Inside ~ Outside Personality

Nearly one quarter of divorces are characterized as high-conflict. High-conflict divorces are those in which the couple continues fighting long after the judgment of divorce is signed. Most divorcing couples resolve their issues, or at least move on, within two or three years after the divorce is finalized. But in high-conflict cases people continue fighting and litigating, sometimes more than a decade after the divorce is over.

Why does this happen? Research has found that up to 60% of people in high-conflict divorces have personality disorders. People with personality disorders lack empathy. They are unable to comprehend that their actions hurt others and they often lie and manipulate to get what they want. They also divide people into two camps: all good or all bad. When you first met your spouse, he or she was probably very charming. You were on a pedestal because you were “all good.” Now that you are divorcing or divorced, however, you have moved into the “all bad” camp. You personality disordered ex-spouse will have no sympathy for you and will feel justified lying and manipulating the Judge to get what he or she wants.

It is almost impossible to expose your ex-spouse. Having lived with a personality disorder all his or her life, your ex-spouse knows how to be work the room. He has an “outside” personality ~ what he shows the world ~ and an “inside” personality which is the reality you lived with. In court your ability to reveal your ex-spouse’s true personality is limited by the rules of evidence and civil procedure, and by the Judge’s patience. “Winning” then, does not mean getting the judge to agree with you and validate that your ex-spouse is a bad person or bad parent. “Winning” means persuading the judge that you are the better parent. That requires you to strategize and carefully construct your presentation each time you appear in court.

Winning Your Conflict

Everyone says that conflict is bad, especially for children. Studies maintain that it is not the divorce itself that damages children; but exposure to the conflict. There are countless books and programs designed to help you resolve conflicts in your life, but they all presume that your ex-spouse is reasonable. They assume he or she doesn’t want to fight any more than you do. But what if that is not true? What if you are dealing with a person who loves to fight? What if your ex-spouse’s agenda isn’t only to win, but to keep you engaged in the fight? What if he or she is willing to sacrifice your children for the cause?

Sometimes you cannot avoid the conflict. Sometimes the stakes are your children’s safety or their mental health and well-being. What do you do then? While the answer is not simple, there is a way to find peace. If you are involved in a high-conflict divorce, you must manage your conflict like the chess game it is. That means planning each of your interactions with your ex-spouse with an eye towards your goal ~ peace ~ while strategizing how you will engage in the battle at hand. Run through likely scenarios in your head. Think: If I do this, he will do that. Identify what is the “this” and that “that” and then decide if this is the route you want to take. I had a client who was divorcing her attorney husband. She preferred to mediate the terms of their divorce and he agreed, but not really. His strategy was to drag out the mediation until she capitulated to his demands. After thirty hours of unsuccessful negotiations, she came to see me. I advised her to file a Motion in Court. She was concerned about both the cost and the outcome but I explained to her that she would save more in the long run by making this power play. Why? Because her husband knew she didn’t want to fight and he was using that against her. When she took the fight to court, he understood that the rules of the game had changed. They reached agreement much faster after she sacrificed a pawn, money, to win the battle, resolution.

To find your peace you must be proactive, not reactive. Strategize. Plan ahead. And you can manage the conflict in your life and find peace.