I find it amusing how people throw around the term "high conflict divorce." It seems much like an oxymoron considering you wouldn't be getting a divorce if there wasn't high conflict. I can understand a divorce being "high-conflict" during the initial separation phase when wounds are fresh and emotions are on edge, but what is it that makes the conflict continue even as time goes by and water goes under the bridge?
Once the divorce is final, the parties should be able to stop focusing on the relationship that they once had and focus all of their attentions on the children. I understand that is easier said than done. There is often one party who works very hard to keep up the fight. As soon as things start to calm down, these conflict addicts will bring up a new issue to ignite to engage the other parent in more drama. It's like they have to keep high conflict and drama going so they don't have to focus on their own unhappiness and bitterness.
If you have found yourself in a "high conflict divorce" with an ex-spouse who berates you when given the chance or fights you on everything from finances to extracurricular activities to phone contact, just remember that your ex is most likely one of these conflict addicts who needs conflict with you to avoid having to take a hard look at his/her own life. The constant control he/she desires is only to keep what they feel is left of the control they had in the marital relationship. They will claim to be over the relationship, but they are ultimately causing conflict in an effort to cling to what they once had.
The best way to deal with a conflict addict ex-spouse is to not bite. When he/she tries to bait you into an argument or tries to punish you not allowing you to talk to your kids or refuses to participate in activities if you are involved, just stay calm and do not give him/her the conflict that they desire. If you find yourself in this situation, then you must CHOOSE to allow it to pass. You are nurturing that conflict if you allow yourself to respond. And by nurturing that conflict you are giving power to someone who is obviously still consumed with the former marital relationship.
If you are dealing with a conflict addict ex-spouse then you should do the following:
1) Limit your time dwelling on any issues with the ex-spouse. Set up a separate email address to correspond with your ex and vow to check the email only once a day. By setting this guideline for yourself, you are choosing to NOT ALLOW your ex to be a constant in your day. If it is an emergency, then he/she can call you or text you.
2) Limit the amount of time you will discuss the "drama" with your current partner. Some people have said it works best for them to say that you will discuss the drama 30 minutes following the checking of the email for the day. Once that 30 minute window is over, CLOSE THE WINDOW. Do NOT allow him/her to take over any more of your day.
3) Choose "Sacred Zones" where you will not discuss the ex or the drama that surrounds him/her. For example, make your bedroom an ex-free zone.
4) Do NOT be bullied!!! The dramatic ex is hoping that he/she can beat you down to the point that you decide it's not worth the fight. So when the bullying starts (as it does often in emails and voicemails and texts), choose to shut it off. Do not respond and do not allow it to affect your day. Take it for what it is - a sad attempt of desperation to keep control over you.
5) Most importantly, keep up the good fight. If there is a Court Order in place, then make sure you do everything you can to follow the Order - even if your ex doesn't. Document everything that you may need in the future also. A conflict addict may drag you back in Court if you are steadily ignoring his/her attempts to fight, so it's important to have an arsenal of information if that time comes. If your ex is constantly working on adrenalin and emotions, then he/she will build the case against him/her on their own.
If you are reading this and realizing that YOU are the one who is causing your divorce to be high conflict, then I beg you to focus on the kids. Put the time you are spending trying to stir up trouble into being there to listen to your kids so that you can support them in the activities and hobbies about which they are passionate. Let things slide and try to move on.
Try to keep the peace to the best of your ability... for your kids.