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Protecting yourself from a high conflict personality in divorce

Are you married to someone who never takes responsibility for their actions?  Does your spouse focus on someone and blame them for everything rather than examine their own role in the disagreement and refuse attempts to solve the conflict?

These personalities are not rare, unfortunately. When it comes to divorce, they can uproot your life for months, even years in the future. Thus, if you suspect your spouse is a high conflict personality, you need to learn as much as you can in order to properly establish and maintain boundaries to effectively deal with their antics now, during divorce and beyond. Avoid being caught by surprise.

Educate yourself and prepare for divorce

Bill Eddy from the High Conflict Institute has written a number of books on these personalities, offering insight and strategies you can use to protect yourself. There are different types of high conflict personalities, but because behaviors tend to overlap, such persons can be summarized by the following characteristics:  

  • Extremely charming, affectionate, intense in the beginning of the relationship.
  • Often pressure their partners to quickly rush into commitment, like getting married or moving in together after one or two months of dating.
  • Shows little to no remorse for bad acts, instead blames others.
  • Problems with denial, compulsive lying, explosive anger, and intense negativity.
  • Exhibits all or nothing thinking, labeling people as either all good or all bad.
  • Secretive.

High conflict personalities in family court

Because high conflict personalities are so emotional, they are often believed by others because their intense feelings are so persuasive. They often suck people into their personal dramas because their emotions are seemingly believable. The structure of the legal system rewards high conflict personalities because in litigation, parties are split into a clear winner and loser, which feeds into their black and white thinking and system of blame. However, do not be discouraged. These personalities cannot control their impulses or manage their emotions over the long term, which works to expose lies and abuse.

Things to do now

If you have made the decision to end your marriage with a high conflict spouse, start seeing a therapist immediately. Your therapist will help you manage and deal with emotions that will be triggered. Learn how to avoid escalating the situation to save your energy for battles that matter. You can prepare in advance for situations that are likely to provoke irrational behavior in your spouse.

Focus on patterns of behavior, but don’t label it, simply describe it. Document incidents over the long term and keep it hidden away in a safe place if you still live together. Use this documentation to communicate patterns of behavior to your lawyer, who will use it to demonstrate your spouse’s behavior to the court. Be sure to carefully weigh all options available to end your marriage, even out of court settlements and mediation.

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