Suchen und Finden
Who is a High-Conflict Person?
(and Why Should You Avoid Committing to One?)
Wouldn’t it be helpful if people came with color-coded relationship-potential labels? Green for “All clear—go ahead.” Yellow for “Caution—trouble ahead.” Red for “Chaos, misery, and destruction—avoid at all costs.” Think about it: if we (hopefully) reasonable folks picked people with green labels, our lives would be easier and less stressful, and our relationships would be more likely to succeed. The yellows and reds would be left to date each other, and we all know how that would go.
But people don’t come with warning labels, and even if they did, we might not heed their colorful advice. The trouble with humans is that we often make decisions that are against our self-interest without realizing it, especially when love and lust are involved.
For better or for worse, it’s up to us to pick good partners and make good decisions. Of course it’s not a good idea to marry a serial killer, a stalker, or someone who treats us badly. Most of us manage to avoid these types. But if we’re so good at screening partners, why does approximately half of the population end up divorced or in a relationship that doesn’t last? And why do 10 to 20 percent of breakups escalate into all-out war? (If you’re not sure what we mean by that, skip ahead a few pages to “Kelly’s Story”.) We’d all like to know who will make our life complete and won’t cause us misery, yet we are clearly not so good at telling the greens from the reds.
We don’t have to drill down very far to discover that some of those divorces and break-ups are the result of destructive, chaotic, disastrous pairings that at one time felt happy and solid. Even when parents, friends, or others are able to identify impending relationship disaster, we ourselves can be blind to it. We look back after a disastrous relationship and wonder how we didn’t see it. Where was our dating radar?
One of the most important decisions you’ll make—who you’ll share your life with—is often decided in a short time period without all of the information and without much thought to what could go wrong. Many of us have blinders on when it comes to love. We ignore advice from well-intentioned friends and family. We even disregard our own gut feelings, forging ahead to the altar. Others are more careful and proceed forward fully trusting that we’ve picked the right one but eventually get blind-sided.
How does it happen? Who is this person who makes our life hell? Probably someone with a high-conflict personality. And when a relationship has a high-conflict person in it, it becomes a high-conflict relationship.
High-conflict relationships are not just the worst; they’re the worst of the worst. People with high-conflict personalities always find targets of blame, and attack them for causing all their problems. If you’re in a relationship with a high-conflict person (HCP), you will eventually become their target. HCPs take no responsibility for their own behavior and their contribution to their own problems. They are toxic, chaotic, and exhausting. People who have been in relationships with high-conflict people describe the experience as one filled with dread, exhaustion, fear, and despair.
In every nasty divorce, or high-profile murder case like O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson or Jodi Arias and her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, it’s likely that at least one of them has a high-conflict personality. Nearly every movie and television show that depicts an antagonistic couple suggests one or two high-conflict partners. In fact, television and movies would be boring or nonexistent without this explosive kind of romance.
But some troubled partnerships are hard to spot. The majority of the most difficult “difficult” relationships are more nuanced than the ones you see on screen. The toxicity may not be as obvious, but the couple is still in store for major distress and at high risk of divorce, violence, or even lifelong depression or substance abuse. People in relationships with HCPs are living in misery. They may go outside the relationship to find relief, love, compassion—anything to make life more bearable.
Clearly, it’s worthwhile to avoid high-conflict partners. To do this, you’ll need to be able to recognize even the more subtle ones. By the end of this book, you will know how to identify who should get the green light, when you should proceed with caution, and when you should change your number and block on social media. In this chapter, we’ll take a closer look at high-conflict people and the relationship havoc they wreak.
Our Dilemma in Writing This Book
Before going further, let’s talk about the inherent conflict that comes from placing a warning sign on a group of people—those you shouldn’t marry or commit to. We, as authors and experts in this area, struggle with this conflict. Both of us are “helping” professionals—natural givers of empathy and compassion—so having this knowledge puts us in a tough spot. The very people we are warning you to avoid romantically are the same people who need help the most. However, our knowledge tells us that we are also helping them by warning you. Yes, they need help, but you are not the one to give it. Hopefully that idea will make more sense as you read through the book.
We have a lot of empathy for people with high-conflict personalities, because they acquired them in their early years through no choice of their own—often having been born this way or having experienced abuse growing up. Some of them were praised excessively by their parents, which sounds nice until you consider that it promotes self-absorption and sets people up to be unsuccessful in relationships. Because of their trauma or misguided parenting, they need counseling, but they rarely realize it.
So we don’t relish the idea of placing warning labels on specific people, and we urge you to keep this kind of thinking to yourself. Even describing them as a group makes us uncomfortable. But after years of conflicted thoughts and feelings, we’ve concluded that it’s our responsibility to share our knowledge and warn you about several personality types that we believe you will regret marrying or committing to. And if you believe you have one of these personality types, we urge you to get counseling to work on overcoming negative behavior patterns and learn how to have more satisfying relationships.
The four high-conflict personality types discussed in this book are narcissistic, borderline, antisocial (sociopathic), and histrionic. We do not mean to suggest that everyone who has one of these personality types is a high-conflict person. Many are not. The key factor for high-conflict people is that they seek and attack targets of blame. These are the most difficult of difficult people and truly the kind that will make your life hell, in varying degrees, if you commit to them in any way. The pain and devastation we’ve seen in divorce and child custody battles has convinced us of the need to warn people before they get in these relationships. Children of those with high-conflict personalities are affected for a lifetime, in their physical health and especially in their romantic relationships and parenting. Believe us when we say that you will regret having chosen someone with a high-conflict personality to be the other parent of your children.
Ultimately, it’s up to you, but we urge you to use what you learn about dating radar to make the best decision for you and your children or future children. With this knowledge comes power that can be used for good or for bad. Use it wisely, please, in making your own decisions and not publicly labeling individuals.
After you read the story below, you’ll have a better sense of the stinging and destructive reality of high-conflict relationships.
Kelly and Josh met in college and were instantly attracted to each other. He was on the football team and she was a student intern helping out at football practices. The relationship progressed quickly from a first date to being exclusive in just two weeks. They started doing everything together and even kept in touch during classes through texts and messaging.
It wasn’t long before Josh became more controlling of some aspects of their relationship, although the control was subtle. He told her when she could and couldn’t attend his football games and who she could and couldn’t be friends with. In the beginning, he wanted to spend every second with her, but before long he spent less time with her and more time with other people. He went out with friends whenever he wanted but made her feel bad about spending time with her friends.
She didn’t say a word when he was dismissive or critical of her—often in front of their friends. She did his homework for him and picked him up from parties at all times of the night. She would do anything for him, even though he didn’t do much for her. Kelly just wanted to be in a relationship. In fact, she felt that she needed to have a partner. Josh did, too, but in a different way. He liked showing her off to his friends. Although Kelly didn’t seem aware of it, she was willing to go along with whatever he wanted.
It wasn’t perfect, but whose relationship is?...