Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing With A High Conflict Spouse or Ex Spouse

By Nanda Davis on
Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing With A High Conflict Spouse or Ex Spouse

If you live with or are separated from a high conflict personality, every interaction can be upsetting and exhausting. Everything turns into a fight. Sometimes it’s verbal abuse. Sometimes it’s the silent treatment. It can seem like nothing you say or do is right. Some high conflict personalities have personality disorders like narcissism, borderline, histrionic, or antisocial. Many high conflict people have traits of these disorders without having the full blown disorder, but are still nonetheless very difficult to deal with.1 If you find yourself dealing with someone exhibiting high conflict traits, here are some do’s and don’ts.


  • Give them choices:2 Would you like to come over and pack up your clothes while my brother is here? If I don’t hear from you in a week, I’ll pack them up for you. Do you want to come pick up Molly’s soccer gear and take her to practice? If I don’t hear from you by the morning of practice, I’ll take her.
  • Put it in writing. High conflict personalities have a way of remembering things differently, so text, send a message in a parenting app, or email.
  • Be brief. When you send a message, get to the point. Don’t add emotion, comments about the past, how you feel, why you’re doing something, or a long explanation. All of this gives the high conflict something to latch onto to argue about.3
  • Give your kids space to share their feelings. When they ask you why mom got angry, say hmm, I wonder why you think mom got angry. Or when they start telling you a story about dad, don’t interrupt and say that dad always cancels plans at the last minute. When they say that they can’t believe mom took away screen time, say that sounds frustrating, or that sounds hard. Just listen. Reflect their feelings. And hear what your child has to say. When your child talks it’s not about you and what they have to say may surprise you if you truly set aside your own feelings and listen.


  • Point out that they are high conflict, or have a personality disorder. People like this are too insecure to accept any shortcomings on their own part and will only lash out and punish the messenger. 4
  • Argue with them. This applies to when they “remember” something differently, are incorrect about something, or are doing something you believe is not best for the kids. High conflict personalities love the attention from arguing and they believe that they will be able to make you see things their way. Remember, just because you don’t engage in an argument, doesn’t mean you agree.
  • Try to dictate what happens. If you tell a high conflict personality what will happen, even if it’s reasonable, it will cause the high conflict person to dig in his heels and argue for the sake of argument. Give them choices.
  • Don’t point out these problems to your kids. Pointing it out puts your children in the middle, confuses them and upsets them. It’s a lose-lose for your children. Let them come to their own conclusions (which they will).

If you find yourself dealing with a high conflict spouse or ex spouse and need someone to speak with or need advice, please contact us today.


1 Eddy, Bill. “Who Are High Conflict People.” High Conflict Institute,

2 Eddy, Bill, “4 Mistakes to Avoid When Dealing with Difficult People.” High Conflict Institute,

3 See Eddy, Bill. BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns. September 16, 2014.

4 Eddy, Bill. “Who Are High Conflict People.” High Conflict Institute,