Are intense negative emotions a risk for high-conflict divorces?
An examination of the role of emotions in divorced parents and co-parenting concerns
Heleen S. Koppejan-Luitze1, Reine C. van der Wal1, Esther S. Kluwer1, Margreet M. Visser², and Catrin Finkenauer1
1Utrecht University - 2Kinder- en Jeugdtrauma Center Haarlem
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In this study, we examined whether regular divorces can be distinguished from high-conflict divorces by measuring the intensity of negative emotions that divorced parents report when thinking about their ex-partner. We recruited two groups of parents; n = 136 in a regular divorce, and n = 191 in a high-conflict divorce. Based on the existing literature, we predicted that parents in high-conflict divorces experience more intense negative emotions than parents in regular divorces; especially emotions that motivate social distancing (contempt, disgust, anger, hatred, and rage) and emotions that impair self-regulation (fear, shame, guilt, and sadness). We also predicted that these emotions would hamper co-parenting, particularly in high-conflict divorces. The results provided support for our predictions, except fear and sadness. We found that parents in a high-conflict divorce reported more co-parenting concerns than parents in a regular divorce. In contrast to our expectations, the relation between negative emotions and coparenting concerns was stronger among parents in a regular divorce than in a high-conflict divorce. These findings underline the importance of emotions in the divorce trajectory and suggest that especially the intensity of social distancing emotions may serve as a screening tool to identify parents at risk for a high-conflict divorce.