Tips for divorcing from a high-conflict personality

People with high-conflict personality types can come across as normal – even reasonable, while the people they traumatize can seem challenging. Yet a narcissist or someone with another personality disorder may be operating on a completely different level. Realistically, you may not be able to engage a high-conflict type on a level playing field.

Your therapist may counsel you to be authentic to yourself, be vulnerable and apologize for any mistakes. The trouble is, when you do those things with a narcissist, they may simply turn them back on you in the form of an attack.

To divorce a narcissist or other high-conflict type, you don’t need to be vulnerable. You need to learn to think strategically. This is especially true when you have children.

In the world of divorce and family law, we usually encourage people to learn how to co-parent effectively with their exes. After all, every time your child has a special event, whether it’s prom or a wedding or having a child of their own, your ex will be there.

Ideally, you would operate from some sort of shared baseline. Ideally, you would cooperate and coordinate on important decisions about the children. “Ideally” doesn’t always work out – and managing a relationship with a high-conflict type is one of those times.

Limit your emotional exposure

In most cases, you have little choice but to do your best to co-parent amicably with your ex. However, you can try to limit the damage. The first way is to keep communication to a minimum, and avoid face-to-face contact, says Virginia Gilbert, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Your high-conflict ex may be ready to try anything to keep the conflict going. That includes ambushes, repeated phone calls, and bad-mouthing you to anyone they can, including your kids. Don’t take this on. Don’t even bother to defend yourself. You can’t, anyway.

Although it’s healthy to be accountable for your actions, take care not to admit mistakes in front of a narcissist or other high-conflict personality type. They may take this as evidence that you are in the wrong. Apologizing will not help you. An apology may be twisted into an admission of guilt.

Try to keep your feelings to yourself. Don’t bad-mouth your ex to your kids, even if your ex is doing it. Don’t let a narcissist know your true feelings – they may use the knowledge to attack you.

Be prepared for the worst. Your ex may drag you into court on any pretext. Your ex may not ever move on from this conflict. Never try to deflect; respond to accusations with facts. Document everything.

Discuss your concerns with your divorce attorney. They may be able to recommend legal solutions that could help you.