Communicating with a High Conflict Spouse without Losing your Mind

Angry, raging woman

Conflict during Divorce

Are you dealing with a high conflict spouse as you go through separation and divorce?

Pass the chocolate cake, valium and a meditation CD please!

Although going through divorce often brings out the worst side of a person’s personality, if you are married to someone with a high conflict personality, even small things you are trying to negotiate about can quickly escalate into an on-going struggle for power and control.

Communicating with someone who is high conflict can often feel like an exercise in frustration without ever seeing any positive results.

Bill Eddy, co-founder of the High Conflict Institute understands just how essential it is to approach this type of spouse in ways that don’t trigger their defensiveness and blaming behaviors which rapidly destroy effective communication.

“Since they lack self-awareness, they make no effort to change their own behavior when things go badly. They view complex problems and relationships as all another’s responsibility and don’t see their own part in causing the problem or finding the solution.”

Although it’s just not possible to change your high-conflict spouse, you can adapt some new strategies in the ways that you communicate with them which increase the likelihood that you’ll experience less upsetting, intense and frequent confrontations.

In Bill Eddy’s insightful book, “BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People” Eddy recommends some highly useful strategies you can put into action to change the frustrating communication response dynamics with a high conflict spouse.

Keep your communications BRIEF:

Less is definitely worth more when it comes to responding to someone who is high conflict.

Keeping things extremely brief can be very challenging to do consistently but the benefits of being as brief as possible include avoiding triggering their defensiveness and gives them less opportunities to blame you.

 Keep your words INFORMATIVE:

Offering basic, factual information in a neutral manner decreases the likelihood of them starting to blame you or engage you in battle about whether their opinion is right or not.

Communicating strictly through email instead of talking by phone gives you a record you can use if things are needed later on in court and shows evidence that you tried to stick to the matter at hand instead of engaging in blame and shouting matches.


Yes I know that you’re thinking, how is this even remotely possible?

Strive to be friendly in a way that is similar to how you would behave with a difficult business client or co-worker you must deal with at work.

By beginning and ending your brief, informative message in a cordial way, the high conflict person has less ammunition to use against you and over a period of time may see the futility of trying to continue to embroil you into battle.


Be clear and direct about when you expect a response from the high conflict person and define exactly what the consequence will be if they don’t respond or take action within a specified time frame.

Provide just a few choices and make it clear that you will not engage in further debate about the issue at hand.

Since high conflict spouses often thrive on trying to punish you, it’s best to slowing disengage with them over time rather than making a sudden departure.

By striving to consistently keep your communications brief, informative, friendly and firm, you’ll increase the probability that the high conflict spouse will gradually take on a less significant role in your daily life and you’ll be able to manage conflicts more effectively before they get out of control.




Please let me know your thoughts in the Comments Section below.


  1. Quite detailing.. must be really tough for people who go thru it . I loved the simple non preachy tone of this post.

  2. Great tips for those going through difficult divorce. I think they’d be great just to diffuse arguments in relationships too.

  3. … and the MOST important thing (and sadly oftentimes the most challenging) is to keep the kids out of it!
    HUGS <3

  4. Gosh, I think this will come in handy!

  5. Karen B. says:

    I have been using this method since i separated from my ex a few years ago and it is the best advice for communicating through divorce (and after). Email has become a great polite, unemotional way to communicate information.

  6. With divorces, this can be one of the toughest things to deal with. I agree being firm as well as friendly is one of the more important things you need to do when dealing with a spouse that acts this way.

  7. Simple, yet sound advice that works. Thanks for sharing this!