Tips for Dealing with High Conflict People in Divorce and Co-Parenting

High Conflict People

If you are divorcing and/or co-parenting with a high-conflict personality, you know how impossible they can make an already difficult process. But there are ways to deal with their behavior more effectively. We recently hosted a Facebook Live with Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. (Attorney, Social Worker, Therapist, Mediator, and Author) where he answered audience questions on commonly challenging issues with tips to help you going forward. Here’s a sample. 

Are certain personality types likely to be high conflict?

Yes, narcissists, borderline personalities, anti-social personalities, and histrionic/paranoid personalities most commonly exhibit high-conflict behaviors. It doesn’t matter if someone has been clinically diagnosed with one of these personalities. Rather, what’s most important is to recognize their behavior traits so you can adapt what you do to more effectively deal with them. For example, with a narcissist, you want to avoid certain behaviors of your own which might escalate your ex and/or unnecessarily feed conflicts with them.

What signs can help identify a high-conflict person?

There are four key behaviors in which to watch for:

  • Preoccupation with blaming others
  • All or nothing thinking 
  • Unmanaged emotions 
  • Extreme behaviors 

How can you co-exist more peacefully with a high-conflict person?

 EAR statements can help. EAR stands for empathy, attention, and respect, and statements infused with this can cal a high-conflict person. For example, if you have something that needs to be fixed you might say, “You’re good at fixing things, can you help me with this.” Then direct them towards a task.

How do you protect yourself when divorcing a high-conflict person?

There are several ways. Get support from people such as a therapist, get a lawyer well-versed in high-conflict divorce, and make a plan ahead of time. This is important because there are approaches in a typical divorce that might be counter-productive in a high-conflict one. For example:

  • Forget telling them how you feel because it feeds their manipulation and escalates them.
  • Don’t try to give them insight because these people don’t have that capability in themselves.
  • Don’t talk about the past because it’s like quicksand with them, look at your choices now. 
  • Don’t tell them you think they are a high-conflict person because it will send them into defense mode.

Will mediation work in high-conflict situations?

In many cases, this is the better way to go. Try it first because you’re not escalating the person like in court. If they lose in court, they will want to get you back. You can keep things calmer in mediation, but be prepared for court if it doesn’t work; keep records and have a lawyer consulting so you are ready if you have to litigate. But, make sure the mediator you choose is comfortable with and has experience with high-conflict co-parenting and/or divorce. Otherwise, they may fall prey to your ex’s manipulations.

Is it possible to steer a high-conflict person towards a problem-solving approach when co-parenting?

Yes, but the approach needs to have some structure to it. Use the BIFF approach in communications: brief, informative, friendly, and firm. Remember to stay calm as you make proposals. This sets the tone and high-conflict personalities with mirror the approach eventually. 

How does a person overcome their frustration with a high-conflict ex?

Tell yourself it’s not about you, the issue is on them. Don’t absorb it and try to prove it’s not who you are. Remember you’re not responsible for that person’s outcome. You can also protect your kids by teaching them these skills:

  • Moderate behavior
  • Manage emotions
  • Flexible thinking
  • Checking yourself

Then, when an inappropriate situation presents itself with your ex you can acknowledge the behavior and use it as an example without bashing them. For example, you could say, “When your father/mother did this, did you notice how they weren’t managing their emotions.”

What can I do if co-parenting with a high-conflict person is unsuccessful? 

Try parallel parenting instead. It’s certainly worth trying to see how cooperative can you be in co-parenting first. Then move in this direction if it’s not working. Parallel parenting is when each parent just focuses on the kids when they are with them. There’s not a lot of communication between the parents nor is there conversation with the child/parent when they are with the other parent.  Think of it as an imaginary wall that keeps parents from having to deal with each other and it protects children from being in the middle as well.

To watch the full Facebook Live event, visit here. If you are interested in learning more about our high-conflict divorce coaching and mediation services, contact our experienced team today!

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