High Conflict Divorce: Is It Anger? Or Something Else?
The emotional reality of ending a marriage is never easy
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)
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.