Can Relationships with People who have Borderline Personalities be Saved?

In the autumn of 2005, I happened across an article about high-conflict divorce. I’d worked in divorce law long enough to know that these were the outlier cases—the seemingly impossible cases that were beyond what most would consider a “normal” divorce—they were family destroyers. These cases did not settle easily and often required a judge to decide every matter at issue. They usually took a year or more to be finalized and then ended up becoming “frequent filers,” coming back to court to fight about anything and everything. 

These cases drained the budgets of the courts who adjudicated them, served as a source of frustration and helplessness for the professionals who handled them, and wiped out savings, retirement, and college funds for the high-conflict couple. But worst of all, the parents’ behavior affected their children in damaging, disturbing ways.


Reasonable parents are faced with a serious dilemma when separating from or divorcing a high-conflict parent. On one hand, it might seem best to totally exclude an HCP parent from the child’s life, in order to protect the child from the extreme thinking and behavior of that parent. On the other hand, that approach itself will teach the child extreme solutions to relationship problems. What should you do?

Guilt, Shame and Focusing on the Future

It’s common to have feelings of guilt and shame when going through a separation or divorce – whether you initiated the separation or your partner did. 

You might feel guilt for something you did, like spending too much, drinking too much, or having an affair. Or you might feel ashamed for being depressed or not earning enough money. 

Maybe your partner wanted to move to a different city or wanted different friends than you did. Or maybe you feel guilty toward your children that you couldn’t save the marriage or didn’t protect them from arguments or burdened them with your own upset feelings. 

You might feel a sense of shame around your relatives for choosing a partner they didn’t like, or for giving up on a partner they did like. Or feel guilty toward the children that you left the family for a while or at they won’t be spending as much time with you in the future.

These types of guilt and shame are very common emotions when people go through a separation and divorce, and there are positive ways to manage these emotions. 

How is New Ways for Families® Different Than A Parenting Class?

New Ways for Families® is a short term, structured counseling method for parents re-organizing their families after a separation or divorce. New Ways was specifically designed for “high conflict” parents – those who are stuck in an endless cycle of conflict. Ideally, New Ways should be used at the start of a case before big decisions are made, to prevent the parties from becoming high-conflict. However, New Ways is valuable at any point in the process, even post-divorce or after parenting orders are made.

Before You Go To Family Court

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS:  In Family Court, the judge will never really know what is going on in your case.  The family court’s job is to decide narrow legal issues based on limited permissible evidence.  Hearings are mostly short and to the point.  In real life, Family Court is not like most court cases on television or the movies – or even the news. Trials are rare, as most cases are resolved by hearings and/or settlement by agreement of the parties – often with the help of knowledgeable attorneys. 

Responding to Hostile Mail: How To Write A BIFF Response®

Hostile email, texts and other electronic communications have become much more common over the past decade. Most of this is just “venting,” and has little real significance. However, when people are involved in a formal conflict (a divorce, a workplace grievance, a homeowners’ association complaint, etc.) there may be more frequent hostile email. There may be more people involved and it may be exposed to others or in court. Therefore, how you respond to hostile communications may impact your relationships or the outcome of a case.

Yes, No Or I'll Think About It

Whether in a divorce, a workplace dispute, or a conflict with a neighbor, it’s easy to get caught up in defending our own behavior and point of view. This is especially true when we are dealing with a high conflict person (HCP). They quickly “push our buttons,” and it’s easy to react before we know it. They often seem driven to engage in negative conversations rather than trying to solve problems. The focus quickly becomes personal attacks and counter-attacks.


Lying In Family Court

When I became a family law attorney/mediator after a dozen years as a therapist, one of the biggest surprises was the extent of lying in Family Court: lies about income, assets and even complete fabrications of child abuse and domestic violence. Why would people lie so much, I wondered? How did they get away with it? The following is my psychosocial analysis of what I believe has become an epidemic: 

Evaluating Sexual Abuse Reports In Family Court

One of the most difficult issues which can confront parents, counselors, attorneys and judges is the concern that a child has been sexually abused. Evaluating an allegation against a parent is especially difficult in the context of separation or divorce. The child's statements and behavior may be responses to the stress of the divorce and wrongly interpreted as sexual abuse. Or true sexual abuse reports may be wrongly discounted as a weapon in the divorce conflict.

Dental Alienation

People have asked me how someone can alienate a child against someone else.  Actually, it's easy.  It only takes 10 steps and a few other people.  Here's how you can do it, for example, with the child's dentist.  In each of the following steps, use lots of emotion and let the child have the final say. 

You: "Johnny, it's time to go to the dentist. Put your jacket on and get in the car." 
   “No! I won’t go. I refuse to see the dentist.”

Don't Use Force

“I won’t force the children to go with the other parent,” is one of the statements I hear sometimes from parents going through a separation or divorce.  This statement has become so common (three times in one day recently), that I decided a short article on this subject would be helpful.  

Ten Thoughts For Divorcing Parents

Pat knew divorce was inevitable. It was a matter of WHEN? After the children are past the age of 5? 8? 10? 14? They had all tried to keep the family together, but they were individually coming apart at the seams.... Divorce is usually painful for everyone involved. But how to shield your children from unnecessary pain - this is the question!

Realistic Expectations in Divorce: Do Leopards Ever Really Change Their Spots?

As a mediator, I met with a divorcing couple today.  I like both of them very much.  We are the same ages, have similar interests and if I wasn’t their divorce mediator, I could be friends with each of them.  But what struck me again today, was how divorcing spouses treat each other and annoy each other, and yet at the same time they find this surprising and frustrating. 

You are getting divorced.  There are multiple reasons why you are getting divorced.  Many of them boil down to that fact that you each have a different perspective on various issues.  One of you likes the house neat and tidy, the other leaves dirty socks and wet towels on the floor.  One of you is fussy about the budget, the other just wants to know if the ATM card works.  You each have a different set of expectations for the children and approach discipline in different ways.  You both have frustrations, disappointments and hurt feelings.  You have argued over these issues many times, you can recite each other’s point of view word for word.  You have stopped even pretending to listen.

Three Theories of Your Case

We live in an age of easy allegations and elusive truths. We all frequently get sucked into other people’s conflicts in which this is a problem. Whether you are a professional (lawyer, mediator, therapist, HR professional, manager, etc.), someone’s friend or family member, or a voter in an election, one of the hardest issues is figuring out who’s telling the truth and who’s acting badly. This problem is made much worse in a public winner-take-all adversarial process, which significantly clouds the ability to find the truth and protect true victims.

Change Their Thinking? FORGETABOUDIT

How many times have you tried to get someone to look at their past behavior, to admit they acted badly and to agree to change their future behavior? Most likely you were frustrated in these efforts and pushed them harder to get your points across. Or you may have given up, visibly showing your irritation with them. This frequently occurs in the workplace, in families and in the efforts of conflict resolution professionals.