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Specialty tag(s): High-Conflict Divorce

How Do You Deal with a High Conflict Divorce in Texas?

Thomas A. Greenwald | November 16, 2021

What is a high conflict personality?

When we talk about high conflict personalities in divorce, we typically talk about someone that wants to be in control, someone that has a preoccupation with blaming others, someone that has very “all or nothing” thinking or “black and white thinking,” and someone that lacks empathy. When we recognize a high conflict personality, that individual may not necessarily be diagnosed. However, we will see traits of a narcissistic personality, antisocial personality, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.

A narcissistic personality is someone that has a sense of superiority, sometimes referred to as “the smartest person in the room.” A borderline personality, that’s someone that has very intense blame and anger. A histrionic personality is someone that is often referred to as a “drama queen,” “drama king,” and often finds themselves in a situation where there’s always an “emergency.” A paranoid personality is someone that lacks trust and someone that doesn’t often trust the other side or their lawyer, and sometimes doesn’t even trust their own lawyer. This makes it very difficult to sell cases with a paranoid personality. Lastly, there is an antisocial personality, which is someone that has no conscience, that will manipulate, and will lie or tell half-truths if it’s in their own self-interest.

People with high conflict personalities often tend to be incredibly charming, very believable, and very manipulative. This makes it difficult sometimes to really recognize and appreciate the type of personality that you’re dealing with.

How do you deal with a high conflict personality in divorce?

When dealing with a high conflict personality in divorce is to recognize the type of personality that you’re dealing with and be on your guard. When problems do arise, validate the person and not the problem. What we mean by that is that you may say to someone “I understand how you feel” or “I understand how that made you feel” without acknowledging or validating the actual problem or the complaint itself.

It’s often helpful to use statements such as “we” rather than “I” or “you” for the purpose of inclusivity and including them in the process. High conflict personalities often used threats or insults as a form of manipulation. If you don’t respond then they don’t have anything to de-escalate the situation. They don’t have a way to make the problem worse, if you just understand that there are going to be insulted, that there are going to be threats made, just ignore them and move on and focus on resolving the case.

Another important aspect of dealing with a high conflict personality is not being so focused on proving the other side wrong in a case. There’s a statement that says “narcissists don’t learn from their mistakes, because they never make mistakes.” And that’s this the situation that you find yourself in is if you focus so much on who’s right versus who’s wrong, it takes the focus and the energy and the time and effort off the real issue which is helping you get divorced and helping you get through an amicable and efficient divorce. Another important part of dealing with high conflict personality is recognizing when someone’s being triggered. When you feel your heartbeat going up, your blood pressure rising, that’s the time to be willing to take a step back and say to the other person: this is not a good time for us to continue this conversation, I’m available later today, I’m available tomorrow and let’s talk then.

If you see that the other side is triggered and that they are in a place or a space where they’re not able to make a rational decision, it’s okay to step in and say “you know what, this isn’t a good time for us to continue this conversation and let’s go ahead and take a step back and let’s talk later today, let’s talk tomorrow and work through the issue.” That doesn’t mean that the other side is going to suddenly say, “Oh, okay, let’s do that.” They’re going to push back on you and they’re going to want to continue the conversation. And they’re going to want to continue to engage, and they’re going to make threats, and they’re going to insult you, but just be willing to take a step back and when that happens, just physically remove yourself from the conversation. And if you’re in the same room with them, leave the room, your same house with them, then you may have to get in the car and leave the house to let somebody cool off. If it’s a phone call, you may have to end the call. If it’s a text message exchange, just don’t respond.

What is the best option to settle a high conflict personality case?

The best option typically is to try and settle your case without going to court. And why is that? Well, the reason is that going to court is expensive, it takes the decision-making control or decision-making power out of your hands, and also what you’ll find is that going to court rarely gets a much different result than settling would. The only difference is it costs a lot more emotionally, and it costs a lot more financially. So, once your case is over, it’s important that you do not engage with your ex-spouse, and there will be opportunities where they will want to engage with you. They want to continue that conflict, but if you don’t engage with them, if you’re willing to walk away, then they will take their frustration and their anger someplace else and they will look to other people to feed their ego and defeat their self-worth through the conflict that they create.

The one thing you want to do to try and get your case settled, especially when you’re dealing with a high conflict personality, is to hire a seasoned attorney and then a seasoned team that understands what you’re dealing with, so they can help you navigate the high conflict personality and to navigate a high conflict divorce that is critically important. At Goranson Bain, our focus is on doing the very best we can for our clients, doing it efficiently, doing it amicably, and doing it professionally.

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Tom Greenwald is an experienced trial lawyer with 30 years of family law experience. He has been named Best Lawyers© Family Law “Lawyer of the Year” in Dallas/Fort Worth by Best Lawyers and named “Best Lawyers in Dallas: Family Law,” by D Magazine six times, including 2022. Tom brings specialized expertise to complex divorces, including complex compensation structures, property division, dealing with private business interests, separate property claims, business valuation, and child custody. His goal is to help clients find efficient and constructive solutions that will enable them to save money and maintain good working relationships in the future.

To better understand the best way to handle a high conflict divorce, contact Tom Greenwald at 214-473-9696.

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