The reason I work with professional women in high conflict divorces, is because I am one. 30 years of learning psychological theory did not help me avoid my own nightmare.

This makes my perspective somewhat unique, drawing as it does on my life, theory, and my clinical practice simultaneously.

It also means I am in a very privileged position to present both in first, and third person, the real ‘blood, guts, and tears’ stages that women go through in difficult divorces.

So here goes – what’s it really like being in a difficult divorce?

1. Fear
It’s terrifying. The whole thing. Every step.

There is no way to fully express the horror of the ongoing dread. It swamps you. It’s chronic. It’s unrelenting. It wakes you in the night choked in sweat.

I teach my clients to compartmentalise anxiety as though their lives depended on it (and it honestly does), otherwise they are going to drown in panic-drenched sheets.

2. Lack of control
The inability to control the timeline or process of the legal system sends clients to the edge – every one of my clients has experienced suicidal ideation. They all fantasise about escape.

Instead they are trapped on a vertiginous rollercoaster – at best they experience the high of a short-term win, but they come to realise this only leads to yet another death-drop as they are forced to trundle around the track once more.

They have to learn to accept every court battle merely leads to another.

3. Rage
Every client has immense amounts of moral rage. Directed at their ex, their family, their friends, the legal system, their lawyer, God, the Universe and ultimately, themselves.

Everytime they come into contact with the legal process the rage grows. It is epic in its proportions.

4. Delusion
The whole process is one of stripping back delusion: that their relationship was ‘loving’; that the cavalry is coming to rescue them; that their social or familial circle really care; that the legal system has the necessary teeth to control or make accountable their ex; that anyone really ‘gets it’.

One by one these veils lift, and clients begin to inhabit the adult ego state – analytical, objective and factual. They start to recognize the need to fully detach from their partner to be truly free. Nothing short of full independence will suffice.

5. Winning
Finally, ideas such as justice and right become redundant. They no longer want to ‘fight’ for their ‘fair share’ because they know their ex will only ‘pull something else’.

Winning thus becomes redefined as personal autonomy. When the client gets here, they have traversed a very long, dark tunnel.

Conclusion
Moving through these stages requires the complete rupture and rebuild of someone’s notion of social-moral reality and personal identity. This cannot be delivered by the faint-hearted, nor the inexperienced.

It’s taken me 30 years of practice, study and research and a world of personal pain, to learn how to deal with the dark places. I am still a beginner.