High Conflict Divorces – What is the Cause?

Couple in love back light silhouette at lake sunsetThe best indicator that your divorce is going to be difficult is a realistic view of your marriage. If a marriage has been filled with chronic conflict, then you should expect the divorce process to also be filled with conflict. In almost every high conflict case, the driving force fueling the conflict is a spouse who has a personality disorder or traits that result in a high conflict personality. A personality disorder is a clinical term used to describe individuals who have long-term and enduring personality styles that are defined by difficulties in the person’s subjective, internal sense of identity, and chronic difficulties in his/ her interpersonal relationships.The most common personality disorders seen in high conflict family law matters are Cluster B Personality Disorders which consist of Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. If your spouse possesses many of the following characteristics, then any skilled divorce attorney can tell you there is a strong likelihood that your spouse has a personality disorder and a high conflict personality that will result in making the divorce difficult for everyone involved:

  • Persistent drive to control others.
  • Long history of relationship conflicts.
  • History of abuse in childhood or disrupted early-childhood relationships.
  • Views relationships as inherently adversarial.
  • Inability to accept and heal loss.
  • Lack of insight into own behavior.
  • Denial of responsibility in contributing to conflicts.
  • Perpetual self-identification as a victim.
  • Projection of own problems onto others.
  • Preoccupation with analyzing and blaming others.Personality
  • Intense emotions overrule thinking.
  • All-or-nothing thinking.
  • High level of mistrust or paranoia.
  • Denial of responsibility for resolving conflicts.
  • High level of aggressive energy.
  • Persistent drive to be center of attention.
  • Difficulty connecting present actions to future consequences.
  • Avoidance of mental health treatment.
  • Defensive about any feedback.
  • Unconscious distortions and delusions.
  • Conscious lying and fabrication of events.
  • Expects legal process to provide revenge and/or vindication.
  • Inappropriately involves others in disputes (children, neighbors, co-workers).
  • Views friends and family as either allies or enemies.
  • Triggers confusion and conflict among professionals.

Arguing CoupleLiving with a spouse with a high conflict personality is like living on an emotional roller coaster because your spouse has two personalities – one charming and adoring the other dysfunctional and destructive. This dual personality is the result of a pattern of behavior called “splitting” which is often present in individuals with Cluster B Personality Disorders. Splitting causes a person to unconsciously view others as all “good” or all “bad”. As a result, the high conflict person will alternate between over-idealizing and devaluing the same person. In the relationship with a high conflict spouse with a Cluster B Personality Disorder, the person first idolizes his/her partner and puts he/she on a pedestal. When the partner cannot meet his/her demands, the relationship begins to unravel and the high conflict spouse knocks his/her partner off the pedestal and begins to see the partner as all bad.

When a divorce or custody action is filed, the high conflict spouse feels threatened and will see the other party as all bad and will feel justified in engaging in the following types of behaviors:

  • Committing family violence.
  • Destroying property.
  • Hiding assets.
  • Harassing and stalking you.
  • Physically abusing the children.
  • Alienating children from you.
  • Making false allegations of child abuse.
  • Making false allegations of domestic violence.
  • Using the court system to control you.
  • Filing grievances against and suing legal and mental health professionals.
  • Publicly retaliating against the opposing party and/or the legal and mental health professionals in the media and on the internet.

If you find yourself in a high conflict marriage, the resolution of your divorce will be more about dealing with your spouse’s personality issues than it will be about legal issues. In order to protect yourself during the divorce process, it is critical to educate yourself on how to be prepared to deal with the high conflict pattern of behavior that results from splitting and retaining legal representation from a skilled Dallas divorce attorney who understands the high conflict personality.

This post was written by Beth E. Maultsby.

Beth E. Maultsby

“Family issues can be complex and sensitive and I’m committed to helping clients achieve sensible, lasting solutions that enable them to move forward successfully after divorce.” – Beth Maultsby