The actual rate of divorces that are by definition “high conflict,” vary; furthermore, even the definition of “high conflict divorce” can vary.
My Definition of High Conflict Marriage or Divorce
I tend to view a high conflict divorce as a divorce between two spouses where one spouse has a Cluster B personality disorder (the “disordered-spouse”) and the other doesn’t (the “non-disordered-spouse”) or a divorce between two disordered-spouses. In this case, each spouse has some type of disorder. Typically, in my experience, the high conflict divorce occurs between a spouse with a “Cluster B” personality disorder and one with a “Cluster C” personality disorder. As a corollary, a high conflict marriage is one in which there is a pattern similar to this: calm-volatility or conflict-placate and withdraw or attack and defend-standoff/impasse-peace, repeat.
Cluster B Personality Divorces
In my experience, in a divorce between a spouse with a “Cluster C” personality, and a “Cluster B” personality, the one with a “Cluster B” personality disorder becomes the “disordered-spouse,” simply because the conflict and drama is often caused solely by the spouse with the “Cluster B” personality disorder.
What is the General Divorce Timeline for High Conflict Marriages?
Children of High Conflict Marriages and Divorces
There have been many long-term research studies on the effects of high conflict divorces on children. In my personal opinion, I believe that divorce itself doesn’t harm children, and what typically leads to maladjustment of divorce on children is the level of conflict between divorcing spouses throughout the divorce process. After all, it would be a travesty to believe that children of divorce are in some way “deficient” or damaged goods solely because their parents divorced. We can all think of many examples of this. I believe that real “high conflict” divorces remain high conflict for many years after the actual divorce itself, and most high conflict divorcing spouses come back for many, many different issues post-decree. As such, the negative effects of divorce on children can be extremely high on children caught in the unfortunate position of having high conflict parents because many often witness the high conflict and heated, volatile arguments between parents, during their childhoods.
This specific area of law remains of paramount interest to me, and I have handled many high conflict divorces. Although many of these types of divorces do settle over time, it is more difficult, and often, litigation is the only reasonable course of action. See my previous blog here.
Borderline Personality Disorder
The National Institute of Mental Health defines borderline personality disorder or “BDP” as a serious psychological affliction affecting mood behaviors and self-image, which can result in impulse control problems and dysfunctional or unstable relationships. Often, the BDP spouse forms unreasonable expectations and unjustifiable opinions of their spouses, swinging from closeness to anger in an effort to avoid abandonment. Some of the common character traits in BDP spouses are engaging in histrionics or high drama, intense and very volatile mood swings that can last for days, impulsiveness, and separation anxiety, real or perceived.
Opposites [Personality Disorders] Really do Attract!
Often, a BDP spouse marries a narcissist, but not always. Some personality types are drawn to one another by seeking opposite personality types. Sometimes, a Cluster C spouse marries a BDP spouse. For example, if your spouse is a narcissist or BDP-disordered spouse, are you a clean freak, maybe suffering from some obsessive-compulsive tendencies? I can think of many couples that I personally know where one spouse is extremely orderly and almost completely unemotional or disengaged, while the other is hyper-sensitive and extremely needy. I’m sure you’ve encountered your fair share of couple friends where one spouse is extremely needy or clingy (BDP) and the other is self-absorbed, too career-oriented and extremely self-important (narcissist). Once you engage in your post-separation, self-introspection, you may discover that the people you’ve been attracted to in the past are all narcissists or BDPs, triggering the need for some deep reflection and maybe, some psychological soul-searching and assistance to break this pattern.
No Contact with a BDP or Narcissist; Then, Find a Great Lawyer
If you are divorcing a BDP or narcissist, and you don’t suffer from a Cluster B personality disorder, divorcing gets tricky, and the key to navigating your divorce is finding a good lawyer who understands the intricacies of high conflict divorces. Your attorney will most likely recommend that you avoid all contact whatsoever with your BDP spouse because every single email or phone call regarding something as simple as picking your children up for dinner will cascade into drama and histrionics. Each benign, reasonable request, such as, “I will be 15 minutes late for visitation because of traffic,” may result in inappropriate and disproportionate name-calling. It is best to allow your attorney to respond to emails, and sometimes, the best thing your attorney can do is push your spouse to retain an attorney as well.
If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family and divorce law attorney, contact Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office.