Divorce is difficult at best. When you divorce someone with a high conflict personality? It’s a new kind of hell.
I’m done. I quit. I can’t do this anymore. I give up.
It’s exhausting trying to raise children with someone who hates you.
And you’re done. Done fighting. Done placating. Done brainstorming ways to make it better. Done taking the high road.
Divorce is hard at the best of times. But when you divorce someone who may have a high conflict personality? It’s a whole new ball game of hell.
Daily emails that read like novels about how you are the world’s worst parent; how you are destroying your children with your horrific controlling behaviors; sentence after sentence about how your children would be better off without you.
You try to be amicable.
You create a shared calendar to keep everyone in the loop about kid’s activities.
You try to have conversations around what activities your kids should partake in.
You try to engage in joint parent teacher conferences, get extra tickets for Christmas concerts and avoid saying anything negative about your ex in front of your kids.
You’ve read every book you can get your hands on to try and learn about how to divorce the right way.
Surely someone out there knows something you don’t know about how to make your situation better!
Because this just can’t be it – what your life is going to look like for the next 18 years. Living in constant fear of the next verbal attack. Never knowing when you might get served with the next court application. Being bad mouthed to family, friends, colleagues and your children.
And no one understands the private hell you are going through. Everyone has an opinion. It’s easy to have an opinion when you’re not emotionally attached or when it’s not your own kids who have to suffer the possible consequences.
“Take him to court!”
But real court isn’t what it looks like on TV. You want to believe that a Judge will hear your story because you’re being honest, but a Judge doesn’t know that. You both have convincing stories. Besides, the Judge doesn’t understand your children, their temperaments, their needs. A Judge will most likely order a cookie-cutter parenting plan and wish you all good luck.
Your divorce isn’t like your friends’ divorce, yours is different.
Your friends’ exes understand how to put the kids needs before his or her own, and they are capable of working cooperatively together.
Your ex is trying to destroy you.
What worked for your friend will not work for you. So stop trying.
Stop idealizing the possibility that one day you and your ex will have family dinners or amicable holiday mornings together. Your divorce is high conflict. You need strong and secure boundaries, clear and concise communication, and you need to document your ex’s manipulative behaviors.
Managing a life filled with drama, inconsistencies, lies and manipulations will take its toll on you and your children. These 4 D’s of High Conflict Divorce can help.
Disengage. Decide. Deliver. Document.
You are in conflict with your child’s other parent because their words and actions negatively trigger and affect you and your children. And, like most parents, you will do anything to protect your children form harm – physical, verbal and emotional. If you take the time to sort through your triggers and plan a strategy for how to cope when triggered, you will be putting yourself (and your children) on a path for healthier conflict resolution.
You’ve likely never had to make so many decisions in your whole life. What will the parenting schedule be? Why does all the research contradict itself? Do I have to ask to get the kids haircuts?
Parents in low levels of conflict have the luxury of being able to figure out a lot of their answers through regular communication. But you’re not experiencing low levels of conflict, you are stuck in the murky and smelly destructive home of high conflict decision making. How do you make decisions when the person you have to make them with says no to everything you put forward just because they hate you? How do you ensure you aren’t triggered when you are communicating with your high conflict ex?
If you have an agenda, you’ll be more apt to refocus on what needs to be decided rather than steering off course indefinitely. When communicating, communicate with proposals. Offer your proposal for what you would like the outcome to be – the other parent will say no, because that’s what they do – but rather than let it stop at the no and stall the process, ask them to make an alternative proposal and don’t take no for an answer.
They will struggle. They don’t really know what they want, so they’ll try and create some drama (stay disengaged!). Refocus and keep pushing for an alternate proposal.
When you are communicating with your high conflict ex, keep all emotional words out of your email. If you use an emotional word, your ex will attach themselves to the emotional word and ignore everything else you’ve written. Keep your emails to around 4 sentences. If you are writing more than 4 sentences, you are either sneaking in an opinion for which you will be attacked, or an emotion, for which you will also be attacked.
Keep in mind “BIFF Responses” to hostile emails: Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. All communication should be child focused, emotion and opinion free and as close to 4 sentences as possible.
In note form, document the facts surrounding each manipulation/lie your ex attempts to control you with. Do not add emotions to your notes. Simply include dates, times and outcomes.
High conflict people are crafty and charismatic – often manipulating those in perceived positions of power. In order to ensure your voice is heard, you need to provide a detailed document outlining the pattern of behavior that is causing you, and your children, harm. Emotional words give way to the “he said she said” line of defense, so you want to ensure you keep all emotions out of your documentation. Include facts only – and ideally facts with corroboration (emails/texts/Our Family Wizard® messages, etc.).
The 4D’s of High Conflict Divorce won’t change your ex’s behaviors.
Nothing will change their behaviors, ever.
There will be days you still want to quit, to walk away, to escape the insanity permanently.
But, if you put the 4 D’s of High Conflict Divorce into practice, the high road won’t be as lonely and you might just preserve a little bit of your sanity during this insane time.
This article by Abdrea LaRochelle originally appeared on HighConflictInstitute.com. Andrea is a Registered Family Mediator with Alberta Family Mediation Society, a New Ways for Families Online Provider and a High Conflict Institute Trainer and Speaker, among other professional affiliations. As a High Conflict Separation and Divorce Strategist, she has a keen understanding of the high conflict separation/divorce process, high conflict personality patterns and the crazy-making they create.
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