Are you going through a divorce or separation and dealing with a Narcissistic or Borderline Personality?  As our guest, Lisa Pisha (Linkedin profile) , Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist says, “If your spouse was difficult or abusive in the marriage, don’t expect things to get easier in your divorce.”  We discuss how important boundaries are when you are divorcing a difficult or abusive personality.  Denise Erlich, Family Lawyer, and Lisa Pisha, LMFT, give us specific tips and techniques to shut down the noise and chaos that can lead to confusion and bad outcomes in divorce.  We address strategies to maintain your mental health so that you can make decisions based on fact and not on fear. Denise and Lisa have a combined experience of over 35 years in dealing with clients who are victims of harassment and abuse.  Their knowledge is shared with us on today’s podcast.  Your hosts are Colleen Honquest, Certified Divorce Coach and Divorce Mediator and Deborah Mora Evans, Divorce Mediator both of DivorceMD.  For a free 30 minute consult contact Colleen.


Transcript for Full Podcast Here:

Deb (00:41):

Hey, welcome everyone to the DivorceMD podcast, Divorce MD, your healthy divorce solution. So my name is Debbie Mora Evans. I am a divorce mediator with divorce MD, and today I’m joined by Colleen Honquest, Principal at divorce MD. She’s divorce mediator, and she’s also a certified divorce coach. We’re really excited to tell you who we have today. So today joining us is Denise Ehrlich. She’s a family law attorney and also owner of Ehrlich law office and Lisa Pisha. Lisa is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and she’s also the owner of growth therapy. Denise has more than 21 years of experience as a family law attorney and her practice actually focuses, focuses on collaborative law litigation and mediation. And she also in her spare time acts as a guardian ad litem in divorce cases. And she does business litigation too.

Deb (01:47):

Lisa Pisha is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and she’s been in practice for more than 15 years.

Deb (01:55):

She works mainly with couples at her private practice. So Colleen, let’s turn things over to you for a second. Tell us why this topic of boundaries, which is what we’re covering today, why it’s so important to you that you wanted to do a podcast about this topic.

Colleen (02:11):

Yeah, thanks Deb. I appreciate it. I went through my own highly litigated divorce a while ago and found that I really didn’t have any idea about how to put up boundaries and how to stop the harassment and constant communication coming from my ex spouse or soon to be ex spouse. I learned that the hard way. There is a way to put up boundaries to create ways to communicate with your ex that are civil yet. Can help maintain your sanity and decrease a lot of the stress and chaos and confusion. It was an inexpensive education and one that I would not wish on anybody to repeat.

Deb (02:55):

So Lisa, why don’t we start with you? What have your clients experienced with their high conflict personality spouses and can you give us a couple examples of bad decisions that maybe clients have made that sort of worn them down? And , what that, what that looks like?

Lisa (03:19):

Sure, absolutely. Well, I want to start first by by saying that being married to a high conflict personality does not get easier in a divorce. And I’m often encouraging couples to, , as they’re separating, I’m often encouraging them to remember that if this person wasn’t necessarily an easygoing person through the marriage, they’re most likely not going to be an easy going person in the divorce either. And so sometimes the expectation is once they file for divorce, things will start to get better immediately.

Deb (03:58):

And I would say 99% of the time, that’s not the case. There’s a bit of a hard road that follows. And so one of the things I encourage couples to do specifically, the spouses of that high conflict personality, is to get really clear on what their expectation through the divorce process is and to talk about it with me, with their friends and get advice from people who have gone through it before, just to get some validation on, , what they’re going through. Divorce support groups are really, really great for validation. Sometimes. Oftentimes actually, when, when someone has been married to a high conflict spouse, they’re already going into this divorce feeling pretty exhausted, and this could be that point in their life where they could rebuild themselves and they can start to kind of gather up their identity again, or it can be the point where they just are exhausted and and kind of just defeated, feeling really defeated for quite some time. And the difference in that has a lot to do with their boundaries and what they allow into their, into their life and into their, , frame of reference for the time being

Speaker 3 (05:17):

Lisa, this question from Colleen just one of the things that divorce does with high conflict personalities, it triggers like an attachment or a loss, right? That kind of ramps up their behaviors. So you mentioned if they’re already high conflict, the divorce is not going to be easier.

Deb (05:36):

Usually we’ll escalate those behaviors, correct? That’s absolutely right. I mean, I think anytime someone is experiencing overall emotion, they’re not acting in their best self. And when you have a high conflict personality oftentimes they are unable to identify that there is raw emotion or there outside of anger and outside of frustration, they don’t have the awareness to realize that really there’s a lot of hurt and a lot of pain under there. And so that old adage, hurt people, hurt people, comes into play.

Speaker 3 (06:13):

Denise, I’m sure you kind of witnessed the same thing with people coming to you and they’ve already been beaten down somewhat.

Deb (06:20):

Right. And I think has a lot to do with whether, well, if they’re going through a divorce or Fritz post divorce, and if they’re living together or not, I think there’s different strategies that a person can take. If they’re living, they’re still living with their spouse, or if they’re separated, if they’re separated, obviously you can, , you can black the call or so you’re not, you’re not getting 50 texts a day. , you can do things to limit your communication, but if you’re living together, then it’s really hard to avoid a high conflict spouse, especially when you’re going through going through a divorce.

Speaker 3 (06:51):

As you said, if, if you’re not living together, , I think one of the things that’s hard for clients when they’re going into divorce is they have no idea what they should and shouldn’t do. And, and for instance, what will make them appear non-communicative or non-cooperative can you speak to Denise, speak to like, they don’t have to respond to every message that comes across. Do they, I mean, the judge will respect the fact that they pick and choose those that need responding to

Deb (07:24):

Right. Absolutely. if both spouses have lawyers, one easy strategy that a person can do is just tell their spouse, look, my lawyers, my lawyers handling everything, have your lawyer talk to my lawyer and just blame the lawyer. I always tell my clients, go ahead and blame me. Just if I, if you have a high conflict spouse, you’re better off not negotiating with your spouse directly. And just, you can just play dumb and say, Hey, what? I hired a lawyer. My lawyer is handling it. , I haven’t talked to my lawyer yet this way, this hopefully leave that person alone, but there’s no, there’s no benefit. I mean, if the spouses get along, it’s great. If you can work things out together, if you can just decide who’s going to get what or how to split things, because you’ll save a lot of attorney fees that way. But if you have a high conflict spouse, he’s not gonna, he or she is not going to want to agree on anything. If you want something they’re going to want it because they want to get even. So there’s really no benefit to working with a high conflict personality if you’re not going to get anywhere.

Speaker 3 (08:22):

No, that’s true. And, and I’ve found, and tell me if this is correct, most high conflict personalities tend to hire, well, I guess, negative advocates as lawyers, those that kind of either are high conflict themselves, or they tend to believe their clients and really get aggressive with the other attorney.

Deb (08:45):

Absolutely. And the more high conflict a spouse is, the more they can unfortunately drive up litigation costs. For that reason. I would say if you have high conflict spouse and you’re involved in a divorce, you definitely want to have a divorce coach or a therapist or both because you don’t want to be calling your attorney all the time for questions that your attorney, , not the correct professional, the answer you want to save your attorney for legal issues or things that you really need to address. So you don’t need to respond to your spouses, texts, emails, comments, just ignore. I mean, you can, you can say you can acknowledge the text or, but you don’t have to answer. You don’t owe the spouse. Anything, think of a divorce as your role on a freight train. Well, it could be a most of the time it’s at a high speed train.

Deb (09:32):

So think of a freight train you’re going to get from the station to the end, the finish line, and just a matter of how you’re going to cope or survive or get better, or be during that trip to the finish line. Can we talk a little bit Denise about, about something that you, that you just said, and Lisa, we’d love to hear from you too. You just described one way of setting up a boundary, a very concrete way of, of just simply if a text, if a text comes through or an email, you said you can, you can acknowledge it. Talk a little bit about what, about what that would actually look like? Is it just, hi, I received your email, thanks. Which would, would lead me to believe that it might provoke the , the other person even, even more, but , how, how should that look?

Deb (10:20):

What are your suggestions for how that should look? And if it does escalate, what, , what should happen as a second step? Well, I would say if, if someone doesn’t have kids, you can just block the other person. You don’t need to talk to your spouse. If you don’t have kids, obviously if you have children and you need to communicate. So, , you can certainly tell your spouse that, , I don’t want to fight with you anymore. I’m only going to respond to two communications involving our kids that are necessary. I’m not going to discuss the case and, , let him, and then I would just ignore them. But if there are things about the children, you do have to communicate because that could backfire on you during the divorce case. If you’re not communicating with your spouse about the kids, he or she can use that against the spouse saying they’re not co-parenting or they’re trying to keep me away from the kids.

Speaker 3 (11:08):

Do you have clients ask you, , or, or talk about defending themselves into defending themselves to the world about the accusations that their spouses are making?

Deb (11:18):

Yeah, absolutely. I think one, , one of the things that people really start spinning their wheels on is trying to prove their truth to, , the high conflict partner or a person. And that’s often what we talk about in therapy is how, how to recognize your truth as your own, regardless of what that other person is saying or trying to instigate in you. Yeah. Yeah. I think a lot of people that are being harassed

Speaker 3 (11:45):

Victimized are they feel like if they don’t respond, they, they are acknowledging that what the other side said is, but what I often say, and I’m sure you can echo this I just say, you’re, you’re defending yourself to someone who doesn’t care, what you say. And , anyone that believes what they’re saying is not worth your time, , as far as defending yourself to the world and telling all of their friends. So I think that’s a very exhausting part of the whole equation is feeling like they need to tell everybody, no, that’s not true.

Deb (12:22):

Can I take it also? Is it relevant? Like from a legal perspective? Yeah. Whatever their spouse is saying. Doesn’t matter. The only time it will really matter is if there’s kids involved, if the rental children, it doesn’t matter what they say, the judge won’t care. The judge just wants to divide property, assets, debts, and so forth. Now, if it involves kids, that’s another story. If like, if a spouse is trying to make the other spouse look bad, then the spouse who is being the one who is being harassed should definitely keep a written log. And I don’t mean written on paper because your spouse could find it and tear it up. And you’ve lost all this information, but maybe email yourself messages, keep a record dates, times events, because in the event you need a guardian ad litem or a child representative on your case, you want specific examples of things that the spouse has done. You want the best proof you can get that whatever this person said didn’t happen. No,

Speaker 3 (13:15):

And I agree, Denise, there’s no reason, , as far as the whole case to be defending themselves at all, it just seems to be something that’s stuck in their head. , after all of the abuse, your, your brain, I think people get caught up in, Oh my God, I’m a good person. I want to tell people, but you’re right. The judge in the lawyers, that’s, that’s just not an, a concern and it actually creates more chaos and confusion and makes it harder to see who’s creating the problems. So both of you, you see clients, oftentimes that have been through whether it’s years of abuse in their marriage, or, , even post-separation abuse, how do these clients appear to you? And Lisa, I’ll ask you first as a therapist, do they come in and how do they appear? Are they distraught? Are they out of control? What, what’s the symptoms symptomology? I think that the most common symptom

Deb (14:13):

Is exhaustion and overwhelm. It’s couched under anxiety. A lot of times they’ve gone to like their primary care provider already and have asked for something, , to help ease this feeling of anxiety. And just basically just feeling over like electrocuted, , you’re walking around just feeling zapped constantly. And so a lot of times just the stress of the divorce, it can show up in parenting. It can show up in, , I can’t sleep. I can’t I can’t work. I can’t function, but yeah, most common it’s, it’s pretty close to exhaustion.

Speaker 3 (14:54):

And Denise for you clients, they go to court and it’s hard to manage them, or how does this work?

Deb (15:00):

Right. If I have a client who’s overly , who’s having a difficult time, I would rather that they not be in court unless they absolutely have to, because I can be cool, calm and collected to the judge and be objective. And no matter what allegations are being alleged against my client, the judge has taken to see my client. He’s not going to believe anything unless there’s a trial, but if I’ve got my client present in court who, who looks, , who’s stressed out or, , whatever, if the judge will pick up on that and he might, he or she might have some , reaction, personal bias can come in the way or the judges get this impression that, Hey, that’s not, that’s kind of weird that he or she did that. , maybe there is some truth to what this other person is saying.

Deb (15:42):

So if I have a client who’s really emotional or having a tough time, keeping it together, I would not have them appear in court. Does that makes sense? I think it works in a really interesting way to, especially with people going through divorce. , some of us do a lot of the overfunctioning where we, like you were talking about earlier, Colleen, which is like defend themselves to the world. Right. And, and really collect all the evidence and all the data they can to do. So. And that leads to, again, just a tremendous amount of overfunctioning right. Trying to make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. And then on the other hand, you’ve got people who under function and that looks more like that. Exhaustion and depression, and not being able to basically make any decisions because their bandwidth has, is now null and void. They’ve put all of their emotional energy to this person, to the divorce process itself. And they have nothing left

Speaker 3 (16:39):

From my own case. And from watching certain clients that have been, , it’s toxic stress and it goes on for months, sometimes years, the brain finally starts shutting down, at least the frontal cortex and the logical thinking part of the brain and what’s left is fight or flight. , you’re at the amygdala level and you’re just kind of surviving day to day. And that’s, that’s not the part that makes you appear sane and calm and collected. So we talked a little bit about court, Denise, specifically, if your client, if you have a client that’s experiencing this kind of harassment, this ongoing toxic stress, what can you, as a lawyer put into place as far as maybe a temporary agreement or part of a, even a permanent degree,

Deb (17:28):

There’s definitely things a lawyer can do. If a one spouse is harassing the other spouse the lawyers can enter an agreed order if the other lawyer will agree to it. Like for instance, when they’re exchanging spouses or exchanging the kids for parenting time, this let’s say one spouse harasses the other spouse. So we can have an order that says that the shall minimize communication to only necessary communication, , during parenting exchanges. Now whether the other spouse is going to follow, it is another story, but there’s a court order really is only good if you could enforce it. And how would you really prove that? And then even if you proved it, when at a court, what’s the judge going to do? I mean, besides awards, attorney fees for violating the order and specifically the use of an app or some kind of community communication tool, or people can only send emails, communication shall be by email, no, no phone or texting allowed, unless it’s an emergency that’s commonly done.

Deb (18:29):

And that’s usually in all the parenting agreements. There’s an app, an excellent app called our family wizard which allows the parties to communicate with one another, which I highly recommend, but they will have in-person communication when they exchange the kids. And if it’s a very highly contested case, , they could meet it at public, in a public place, although nothing’s open right now, but they can exchange in the police station, which isn’t good for the kids. Either. There are drastic options. You could have a neutral person there as a witness because if the spouse is harassing the spouse, when the kids are present, that’s not good for the kids. , we’ve talked about a few, a few ways. One can go about setting up boundaries, , something as straightforward, as you said, if there aren’t any children involved, you could, you could actually block them.

Deb (19:19):

You could, , verbally or via text or email say, I will, I will only respond to emails about XYZ. , I will not argue with you. We mentioned more drastic order, more drastic things, such as such as court orders. Denise, you just mentioned an app called our family wizard. What are some other, what are some other ways that people could use to to set up boundaries? Something that goes underestimated is sleep and rest and play. We are probably operating at our best selves when we have given ourselves time and space to let that amygdala calm down and, , have, have the necessary rest we need. Now I know, , self care isn’t always possible, right? It’s not always possible to go get a massage or a haircut or whatever. And God, , we, everybody knows we can’t do that right now, but taking 10 minutes before you wake up in the morning or get out of bed and asking yourself, , what do you want from this day being really intentional about where you let your mind wander journaling talking to friends, making sure you keep connected with the people who are there for you and will stand with you during this time.

Deb (20:41):

It is a lot easier to create a boundary. When you’re feeling like you’ve got the energy, you’ve the bandwidth and you have the support to do so that support so important. What might keep a spouse help them keep their sanity. Your sanity during the divorce process is to keep their eye on the finish line. And they should know from their attorney, all the steps that are involved in the case and where are the cases at? They should know the cases moving forward. And that as long as they know, their lawyer is doing a good job and working, working on the case, they’re going to get through this. And when it’s over, they’ll have an entirely new life and hopefully it’ll be a better life, but at least it will be a more calm life and peaceful. I couldn’t agree with that. More Denise, I think perspective is huge. One of, one of the things I talked about with my clients too, is like, think about a time where you didn’t think you could overcome something or you didn’t think you’d get through it. And looking back on that now, I bet you didn’t realize you’d be here, right? Like divorce is the same way. Everything we go through in life. It’s a transition. It’s a process we’re never in the same space forever. There’s always a movement forward. And so that perspective is just so helpful to keep in mind.

Speaker 3 (21:48):

That’s a great point. Both of you have made is giving the client perspective and guidance because oftentimes if they’re getting a lot of harassment or communication from the other side, it gets into their head and it starts becoming part of their truth. For instance, , Denise, you probably heard this, , clients come to you and said, well, he said that he’s going to get custody of the kids. And then he’s going to take them out of state or whatever the case is. I’m hearing that constantly and not having those boundaries in place, clients start believing their ex spouse indeed is going to predict what’s happening or what’s going to happen in their divorce.

Deb (22:29):

Right? And the spouse has to ignore that that noise that their spouse is making to try to unsettle them. Cause their spouse is deliberately trying to create stress and panic and worry them and causes the spouse to doubt themselves and also Delta their lawyer. So you have to recognize that that’s just a tactic or defense mechanism of the other spouse. Who’s trying to hurt you back. So you, you both have websites. I think you both have some resources on your respective websites, anything you’d like to, to draw people to as far as things you’ve written or things that you might have available on your websites regarding setting up boundaries. I have I’ve written a ton of blogs, so you can surf through those. I think if you go into my website, you’ll find a lot of useful information and your attorney can also give you the best information in the process and it can help you counteract what the other spouse is doing. Of course, like I said, you don’t want to call your attorney every day or send them 10 emails a day. Cause it’s going to cost you a fortune, but you definitely need a strategy and a method for handling your spouse during the divorce process.

Speaker 3 (23:37):

And Denise, what is your website again? Ehrlich

Deb (23:40):

That’s one word E R L I C H L E G a And Lisa, I have a website also it’s Lisa And my practice website is aim to I also have a blog about both of those sites called from where I sit and really it’s just some information there. Some guidance about what I’ve seen as a therapist, , from the perspective of being a therapist of people going through a divorce, really going through any kind of transition phase in their life, where they were looking for some kind of direction from themselves, from their relationship primarily one of the articles that might be most beneficial to people right now on this topic would be a blog I wrote called boundaries for you, offense for the barn. And I talk about what the importance of setting up boundaries, , what that importance is and why it’s so beneficial to, to establish them, whether you’re in a partnership, whether you’re just, , individually alone or dating or going through a divorce boundaries, no matter what are incredibly important and say the name of that article again, it’s called boundaries for you.

Deb (24:54):

Offense for the barn.

Speaker 3 (24:55):

One more question, guys, Denise and Lisa clients that don’t have S specific and strong boundaries. What do you see? I mean, do you see them signing off ending therapy and signing horrible agreements? How does that look? Denise

Deb (25:14):

And me, I wouldn’t let them sign a bad agreement. Great. I would, I would, I would probably withdraws their attorney before I would let them sign a bad agreement.

Speaker 3 (25:24):

Yeah. I probably didn’t say that correctly. Sorry, because I know that about you. And what I meant was where they’re even pushing you to say, just get this over with, get me something.

Deb (25:35):

I will do that if it’s involving a financial matter. If it’s a, , I don’t believe in fighting over pennies or even a hundred dollars, it’s not worth it. You obviously want to think about what you’re fighting over. Isn’t it, is it worth the legal fee as the person who can incur to fight over that? So the financial stuff is sort of easy. I mean, I mean money is important, but but as long as it’s sort of, even, that’s fine with me, but on the children’s side, that’s a little bit different. I would strongly advise a client to stick with what they believe is in their children’s best interest. And don’t just give in to your spouse if it’s not good for your kid.

Speaker 3 (26:10):

And Lisa, do you see people ending therapy or do they get stuck? Or how does that look if they don’t have the strongest

Deb (26:18):

Boundaries, not so much ending therapy, although of course, , that that can happen. I’ve definitely seen people wanting to end the divorce process, just, , cutting it, short, making the agreement quicker than maybe they would have wanted to, if they were feeling a little bit more emotionally encourage, , from themselves. And that looks exactly like what you said. I mean, it looks like I’m saying, I just want to have this, , I just want to have this over with, I don’t want to deal with this anymore. I’m willing to concede on what have you. And I think before you make that decision and concede on whatever it is, you have to go out a few years mentally and visualize yourself and visualize yourself in a better place than where you are now, , your best self, your strongest self, your most gracious self, and ask if that’s really going to if that’s going to sit okay with you, that’s going to sit well and then go back.

Deb (27:18):

Right? What was the reason you got into this whole divorce process to begin with? What was it that you wanted out of this? Right. And does this align with that? Does your decision to be done align with the reason you filed for divorce in the first place? Your two perspectives really complimented each other nicely. It was, it was great to hear, to hear from both of you today. Thank you. Well, thanks for having us. So Denise can be and I’ll spell that E R L I C H L E G a And her website is, or like Lisa can be reached at Lisa P HSA. So that’s L I S a P as in Peter, I S H That’s aim T O G R O And her website is aimed to and also check out their social media channels. The links for their social will be in the episode notes with this podcast, we’re ready to help you help yourself and help coach you through divorce mediation. Good thoughts to everybody and health, two fourths empty podcast. You asking me for a divorce. You’ve been listening to the divorce MD podcast with Colleen Lonquist and Deb Evans. You can find all the answers to your divorce questions at divorce, M Lastly, just give me a call. If you’d like to do a free 30 minute consult, I am available. You can email me at Colleen at divorce, sank you so much, Deb and Denise and Lisa, or participating today. Take care, everyone.