High Conflict Divorce: The ”War of the Roses” and What NOT to Do

If you find yourself in the middle of a high conflict divorce, the “War of the Roses” will tell you what not to do.  While Danny DeVito (the director) and Hollywood grossly over-dramatized the actions most people take during divorce, the feelings and emotions displayed by Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are strikingly common to those I see in our divorce clients.  If you are involved in a high conflict divorce, chances are that you are probably not at your personal best.  It is likely you are feeling overwhelmed, tired, beat-down, and uncertain about what the future holds.  These feelings, all stemming from fear, probably make you more prone to behave in ways that are out of character for you, much like Barbara and Oliver Rose. Don’t go there!  The result will not be a good one for you or your family.

If you are in the middle of a high conflict divorce, learn from “The War of the Roses”.  Here are some rules of engagement and tips on what NOT to do:


  1. Choose the proper time and space for conversation and schedule it. Stick to the schedule! Be considerate, reasonable and allow the interaction to be productive.

  1. No raising your voice, period. Keep your volume levels low and calm.

  1. No name calling.

  1. No patronizing or belittling.

  1. No sandbagging – stick to one subject at a time.

  1. Respect your partner’s space. Avoid aggressive gestures such as pointing, angry facial expressions, invading space bubbles and trying to run your partner over with a Blazer.

  1. Allow the other person to speak without disruption. Consider what your partner is saying as fact from their point of view. Remember, we all may hear and see things differently.

  1. Use the Golden Rule, the last, but probably the most important rule of all: Treat the other person as you’d like them to treat you.


As you proceed through your high conflict divorce, anytime a discussion gets out of hand, don’t be afraid to walk away.  It is better than doing or saying something you will later regret.  Understand that if you share children with the other person, you will not be able to walk away forever.  However, disengaging will allow both of you to calm down and recompose before addressing the subject again.


If you have tried and tried unsuccessfully to communicate constructively in the midst of your high conflict divorce, don’t give up!  Consider involving a third party counselor or mediator to act as a referee.  Remain committed to finalizing your high conflict divorce with dignity.  The last thing you want is a story with the same sad ending as Barbara and Oliver Rose’s – anger and bitterness at death.

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