High Conflict Divorce: Is It Anger? Or Something Else?

The emotional reality of ending a marriage is never easyhigh conflict divorce

Whether a divorce is a mutual decision or made by one spouse, coming to terms with the end of a marriage and processing that loss is different for everyone. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve but certain behaviors can signal the existence of a bigger issue. Anyone who has been divorced or knows someone who has understands the roller coaster of emotions that can effect your ability to think and function. Most divorcing people manage to work through the emotional and logistical challenges their divorce presents and in time begin to focus on rebuilding their lives. But there are others who function differently that are driven by retribution, control, and perpetuating conflict and theirs will usually be a high conflict divorce.

These are divorces involving high conflict personalities (HCPs)

The irrational, explosive and downright outrageous behaviors exhibited by high conflict personalities in divorce are exhausting and can escalate quickly. For many husbands and wives, divorcing a high conflict personality marks the beginning of a long road, one they don’t understand, and through no fault of their own, are unequipped to deal with and manage. As the daughter of a high conflict parent, I’m familiar with the confusion and chaos these personalities create and the havoc they wreak on your life. Over the years I’ve had numerous clients express the same frustration I experienced at their spouse’s behavior once their divorce started. Many acknowledged their spouse’s difficult personality but were confused by how their divorce exposed a side they not only didn’t understand but couldn’t believe. Experts agree that anger, frustration, denial, and fear are all part of the grieving process, and many divorcing people exhibit these behaviors at some point during the process. In most cases, these feelings stabilize over time but for high conflict personalities, their divorce is a wound that never heals.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) personality disorders

These personality disorders fall under the category of anti-social behavior, they are the two most common personality disorders revealed during a divorce and can present numerous, ongoing challenges from negotiating financial settlements, to maintaining even minimally civil relationships for co-parenting. Most legal professionals lack the training to recognize high conflict personality disorders which can make a difficult, and sometimes dangerous situation worse, and condemn innocent spouses to years of on-going conflict and the need to put out one legal fire after another, with no end in sight.

The outcome of a high conflict divorce is heavily dependent upon how it’s handled and the skill of the professionals involved. Financial solvency, the ability to successfully co-parent your children, and your quality of life are all dictated by the way these divorces are facilitated and managed. Lack of understanding, legal aggression, and inadequate preparation all have long-term consequences which can entangle former spouses in a cycle of endless abuse, custody battles and financial hardship long after their divorce is final. If you know or suspect you have a high conflict spouse it’s important to understand what you are actually dealing with first, then surround yourself with experienced professionals and a good support system, and then prepare before you begin any legal action. These steps won’t change the personality you’re dealing with but they will make you better prepared for the bumpy road of divorcing a high conflict personality.

This is the first in my series of posts relating to HCPs. In my next post, I’ll discuss the expectations of high conflict personalities in divorce and how those expectations complicate financial negotiations and settlements.

For information on Lori’s upcoming High Conflict Divorce seminars or to register, contact us at 401-228-8789.

Showing 2 comments
  • Kevin Grover

    Articles like this are our attempt to raise awareness of this problem within the court system. The best advice we could offer in the short term is to learn to defend yourself and attempt to mitigate the damage in the future. To begin, we would recommend a couple of books by Bill Eddy from the High Conflict Institute in California. The First is ‘High Conflict People in Legal Disputes’, the second is ‘Splitting’. You can order them from their web site: http://www.highconflictinstitute.com or wherever you buy books online. Another valuable source of information on personality disorders are the YouTube videos of Sam Vaknin, a self-aware narcissist. He has over 100 videos on the subject. Sadly, the court and attorneys working within it are simply not trained or equipped to first recognize and then appropriately deal with these kinds of personality disorders and the burden of proof required to legally counteract such mayhem is almost impossible to muster up and use effectively without spending many thousands of dollars in legal fees and even then there’s no guarantee. Expect more on this topic in the future as we find ourselves having to deal with this more and more even in a mediation setting which is what prompted Lori to write this article. Stay in touch, and good luck! – Kevin & Lori Grover

  • Deb

    Omg, someone finally understands the hell my ex has put me through. Where do I go fron here. He has literally backed me into a financial nightmare and the court system allowed it without even realizing it because of the inaccurate picture he painted one well mastered lie after another all designed to punish me for his feelings; despite my attempts to protect our children.

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