not “surrogate adults.”
    You have other adults in your life to lean on for support. Your child is not responsible for comforting you or taking care of you, no matter how loving and caring s/he is.

    If you have to swallow your tears long enough to tell your child that you are taking good care of yourself and will be fine, then do so. But don’t allow your child to take on the emotional burden of being a surrogate for you or your ex.

  1. Encourage and support your child’s relationship with the other parent.
    Regardless of your custodial arrangement, make sure your child knows that you know how important the other parent is to him/her. Speak supportively, encourage phone calls and communication, and be as flexible as you possibly can toward the other relationship.

    Remember, healing a child’s heart after divorce starts with prioritizing your child.

  1. Adapt to the child’s age and changing needs.
    Children 0-4 will be the most sensitive to changes in their routine, and will need frequent exposure to both parents.

    Children 5-12 are still routine-dependent, but now have school and friends for support too.

    They can also understand the concept of divorce, but are still vulnerable to blaming themselves and to regressive behavior. They will need the ongoing reassurance that the divorce had nothing to do with them and will not affect your love for them.

    As children get into their teens, they can understand more. They may blame themselves or one parent for the divorce. They also have strong attachments to their friends, and may want to make adjustments in their visitation schedules.

    Pay attention to the nuances of change that go along with children getting older. And make sure you are being emotionally present to their level of understanding.

  1. Take care of yourself.
    Taking good care of your physical and emotional health doesn’t run counter to putting your kids first.

    If anything, it sends the message that you are capable of taking care of yourself and them. It helps you on your personal journey of healing and makes you a good example of self-triumph to your kids.

    Just as importantly, it supports your verbal message that your children are just that — children. They are not your caretakers or surrogate spouses. It’s your job to take care of them, not the other way around.

The responsibility for healing a child’s heart after divorce is huge. And when you are stuck in your own pain, you may wonder if you have what it takes to help your child through this.

If you were a child of divorce, think back to what made your journey healing or more painful. If you weren’t a child of divorce, think about your influence on your children’s current well-being and future relationships.

Coming from a heart-place of awareness and love for your child can greatly inspire your choices. You and your ex may not agree on much or feel any love for one another. But at one time you had enough love between you to create a child.

And that remembrance will always be in front of you, calling you to the best of yourself on behalf of your child’s highest good.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate parenting post-divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step to work with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private consultation.

Looking for more information about dealing with parenting after divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Coparenting.

6 Strategies To Help You Overcome Grief After A Bitter Divorce

Sad man in blue jeans sitting on floor in tears trying to overcome grief after a bitter divorce

No matter how bad your divorce was, you don’t have to stay stuck & bitter for the rest of your life.

Divorce drags a lot of agony in its wake. And grief is an inescapable part of it. But the work to overcome grief after a bitter divorce can create another level of agony altogether.

Emotions like anger, guilt, shame, embarrassment, disappointment, and fear are among the normal line-up after a divorce.

Bitterness, however, is ugly. It oozes out of anger, resentment, and indignation over the perception of being treated unfairly. It goes beyond anger to a nastiness and malevolence toward the other person. It can even carry undertones of hatred.

Think about someone you have known who was so full of negative energy that s/he couldn’t focus on anything good. Perhaps that person had such deep, uncontrollable anger that s/he said and did “crazy” things.

Perhaps you even tried to reason with or help the person, but came to realize that there was no getting past the bitterness.

A person that is “pissed off” can’t move on, and remains a prisoner to the past.

If you’re trying to overcome grief after a bitter divorce, you will have to do a lot of work to defuse the rancor.

You won’t be able to control what your ex says or does. But you can decide for yourself that your survival depends on moving through the stages of grief. The alternative, staying stuck in any stage can lead to emotions and behaviors with lifetime consequences – and neither of us want that for you.

It’s not uncommon for people divorcing or already divorced to be immersed in senseless, destructive battles with one another. It’s also not uncommon for one or both to pretend that s/he isn’t hurting, or to avoid or mask the pain.

Healthy anger can be a potent messenger, telling you if something is wrong, painful or threatening. In divorce, however, anger is often wielded as a means to punish an ex while maintaining a bitter relationship.

Who would want that, right?

Remember that bitterness doesn’t run on clear thinking. It runs on the vapors of rumination over deep wounds that the other person may never acknowledge, let alone assuage. And that can lead a person to act destructively…and ultimately stay stuck.

In order to overcome grief after a bitter divorce, that process will have to be embraced. The stages will be the same as those for grieving a death, though infused with attributes unique to divorce.

There will be no funeral, and some of the trusted members of your support system may be part of the “loss” in the divorce. But there is life. And there is hope for yours to evolve to a more authentic, mature, happy place after you reach the stage of acceptance.

Here are 6 strategies to help you overcome grief after a bitter divorce.

  1. Accept the divorce in your mind until your heart catches up. This isn’t the same acceptance that shines the encouraging light from the end of the grief tunnel. It’s just a mental, pragmatic acceptance that says, “The divorce is a reality. I have to get through this, and I’m the only one who can do it.” You may feel numb, and you will definitely feel the heaviness of the grief to come. But now it’s time to step to the starting line and mentally accept the situation.
  1. Find a therapist, divorce coach, and/or divorce support group. Divorce unravels everything. It’s not just the big, obvious stuff. It’s also the countless little things — the nuances that stitch together memories and the rituals of daily life. Having all that pulled out from under you can be like waking up in the dark after an earthquake. How do you know where to step without stumbling? How do you access anything you need? The blessing of working with a divorce professional is that s/he knows where the light switch is…and can offer you a hand so that you can more safely navigate the rubble.And a support group can give you the camaraderie of others who are at the various stages of grief that you will need to work through.
  1. Let the grief begin.

    It’s going to happen, whether you accept it or resist it. Your commitment should be to move through each stage without getting stuck. Yes, you will undoubtedly come back to stages you thought you had left. And the stages won’t necessarily happen in order. The promise of the grief process is that each stage offers gifts — if the stage is temporary. Each stage poses its own dangers, however, if treated as your final destination.Divorce is not the end, so don’t give it the false power to be. (It’s worth noting that the stages of grief can range from five to seven in research. But the five original stages defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross are always present.)
  1. Work on your anger. Anger is actually a secondary emotion with a brilliant ability to shield you from deeper, primary emotions like sadness and fear. In the early stages of an event (separation, divorce, discovery of an infidelity), it can deflect the inevitable flood of pain and fear. This protection is one of the gifts of anger.
    Think of anger as a “PEP talk”: power, energy, and protection. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Kind of like, “Bottle that up and give me a 6-pack!”Think about how you feel when you are angry, even enraged. There’s an energy that needs a place to go. And it can be so strong that it makes you feel powerful when you express it. (Ever take a run or lift weights when the fury is running through your veins?)

    Now think about anger as a protector. It can be a veritable flame-thrower of emotion that can keep your offenders at a distance. Or it can simply protect you from underlying emotions for which you’re not quite ready.

    These gifts can give you resolve and the energy to take action to heal. They can also help you set very clear boundaries, especially at a time when you feel so vulnerable to trespass.

    But there is a risk to anger. If you stay in this stage too long, you could make poor judgments.

    You could bust right through those anger-inspired boundaries and hurt people. You could use all that powerful energy to create (and maintain) conflict. And you could hide your bitterness behind a false sense of control that anger can give.

    If you are trying to overcome grief after a bitter divorce, this part of your journey will be especially important. Get into the habit of writing out your anger in a journal or in letters you don’t send. Scream into a pillow. Pound a pillow. Talk it out with a divorce coach, therapist, or friend.

  1. Take responsibility. Divorce isn’t a one-person show. There is always at least a sliver of that pie graph with your name on it. Learn to communicate in “I” statements. Even the practice of speaking differently (and more responsibly) can slow your thinking and make you more aware of your thoughts. Take note of what pushes your buttons. And use the awareness of your responsibility as inspiration for personal-growth work.It’s amazing the way owning up to your own contributions to a failed marriage can halt the blame game.
  1. Strive for compassion and gratitude. Your ex may be the last person on earth for whom you feel compassion, let alone gratitude. But remember that s/he is as human as you, and is navigating this strange thing called “life” with as much vulnerability as you. Can you open your heart to the possibility that your ex’s hurtful behavior is a cover for underlying anger, fear, and sadness? Would that remind you of anyone? And just because you’re divorcing doesn’t mean that your time together was a waste. You shared life experiences and learned powerful lessons that have changed you. Even the difficult experiences taught you things you will never forget.And if you have children together, you will always have something for which to be grateful.

The work involved to overcome grief after a bitter divorce is about getting to a place of acceptance. This isn’t a “party on the mountaintop” after a long, upward trek. It’s just a newfound realization of your own strength.

Think of it as a starting place where you stake your flag in the ground and say, “Now, I’m ready to move forward.”

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach, who works with people just like you who want to know how to overcome grief after a bitter divorce. For free weekly advice, register for my newsletter. If you’d like to explore working with me, you can schedule a private 30-minute consultation with me.

Looking for more help coping with divorce heartbreak? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Dealing With Grief.

How To Win A Custody Battle Against A Narcissist

Mother hugs her son as she plans how to win custody of him against her narcissistic ex.

Divorce is already stressful enough. If you’re waging a custody battle on top of that—a custody battle with a narcissist, no less—then it can be absolutely overwhelming. This is new, scary territory, and your children are on the line. It can be the most difficult ordeal of your life.

Narcissistic behavior is often no-holds-barred self-serving conduct that makes it harder for others to prevail by sticking to the rules. Many times, narcissists will do anything they think they can get away with to advance their cause. This might include:

  • Personal attacks and insults
  • Legal, financial, and personal threats against you or others you care about
  • Gaslighting and other forms of psychological manipulation
  • Attempting to turn others against you
  • A willingness to spend considerable money to get what they want

The good news is that there are professionals who deal with these disputes every day, and they know how to win a custody battle against a narcissist. They can help you, and they’re your first stop on the road to making it through this crisis.

Hire an Experienced Attorney Who Specializes in Family Law

Fighting a custody battle with a narcissist is a dangerous turning point in your journey as a parent. You’re likely to be facing lies, personal attacks, emotional manipulation, and a two-faced adversary who will often appear perfectly reasonable to outsiders while being awful to anyone under their power.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: your children. A custody battle with a narcissist is an emergency because if the other parent is truly unwell, then losing custody to them could have a disastrous impact on your children’s development and wellbeing.

Don’t waste any time: hire an experienced family law attorney immediately. Look for someone who makes you comfortable, and who can explain the details and the process thoroughly, but in a language you understand. Talk to a few different attorneys in your area before you make a choice. And if you live somewhere remote, look in the big city to widen your options.

Build a Plan, Ideally with the Best Odds of Success

Winning a custody battle with a narcissist requires careful planning. Once you settle on an attorney, the two of you will sit down together, identify the outcome you want, and develop a plan for building your case and presenting it to the court. You may also wish to pursue a temporary order as a way to limit what your ex-spouse can do while the case is pending.

Next, it’s important to understand that most custody disputes end with some form of joint custody. When you think about how to “win” a custody battle against a narcissist, keep in mind that “winning” may or may not mean “sole custody.” That will depend on your specific situation. If you do end up pursuing joint custody, check out our blog on co-parenting versus parallel parenting.

The ultimate consideration in building your case is the wellbeing of your kids. That’s what the court is going to look at. If you’re demanding sole custody and the court doesn’t see that it’s justified, the judge might think you’re in it to punish your spouse rather than protect your kids.

This does happen sometimes. There’s a lot of anger in these cases, and if you’re in a custody battle with a narcissist you might feel that the dispute is absolutely clear cut in your favor, when actually it isn’t. Your attorney will guide you through all of this, and, when they lay out your options, they will likely recommend an outcome that has the best chance of success in court, even if it isn’t the most perfect outcome from your point of view. The final choice is yours, but you should consider their advice closely.

(We also recommend you check out our blog on this topic: “My Attorney and I Aren’t on the Same Page—What Now?”)

Gather Hard Evidence and Support

When you’re in a custody battle with a narcissist, it’s important to keep an objective point of view. The court isn’t going to see you the way you see yourself. Instead, the court has a legal responsibility to be impartial and look at all sides equally, letting the evidence and the circumstances determine the best course of action.

According to FindLaw, these are the most important factors that a court looks at when deciding custody:

  • The financial health and physical ability of each parent to care for the children.
  • The wishes of both parents, and the wishes of the children if they are old enough.
  • The medical and psychologicalhealthh of all parties.
  • The level of hardship that would be imposed upon the children in any scenario.
  • Each parent’s willingness to support the children’s relationship with the other parent.
  • Warning signs such as criminal history, substance abuse problems, etc.

Similarly, a court isn’t going to automatically accept your claim that you are locked in a custody battle with a narcissist. They are going to want to see evidence that the other parent’s behavior is adverse to the children’s interests and development.

Creating video or audio recordings isn’t necessarily a good idea, and in some cases it isn’t even legal. Instead, one great step you can take is to create a journal. Every time your former spouse has an altercation with you or the kids that you see as hurtful to the children’s wellbeing, you should write down the time and date, and give an honest account of what happened. The judge will read these materials and consider them carefully.

Stay Professional Even When They Don’t

Narcissists really know how to stir up trouble. It’s a way of diverting from the real issue. So the key in how to win a custody battle against a narcissist is behaving yourself, staying on-script, and avoiding getting into arguments and pointless confrontations.

(For more, see our blog on co-parenting with a narcissist.)

Narcissists will try to undermine you however they can. They are frighteningly good at getting under other people’s skin when they want to. And when it’s a spouse, they know all your secrets and all your buttons. A custody battle with a narcissist can be painfully personal, humiliating, and raw. They’ll draw out your anger if you let them. They might be secretly recording your interactions with them or the kids.

The critical advice here is: don’t fall to their level. Stay professional, even when they don’t. The court will look at your behavior very closely.

Understand that Narcissists Are Mentally Ill

In psychology, narcissism is a trait that falls on a spectrum; Everyone has at least some narcissistic tendencies, and some of us have more than others. For most of us this isn’t a problem and is actually a good thing. Psychology Today, writing about the healthy side of narcissism, notes that healthy levels of narcissistic thinking can provide self-confidence, courage, and independence.

It is only when these traits become so excessive that they interfere with a person’s ability to function normally in their day-to-day life that narcissistic personality disorder develops. That’s when a person becomes a “narcissist.”

By definition, narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition. A custody battle with a narcissist more likely means that you’re fighting with a sick person than a cunning genius. When you understand that their efforts to control the situation and hurt you are a symptom of their sickness, it can become easier to deal with.

Don’t Drag Your Kids into the Fight

One of the worst things you can do in a custody battle with a narcissist is drag your kids into the fight. Your children should never become a weapon against your spouse. They are vulnerable and probably even more distressed about the custody battle than you are.

With that in mind, don’t coach them to hate their other parent. A court can sniff that out. Even if it doesn’t, that’s not a healthy way to parent.

Instead, do a lot of listening. Hear them out. Let them vent their frustrations and fears to you. Learn what their point of view is, and ask what their wishes are. When you do speak, always aim to reassure them of their safety and the fact that they are loved.

Lastly, this is another area where you shouldn’t go it alone: set up appointments for them with a counselor, too, where they can speak (alone, even from you) about what’s on their mind.

The Bottom Line of Winning a Custody Battle with a Narcissist

If we boiled it all down to one basic rule: show that you’re a good parent.

Show that you’re mentally, physically, and economically fit to take care of the child. To the extent you’re able, show that the other parent isn’t fit by comparison. Stick to your plan and stay professional even when your ex-spouse is trying to drag you down into the mud. Listen to your lawyer’s advice. Respect the authority of the court. Lastly, you keep your children’s wellbeing front and center at all times.

It’s not easy, but that’s how you win a custody battle against a narcissist.


About the Author:

Alfredo Ramos is a writer specializing in issues important to parents and families – leveraging his experience in divorce, adoption, and other cases through work with the Ramos Law Group. In the past, he has served in the US Navy as the Medical Department Head with the primary mission of mobilization readiness of reserve personnel.

What To Do If You Find Yourself Saying, “I Hate My Life After Divorce”

Woman crying and thinking, “I hate my life after divorce.”

It’s possible to have a great tomorrow even if today your life after divorce sucks.

Perhaps you wanted your divorce. Perhaps not. Perhaps it was for the best. Perhaps not. But if you are thinking, “I hate my life after divorce,” something has to change. Divorce may be an unexpected reality in your life, but it doesn’t have to be your life’s demise.

Let’s start with some validation — because if you’re reading this, you are probably in some pain and looking for answers.

Divorce is gut-wrenching. It’s the consummate reversal of things hoped for, things dreamed of, things promised. It rearranges every corner of your life.

It can add therapy bills to your expenses and divide your personal and material assets in ways you couldn’t have imagined. You see your children half as much, your self-esteem takes a hit, and the future can seem non-existent.

Quite frankly, it sucks. And it’s no wonder you’re saying, “I hate my life after divorce.”

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not that train you’re feeling chased by at the moment.

If you find yourself stuck in the pain of your divorce, two reasons may be to blame. You may be having difficulty accepting your “new normal,” and you may still be reeling from the acute pain.

Either way, your ability to triumph and transform relies on your imminent ability to accept. You will never be able to work with something that you’re still fighting.

Shifting from “I hate my life after divorce” to “my life is better than ever” will happen through a progression of your own efforts. And those efforts will have to be made both in your thinking and in your actions.

Here are several ways to shift your post-divorce life and thinking from negative to positive. If it feels like too much to embrace all at once, start with a few that you know you can work on. The idea is to keep your life moving forward, not to lament where you’re currently stuck.

  • Don’t let the grief scare you. And don’t let it define you.

    The chaotic toss-up of grief-based emotions is inevitable. Feel free to give them all a proper name – anger, sadness, despair, hurt, etc. Doing so might help you recognize them when they show up…and lead them to the door when their welcome is over.The important thing is that you recognize grief as an experiential journey that is essential to closure, forgiveness and healing. Pretending that you are “above” the sadness, anger and bargaining-with-God will only delay the acceptance that is your life’s turning point
  • Focus on today.And yes, that can feel impossible. Life as you know it has been put on a high-agitation, extra-spin cycle. And you’re expected to “focus on today?” As much as possible, yes.
    Every time you say to yourself, “I hate my life after divorce,” you give energy to a relationship and life that no longer exist.

    Does that mean you’re never supposed to think about your marriage and your ex again? Of course not. It does mean that you have to be your own advocate and cheerleader.

    You don’t have to have all the answers for tomorrow. But you can’t languish in yesterday, either. At the very least, put a time limit on your trips to the land of “what was.” Your goal is to start building in the land of “what is.” 

  • Shift your attention away from your ex. Every time you start ruminating, blaming and litigating in your mind or conversations, you give away your power. “Yeah, but he’s the one who…” “She never…” “S/he always…”Not only does this displacement of energy keep you from focusing on today, it keeps you from focusing on you. And like it or not, you are the one who is now lead designer of your life.

    You are not a victim. You are a leader. And that’s the posture you need to assume. Save your energy for the journey ahead, and stop giving it away to the person who has his/her own work to do.

  • Choose healing over hanging on. If you were going to save your marriage, you and your ex would have made the effort before divorcing. Fantasizing about a reconciliation as an escape from I-hate-my-life-after-divorce thinking takes you out of reality and prolongs the agony.Sure, there are cases in which divorced couples reunite. But even in those super-rare cases, a lot of healing has to happen first. Focus on healing, growing, evolving. And give your ex space to do the same. 
  • Take really good care of yourself. How would you treat your best friend if s/he were going through something awful? Wouldn’t you put loving thought and intention into helping this person you care so much about?Perhaps one of the negatives of your marriage was that it made you forget your friendship with yourself. Perhaps you were always consumed with caring for others, and quietly came to forget your own value and need for care.

    The beauty of this time — yes, there is beauty in the midst of this pain — is that you get to focus on you. Think that sounds silly? Difficult? Self-centered? Impossible? Think again.

    Not only is self-care possible and legitimate, it’ also essential. Think of yourself in the third-person until the idea of self-priority feels second-nature.

    And if you still struggle to be self-nurturing, do it for your children…or faithful pets…or whoever relies on you for their own well-being. 

  • Stop lying to yourself. It’s only natural to self-soothe with verbal strokes and little lies. Allow yourself a freebie every now and then, but be careful not to slip into a mindset of feel-good falsehoods.You don’t hate your ex and hope bad things happen to him/her. The divorce wasn’t all his/her fault — you played your own role in the dynamics of your marriage. Your life isn’t permanently messed up because of your ex.

    And meeting someone new while you’re still smoldering is not going to put your life back together. (And it certainly won’t “show” your ex.)

  • Try all kinds of stuff…that has nothing to do with dating. Try new foods, new exercise routines, new hiking paths. Take an ethnic cooking class. Learn a new language. Turn your empty dining room into an art studio and get crafty. Volunteer. Join some Meetup groups. Just stretch out of your current very uncomfortable comfort zone.
  • Earn your degree. 

    In “Life,” that is. Get busy reading, listening to TED Talks, attending free seminars and workshops.Your divorce is now a “fact” of your life. But it doesn’t have to mark the end of your learning. To the contrary, this can be the most vital time of self-growth and transformation.

    Finding a counselor or life coach to help keep you on-track and share the enthusiasm for your progress can be an indispensable gift to yourself. 

    Just make it your commitment to learn…about yourself, about communication, about relationships. 

The fact that you take proactive steps to get out of an I-hate-my-life-after-divorce funk in no way invalidates your pain. It simply means that you “know” what you don’t “believe” right now: that your life is going to get better.

And the choices you make today — choices against the grain and in spite of the pain — will determine how great tomorrow will be. Focus on one positive step. And when you feel a little stronger, focus on two. Or three.

And no matter what, remember to focus on you.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people figure out how to have a better life after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you want to learn more about working with me, you can schedule a 30-minute private consultation with me.

Looking for more information about having a great life after divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Life After Divorce.