In family law, we often see good people at their worst. Sometimes, though, we see a level of conflict that is disproportionate to the situation and it may seem (if you’re in the relationship) like you are being beaten down at every turn. The High Conflict Person can make a big fight over nothing and, worse still, they seem to enjoy it.
In a recent case, Spouse A filed for divorce, told Spouse B to leave the house, and both parties hired attorneys. We would expect Spouse A to be – if not happy, exactly – satisfied when Spouse B complied and became actively engaged in the divorce proceedings. Not so in this case. The more that Spouse B met Spouse A’s demands, the worse they became. The bar was constantly moving and no one, not even Spouse A’s attorney, could stabilize the situation. The case took almost a year to resolve, but only because Spouse A created drama, made up fights, and fueled the fire of conflict at every turn.
I was going to write a blog post about how High Conflict People can derail your best efforts in settlement, and then I ran across this article by Bill Eddy, the go-to guy for high conflict situations. Bill knows all about Spouse A – read his article here.
What I particularly like about Bill’s advice is that he gives us a clear definition of the HCP:
An Observable High Conflict Pattern
High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seems in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is not the issue. With HCPs the high-conflict pattern of behavior is the issue, including a lot of:
– All-or-nothing thinking
– Unmanaged emotions
– Extreme behaviors
– Blaming others
I have observed this type of behavior in both my own clients and opposing parties and – unfortunately – it tends to be fairly intractable. It’s very difficult for someone with a life history of this habit of behavior to turn it off. My experience is that a period of intensive therapy can really help create insight, which can, in turn, help the person create new patterns and ways of relating, but it’s not an easy road!
Bill goes on to tell us how to manage our own behavior in such a situation:
I recommend having a “Private Working Theory” that someone may be an HCP. You don’t tell the person and you don’t assume you are right. You simply focus on key methods to help in managing your relationship, such as paying more attention to: 1) connecting or bonding with the person with empathy, attention and respect; 2) structuring the relationship around tasks rather than reacting to emotions; 3) reality testing so that you don’t necessarily believe everything you are told, but also don’t assume the person is lying because they may honestly believe inaccurate information; and 4) educating about consequences, as HCPs are often caught up in the moment and can’t see the risks ahead.
Is there an HCP in your life? If so, working with a therapist can help to bring down the temperature while going through a breakup, and will lead to a much better overall outcome than pulling on the gloves and duking it out in court.
Remember, choose peace ~ it’s better for your sanity!