Does high conflict mean we should break up

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD explains how to approach the concept of divorce in a high conflict marriage
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Does high conflict mean we should break up

So some of the couples that I work with really have terrible marriages. They fight all the time; they’re screaming at each other; they say the most terrible things; they fight in front of their children and some of them say, “Do you think we should break up?” In general, I don’t really take on that responsibility, particularly for parents with children because you’re divorced and you’re a parent of a child, I don’t want the responsibility of telling somebody how to make a decision about something that’s going to affect them and their children for the rest of their lives. What I do tell them is that they owe it to their children to take enough time to figure it out. A lot of people come into couples therapy with a marriage that looks completely hopeless, even to me, and have either very fast turnarounds or significant turnarounds over time. What most people don’t realize there’s often a lot that we can do in our marriages, either as individuals or as couples, to turn around things that look very, very helpless. None of us come into marriage knowing how to communicate. Even if you’re a psychologist like me, I still had to learn in my own marriage. We all have to learn in the practice of being married. And often there is small things that you can do on a daily basis that can make a huge difference. Now if a couple has been in couples therapy and they've done everything and they have children, and this has been going on for a long, long period of time and they want a divorce, in those situations I'm more supportive of it because we know the research shows that couples in high conflict marriages where there’s ongoing fighting and verbal abuse and physical abuse, that those kind of marriages are terrible for children and kids actually do better when the parents divorce, assuming that the parents actually stop fighting when there is a divorce.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD explains how to approach the concept of divorce in a high conflict marriage


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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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