Even if your ex is the problem, you can be the solution
Divorce is never easy, but it can be hell when you divorce a person with high conflict. Instead of being in victim mode or going on the attack, you can change your behavior to reduce conflict and influence how it unfolds, according to Megan Hunter, co-founder of the Institute of High Conflicts.
Hunter was a family law specialist at the Arizona Supreme Court when she discovered that divorce professionals shared a common complaint – high-conflict cases.
âFamily law professionals make a lot of money in these cases because people in high conflict situations are extremely contentious, especially those with money,â said Hunter. “I thought their [HCPs] the behavior was beyond ridiculousâ¦ and yet everyone in the system continued to follow it. No more professional conferences, no more training, no more money, no more conflicts. And the kids kept getting damaged / destroyed and bracing for future relationship failures. I knew I had to find a better way and searched until I found Bill Eddy, who developed the Highly Conflicting Personality Theory.
âA person with high conflict (HCP), when his fear is triggered, remains stuck in reaction mode. They begin to feel guilty, to see everything in black and white while experiencing intense emotions. So whether it is a man or a woman, the behaviors are the same. It can be repeated, crying out violence, âHunter said.
During the divorce, advises Hunter, âThe best option is to stay out of court and instead use an alternative process such as mediation or collaborative divorce. However, this is not always easy or possible when an HCP is on the other side. Their fault is to go back to court – often. “
The court system is not set up for high conflict cases precisely because of its adversarial nature. Due to their poor problem-solving skills, HCPs use the courts for war and solve all their problems. Family law professionals often refer to these individuals as âfrequent filersâ. While they can bore the court and even be convicted, family courts often do not take a proactive stance to limit recourse to the courts for non-essential items. Additionally, if a healthcare professional teams up with a high-conflict lawyer, this behavior can be encouraged. Lawyers bill by the hour and in some cases the other party may be responsible for paying all legal fees.
Megan’s top four tips for reducing conflict in divorce:
- Do not give negative information about another parent to the child or other family members / friends
- Ask for proposals whenever there is a complaint. ” I see. It is probably frustrating. Do you have any ideas to solve this problem? Or “I see. It’s probably a bit of a challenge. What’s your proposal / solution / idea?”
- Choose your battles
- Remember that you are a role model for your children. How you act is how they will act. Is this how you want their future relationships to be?
Two main tools taught by Megan Hunter were designed by High Conflict Institute co-founder Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. at the High Conflict Institute.
Use an EAR statement: when they say something hostile or blameworthy, respond in a calm voice, making eye contact and with a neutral / pleasant face and use Empathy, care and respect.
Examples of EAR instructions:
- “It seems difficult”
- “I understand what you say”
- “I see where you come from”
And then pivot on a question like this: âIt sounds difficult. . . I am happy to resolve this issue with you. . . what are your suggestions / proposals? By doing this, you calm the responsive brain and transfer it to the calming, problem-solving brain.
A BIFF response can be used in a written communication. Keep it:
âStart using EAR and BIFF statements immediately. Both are designed to reduce conflict, or as I like to sayâconflict of influence. People have a lot more influence over conflict than they realize – they just need to let go emotionally, be an adult, and deal with it like a business relationship instead of a zone emotional warfare, âHunter said. âAfter teaching these skills to divorcing clients, I always ask them if they could have stayed married if they had known these skills while they were still married. About 85 to 90% say yes.
Using EAR and BIFF is neither being a doormat, trying to appease the other person or beg them to change, nor is it heightening the tension by fighting fire with fire. They allow you to treat divorce like a business transaction while setting ground rules.
When a parent is faced with the ultimate nightmare of being denied access to their children, many react with anger or request access with lengthy emails and texts. A BIFF message on the other hand would be:
“Hi Sam, I hope this email finds you well.” In accordance with our divorce decree, I will pick up the children at 3 p.m. from school. Best, Taylor “
Another common complaint is that the ex-spouse is telling lies about you to the children. In this case, Megan recommends asking the child for an example without being judgmental, then explaining why this is not true or asking for his opinion. Never respond with name calling. Show your kids the reality. It can take a long time – sometimes years, until adulthood – for them to believe you. They might never.
Megan’s last tip is sobering. With a person who is highly confrontational, expect it to be difficult. Expect the behaviors to be worse, at least for a while (and you need to protect yourself if you are at risk of violence). Expect the person not to change. Expect them to speak badly to you about your kids, family, family, and all of your friends. Expect them to lie about you in court. Expect to be exhausted until you’ve learned the skills to handle interactions.