Bill Eddy’s High Conflict Institute always has great information in the field of managing High Conflict Personalities in the context of divorce and Family Law cases. It is difficult, if not impossible, to manage some people that present as High Conflict; often these people have traits of personality disorders that make their behaviors and communications toxic. As is pointed out below, the HCP (High Conflict Person) is not going to change, but you as the stable and rational party can always choose how to respond. One element that the article does not mention is the benefits to using a third party, such as a skilled Parenting Coordinator, to intercede in conflict situations, and allow the rational person to retreat to the safety of the Parenting Coordinator, instead of arguing or fighting with the HCP. In other words, if the HCP wants a toxic fight, don’t reward the bed behavior. Choose better ways to manage HCPs, and preserve a bit a tranquil space for yourself and the children.
The 4D’s of High Conflict Divorce
1. Disengage: 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.
2. Decide: 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 are triggered when you are communicating with your high conflict ex?
Have an agenda – 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.
3. Deliver: 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 4 sentences. If you are writing more than 4 sentences, you are either sneaking in an opinion (and you will be attacked) or an emotion (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 4 sentences.
4. Document: In jot note form document the facts surrounding each manipulation/lie your Ex attempts to control you with. Do not add in any emotions to your notes – just the facts. 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’ argument, 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®, 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.