Hello, everyone! I hope your holiday season is all you've wanted it to be, and you're getting ready for the new year! I'm enjoying reading and answering your questions here on Vibrant Nation, and will look forward to more in 2017.
Today's question comes from a reader, Rachel, who's trying to deal with a manipulative jerk of an ex, father -- in name only it sounds like -- to their three children.
First, let me thank you for all that you've done to shed light on so many important topics. It was the 9 signs that you might be in love with a narcissist that first caught my attention. It just spoke to me. Heck, it could have been written by me. I related to everything identified in it.
I ended a 12-year marriage about 7 years ago. When I say I ended it, I mean I was given an opportunity to leave and I took it. We have 3 children, 2 were very young at the time. To get my ex to agree to a divorce, I had to agree to give up everything but the children. My ex told me that he didn't want to be married or a father anymore. He told me to find a way for him to give up his rights, so he wouldn't have to pay support, and take the children and leave.
My ex, due to drug addiction and an undiagnosed personality disorder, had not worked outside of our home for the last 4 years of our marriage. I too, battled with substance abuse before I had met him so I enabled him. I made excuses for everything he did. When our son was a week old, he convinced himself that he wasn't his and put us out. After a few days he apologized and begged me to come back. When I did, the apologies were over and everything was my fault. He still doubted that our son was his, even though I never cheated. Different situations like this happened many times in or marriage, splitting up and begging to come back, then it all being my fault.
He withdrew all physical contact that wasn't on his terms. I wasn't allowed to touch his hand, kiss him goodbye/hello, absolutely nothing that wasn't initiated by him. If I did, he would recoil and make a disgusted face. There was only one place that he would act like he wanted to touch me and that was in the bedroom. There was very little "love" in the intimate acts we shared. I was more whore than a partner, and that’s about as nice as I can put it.
I've remarried to a wonderful man who has shown me in so many ways everything I didn't have in that marriage, but I find that my 1st marriage still haunts me. As I said, we have children together. He has made it nearly impossible to co-parent. He disappears at times, not seeing the children and not calling them. Then he shows back up and acts like he's done nothing wrong.
He had also remarried, to a retired woman who seems to be able to afford him the lifestyle that he always felt he deserved. Thankfully for me, he lives far away but I still have an obligation to accept calls from him to talk about the children. I hate having to interact with him. Seeing his name on my phone gives me heart palpitations. I hate the fear I have of talking to him. I hate losing control of my emotions that way. I hate feeling the victim of that marriage and above all else I want to save our children from the person I know him to be.
He always wants to act like nothing that happened between us took place. I'm having a problem getting past everything and keeping my emotions in check when we do have to talk. I can't afford to let my guard down around him, so how are we supposed to have a non-confrontational meeting of the minds when neither of us trusts the other.
Any advice you could give would be helpful.
Hi, Rachel. I’m so glad to know that my posts have been helpful to you. I’m sure I’m only hearing “the tip of the iceberg,” as you mention many other problems with your ex. And frankly, I don’t have an easy answer for you. I’ve talked with many people with an ex who remains manipulative and triggers similar feelings to those that occurred in the marriage. He may realize that he can still affect you, or hurt you, by hurting the children. And/or he may simply be so unhealthy himself, that he doesn’t have the capability of being a consistent and caring individual.
First, forgive yourself for marrying this man. You write that you had a substance abuse problem yourself. So you weren’t dealing with your emotions, but hiding/distracting yourself from them. In fact, good for you that you left the situation and have provided you and your children the opportunity to thrive in a different environment, and with a much healthier relationship. Please give yourself credit for that. There are many who are still struggling to leave that trap. You’ve done what you could to protect and take care of your children.
Second, change your expectations. What pulls the scab off of the old wound may be your expectation that your ex will act any differently than he has historically. He most likely will never be the man or the father that your children can count on, or that you can trust. If you expect that, rather than holding out hope that he’ll change, perhaps it won’t hurt quite as badly, or have the power to dredge up old feelings of anxiety. You take back your own power by expecting him to be what he is — a narcissistic jerk who doesn’t have the capacity to love. You're not going to have a "non-confrontational meeting of the minds" with this guy. He's too controlling.
Third, people can become addicted to drama. This may not be you at all, but sometimes, the very chaos that two people can create holds a power over them. They’re glad they got out of a hurtful relationship, but somehow, there’s a part of them that is still drawn to the dramatic ups and downs of being in a highly charged relationship. If you got out, then you confronted that “addiction.” That doesn’t mean that, when you’re around it again, it won’t have a pull for you. You sound as if you get defensive or angry when he won't accept responsibility or acts as if "nothing happened." But if you expect him not to, and receive what you expected, then hopefully you could handle it better. The children will learn for themselves, or already have, how self-centered their biological father is. That will hurt, but it would have hurt more if you'd given them the message, by staying, that it was okay to act that way. Your protectiveness may be a hook for you to emotionally spar with your ex, and also could be what is keeping you anxious.
Thanks so much for writing. And again, please give yourself credit for what you’ve now seen more clearly. Take care. Dr. M.
You can read more from Dr. Margaret on her website, or now, you can listen to her new free podcast series,