Divorce at Altitude: A Podcast on Colorado Family Law

Navigating a High Conflict Divorce in Mediation with Liz Merrill | Episode 162

August 03, 2023 Ryan Kalamaya & Amy Goscha Season 1 Episode 162
Divorce at Altitude: A Podcast on Colorado Family Law
Navigating a High Conflict Divorce in Mediation with Liz Merrill | Episode 162
Show Notes Transcript

Navigating a high conflict divorce can be extremely difficult. That’s why we sat down with Liz Merrill, mediator, divorce coach, and someone who’s faced her own high conflict divorce. We delve into the complexities of what a high conflict divorce looks like, the potential scenarios one may encounter, and signs that might indicate you're dealing with a high conflict individual. Drawing from her personal experiences, Liz shares crucial insights on maintaining mental and emotional wellbeing amidst the storm.

Liz and Amy shine a light on the mediator's role in these volatile circumstances, and how they can help guide decisions that are in the best interest of any children involved and explore an array of techniques aimed at diffusing high conflict situations and establishing healthy boundaries. 

If you are interested in getting a hold of Liz for mediation, divorce coaching, or other divorce resources you can find her at https://www.openspacemediation.com/.

What is Divorce at Altitude?

Ryan Kalamaya and Amy Goscha provide tips and recommendations on issues related to divorce, separation, and co-parenting in Colorado. Ryan and Amy are the founding partners of an innovative and ambitious law firm, Kalamaya | Goscha, that pushes the boundaries to discover new frontiers in family law, personal injuries, and criminal defense in Colorado.

To subscribe to Divorce at Altitude, click here and select your favorite podcast player. To subscribe to Kalamaya | Goscha's YouTube channel where many of the episodes will be posted as videos, click here. If you have additional questions or would like to speak to one of our attorneys, give us a call at 970-429-5784 or email us at info@kalamaya.law.



Ryan Kalamaya (3s):
Hey everyone. I'm Ryan Kalamaya.

Amy Goscha (6s):
And I'm Amy Goscha.

Ryan Kalamaya (8s):
Welcome to the Divorce at Altitude. A Podcast on Colorado Family Law.

Amy Goscha (13s):
Divorce is not easy. It really sucks. Trust me I. know Besides. being an experienced divorce attorney, I'm also a Divorce client.

Ryan Kalamaya (20s):
Whether you are someone considering Divorce or a fellow Family Law attorney, listen in for weekly tips and insight into topics related to Divorce co-parenting and Separation in Colorado.

Amy Goscha (33s):
Hi, my name is Amy Goscha. Welcome back to another episode at Divorce. at Altitude. I have with me today Liz Merrill. Liz, how are you doing?

Liz Merrill (42s):
I'm so good Thanks for having me. Great.

Amy Goscha (44s):
Yeah. Liz is a mediator and she owns her own business. She's up in the Fort Collins area. And today, Liz And I are gonna be talking about high Conflict Divorce Divorce in general, Liz very difficult. And I think that a lot of people don't understand exactly what is meant by, you know, high Conflict Divorce. So we're gonna delve into that today. Liz, can you give our listeners just, you know, a little bit of your background?

Liz Merrill (1m 12s):
Yeah, sure. So I, I am a Divorce mediator and a divorce coach. And I have been doing this for quite a while. And I have started specializing in high Conflict cases, in part 'cause nobody else wants to do it 'cause it's pretty stressful. But also in part because I was in a, I guess what you would call an abusive marriage for 20 years, And I went through a really high Conflict Divorce. And my experience in that was so profound. And I learned so much and saw so closely how often courts and Divorce professionals get it wrong or aren't addressing the needs of people who are in this kind of situation as effectively as I thought they could.

Liz Merrill (2m 4s):
So I started going off to do education for myself and doing research. And I, just the volume of calls that I was getting from people who were in high Conflict situations was such that it made sense for me to sort of focus in on this area because like I said, my experience wasn't great. And I had really great Divorce professionals supporting me. And I think a lot of it has to do with really understanding Fundamen, fundamentally the psychological underpinnings of a person who is high Conflict and, and how you, how you manage them, how you communicate with them, how you, how you hold space and deal with someone who's thought is really different than your own so that you're not escalating the Conflict and so that you're not making it worse for those parents and their ability to co-parent successfully after the Divorce is finalized.

Liz Merrill (3m 2s):
I, you know, I Conflict is inherent in Divorce, of course, but sometimes it, it fans it in a way that can turn into a bomb in a family. And that's my goal is to help people avoid it turning into something that's going to be making their lives miserable for years and years, even after the Divorce is finalized.

Amy Goscha (3m 26s):
Yeah. And I know that having that personal experience probably makes it easier for you as the mediator and divorce coach to kind of pick up on those, I guess, personality or traits, you know, when there possibly can be a e a high Conflict person, you know, on the other side or maybe even a high Conflict person that you're dealing with directly in coaching. Yeah.

Liz Merrill (3m 50s):

Amy Goscha (3m 51s):
Let's talk about high Conflict. What is the definition of high Conflict?

Liz Merrill (3m 57s):
So, I, I think there are different ways of defining it. I mean, you can have a high Conflict Divorce where both parties are high Conflict, where they're both escalated and unreasonable and challenging. And that's one kind of high Conflict situation. And then there's another kind of high Conflict Divorce where there's one party who's the high Conflict individual, and the other party who is just in this reactive state who's just trying to manage it, who's trying to, you know, separate themselves from what is basically abuse. So a high Conflict individual in my mind is someone who has any combination of different types of traits, either from a personality disorder like narcissism or borderline personality disorder, maybe some mental illness.

Liz Merrill (4m 48s):
Often substance abuse becomes a part of that whole mash. And so it's not really a diagnosis, it's really more a description of patterns of behavior and pat patterns of thinking. So when I see a high Conflict person, I see someone who's extremely self-focused, self-obsessed, who, who is only focused on winning and sees things in black and white. Right? I'm either a winner or I'm a loser, not that gray area. Someone who views their emotions as facts rather than just emotions rather than what they are.

Liz Merrill (5m 28s):
They might not have a problem bending or breaking rules or just being dishonest or lying or playing BSS games and of often don't have a problem using children as, as pawns. So it's really a broad umbrella term when I'm talking about a high Conflict individual.

Amy Goscha (5m 49s):
Yeah. So if you're, you know, we'll just take this scenario, you have Melanie Wolf, she has gone to see her therapist. It's taken her a while to realize that they're, she's tried everything to make the marriage work and she just can't think of anything else. you know, she has two kids, you know, if she comes to you as like a divorce coach, you know, what are some things that you're talking to her about?

Liz Merrill (6m 12s):
Yeah, that's a great question because I do a lot of, I have a free consult and a lot of times people come to me and if Melanie, she's a great example of the peop the type of people that come to me, right? They're, I've been married for 20 years, I've got two kids, I've tried therapy, we've tried couples therapy, I've done everything. I can't be, I can't work any harder at this because there's nothing that I can do to change the fundamental problems that my husband is presenting. And I realize that I can't live with like this anymore. And, I just want to go. So a lot of times they come to me as a mediator because they're afraid of conflicts because they know that as soon as they announce their intention to file for Divorce, their spouse is gonna freak out, go lawyer up, and start threatening them and possibly start taking money out of accounts and who knows what, because they've probably threatened it before.

Liz Merrill (7m 8s):
So they think maybe we can mediate it and avoid a litigated Divorce. And so that's one of the first things we talk about is how likely is that, even if it is likely, do you still need an attorney? Probably. And then I will often off offer to meet their spouse to explain what I've already explained to Melanie, you know, which is a little bit about what Divorce looks like, the pros and cons of, you know, going to court and litigating and what Mediation looks like. And they decide they don't like me, right? Or they decide they've already gone and hired an attorney. So they're not good candidates for Mediation.

Liz Merrill (7m 50s):
So that's one of the reasons I started coaching was so that I could help Melanie. Right. And so what we do is we, we first of all sort of, if there's any hint of physical violence, identifying a safety plan and making sure that she's safe in her children are safe, we, we talk about what she can do before she announced her intentions to file, which is, you know, significant. And if you are divorcing a high Conflict person, there are a lot of, there's a lot of documentation that would be wise to do. So that if something does, you know, if that person gets triggered and decides to start moving money out of an account, you already have a snapshot.

Liz Merrill (8m 33s):
A lot of times people who are in abusive relationships don't even know what they have in terms of money. So, you know, getting screenshots of accounts or downloading statements, making sure that you have a copy of your mortgage or your lease all ki all that ki all the children's passports and social security cards, everything. Make sure you know where all of that is. You're gonna need most of it anyway, once you get through the Divorce process. And then strategizing, how are you gonna talk to him? Do you need another person in there with him with you when you tell him? Or do you wanna serve him and not be there? And basically, based on what Melanie knows about Jim or whatever his name is, kind of trying to make a plan that helps her be in, in a empowered, assertive state without doing anything that she knows is gonna trigger him into, you know, into an escalated state that's hard to back out of.

Liz Merrill (9m 37s):
We talk about communicating and how to start practicing healthy boundaries so that you can start disengaging from the Conflict cycles that, that they've been engaged in for decades. Right. And how to, you know, how to start preparing for what's gonna be unfun, you know, identifying what other kind of Divorce professionals she might need an attorney or A C D F A.

Amy Goscha (10m 5s):
And for our listeners, can you, what is A C D F A?

Liz Merrill (10m 9s):
I love C dfas. They're certified Divorce financial analysts. And like in Fort Collins, we have several that I work with and a lot of them work similarly to the way that I work, either as an individual support person or as a neutral, helping both parties. But I like C dfas because they're financial analysts that also know the Divorce law. And they can help you look at different ways you can approach the division of your assets and debts and different ways you can think about spousal support and child support. There are a thousand different ways I know that I'm telling you everything you already know, but there's so many different ways you can divide a pie, right?

Liz Merrill (10m 57s):
Just because you decide to do it 50 50 doesn't mean you just split it down the middle and this person has this half and this person has this test. Somebody can have the crust, somebody can have the filling, you know, somebody might want the top half there. There's all these different ways you can approach it. And when you are able to engage in a regulated state or as regulated as possible with all the information you can craft an outcome that feels better for both parties and that at least you have done and you haven't had it handed down to you from a judge.

Amy Goscha (11m 32s):
Yeah. And I think that, you know, it is important what you're saying, you know, like if Melanie were coming to you, I mean, she's in a state of, you know, I don't want to, you know, have World War III with my husband. you know, it takes a lot for someone in that, for Melanie in that situation. you know, normally if they don't have a, if they have a a therapist, they're gonna go to their therapist first. It takes a lot for them to reach out to an attorney like me. you know? So when, once I talked to Melanie, you know, she's still in kind of this trauma, just trauma traumatized state, you know, saying, well, I just wanna hire a mediator. I don't even want, you know, my husband to know that I have an attorney.

Amy Goscha (12m 15s):
you know, how can we do this? you know, it's ra it's out of fear. And so just kind of breaking through that and working with someone like you as a divorce coach can really help someone in that situation. I offer what's limited scope representation. Oh,

Liz Merrill (12m 33s):

Amy Goscha (12m 34s):
Which is helpful, but at the same time, I don't know how you deal with this in Mediation, but from the legal point, you know, like you can try to reach Agreements, but there's a point where it's, it might not work and you have to just file the Divorce petition. you know, so I'm helping Melanie figure out that happy medium, you know, when is it just time to file the petition or can we work in a deescalated state with your husband to try to reach as many Agreements as we can.

Liz Merrill (13m 8s):
Yeah, that's a, it's a really tricky thing because I, of course, like in, in a perfect world, everybody would be able to like navigate their divorces on their terms Right. And decide how they want their Divorce to look and have it look that way. And to not have to be kind of shoved into, if you're a round peg being shoved into a square hole. Right. But that there are just simply some cases where you have to go the traditional litigated route where each of you are represented by an attorney when there are huge power imbalances, obviously. Or when you've got somebody who just has zero interest in mediating or negotiating in good faith.

Liz Merrill (13m 54s):
It's very hard to try to do that alone. It's very hard to try to resolve all of those things in Mediation without a strong ally. The kind of strong ally that attorneys can, only attorneys can be. Right. And that is, that's a, that's like a really big thing that I work on clients with is it, what do you want the outcome to be? And not just, you know, not just what you want, not just that you want it to be done soon, right. Or that you don't want it to be World War iii, but like if in your regulated state what do you need? What do you want, what do you hope for?

Liz Merrill (14m 36s):
If that's something that they can't get mediating on their own or you know, obviously with a mediator, then they might, then they probably will need to bring an attorney in And I. I don't recommend that lightly because I know how costly it can get for people. But there are certainly some, some situations where they just can't do it alone. And at that point then I think having a divorce coach can help them, even though it's an initial payment upfront, can help them utilize their attorney's time more wisely, can help them organize their documentation and organize their story and, and be a really good client for their attorney so that when they come in, they're organized, they have what they need, they know the process of Divorce, they're not asking questions or they're not asking anything of the attorney that they're, that's not in their wheelhouse.

Liz Merrill (15m 31s):
Right. It's attorneys are amazing and do all kinds of things, but they're not therapists. Right. And so Exactly.

Amy Goscha (15m 39s):
Yeah. I know and talking about that, I mean that's one thing I talked to my clients about a lot within that first month is there's a role for a therapist. Like, you don't need to be paying me at my early rate to, for therapy. Right. And so I, one thing I try to do, especially with someone like Melanie, if they don't have a divorce coach or a therapist, that's one of the first things I'm looking at to be put on the team. So Melanie is getting what she needs from the right professional and that we're working together. I think that one thing that you said that was very, that I look for as far as like a personality trait or I guess behavior is when I'm talking to someone, whether it be, you know, the wife or the husband and they're saying, I don't want World War iii, but I also like want this done really quick.

Amy Goscha (16m 28s):
And I, just wanna do, let's say 50 50 parenting time. Like for me that's a red flag because it's like you have to live with this for years and years and is this actually what's in your children's best interests? So I start going through those questions, I'm just having them think about like five years from now, is it good for your kids to be living under say a 50 50 schedule? Because at that point they're just so almost traumatized where they're just are like, I want this done. I want to get away from the Conflict. Yeah. So that's one thing that you as a mediator or as a divorce coach and me as an attorney, we can really, you know, help people in those situations.

Amy Goscha (17m 13s):
Yeah. So yeah, let's talk more I know, we've been focusing a lot on your divorce coach practice, what you're talking to Melanie about. But say that, you said you get calls sometimes from Melanie saying, I just wanna mediate this case. Can I hire you? Can you talk to my husband, Eric? What are some of the things that you're talking to Melanie about as your role as the mediator?

Liz Merrill (17m 36s):
So, you know, it's important. It's important that people understand what a mediator does and what a mediator doesn't. Especially for a mediator like me, I'm not an attorney. Even if I was an attorney, I wouldn't be able to, to give either of them legal advice, right? Right. So, so when I am working with Melanie and Eric, and sometimes I do, and sometimes it works out fine because not all high Conflict people are the same. Even though they might exhibit patterns of behavior that you see over and over again. What I'm doing with them is helping them have really structured conversations.

Liz Merrill (18m 18s):
Right. And sometimes that's the best way to keep things managed. Because when you are escalated or when you're triggered or you know, you've got hot buttons that are being pushed everywhere, you, the logical part of your brain is offline, right? You're either in fight or flight or freeze or fawn mode, right? And you're not able to make good decisions when you're in that state. So a lot of what I do as a high Conflict mediator is set a space where there's a structure, you know, so that, and we're talking about specific things and if things start to go off the rails, we bring it back to like, what part of the process are we in, right?

Liz Merrill (19m 3s):
Are you going to make a suggestion if you make a suggestion or a proposal? Then the other person can ask questions, can say yes or no, or I need to think about it. If they start like delving into the past and you did this last year, And, I'm doing the, I'm saying this because of that and blah, blah, blah. Kind of bring it back to the present. 'cause we cannot mediate the past, right? So we're staying in this really kind of specific structured conversation, right? A lot of course, a lot of times it gets too hot and then they have to go into breakout rooms, whether it's in person or on Zoom.

Liz Merrill (19m 43s):
And sometimes that can be the most efficient, even though it's not always my favorite. Because then one person can just unload. And you can sit there and listen empathetically without agreeing with anything necessarily. And just take the one or two specific ideas that they have, filter all the other stuff out and bring it to the other party. But in either case, there are techniques that I can use as a mediator. And there are techniques that people can learn on their own to help minimize the escalation of emotions. And one of the most important things that you can do is to listen deeply, right?

Liz Merrill (20m 25s):
Even if you're not agreeing, if you are able to, you like, for example, use the mirroring technique that Chris Vos has taught us, which is basically someone says something and you repeat the last three words of what they've said, right? And what you're doing in all of these techniques is indicating that you want to hear what the other person has to say, even if you really don't, even if you think that person is bss, even if you don't agree with those things, allowing them the opportunity to say what they wanna say without feeling like they have to jump into defense mode can help them neurologically down regularly, right?

Liz Merrill (21m 6s):
So that they're able to stay in a place where their logical brain is functioning. Labeling is another technique. There are all kinds of techniques. And yet again, when I'm working with individuals, that's, those are the kinds of things that, that I work with them on. Or just really basic somatic techniques. Like Yeah,

Amy Goscha (21m 28s):
I, I think it would be helpful. 'cause you authored a Colorado lawyer article, I think last summer, and you had gone through some of your deescalation tools. You talked specifically about mirroring and you mentioned saying the last three words. So if I were like, Eric And, I was getting escalated, escalating, saying, you know, Melanie, it's all of her faults. Like she just doesn't listen or do what I say, how do you, in response,

Liz Merrill (21m 55s):
So then I would say she doesn't listen or it's all her fault, right? So I'm not, I'm asking him to expound on that. Right? And sometimes they just need to, to get it off their chest, right? And then you have to be, you have to walk this really fine line between letting somebody get some energy off their chest and then letting them run rampant over the other party. But when somebody expands on what they're saying, you have the opportunity then to pull out the important pieces, right? So that you can kind of dig into that or the subtext of what they're saying, right?

Liz Merrill (22m 41s):
Or you know, and it from a strategy point of view, you as an attorney or the other party can give them the opportunity to just hang themselves with their own rope, right? Because a lot of times there's dissonance in what somebody's saying according to how angry they are. Right? And we talked earlier about how high Conflict people often view their emotions as facts, right? Right. So that, so you might be hearing all kinds of different things that aren't, that

Amy Goscha (23m 12s):
Are contradictory, are

Liz Merrill (23m 13s):
Contradictory. And so that is again, another pattern that you can make note of, right? Yeah.

Amy Goscha (23m 21s):
So I do wanna bring this back to like this mirroring concept. So it sounds like, you know, like when you're talking to someone who I guess will label as high Conflict in that technique, you're, you know, essentially hearing them. But if they get very escalated, what kind of tactic do you use to kind of help deescalate them? So you're hearing them, but what is like the, what is the tool that you use to really, you know, not let them go, as you said, like off the rail?

Liz Merrill (23m 52s):
Yeah. Well, I mean, if it starts, if we're all in one room and the techniques of, you know, like allowing somebody to, to say something and trying to, so there's a, there's this idea that if you assume that anybody who's saying something, ha there's at least 10% of something in there that is worthwhile listening to. If you find that 10% and pick that out and leave the rest and say, what I like about what you're saying or what I hear is, you know, you feel like you're not, you're left out of, you're left out of the conversation when you know when your kids are going to the doctor or whatever, and you leave out, she did this and she did, you know, and blah, blah, blah, and she's crazy and blah, then you can have a conversation just about, well what's a good way that you guys can share communication about a doctor's appointment?

Liz Merrill (24m 49s):
You know? And just really keep it to that one thing, that 10% leaving out the rest and building on that, finding something that both parties, you know, can agree on. If it, if that's not working, and if someone is just like off to the races, then you, then I have to put them in breakout rooms, right? I And, I kind of calm down because, because sometimes there's just no way to there, there's no, it takes a lot longer to calm people down when they're like continually triggering each other. Just the sight of the other person pisses you off.

Amy Goscha (25m 22s):
Yeah. You also mentioned labeling. Can you explain to our listeners what labeling is?

Liz Merrill (25m 28s):
Yeah. So I mean, basically all of these techniques are kind of fall under the umbrella of tactical empathy, right? Which is another, Chris Voss is where you're using empathy to reach a goal. And it's not fake empathy, it's not pretending to be empathetic, but it's trying to connect with the other party, trying to really deeply hear what their issues are and filtering out all the, the stuff that's irrelevant or that you can't work with, right? So if some, if someone is, you know, up, you know, escalated or scared, if you can say, if you can label it for them, it looks, seems like you're really upset about this, right?

Liz Merrill (26m 13s):
Yeah, I am. I am upset. They, you know, they, if they feel heard, if they feel like their contribution is not necessarily valid, but is acknowledged, that feeling of connection just neurologically helps people calm down, right? So it's a way of dis of diffusing someone's escalated emotional state. You don't have to agree with them, you don't have to change them. It's just like, hey, it looks like, it looks like you're about to cry. you know? And using a calm tone of voice, you know, can really help too. And again, just like being there with them.

Liz Merrill (26m 54s):
These are all things, we have these things called mirror neurons, right? So if someone's smiling and nodding, then you wanna smile and nod. 'cause we wanna make connections with each other, right? And a lot of times, high Conflict people, especially people who have personality disorders or traits of personality disorders, just feel very unconnected. It's not the same as like agreeing with somebody or, you know, kissing up to them. It's like helping them feel like what they're saying has some kind of merit and allowing them to calm down so that then you can get into like, well, what kind of parenting time make sense? Does 50 50 really make sense? What are you gonna do when the children get out of school at two and you're still at work?

Liz Merrill (27m 36s):
And how are you gonna manage that? And then really trying to get into the nuts and bolts so that they can do the go through that thought process on their own. Like, oh, actually that, yeah, And I don't know that. Maybe that won't work. Maybe we do need to reevaluate what our parenting time looks, right? Because obviously a lot of times people just have these ideas of what they want, like 50 50 parenting time, but they haven't gone through the thought process of how does that look? What does that look like on days when they're sick? What does, you know what I mean? And when you start delving into that and getting away from the position of, I just want 50 50 just because that's, you know, it's what my friends have, or that's what's gonna make me a valid parent.

Liz Merrill (28m 20s):
Hopefully you can open up a conversation about what's underneath that. If they need something in order to feel like a legitimate parent, is there a different way that, you know, they can feel that way other than having 50 50 no matter what, even if it's not in the best interest of the children. Yeah.

Amy Goscha (28m 39s):
So I mean, another dynamic on here that you mentioned before is when you're a divorce coach and you're coaching someone like Melanie, and when there's a power dynamic in Mediation, or even as a divorce coach, how do you teach the boundaries of saying no? And how does, how do you get the person who you know, might have these traits or who's the kite, what we're labeling as the high Conflict person to actually listen?

Liz Merrill (29m 9s):
So can you talk a little bit about more about that?

Amy Goscha (29m 12s):
Yeah. So let's start with Melanie. So what are some of the, I guess, things that you're talking to Melanie about as far as being able to set boundaries with Eric, her husband, who we're labeling as the high Conflict individual?

Liz Merrill (29m 29s):
Right? So are we talking about specifically in Mediation or just at home or whatever?

Amy Goscha (29m 36s):
I guess both. I think it'd be really helpful for the listeners to kind of understand, for you to unpack

Liz Merrill (29m 41s):
Both of those things. Yeah, it's a long process, right? And it's, and it's, in some cases it's a lot harder than others because sometimes, as you say, people come in this traumatized state and they have developed coping mechanisms usually kind of around the fight or flight or freeze or fawn mode that, that have just become built in to protect themselves, right? From having to engage in a Conflict cycle or just being able to protect themselves so they can get through the day. And that's why I really like this collaborative approach that you're talking about earlier, because I'm not a therapist there.

Liz Merrill (30m 22s):
There's, there are a lot there, there's a lot that can be done there in therapy that I don't do. But what I can do is help people, first of all, I mean, at the very first thing that we work on are somatic exercises so that you can start calming yourself down, right? And that, that really comes down to practice. Like anything else, whether you're learning a language or a musical instrument, you need to practice it, right? And there are lots of things you can do just 50 times during a day, just very briefly, like stopping and taking a few breaths or, you know, doing that box breathing or stopping and just feeling what you're, how the weight of your body on the chair, right?

Liz Merrill (31m 9s):
Or doing something that gets you in your physical body can help regulate your nervous system. Right? And just doing that over and over again so that when Eric comes home and is like, why are all the toys on the living room floor before you say anything, you just, you know, you can stop and just take a little breath and center yourself. Right? I like to remind people that they don't have to engage in a Conflict cycle. They, it's, they, it's within their right to say, I can't talk about that right now. I'd like to have a conversation, but right now I'm feeling elevated.

Liz Merrill (31m 52s):
And I find that, like, sometimes saying that out loud and then just, you know, walking away and or letting them know, like, can we talk about this tomorrow afternoon? Or can we set aside a time to talk about the things that bother us so that the other party doesn't feel like you're stonewalling them? Because if it, you know, if you shut down conversation completely, sometimes that can make them push back even harder, right? When you're, when someone is like coming at you with, you do this and you did this last week and you're a terrible mom and you're blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You can use a technique that's called Yellow Rock, which is similar to Gray Rock, if, have you heard of that term before?

Liz Merrill (32m 35s):
Yeah. Yeah. So Gray Rock is just like, if someone's coming at you with 5 million things, you just say, okay. Or give them a thumbs up and just like, really give them nothing, you know, that can really piss them off though. And you have to be the judge of whether or not that's gonna actually make things work worse. But a Yellow Rock response could be something simple like, I disagree with your interpretation of what's going on here, or you have every right to feel that way. Right? Or I think

Amy Goscha (33m 6s):
That's a good one. Yeah. Yeah. Every right to feel that way. Yeah.

Liz Merrill (33m 9s):
Yeah. There, I mean, there, there are lists out there of those kinds of responses. So you're acknowledging what they're saying. You're not being rude, you're not shutting them down, but you're not leaving anything open for them to push back on. You're not saying, yeah, but you did this the other time. That's just gonna invite more argument. Right? And again, a lot of times there's, you cannot argue with somebody who thinks that their emotions are facts. Right. I know, I, I have a lot of people who come in who say, we get into these arguments, like I'll just say something in innocuous and he will say, I said something completely different. And, I wanna get my phone recorder out so that I can record the conversation because I'm starting to feel crazy.

Liz Merrill (33m 55s):

Amy Goscha (33m 56s):
Yep. That's another, yeah.

Liz Merrill (33m 58s):
Yeah. That's, we often think of that as gaslighting. Yeah.

Amy Goscha (34m 2s):
What are your thoughts on even just sometimes if your responses are not helping deescalate, just removing yourself, like physically, like from the room.

Liz Merrill (34m 13s):
Yeah. Sometimes, sometimes that's what you have to do is just get yourself out of that situation. Sometimes that's not possible because you have your kids with you. Right. And, and when, you know, like I was in this situation in my own marriage where something would escalate And I was like, I need to get the kids outta here. you know, and we would go somewhere else and then he would come and follow us there. you know, there's a space where it goes from just an escalated conversation to where it becomes abusive. Right. Or where safety actually endangered. Right. you know, and if you feel yourself going into that situation, then just leave the house.

Liz Merrill (34m 55s):
Right. you know what I mean? If you leave the house with your children, I mean there, there are ways that high Conflict people can turn that into you. You, you're engaging in parental alienation, you're taking my children from me. And when that starts to happen, definitely get an attorney, right? Yep. Because you, your behavior can be construed to be all kinds of things. And if, you know, if you're in danger of being accused of kidnapping your children or something like that, you definitely wanna make sure that you're protecting yourself legally and that you're also working with someone who can explain to you like it whether threats are realistic.

Liz Merrill (35m 39s):
Because a lot of times, of course, abusive people use threats as a means of control. And if you don't know what your rights are, and if you don't know, you know, what the laws are, it's easy to be become threatened by somebody who sounds scary. Right. And that's going to cause you to make decisions that may be not in your best interest. When you're making decisions outta fear and anger, you're probably not making the wisest decisions. Right. So, and that's why it's important to learn how to regulate yourself, learn how to communicate, get support from people who can explain to you like when you can leave and you know, why you can leave and why that threat is idle and why you can't take your children out of state without letting them know.

Liz Merrill (36m 26s):
And the difference between those two things so that you're empowered and it's easier for you to say, I disagree with your interpretation, or I understand that you're upset, this is what I'm doing. you know, and, and not open your mouth anymore. I mean, basically when someone is elevated and screaming at you, like the over the overall piece of advice I have is disengage. Right. Don't fire back. Don't try to prove him wrong. Don't try to explain yourself. Don't try to justify what you're doing because that just perpetuates this Conflict cycle.

Liz Merrill (37m 6s):
Right. Just right. Just giving very nominal response. Yeah. And that, that, that goes with emails too. A lot of times, you know, I'm sure you see like examples of 20 page emails, you did this and you did, but really there's nothing in there that you have to respond to even though you want to.

Amy Goscha (37m 25s):
Yep. That's the biggest thing I think, you know, just I help clients with is when do you need to respond to something and when do, you don't not need to respond, you know, to communication. So, you know, I think it's really helpful. So yeah, those are great tools. Liz, I think to wrap up, what would be really interesting, I think for our listeners to understand is now that you're in the role of mediator, you have this personal experience of having to deal with a, you know, high Conflict ex-spouse. How do you use those skills to get through to the high Conflict individual to, you know, to reach a common ground, you know, for that family in Mediation?

Liz Merrill (38m 6s):
I find a lot of times, first of all, I mean, I find for myself that I have to present as non-threatening. you know? 'cause as soon as you, if they think that you are onto them or that you know that you're gonna try to teach them or show them, or you know, that you're citing with the other party, then they will start discounting you. In their mind. They'll be like, this person doesn't know what they're talking about. They're not neutral. And that, you know, they feel, if they feel like you're a threat, then you have less leverage. Right. So being able to use those mirroring techniques, that tactical empathy to help them feel comfortable with you, and they may never trust you.

Liz Merrill (38m 53s):
They probably won't, but if they, you know, if they're not threatened by you, then you're one step ahead. If you appeal to, a lot of times high Conflict people don't wanna litigate only because they don't wanna spend the money. Right. And they probably think that they're smarter than most attorneys anyway. And they, they could do it themselves. Oh. If only the court would let them decide what their Divorce looks like. But it, you know, if you can appeal to their, like, you can go to the judge, but here are the rules here. you know, here are the Colorado guidelines, this is, you know, your outcome is, you know, realistically what is it gonna be that different than what we're doing here?

Liz Merrill (39m 36s):
How much time and money and emotional effort do you want to sink into this to have an outcome that's not that much different than what you have here? If you can try to appeal to their, you know, their love of their money, you know what I mean, or whatever, then you know, then you're another step ahead. Right. And if you are able to show them, you know, the benefits of working collaboratively in this way, a lot of times you, you can have some success in getting them to kind of come to the table a lot of times. you know, just letting, giving them the crumbs and letting them, let the crumbs lead them to a decision that makes sense for both parties so that they think it was their brilliant idea is, you know, is is another way that you can help a high Conflict person kind of see reason.

Amy Goscha (40m 35s):
Yeah. No, that's great. Liz, I really appreciate your time today and you've given us a lot of great things to think about. For our listeners, if they're interested in Mediation or divorce coach, how best can they get ahold of you?

Liz Merrill (40m 50s):
Sure. Just by going to my website, open space Mediation dot com or trying to finding me on social media, I always have an initial free 30 minute consult for anybody who has issues they wanna ask me about. I have a lot of resources to share. I like to direct people to other Divorce professionals or websites that have a lot of good information or books. I do a monthly Divorce support workshop, then I do a women's Divorce workshop every month. And so those are free and people are welcome to join us there as well.

Amy Goscha (41m 27s):
Oh, that's great. Thank you Liz. I appreciate your time. And thank you for another great episode at Divorce. at Altitude Thanks for having me.

Ryan Kalamaya (41m 37s):
Hey everyone, this is Ryan again. Thank you for joining us on Divorce at Altitude. If you found our tips, insight, or discussion helpful, please tell a friend about this podcast. For show notes, additional resources or links mentioned on today's episode, visit Divorce at Altitude.com. Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen in. Many of our episodes are also posted on YouTube. You can also find Amy and me at Kalamaya.law or 970-315-2365. That's K A L A M A Y A.law