There you are sitting in your lovely office in your favorite chair enjoying the serenity of the moment. Your office light goes on, and within a few minutes a couple walks in for their first mediation session. As soon as they sit down you can feel a tension in the room that you'd have to be numb not to recognize. In a short time the calmness you were experiencing will most likely become only a memory.
Hardly settling into their respective chairs the couple opens with,"We don't do too well with professionals, especially the last six. You possibly begin to think, "I'm in for trouble."
But you start to ask some preliminary questions. With each question that you ask, the couple continuously interrupts or corrects one another before any answer can be completed. Again you wonder to yourself, " How in the world am I going to ever get to the tougher questions? Pursuing further you inquire about the major issues that they are going to need to address. The husband responds, " I believe we need to come to some understanding about spousal support. The words are barely out of his mouth and the wife retorts, "There's no use in discussing that with a man as cheap and devious as you and who never did want to take care of me." Unable to curtail these eruptions and noticing that you are not even past the first half hour, you may start to feel a tightness in your chest and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.
Welcome to the world of the high conflict couple during their ultimate moment...the divorce process.
Divorcing someone that you have many attachments with is a difficult experience in the best of times. In the hands of the high conflict couple, divorce often feels like the great crippler. It becomes a scene of high drama, with each partner displaying their most primitive attack styles. The movie War of the Roses while slightly exaggerated is not far from the truth. The object of this article is to help you understand this type of couple, so that divorce mediation can become a viable alternative to the more typical adversarial courtroom situation which they are prone to create. Furthermore, it is my perspective that most mediation models need to be modified in order to accommodate the particular nature of these couples, and I will show you how to accomplish that.
Before I share with you the specific ways of working with this couple, I want to make sure we are looking at the same combatants. There are several characteristics inherent in this couple.
Quite often for the high conflict couple, divorce is not something that occurs after a period of time, since the threat of ending the relationship is an ongoing part of the relationship. They borrow from Shakespeare the phrase "To be or not to be." as they take turns using this as a weapon during many of their hostile altercations. One of the partners may be more overt with the threat, but you can bet that the other has had the thought on numerous occasions.