The presence of constant fighting is an understatement with this couple. In fact, there are rarely any issues that do not provide material for their angry and righteous interchanges. No topic is too small, since every disagreement is taken as a personal afront that requires defending or attacking of the other. Thus the divorce situation with its numerous decisions provides a field day for this couple, duplicating the power struggles inherent in their marriage.. The high conflict couple tends to make frequent comparisons as to who is the most hurt, unloved, or has the least commitment. These so called imbalances provide enormous fuel for the rage that is so prevalent between them. After all, when you can sustain the belief that you have been the one who has been hurt the most in a relationship, it enables you to feel justified to hurl any insult at the other and perform any outrageous act. When this attitude is brought into the divorce arena, it translates into one huge YOU OWE ME with attorneys and therapists alike added to the chorus.
Finally, you will experience very little actual dialogue from this couple, as they love to talk in monologues with almost no indication of any doubt as to their view of the other. At the point in which either one of them has built up a sufficient case that the other is truly a relationship cripple, divorce becomes the alternative of choice.
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If the high conflict couple chooses mediation rather than going into a court, it is a tenuous pursuit at best, typically motivated by external costs such as hurting the children or spending exorbitant monies on legal bills. It is definitely not due to any great desire for a respectful, harmonious, amicable end for the marriage. Both motivations mentioned are fragile and can be lost sight of in a second when their emotional fears and hurts take over the scene.
As a mediator faced with the blow-up of the process or a sensing that the couple is merely going through the motions of cooperating with the task at hand, you are faced with several choices. You can hope that the couple fits into your mediation model, find some forceful way to get them to follow your mediation process, or create a model that reflects and takes into consideration the nature of the high conflict couple.
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For those who are interested in the latter, there are four things that need to be taken into account: