Preparing for Divorce With a High-Conflict Spouse
Divorce is scary even when it’s amicable. It’s a huge change in your personal life, your finances, and your family structure, and it often means selling important assets and negotiating your childrens’ future. Even in the best-case scenario it takes time to figure it all out, but if you are unfortunate enough to be married to a high-conflict person, a divorce can be an absolute nightmare.
High-conflict people can be abusive, manipulative, controlling, and vindictive. When they feel they have been wronged—and they will when you leave them—they will make you the sole target of their rage and twist the divorce process to maximize your trauma.
However, as awful as a high-conflict person might try to make your life, that doesn’t mean they can’t be managed. If you’re able to get out in front of the situation and prepare for the worst, you will be in the best position to diffuse extreme and escalatory behaviors from your spouse and gain control over an otherwise chaotic situation.
Characteristics of A High-Conflict Personality
If you’re married to one, this will all sound terribly familiar. In fact, it’s probably why you’re planning your divorce.
For starters, high-conflict people are extremely difficult to deal with. They tend to see the world in black and white, and usually through a lens of guilt and blame. They exhibit extreme emotions at the slightest prick, and may even have Cluster B personality traits such as narcissism or borderline personality disorder.
A high-conflict person’s response to feeling slighted or rejected is to escalate quickly and harshly. They resort to over-the-top threats and both mental and physical abuse as primary tools of conflict resolution, and they seem impervious to reason and attempts at deescalation. Lying gaslighting, and distorted takes on reality are their bread and butter, and they have no qualms injecting it into legal proceedings and interactions with authority figures.
All of this is geared towards maintaining a dominant emotional position in the relationship by weakening their partner over time. The very thought of a divorce will elicit feelings of extreme fear and anxiety from a spouse, because they know what’s coming their way if they try to leave.
And it may. But with an experienced mediator’s help preparing for divorce, you can find your way through the tunnel and come out in sunlight on the other side.
Strategies for Divorcing a High Conflict Spouse
There are many effective strategies for minimizing the pain and difficulty a high-conflict spouse can inflict on you when you make the decision to leave. With careful planning, you can diffuse their levers of control and deflate their aggressive and threatening behaviors.
Plan For Your Safety
If your partner is abusive, lay out your exit strategy in advance so you can get to a safe and secure place when you break the news. It will be important that you are able to maintain space from them to minimize the emotional or physical harm they can inflict on you. Also, if you have children you may need to make special preparations for their safety and security as well.
Don’t forget: you know how they behave, and that’s your advantage. A divorce mediator can help you make the right moves to stay out of harm’s way.
Be Ready to Deal With Threats
High-conflict people tend to traffic in threats, particularly if they have accompanying personality disorders. It is very common for them to say things like “Say goodbye to your kids” or “I will take everything from you”. It can be terrifying, but it’s important to remember that a threat is just a blizzard of words.
Wild threats are usually not actionable, and this is where a Certified Divorce Coach will be your best friend. This may be your first time, but a CDC has heard the high-pitched bluster a thousand times and knows exactly where the buck stops. If you need help preparing for divorce from an abusive partner, consider contacting a credentialed divorce professional today.
Keep Calm, and Carry On
The threats and emotional drama are intended to have a secondary effect beyond exhausting and overwhelming you. High-conflict people are experts at manipulation, and that carries over into the courtroom. If they are successful in provoking a response in kind, they will use that as a cudgel to exert control when they are in court.
It’s critical that you maintain a calm and deliberate approach to their erratic behavior. Keep your emails short and to the point, and end with something cordial like “Thank you for your consideration”. If you’re the stable, reasonable force, those in control of the proceedings will quickly formulate a picture of the person you’re dealing with.
Talk to a Credentialed Divorce Mediator
Mediation may seem pointless when you’re dealing with someone who is fundamentally unreasonable and hyperbolic, but, even the most narcissistic person can be reasoned with if things can be explained transactionally.
The fact of the matter is, the average litigated divorce can cost tens of thousands of dollars and waste years of your life. A divorce negotiated by a professional mediator typically costs a fraction of that, and a neutral voice simply handing out the naked facts may be all it takes to bring a high-conflict spouse to the table. Also, a mediator works with both parties to resolve disputes, and is in a unique position to diffuse potential flashpoints before they get out of hand.
You Can Make It to the Other Side
Preparing for divorce from a high-conflict partner can be incredibly painful and difficult, and the Certified Divorce Coach staff at the Better Divorce Academy can escort you through the process from start to finish. If it’s time to break free from a high-conflict spouse, make us your friend, your ally, and your bridge to your best new life.