5 Tips for Divorcing a High-Conflict Personality

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I came across this article written by Virginia Gilbert, MFT, on Huffington Post and the information is just too valuable not to share. Many therapists and counselors are still trying to get parents to co-parent, instead of acknowledging that when a high-conflict personality is involved, less is more.
Here are 5 vital tips for dealing with a high-conflict personality: 

1. Minimize Contact
High-conflict personalities thrive off of battle. Their agenda, which is often subconscious, is to maintain your relationship by creating drama: bad-mouthing you to everyone under the sun and especially to your children, cyber-bullying, multiple, intrusive phone calls and any other way they can find to keep you from moving on with your life.

While your gut reaction might be to defend yourself, you cannot reason with a terrorist. Anything you say can and will be used against you. To mitigate the chaos caused by a high-conflict personality, you must keep communication to a minimum. Avoid face-to-face contact. Cultivate a “just the facts, ma’am” style of e-mail and text correspondence. When possible, arrange neutral places such as school for the drop-off and pick-up of children.

2. Keep Your Feelings to Yourself
High-conflict personalities are bullies. They like to “win” by making you angry or beating you down. Do not act on your feelings. If you yell, cry, plead, or otherwise tip your emotional hand, you will invite more attacks. Being stuck in the cross-hairs of a narcissist is traumatic, so by all means seek support through safe means: therapy, and online support groups for people with personality-disordered exes are two examples. But whatever you do, don’t let a narcissist know how you really feel — especially if you have a different point-of-view, which will always be interpreted as a threat.

3. Plan for the Worst
Do not listen to conventional wisdom that your ex will “move on” in time. Well-adjusted people move on; high-conflict personalities never quench their thirst for revenge and their desire to feel like “the good one.” Anticipate being dragged into court for minor indiscretions, or worse, total fabrications.

Do not say or write anything that might make you look bad. Respond to even the most frivolous accusations with factual, non-defensive e-mails detailing what actually happened. Document everything; save hostile e-mails, take screen shots of abusive texts, note every violation of your court orders.

You never know if a narcissist will follow through on threats to sue you, so you must be prepared if they do.

4. Never Admit a Mistake
You can, and should be, accountable for your part in the end of the marriage. But be accountable in a safe environment: therapy, 12-step groups, or in the company of trusted family and friends.

Do not admit wrongdoing to your high-conflict ex, especially in writing. Apologizing will not create a more amicable relationship. A high-conflict ex will interpret your apology as proof that you are the mentally ill, incompetent, stupid person she says you are. Even admissions of minor mistakes can be twisted into admissions of heinous acts and spur a high-conflict ex to take you to court, or simply broadcast to everyone with whom they come in contact that you are a terrible person.

5. Stop Trying to Co-Parent
Well-meaning, but misinformed therapists do targets of high-conflict personalities a huge disservice by advising them that they can, and should, co-parent. Certainly, an amicable co-parenting relationship is ideal for children. But attempts to co-parent with a narcissist or a borderline will keep you engaged in battle. You will forever be on the receiving end of intrusive, controlling, chaotic behaviors which will make you and your kids crazy.

Parallel parenting is the only paradigm that should be recommended to people with personality-disordered exes. This means that you give up the fantasy that you can have consistency between homes, or appear as a united front. The more high-conflict your ex is, the more you will need to separate yourself and your parenting. This may mean hosting separate birthday parties, scheduling separate parent-teacher conferences and not sharing what goes on in your house.

While you may feel that you are sending a terrible message to your children by limiting contact with their other parent, you are actually protecting them by minimizing the potential for conflict.

Targets of high-conflict personalities need to accept that it isn’t wise to be “authentic” with their ex. Strategic, limited disclosures and iron-clad boundaries are essential tools in managing a high-conflict divorce. While it may seem paradoxical, true authenticity comes from holding on to one’s sense of self while gracefully disengaging from a narcissist.

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© 2013 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

What Divorced Moms Should Know About Stepmoms

 

What divorced moms should know about stepmoms**Join us for the Stepmom Transformation Retreat 2017! 

1. She isn’t playing house with your child and your ex-husband.

Stepmoms are trying to build their own family, a very real family that includes their husband, and children who aren’t theirs.

Some of them will grow to love their stepchildren and some won’t, but they’re doing their best to ensure the child still grows up feeling happy and loved.

They’re nurturing a marriage and trying to figure out their role in the stepchild’s life. And while you knew your place in your child’s life from day one, stepmoms can spend years trying to find theirs.

2. It’s not about YOU.

A stepmom’s priority is her marriage. When she does something for her stepchild, often the motivation has nothing to do with you. It’s not about trying to make you look bad or make you feel “less than.”

The motivation is the safety and happiness of her stepchild. The motivation is the love she has for her husband.

She’s trying to do the right thing – just like you would.

Similarly, when she supports her husband, the intention is not to go “against” you. In fact, there are times when stepmoms actually side with mom, although — unless you have a decent relationship with the stepmom in your situation — you’d never know it.

3. Stepmoms often feel powerless and alone.

Stepmoms have no legal rights with their stepchild. They understand this; their stepchild already has a mom and a dad. But it gets difficult when they’re turned away for trying to obtain something as simple as a library card for their stepson or stepdaughter. Or when the doctor’s office won’t give them any information, even though they will be the one driving the child to the appointment and giving them their medication.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially for stepmoms who have taken care of their stepchildren since they were very small.

It can make a woman feel unimportant and insignificant. It’s a feeling only a fellow stepmom could understand.

In addition, stepmoms are often powerless when it comes to their stepchild’s behavior. This is a struggle, because they are greatly affected by the unwanted behavior, but they don’t have the authority to do anything about it. If they’re lucky, their husband will be supportive and listen to their concerns, but this isn’t always the case.

4. When you contact their household, it often feels weird and disruptive.

Stepmoms know you have the right to call your children as often as you’d like. And they understand you need to talk to your ex occasionally about parenting issues. But it can still feel like an intrusion.

Stepmoms are constantly struggling to find ways to bond with their stepchildren. And when you call, it interrupts the activity in the house and their stepchildren are immediately distracted. Any bonding that was going on is gone.

Stepmoms may feel as though you’ve crept into every aspect of their lives. And your calling their house is another painful reminder of that.

5. Stepmoms don’t cross your boundaries on purpose, they just can’t see them.

Many moms complain that the stepmom is trying to “parent” their child. But a fundamental problem seems to be, what moms consider “parenting,” stepmoms consider “being responsible” or “supporting their husbands.”

Remember, many stepmoms aren’t sure of their role.

They’re stumbling along, figuring it out as they go. And it’s difficult to try and do the ‘right thing’ only to realize you’ve just caused mom a coronary. It’s not intentional.

Stepmoms wish there was a rule book. They wish the situations were black and white. They wish they could be on the same page as mom and dad, and know how to handle every situation.

But they don’t.

This is where neutral, open communication would be to everyone’s advantage.

Unfortunately, for many stepmoms, their first experience of mom is an emotionally-charged phone call, email or text telling her she has “no right” to do whatever it is she did. To a stepmom, this feels like you’re kicking her when she’s already down. It comes as a shock — because again — her primary intention was to help her husband and care for her stepchild.

6. A stepmom’s marriage has a 60-70 percent chance of failing.

One Boston study reported that 75% of the women who were surveyed said if they had it to do all over, they would NOT marry a man with children. That says a lot about the difficulties stepmoms face.

This may not mean much to you personally, but it means your children will have to experience the prolonged process of a second divorce and deal with the aftermath.

7. Stepmoms are often disrespected or ignored by their stepchildren.

There are various reasons for this, chief among them understandable and agonizing loyalty conflicts for the child, but regardless — it still hurts. Stepmoms are only human.

Life isn’t always flowers and butterflies at the other household. Many children feel weird about having a stepmom. They don’t know what it means or what to do with it, so they act out or just ignore the stepmom, which is awkward for everyone.

And most stepmoms don’t have “unconditional love” to fall back on. When a child misbehaves, wreaks havoc, or throws a tantrum, parents may get angry and frustrated, but their unconditional love makes it bearable.

Stepmoms aren’t so lucky. There’s no unconditional love coming to rescue them from wanting to scream at their stepchild or run the other way, sob somewhere private, and never look back. All they have are difficult feelings and nowhere to put them.

But they do come back, day after day, because they believe their marriage and their stepfamily are worth it.

8. A simple “thank you” can go a long way.

Stepmoms wish you’d give them even the smallest acknowledgement. For a lot of women, being a stepmom is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. Often, their needs and wants come last, their schedules aren’t their own, and they’re affected by a situation they didn’t create.

Many stepmoms take excellent care of their stepchild, with little or no reward. They get no thank you, no love from the child, and no appreciation from anyone but their husband — if they’re lucky.

They make many sacrifices in order to be with the man they love. So to only be referenced as “she” (or even worse), or to be completely ignored by you, can hurt them deeply. What they wouldn’t give for a simple “thank you” or a nod in their direction.

I believe that kind of recognition can heal wounds.

Do stepmoms ever act from ego or a sense of competition with the ex-wife?

Sure, just as some moms do.

But it’s important to grasp the implications of a bigger context here: being a stepmom is uniquely difficult and confusing. If you’re a mom, could you see yourself struggling in her shoes?

Perhaps, one day, with a better understanding of each other, the mom/stepmom relationship will be one of championing the other, instead of automatic conflict.

© 2011 Jenna Korf   All Rights Reserved

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Post-Divorce Parenting Mistakes…According to Dr. Phil

Wow, in this article, Dr. Phil nailed some of the very common and unfortunate behaviors we see parents making after divorce.

According to the article:

“Dr. Phil lists some of the biggest and most frequent mistakes post-divorce parents typically make:

  • Sabotaging your child’s relationship with the other parent.
  • Using your child as a pawn to “get back at” or hurt your ex.
  • Using your child to gain information or to manipulate and influence your ex.
  • Transferring hurt feelings and frustrations toward your ex onto your child. (You may be particularly prone to this if your child bears physical or behavioral resemblances to your ex.)
  • Forcing your child to choose a side when there’s a conflict in scheduling or another planning challenge.
  • Turning family events attended by both divorced parents into pressure cookers. Events that call for sensitivity include birthdays, holidays, school programs, extracurricular activities and performances.
  • Depending too much on your children for companionship and support because you’re hurt and lonely and have adopted a siege mentality: “It’s us against the world.” This isn’t a healthy position for either you or your child to adopt.
  • Treating your child like an adult because you’re lonely or just want help. It is inappropriate to give your child an adult job.
  • Becoming so emotionally needy that your child develops feelings of guilt if he or she spends time or even wants to spend time with your ex, friends, grandparents or others.
  • Converting guilt over the divorce into overindulgence when it comes to satisfying your child’s material desires.”

I can only hope parents who are (unknowingly) sabotaging their children wake up, smell the dysfunction and get the help and support they need.

Which of the above behaviors have you seen the other household exhibit? Which have you exhibited? 

(Click the link at the beginning of the article to read about healthy post-divorce strategies)

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved