Sometimes when we are in a high conflict relationship we think if only the other person will come to their senses, start behaving reasonably, just cut you a break, focus more on their issues, then things will change and be better. Maybe they will find a new partner, get a better job, find a different way to occupy their time …. It is extremely difficult to deal with a high-conflict Ex but if you find yourself in this predicament, it will help you to know that a few things will never change. If you accept this and change your expectations, you will be able to live a full and happy life even if your Ex never alters their behavior.
1. Your family and friends are not going to really understand your situation.
While there is an uptick in high-conflict personalities, most people have not come into contact with someone who is constantly difficult and who creates chronic problems in obvious and subtle ways. Most people have never dealt with a true high-conflict personality, let alone live and co-parent with one. High-conflict isn’t about one fight or one issue of disagreement about how to parent, it is a relationship that creates constant tension and stress.
Things that seem very small on their own add up over time and paint a larger picture, but telling your friends or family about the small stuff never fully explains the seriousness of the situation. Often repeating stories about a high-conflict Ex makes it seem like YOU are overreacting or can’t handle ‘normal’ conflict. The best thing you can do in this situation is to find some kind of therapy specific to your problem. Professionals in mental health understand the full profile of high-conflict personalities and will not only be able to empathize, they will be able to help you handle your Ex and show you how to create healthy boundaries and better communication. You don’t need to be alone or feel isolated as a result of your Ex’s behavior – there is support out there: constructive support not just obligatory words of comfort from a friend.
2. You’re never going to get a resolution.
If you are truly dealing with someone who is high-conflict then you will never have full agreement on anything about the kids or your life. Everything will be a compromise, trade-off, or decided by your parenting plan. There will never be a full agreement on what your marriage was like before separation, what contributed to the divorce, or what kind of parents each of you are. This can be extremely tiresome. Creating barriers is your best defense. Having an extremely detailed parenting plan is a must. Both of you need to agree to return to mediation if issues cannot be resolved within a reasonable time frame. Just make sure you are not trying to get something that is out of reach; do not engage in discussions where the only purpose is to get one side to see things a certain way. Make sure conversations are logical and you have the pros and cons listed out when trying to make decisions about your kids.
3. You’re never going to get change that doesn’t come from you.
Many high-conflict personalities have other things going on in their head that create their behavior. Often times, they do not see their conduct as being a problem and have no motivation to change. There’s probably nothing you can say or do to make them into a better, nicer, happier person. Ask yourself – have you experienced empathy from your Ex before? Is it realistic that your Ex will see your hurt and try to make amends or admit their mistakes? If the answers are yes, then you may just be in a moment of situational high-conflict and with a little bit of help from a therapist or mediator you may be able to resolve your issues. If your answers are no, then it is unrealistic to think things have changed and to expect a different behavior now. Your options are: 1) to wait for your Ex’s brain chemistry to change or 2) learn coping mechanisms so that you can interact with your Ex without being affected by their words and actions. Number 2 requires more work but at least it allows you to take charge of your life and future happiness.
With minor annoyances the simple act of taking a few deep breaths can allow us to center ourselves and feel calm again. With more serious situations it may take a dozen deep breaths, or even a hundred, so that we can let go. The more we can let go of the small stuff and the little things, the easier it gets to let go of the bigger situations and issues which we face. Sometimes all we can do is to let go and let things take their course. When we practice letting go of things that disturb us we are training ourselves to be more relaxed yet strong. We are taking more responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings and being less swayed by others.
Ideally, you’ll get to a place where you can be neutral to your Ex’s comments. If their behavior is not appropriate, try to distract and divert by bringing up a funny memory of your kids. Exit from the situation by acknowledging what they are saying but ending the conversation, such as saying, “Really? I’ll need to pay better attention next time.” You can ignore the comment, change the topic, or make a pleasant comment about their appearance. Make decisions based on written arguments where you can judge the merits of both sides so that emotions don’t decide for you.
It will be easier to do all of these things once you have been able to separate from your Ex to the point where their personal problems are not the cause of your stress. For all of the things that will never change, if you have a high-conflict Ex, one thing that WILL CHANGE is that you have a new life now that only you have say over.