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Book Review by a Family Mediator

View profile for Amanda Brown
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Splitting: Protecting Yourself while Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder; by Bill Eddy and Randi Kreger.

I ordered this book when I saw that one of my mediation clients was reading it in the waiting room ahead of his MIAM. I suspected the worse from the client and wanted to read what he was reading, to see if it had any poignancy or relevance, but also because it has the intriguing strap line, ‘The legal and psychological advice you need’.

The author, Eddy is a lawyer, mediator and clinical social worker; Kreger appears to be a home spun authority on living with someone who has borderline personality disorder and has written ‘The Essential Family Guide’ to the condition.

Divorce is difficult under the best of circumstances. Dealing with this inherently adversarial process can be highly emotional on both sides. But when a divorcing individual is a "persuasive blamer" - someone who suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD), narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), or simply has a high-conflict, manipulative personality, and their behaviour can have devastating ramifications for their former spouses. People with these disorders may adopt physical and verbal abuse as strategies, lie to lawyers and judges, manipulate the court, and may even level charges of abuse in order to get their way. Because persuasive blamers are so convincing and even charming, these techniques work surprisingly well and often result in unfair rulings. Splitting is a legal and psychological guidebook that everyone seeking a divorce from a persuasive blamer should own. Written by Bill Eddy, a family lawyer, divorce mediator, and experienced social worker, and Randi Kreger, BPD expert and author of the bestselling Stop Walking on Eggshells, it offers readers help for navigating the entire process of divorce: hiring and managing a divorce lawyer, reaching a reasonable settlement, protecting oneself and one's children from emotional and/or physical abuse from the former spouse, resisting false accusations, and getting enforceable court orders. The book also delves into the difficult-to-understand, aggressive behaviour of persuasive blamers, offering readers psychological explanations for their former spouse's actions and help for coping emotionally with the spouse's extreme mood swings and impulsivity.

The book is American, as are the authors, so it needs some adjustment. My overriding impression from the book is that it would be fairly easy to categorise someone who you happen to be divorcing or separating from with one of these handy characteristics, if you choose a personality trait from the helpful lists. The list of possible behaviours includes:

  • Hitting you, or destroying your property
  • Trying to keep you from leaving a room or the house,
  • Harassing you by phone or taking your phone,
  • Hiding money,
  • Hurting the children,
  • Alienating the children,
  • Spreading rumours to your family and/or friends,
  • Using the court system to humiliate you or control you,
  • Making false allegations of child abuse against you, or false allegation of parental alienation against you,
  • Making false allegations of domestic abuse,
  • False allegation of hiding money or property.

In the family law business we have clients where one or more of the above will feature, so I am left wondering if all conflicted divorces, by this measure, is caused by the presence of one party (if not both) having a personality disorder. This surely would account for an exponentially high numbers of afflicted individuals in the court system as opposed to the general population. This book would suppose that personality disordered people will be invariably drawn to the courts or that the other spouse has no choice because of the existence of the disorder in the other person. So my initial view is that this book should be read with caution.

A quick look at Amazon reviewers, these being the paying customers rather than the academic reviewers, tells you that it does hit home for a lot of people. One reads, “I'm still reading this book but it has very valuable information. Helping me take steps to prepare for my divorce and dealing with a narcissist. I just now found out in my 12th year of marriage that my husband is a narcissist. Now I know why the lying, no empathy for anyone, always the wounded one and not caring for anyone but himself. I'm not crazy. Hope this helps.” Another advises, “Read this before you settle as it will make you aware of situations that may need to be addressed in much greater detail in the divorce. Critical read if you have children and a high conflict spouse.”

The book does offer good advice in how to handle your personality disordered ex-partner, which could be a tool for anyone in the situation of a conflictual separation. For example, to manage the blamer by being assertive, choosing battles, being strategic, avoid being a target and expose the extreme behaviour. It offers advice on how to choose your lawyer and how to manage them and the courts.

Nevertheless there is the tendency in high conflict separations for the parties, but essentially for the children to undergo the concept of ‘splitting’. In high-conflict divorce, children can grow to hate one of their parents – even a parent they were very close to and loved just a year or two earlier. It can be an intense hatred and disdain that is deeply emotional. They can think of nothing good about that parent (the “rejected” parent), and they can think of nothing bad about their favoured parent. It’s an example of how high-conflict behaviour creates splitting in the minds of bystanders – in this case, the children and sometimes professionals. Eddy & Kreger argue that the many high-conflict divorces we see are driven by one or two parents with borderline or narcissistic personality disorder and this may be too simplistic by half. They argue that it is one of the traits of this disorder, that is by “splitting” people into those who are all-good and those who are all-bad, in their minds. They say you can’t avoid them because there are too many of them. This is just one view about why there are many high parental and divorce conflicts. There are others. Psychologically, there are cogent reasons why some people wish to preserve conflict and, indeed, need to have the conflict in their lives, which is not due to a personality disorder. One reason may be that the new relationship has been built on the hatred of the ex-partner, and thereby as a sign that they can be trusted not to go back to the ex-partner. I would refer you to Brian Cantwell’s article in Family Law (in November 2018 pp1458-1460). He sets out the premise that the dispute is a symptom of the underlying dynamics rather than a problem itself. Conflict may be present because

  • It is a means of (unconsciously) managing unresolved and mixed feelings
  • Conflict as diversion (as a form of reassurance that the new relationship is not threatened by the ex-partner in terms of reconciling)
  • A systemic family conflict where there is a complex dynamic of individual emotional baggage and collective struggles around blame and control

Written by a Family Mediator