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Dealing with a High Conflict Spouse During Divorce

 Posted on July 01, 2017 in Divorce

Has your spouse been consistently uncompromising during your marriage? Has he often blamed others for his problems and avoided responsibility? Does she lack self-awareness about her propensity for drama and conflict despite consistently receiving negative feedback? If you answered yes to these questions, you may be married to a high-conflict individual. Understanding what this means and the strategies to deal with him or her during your divorce can help you during this tough time.

Who is a High-Conflict Individual?

A high-conflict individual is someone who exhibits a pattern of behaviors that increase conflict instead of seeking to resolve it, according to Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., and founder of the High Conflict Institute. High-conflict people often exhibit certain behaviors, including:

  • Taking extreme actions, including verbal abuse, threats, and physical violence
  • Unmanaged emotions, sometimes with disproportionate reactions
  • Blaming others and finding no fault in their own actions
  • All-or-nothing thinking without any interest in compromise

There is often confusion regarding whether a person or a situation is high conflict – particularly during a divorce or other family matter. Circumstances can certainly lead to conflict. However, with a high-conflict individual, it is their behavior and not the issues themselves that cause further disagreement.

High-Conflict Individuals and Mental Health

A high-conflict personality is not a personality disorder or a mental health diagnosis. Just because you believe your spouse is a high-conflict person that does not make him or her mentally ill. This term describes a pattern of behavior, which can be used to better understand and work with him or her. This can be crucial both during a divorce and if you and your spouse must co-parent for years to come.

However, a high-conflict person can also suffer from a distinct and diagnosable personality disorder. If you believe your loved one is mentally ill and needs treatment, speak with your attorney immediately. You may be able to request that the court require a psychological evaluation.

Strategies to Deal with a High-Conflict Person

Divorce requires a great deal of compromise, which is not a high-conflict person’s strong suit. It is also a significant loss, which a high-conflict individual may have a hard time accepting. Ultimately, divorcing a high-conflict person can lead to difficulties you could have otherwise avoided or may not have expected. If you believe your spouse is a high-conflict individual, the first thing to do is discuss this with your lawyer. Our divorce attorneys at Fay, Farrow & Associates, P.C. have years of experience working with all types of personalities. We can prepare for disputes and guide you through them.

As the recipient of the high-conflict behavior, your most important strategies are to: not take it personally, do not become defensive, and remain calm. When your spouse responds disproportionately, yells, threatens, or refuses to actually address the issue you brought up, do not internalize the behavior as your fault. Instead, recognize this as a part of his or her high-conflict personality. Then, do not become defensive about your own behavior. Do your best to take his or her behavior in stride and respond as calmly as possible.

Your goal should be to not allow a situation to escalate. Your spouse’s natural responses will be to create and intensify disputes. It is unfortunately your responsibility to not let him or her do that. You must practice politely yet firmly ending conversations or situations in which your spouse refuses to be calm and polite.

Coping with a divorce from a high-conflict individual is hard and requires conscious self-care. In addition to the strategies you and your attorneys develop to work with your spouse, you should create a routine or strategy to care for your own physical and emotional needs. This may include seeing a counselor, joining a support group, or focusing on exercise.

Contact Our DuPage County Divorce Lawyers Today

You are never alone when it comes to a divorce. Our skilled attorneys at Fay, Farrow & Associates, P.C. are here to help you with the legal and practical ramifications of ending your marriage. If you believe you are headed for a high-conflict divorce, we can prepare for the potential disputes head. Call us today at 630-961-0060 to learn more about what we can do for you.

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