High Conflict Divorce, What Really Drives It

In understanding High Conflict Divorce it is essential to understand what lies at its roots.. Frequently, we humans get caught up in conflict for the simple reason that we are in some way attached to it. Although this statement may at first sound absurd, it has been proven over and over again to be true. This doesn’t mean that we wake up in the morning and start looking for a conflict to get attached to. But it does mean that getting drawn into it is a common human tendency—one that we most likely learned as we were growing up.

There are two primary reasons for our tendency to get attached to conflict. The first reason is that it is what we know. Our parents and other key people in our lives may have frequently been in conflict, so we developed that same habit. The second reason can stand alone or it can be reinforcement for the first reason. It is fear: fear of what the consequences might be if we don’t “defend ourselves”, and/or fear of what else life might have in store if our energies were not caught up in and distracted by thet battle.

So the underlying reason that we are attached to this cycle is this: conflict is what we know. And when  the this cycle is a familiar phenomenon in our lives we almost always come to believe that it’s just the way life has to be. Our belief system tells us that conflict is a given in life and that we can’t change that fact. We see  the high conflict dynamic as a reality of life and we see ourselves as simply and inevitably caught up in it. But the surprising truth is that conflict is not “inevitable” in anyone’s life—not yours, not mine, not anyone else’s.

What this article has to offer you are the keys to learning to live your life without conflict. And that means that you will be shown how to look at life through a lens that does not focus on it nor requires you to engage in it as a matter of your survival. Here is the first key: it only takes one person involved in a conflict to change it. This is a dance that requires at least two people. If one person in a high conflict cycle begins to set boundaries and change the dynamics of interaction, a new energy arises that creates a major shift—and the  cycle ceases to exist. The phrase It takes two to tango is absolutely true. You simply can’t have the dance  without both parties agreeing to partner up.

We sometimes get so caught up in our conflicts that all we can see is “my side” vs. “the other person’s side.” When we’re invested in believing that “my side” is where truth (or justice or correctness) lies, then we automatically believe that the other person is wrong and “just needs to do what I want them to do.” But this is exactly where we need to stop and take a closer look. Because this is place where we become active perpetrators of this distructive cycle.

We are perpetuating this cycle by holding on for dear life to nothing more than an idea. The truth is that it is only our idea that the other person is wrong and therefore needs to change. That is the second key to ending the cycle in our lives: coming to the realization that the belief that “the other person needs to change” is nothing more than an idea that we have chosen to attach ourselves to.

Out of that belief comes the next belief that keeps us locked into the high conflict cycle “the other person is robbing me of my happiness by their refusal to change.” In other words, we’ve come to believe that our happiness is dependent on the other person changing how they think and act.

Let’s reiterate. What perpetuates the cycle is a set of narrow ideas and beliefs. All we have to do is let go of that controlling idea that “the other person needs to change.”  If we can be willing to change our own way of thinking and doing things, almost always the cycle will end. And here’s the third key: It’s not up to us to change someone else. The simple human truth is that the other person will or won’t change. What they do or don’t do, will or won’t do, is based entirely on what they perceive their own needs to be and how they choose to address them.

© Brook Olsen 2007 – 2010

Get our Free Booklet

The High Conflict Diversion Program textbook was created to support the classroom experience of learning about parenting in a high conflict divorce or custody dispute.

Get It Now