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Illinois Divorce: Managing Personality Disorders in Divorce

People with personality disorders often seem to have variable personalities.  They might be quite charming and reasonable at work and with neighbors and friends, but then transition to chaotic, extreme behaviors at home.  Personality disorders usually begin in childhood or adolescence, and while those around people with personality disorders wish they would change, it doesn’t happen without: 1) recognition, 2) a strong commitment by the person with the traits of the disorder, and, in most cases, 3) years of therapy.


  • Compromised ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others
  • Instability in goals and/or career plans
  • Unstable and/or conflicted close relationships
  • Preoccupation with abandonment
  • Frequent mood changes
  • Intense emotional swings, out of proportion to events and/or circumstances
  • Impulsiveness
  • Reactionary or angry behavior in response to outside stimuli
  • Difficulty establishing and following a reasonable plan
  • Engagement in unnecessarily self-damaging activities, without regard to consequence
  • Frequent anger or irritability in response to minor slights or insults
  • Antagonism

It is important to note that people with a Personality Disorder, during a divorce or court proceeding, may also:

  • Purposely or unconsciously use sensitive information (such as finances, medical diagnoses, or other personal information) to sway others (family members, neighbors)  to their false viewpoint
  • Seek revenge – by destroying personal property or spreading false rumors
  • Making false allegations of abuse or other false claims to damage the non-disordered spouse in their court case or employment

People with characteristics of a personality disorder often show consistent patterns in their behavior.  One of the most common is referred to as “splitting”, where they see people as all good or all bad.

In their book Splitting – Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD and Randi Kreger, set forth excellent strategies for how to and how not to deal with borderline personality disorder:

  1. Keep a Journal

It is critical that you keep detailed, accurate information to present to the court.  Focus on actual statements and behaviors, avoid opinions and interpretations.  If or when you need to describe events in court, you want to be seen as capable of presenting objective, factual information that is helpful to the judge and other professionals.  Information written down on the day of the event is far more credible that information documented days or weeks later.

  1. Think strategically, not reactively

Avoid acting out of frustration and anger.  Avoid reactionary communication with the other person.  Seek advice whenever you feel like responding out of anger or frustration.  Advise your friends and family of the same.

  1. Choose your battles

Going through a divorce or child custody matter with someone who exhibits characteristics of a personality disorder can lead one to feel that the court process is inherently unfair, allowing the other person to get away with things.  The actions in your case have to be strategic, and based on what is needed in your case, not on what you are upset about.  This is why it is so important to have a strong attorney who understands you, your case, and the characteristics of personality disorders that you may be dealing with on the other side.

  1. Don’t make yourself a target

Stop and think before you act.  You are being watched by your partner and your partner’s attorney.  They are looking for you to slip up so they can hold it against you.  Anything you say, whether to your partner, their family, or even your children, may be misconstrued or blown out of proportion.  Maintain a low (or no) profile on the internet and social networking sites.

  1. Be very honest

While it may not be the most comfortable thing you’ve ever done, you need to be up front and honest with your attorney about your own errors or moments of poor judgment, whether in the past, or that occur in the present, as soon as you recognize them.  You’re human, but you’re also a target, and you do not want to give your partner ammunition of which your attorney may be unaware.  Remember, credibility is everything in court, and while those with personality disorders are generally good at appearing credible, you must ensure you are more credible.

  1. Expose blamer behavior

Those with personality disorders have a tendency to create some of the most useful evidence against them during the litigation process.  Keep in mind that they have repeating patterns of behavior and will try to control the court process.  They tend to make dramatic statements at hearings and/or ask for heavy controls to be put on their partners (you) for a myriad of reasons.  These extreme statements can be very handy in showing the court later that they are false.

  1. Respond quickly

While there are some statements and correspondence that warrant no response, false statements and extreme actions generally need a quick response.  Otherwise, if you don’t respond, it may be perceived as if you agree that they are true or appropriate statements.  Boundary setting is always important.

  1. Manage your own emotions

Dealing with someone with borderline personality disorder characteristics can be extremely difficult, especially if their behavior escalates and their blame of you is extreme.  It is easy to want to respond with the same emotional intensity.  However, keep a matter-of-fact tone and voice.  Pace yourself and conserve your energy to deal with the important battles (remember, choose your battles).  Utilize a good therapist to help you navigate the chaos and emotional roller coaster ride that being in a relationship with BPD can trigger.

  1. Develop patience and flexibility

Even if you don’t feel it, learn to calmly show patience and flexibility.  Allow time for your partner or former partner to process upsetting information and avoid presenting information or a decision as a crisis that must be instantly resolved.

10. Give clear messages and deadlines

You must balance patience and flexibility with a very clear message and deadlines.  BIFF. Do not be ambivalent.  Remember, this is the assertive method of communication.  When clear communication is not enough, add a deadline.  You may not necessarily need to start with one, but if you receive no response, remember you or your attorney may want to memorialize your request(s) in writing.

General Credit:  Splitting – Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. (2011).

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