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5 Tips for Dealing with High Conflict Personalities During Divorce Thomas A. Greenwald

A high conflict personality is defined as a person with long-standing patterns of behavior and experience that adversely affect the person’s interrelationships with others and ability to function effectively in the world. A high conflict personality type can exist in both complex and simple divorce cases. Divorcing someone with high conflict personality could produce additional challenges in divorce. Fortunately, there are proactive strategies you can take to deal with a spouse who you believe may have a high conflict personality. Here are five tips to assist you in resolving your divorce case quickly and efficiently.


The first step is to forecast your intentions. If you are planning on filing for divorce, there are certain things you can do in advance to prepare for a divorce. Consider gathering documents, taking photographs of personal property, and securing certain property. Once you are ready to file for divorce, you should at least consider when and how you will let your spouse know about the divorce. This is important because at the core of many high conflict personalities is a need for control, feelings of insecurity, and a fear of uncertainty. It is typically better not to surprise a person with a high conflict personality. Proper planning may help to mitigate an adversarial response from your spouse.


Next, it is important to set reasonable boundaries for your spouse’s behavior and hold firm boundaries during the divorce process. If something needs to be done by a certain date, be reasonable in your expectations, but don’t allow your spouse to unilaterally change or ignore the date. Don’t allow your spouse to manipulate you because as soon as your spouse realizes that you can be manipulated, or that you don’t really mean what you say, you will lose credibility and that can make it difficult to resolve your case.


The third point is that you should not expect your spouse to change their behavior. Chances are that you have walked on egg shells for a long time due to your spouse’s unpredictable moods and behavior. When you file for divorce, don’t expect your spouse to suddenly have insight into their bad behaviors. If you tell your spouse they are wrong or that they have a personality disorder it is not going to change their behavior. Focus on the things you can control and do not rely on your spouse to be fair or “to do the right thing.” Develop a divorce plan and work the plan despite your spouse’s anticipated poor behavior.


Do not engage in conflicts with your spouse. In other words, don’t be drawn into the conflict. Why? Because it will not change outcome. You can only control what you can control. Disagreements that escalate will only serve to lengthen litigation and they are not going to solve problems.

High conflict personality types can be very manipulative. A classic form of manipulation is to secretly record conversations out of context. It is legal in some states (i.e., Texas) to record a conversation if one party to the conversation knows the conversation is being recorded. Therefore, your spouse may record a conversation with you during a telephone call or an in-person conversation without telling you, and that recording may be admissible in court. Text messages and emails are also admissible as evidence in court. Don’t allow your spouse to “push your buttons” and lure you into emotional conversations. If you have sensitive issues that need to be discussed during the divorce process, rely on your attorney to take the lead and work as a buffer. Your attorney can also assist you in determining what issues need to be addressed in resolving your case.


It is important to allow your spouse to participate in problem solving. People with personality disorders or traits of a personality disorder often believe they are superior, that they are smarter than everybody else, and that their opinions matter. It will help if you can get your spouse to “buy in” to the settlement. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do everything on their terms. It simply means you give them a voice in the process and consider their thoughts as you work on a settlement. Just saying, “Here’s our offer take or leave it,” rarely results in settlement. Take-it-or-leave-it offers, and ultimatums typically create more conflict and more adversity and make it more difficult to settle cases.

Ask your spouse open-ended questions as part of the settlement process. When you make an offer anticipate what the counter offer will be and build compromise into your initial offer. Because it is often difficult to get a high conflict personality spouse to accept an offer, craft settlement offers so that you can accept a counter-offer as opposed to relying on your spouse to accept an offer. Offers that consider or reference issues important to your spouse may result in a more desirable outcome.

While divorcing someone with a high conflict personality can be challenging, it can be made easier through a calm, clear, and strategic approach. During this process, it is important to work with an attorney who understands and has experience working with high conflict personalities. This will help you develop a strategy that will give you the best opportunity to avoid escalating conflict at the beginning and throughout the divorce process.

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