Are you in a High Conflict Relationship or Separation?

You are not alone. It’s time to get the support you need. 

Just as not all domestic violence involves cuts and bruises, not all high conflict situations can be easy to spot, from the inside or the outside. Often the main feeling women in these situations have is that of feeling trapped, lost and alone.

Often, one partner is so used to the abusing behaviour of their spouse that it becomes normal. High conflict doesn’t have to mean screaming, shouting and physical abuse. It’s more insidious than that.

But it’s important to see your relationship, and your divorce process, for what it is. Because high conflict divorce doesn’t follow the usual patterns. Being collaborative and amicable is not possible. Sometimes even trying to do this puts you (and any children) at risk of further harm.

That doesn’t mean you have to stay trapped. Your divorce journey won’t be easy, but it will be possible. As the UK’s only accredited High Conflict Diversion Programme Instructor and an experienced mediator and divorce coach, know that you are in the right place, here, right now.

Recognising High Conflict

Recognising what high conflict looks like can help you prepare for the road ahead.

It’s often hard to accept that you are in a high conflict situation. When Katie started coaching with me, she hid it well – from herself as well as me. Gradually, as she shared more about her past and present, a catalogue of narcissistic abuse unfolded that went back to before she married:

  • Name calling
  • Belittling
  • Silent-treatment
  • Withdrawal of affection
  • Lack of support with the family home and children

Katie fought hard to hang on to the fantasy that her lovely middle-class life was normal. She believed that she made her husband abuse her emotionally. And she diminished the significance of what was going on.

Just like you, Katie is a smart, professional woman. Like you, she struggled to accept that this was happening to her.

“Women like me aren’t abused.”

Oh yes, Katie, they are. Abuse doesn’t discriminate. What it does do is use control and power in all its forms.

High conflict is often present as a feature of the relationship and escalates on separation.

So what are the signs you’re in a high conflict situation?


    One party controls the other financially and/or emotionally


    Frequent periods of hostility


    One party constantly belittles the other, shaming them and reducing their confidence and self-esteem


    One party takes little interest in the family, preferring to behave as if they are single or another child within the family


    One party refuses to acknowledge the other party’s feelings, needs or desires


    On separation, one party constantly contacts the other when it is both unnecessary and unwelcome


    One party refuses to respond to reasonable communication


    One or both parties complain of being the victim or abused by the other


    One or both parties make false accusations


    One or both parties accuse the other of abandoning the family, being neglectful, abusive or controlling


    One or both parties ignore professional advice


    One or both parties ignore court directions or orders


    One or both parties fail to put the needs of their children first


    One or both parties brainwash their children


    One or both parties bad-mouth the other parent and/or extended family


    Cafcass or Social Services are involved, or a Guardian has been appointed


    One or both parties accuse the other of lying, gas-lighting or displaying personality disorders


    No agreements can be made or adhered to


    One or both parties believe that they’re the ‘better’ parent


    One or both parties hide financial information from the other


    Police or Domestic Abuse services have been used


    One or both parents frequently returns matters to court to be looked at again


    Financial support is frequently denied to the detriment of the other party and their children

    Every situation will be different. You don’t have to tick all of these boxes for your situation to be high conflict. Notice that physical abuse may or may not be present. Abuse can be physical, psychological, emotional or financial.

    The most important thing to remember is that it always harms you and your children. 90% of abuse occurs with children present in the family home.

    Getting Support

    Emma Heptonstall listening to her client.

    Before you say anything, I want you to know that you deserve support. More than that – you need it.


    Because in a high conflict situation, it’s hard to see what’s really happening. Often, you think it’s your fault. Or you think there must be some truth in what he says or he wouldn’t say it. Or you think what he’s saying and doing isn’t that bad.

    When you’ve been emotionally abused for years your sense of perspective goes.

     You’re not sure what’s real and what’s not.

    A professional, confidential, independent voice can support you, challenge you and help you to see things as they really are, however painful that is. And that is the start of everything.

    When you deal with your emotions of grief and sadness, you are able to rebuild your self-esteem and move forward.

    You are open to learning what you need to do to get your divorce done whilst navigating conflict.

    I’m in a high conflict relationship.
    What now?

    Perhaps you’re already aware you’re in a high conflict situation. You’ve read copious amounts online about Narcissism, Borderline Personality Disorder, Gaslighting and you recognise your situation?

    Now what?

    You’ve probably already realised that this knowledge alone doesn’t help you deal with your situation. If you’ve been searching for ‘answers’, know that in order to move forward, you need to stop looking for answers.

    The solution lies with you and a change of your focus.

    Yes, you heard me right, the solution lies with you, but probably not in the way you think.

    How can I help?

    Emma Heptonstall working from her laptop

    I am the UK’s only accredited High Conflict Diversion Specialist. I know the approaches that will help you (and those that definitely won’t). Together we can come up with strategies that serve you to navigate your high conflict situation.

    When you work with me 1:1 you can be confident that I’ll listen, and understand the realities of your situation. And you’ll see that there is a way through for you.

    I offer a range of 1:1 coaching options to suit you. You aren’t on your own with this.

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