© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Once again, congress is looking a lot like a high-conflict divorce. I’m not an expert on politics, but I am quite familiar with the patterns of dysfunctional behavior and how to manage it in high-conflict divorce. Essentially what works is the opposite of what we’re seeing in congress. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned.
AVOID “ALL-OR-NOTHING” THINKING
High-conflict parents often draw a line in the sand – even before negotiating how they are going to share the children! They believe that they are so right that everyone else will come around to their way of thinking. Of course, this convinces everyone else that they are narcissistic and have no compassion for their children. Instead, what works is to build a team of parents first, then address the problem. We do this most effectively in methods like mediation, collaborative divorce and lawyers negotiating cooperatively. Going to court with a high-conflict case to let the judge decide usually frustrates both parents – and the judge.
AVOID EXTREME EMOTIONS
High-conflict cases often involve one or both parents sending nasty emails, yelling at the other in front of the children, and crying to everyone who will listen – all about how bad the other parent is. This raises more concern about the “blaming” parent than it does about their “Target of Blame” (the other parent). Yet high-conflict parents lack insight about themselves. What works best is to quiet down and vent privately, out of hearing of the children, the decision-makers and with one or two best friends or a therapist.
AVOID EXTREME BEHAVIORS
It’s not unusual to hear about a desire to eliminate the other parent in high-conflict divorces. Some parents say that the children would be better off if the other parent left town or was dead. This is horrible, yet this lack of empathy can arise as a case becomes more and more of a stalemate. Does this sound familiar? When one party’s goal is to eliminate the other party in the next election, I don’t think it bodes well for the nation. We need both parents and we need both parties. You can’t “win” in today’s world with just one point of view. It’s like the sound of one hand clapping. We need multiple points of view to deal with a rapidly changing world. Perhaps it’s because the world has become so confusing that we slip into extreme solutions. We can’t let ourselves be seduced by this kind of thinking if we’re going to survive – together.
AND DON’T ASK THE CHILDREN TO DECIDE WHAT YOU CAN’T
One of the trends in high-conflict divorce is to have the children play a major role in decision-making. Sure, we should hear their thoughts and concerns. But parents should act like adults and make the hard decisions without putting the children in the middle. Likewise, it seems that congress wants to have the voters decide the hard decisions. Of course, voters aren’t children and should decide who gets elected. But once they’re elected, politicians should make the hard decisions so that we can have 2 years and 4 years of focusing on our own decisions, while trusting them to learn about and make the national decisions for us. Don’t ask us to do the job you were elected to do.
Maybe next year we should elect mediators and collaborative professionals, who know how to quietly build agreements that work, instead of electing extremist politicians who loudly promote disagreements – that don’t work. What do you think?
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.