The No Contact Rule: Ending an Abusive Relationship


man looking at phone1But she keeps texting me. . . But she keeps showing up at my gym. . . But she’s emailing to say she still loves me even though she’s dating a new guy. . . But what if I just text to tell her to stop texting me. . . But she keeps calling me. . .

No buts. No what ifs. No bargaining with yourself. No Contact.

If you’re fortunate enough not to have had a child or children with a controlling, emotionally abusive woman or man of the Cluster B variety (narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, anti-social), the very best thing you can do for your emotional and physical well-being is to institute a strict No Contact Rule.

No Contact doesn’t mean No Contact except for x, y and z. By No Contact, I mean NO — zero, nada, zilch — Contact. To use Freshmen Orientation parlance: No means no.

[This is the first of a series of posts I'm writing about no contact and gaining emotional distance from an abusive ex. If you share a child, you can't cut off contact entirely, but you can establish strict boundaries and emotional distance, which I'll address in the coming weeks.]

Breaking Up Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic or Sociopathic Style

There are primarily five ways a break up with an abusive individual plays out:

1. You end the relationship and want nothing more to do with her, but she won’t leave you alone. Individuals who are more BPD or HPD tend to behave this way. Most NPDs won’t chase after you or grovel to get you back—they’ll bully and threaten, but not grovel.

2. She ends the relationship, cuts you out of her life and begins dating other men immediately. You wonder if you ever meant anything to her at all. You convince yourself that you’re still in love (Stockholm Syndrome) with her and contact her only to be ignored or emotionally smacked down. Most forms of Crazy are capable of this behavior. They view people as objects to use, therefore, everyone is replaceable after they suck them dry.

3. She breaks up with you and then begs you to take her back or “magnanimously” offers you another chance. You reunite, she breaks up with you again and a pattern of her jerking your chain develops. A BPD is more likely to beg and plead, while a NPD will make it seem like she’s doing you a favor by reconciling.

4. She breaks up with you/you break up with her and you receive a flurry of angry, hurtful, conciliatory, desperate and/or seductive emails, texts, calls and/or voicemails. She spews the most vile things at you—insulting your manhood and threatening “revenge” for the audacity of not wanting to further subject yourself to her abuse—or tries to lure you back in with her crisis du jour (e.g., my car broke down, someone threatened her, someone’s being “mean” to her) or explicit sexual come-on’s. The more you ask her to leave you alone or try to reason with her, the more she amps up her stalking-harassing behavior.

5. You get caught in a sick dynamic in which you’re both breaking up with each other (sometimes several times in the same day) and hurl insults back and forth via text or email. Then you get back together or plan to get back together or have sex, everything blows up, you break up again, compete to see who can hurt the other more and create a sick and highly self-destructive cycle of mutual abuse. If you’re engaging in this particular dynamic, I urge you to take a step back, look at what you’re doing and get professional help to break the cycle. This dynamic is typical when both individuals have one or some variation of the Cluster B disorders or if one partner is extremely co-dependent and the other abusive.

Why no contact?

If any of the above scenarios apply, you must distance yourself physically and emotionally from your ex and that means No Contact. If you’re having difficulty implementing and/or maintaining the No Contact Rule, ask yourself why and be honest. For example:

  • Do you have hope you can work things out with your ex?
  • Are you caught up in the conflict and drama?
  • Does it give you a rush?
  • Do you need to have the last word?
  • Do you want her to acknowledge you’re “right?”
  • Are you still clinging to some rescuer-white knight fantasy?
  • Do you think you can’t live without her?

You’ll have a difficult time establishing and maintaining No Contact if you answered yes to any of these questions. If your ex has a personality disorder, the qualities and behaviors that drove you away, caused her to abuse you or discard you are highly unlikely to change. If  you’re easily sucked into the drama, want to save her or don’t think you can live and be happy without her, you need to do some work on yourself to understand why you’re so dependent upon your ex.

No one else can love you enough for you to be able to love yourself. True happiness is contingent upon you; not what someone else does or doesn’t do for you. You need to be able to do both of these things for yourself before you can find happiness and love with another person.

Think of No Contact as going cold turkey. In many ways, a relationship with an abusive woman (or man) is like an addiction. A heroin addict cannot have just a little heroin nor can you handle just a little contact with your ex. In the best of circumstances, two reasonably healthy and emotionally mature individuals can be friends after breaking up. The opposite is true if you were involved with a borderline, narcissist, histrionic, sociopath or some variation of all of the above. An abusive relationship is not a normal relationship, therefore, you cannot be friends afterward.

Do not view No Contact as a way to “win” your ex back. This is a losing strategy. No Contact is to help you gain emotional, psychological and physical distance in order to heal and move forward in your life. The goal isn’t to make her miss you or to punish her. The goal is to establish peace of mind and freedom from the pain your ex caused you. Your ex is the source of your pain. To stop hurting and mend, you need to avoid the source of the pain.

Next week, I’ll publish the second post in this series that explains why No Contact is so important to your overall well-being and physical and mental health.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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  1. al
    October 16, 2013 at 4:37 am

    i found out after meating my wife well were seperated that she was a raging alcoholic never seen a women act like that, but when i met her and she was normal she was the most caring fun outgoing laughing all the time extremely intelegent really good job university degree. also she has a good heart cares for people paid for everything, because i was in a bad spot when we met she new this i also drank alot so i thought i met the perfect gift after alot of trouble in my life but i noticed her drinking was getting out of control i would come home and she would be completely drunk falling over pissing on the couch i could never understand what her triggers were so i would lie about alot of my problems become angry at her for this then i would drink to cope with her few times in the house it almost got physical but i was always aware of my actions so i would shake her tell her to snap out of it but no use she tried to cut herself jump off the porch one i packed my bags and just left hoping to get a reaction from her or honestly protect myself sounds bad but i didnt want to call the police because didnt want that in our lives, but when she was normal she was an angel i would ask her whats wrong she would say nothing had a bad day long story short we split got back together in a new place and i had to lie to her again about personal stuff that triggered her drinking i ruined christmas ended punching her twice in her face she didnt call the cops but she told her mother and that ended with me in jail for a month and prety much the end for us,when i got out i went back to my city expecting never to speak to her again plus i was angry when i got home looked at my phone had over 80 messages i started deleting them then i called her because she was crying said her mom did not her so we started talking she says im the love of her life so i go back to r place but when i see her i find shes not acting normal i new right away she had gone out drunk like she did many times before when someone in her life leaves or theres a bad argument with a man she goes out to a bar pickup a guy sleeps with him and thats the end for the previous relationship, i only noticed this pattern after she did it to me when i met her she was with another guy who kept coming and going and she would drink to get courage then tell him to fuckoff 3 weeks later thats what happened she says she loves this guy he helps her opens the door shes already moving in with him, meanwhile 3 weeks prior i was the love of her life, shes done 8 months of recovery now itl be two years in dec. that weve been seperated but the whole time she was with this guy we were talking she drank he threw her out then she wanted me to get her but now since she finished a.a shes stopped calling more and more and noticed nice things then mean things on the phone she completely stopped talking txting now she even took me off facebook because i didnt go up there to see her even when i asked her do u want me too she said i dont know i think she did and she didnt made me look like i dont care so in her mind she has a clear head she can justify cutting me out completely im 100% sure the sponsers in aa and counsilour s are telling her that too i know her pretty well she is not able to function without someone there she needs attention always from males too a week or every month she would call me crying saying she was having a bad day but now nothing i told her that now that she has a sponser and has decided to cut all negative things out i guess this might be it but i still dont think that a.a has solved her real issues i was also thinking i could never sleep on the same bet again with her knowing that some guy was with her for a whole year her family thinks im an animal but i know im not nobody can judge anyone when there in that kind of position. part of me loves her but when you truly love someone you have to love every tiny dna particle of that person the fact she was willing to drink and sleep with a guy and the fact that i would get angry and lie to her take money and it made me sick when she would piss herself house was disgusting not sure i know i loved a part of her maybe it was my own problems getting to me but i did tell her you cant save someone when your drowning too maybe if we had more time but even still sometimes fate and destiny have a funny way of teaching you things sorry for the messy writing but since all this happened to me my memory gets fogged unclear i forget things fast and i must right fast, i gues what i mean is there is a part of her i do care for but there is also a part that is in her that only she can deal with aswell as myself i know we loved eachother her more then me but i also think the obssession idea of love and being married was there aswell …..thanks anonymous

  2. Andy
    July 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Wow good site. Everything said I can relate too my saga goes 4 months ago she left me just like that said she needed space, I left our home which I shared with her and her 2 year old son (who has always seen me as his dad) A week later the texts start I miss you can we talk so like a fool I agreed. Before I know it I’m back with her All going well until she guess what kicked me out again…. Back to my parents for the 2nd time which is embarrassing to say the least at 30 years old! 3rdtime around im texted called and emailed by her and sucked back in, I must admit I miss my little lad who she uses as a weapon each time she ends it. This time I moved into my on house and I could deal with sleeping at my folks every time she had enough of me. Things this time lasted a month before in a drunken rage she convinced herself I was sleeping around (which I have never done) and physically attacked me in my own house!! I asked her to leave she refused so I had to call the police to remove her. Guess what 3 days later she is texting me again!! I can’t ignor her we work for the same company!! I deeply miss her son and really feel like if I don’t contact her I will never see her little lad again!! Advice please

  3. trci64
    March 22, 2012 at 12:22 am

    Thank you for this I am in the leaving a he phase and it is a great help.

  4. kas
    March 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Can someone that has been abused turn into an abuser as a learned defense? Just reading some of the above comments, makes me wonder. We have been so focused on her behavior, I never thought to apply some of the patterns to him… If so…. HELP! I love this man, he is a good man underneath the fear.

  5. kas
    March 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    My boyfriend was in a severely (emotionally) abusive relationship prior to our relationship. We were really good friends prior to us coming together as a couple, so I know him really well, but had never been in relationship with him. I see many, many habits, reactions, and ‘walls’ that appear to have been built out of defensive necessity. Major anger issues that he never had before. He claims (as do all of his friends) that I treat him like a God (if you will), I say, like a beautiful human being… (I try to live by the golden rule), but he continues to react to certain things I say or do as if he was reacting to her… as if I were attacking him. There will be a couple of days that go by, and everything will be smooth, and normal, and it is as if that makes him uncomfortable and he looks for things to fight about and then blames me. This is extremely confusing to me. I feel as if I am continually walking on egg shells and can’t be myself and just relax.
    He is aware of the psychological damage that has occurred, and has done quite a bit of research online to understand and try to move forward. He actually is the one that found this website prior to the break up.

    Also, when he finally left her, he stood fast that it was important to stand by the ‘no contact’ rule. He swore to everyone, including me, that he had no contact with her at all during the first six months of their break up. Recently he asked me to look for some emails for him ( we are both self employed, work from home and in the process of merging our businesses)…. in so doing, I discovered an entire file of emails from and to her showing that he had been initializing contact with her several times over that time period. He also continued to send her money. She barely responded, when she did, showing that she did not intend to pursue anything more with him. He refuses to delete any of her contact information or old emails or pictures, even though it is causing problems with us, as he continues to defend and protect her. Even lying to her to protect her feelings.

    It has been close to a year now… how long can I expect him to be messed up from this experience and holding on?

  6. jp
    January 3, 2012 at 3:48 am

    outforgood :

    …I’m finding it very difficult not to write him an email telling him all the reasons I left the relationship…

    No Contact sounds easy….all you do is just stop talking to the ex, right?…but it isn’t. It takes a lot of self-control and discipline. But it is the quickest and most effective way to reclaim your power and save your sanity.

    There is no closure with this type of person. Every post-breakup conversation will just leave you MORE confused and hurting. Work on developing confidence in your own reality.

    JP

  7. January 3, 2012 at 1:22 am

    Thanks Manuel. BTW, I stumbled upon this article in a Google search and didn’t realize til after I posted that it’s geared towards men. But, abusers can be male or female, and it’s all the same, right?

    Thank you for the response. I know you’re right – I’ve thought about writing a letter that I won’t actually send, just to get everything out on paper. And I think I’m going to have to remind myself on a daily basis not to contact him – and hopefully, over time, I won’t have the urge anymore.

  8. January 3, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Dear outforgood:
    Please take a step back… detach yourself, and read again what you just wrote. Can you see all those deep emotios you just wrote? That’s exactly what feeds a NPD.
    I don’t really know your NPD, but if he is like most NPDs, you will make a mistake by trying to explain. He will simply twist anything you say, with stunning lies. This behaviour is part of his narcissistic arsenal. He’s kind of a alien that some times is amazed to see you seuffer because of love, but he will see you as a almost-human-been. In his guts and twisted mind he is the only one; only his feelings, his opinions, his views and demands count –in his mind–.
    So, I don’t have the right to tell you what to do, but because of solidarity I can tell you what I can do if I were in your shoes: I would accept that to try to convince a wall is easier than to convince that twisted and empty mind. There are not feelings there, but if you suffer because of him, he will feel powerful. If you suffer and you tell him, you will be doing exactly what he wants. Forget his mind would work as a normal mind; above all forget his heart will fell as a normal heart.

  9. January 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    I broke up with an emotionally abusive bf two weeks ago; he went out of town for the holidays and returned to our house (we’ve lived together for 6 months) today to move his stuff out — so I knew the “no contact” rule couldn’t apply 100% until his stuff was gone.

    Although I haven’t done it, I’m finding it very difficult not to write him an email telling him all the reasons I left the relationship – as he blames it on me having a fear of commitment (which is BS) and other inconsequential stuff. As every abuser, he can never take responsibility for his actions or faults – it must be ME who’s crazy. Anyway, I am SO tempted to give him a list of reasons I finally got out: emotional abuse, his alcohol abuse, his Jekyll/Hyde personality, the time he hit my cat repeatedly, the time he kicked in our bathroom door when he was mad at me (anger management problems), the back-handed comments he’s made to me when I’ve tried to break it off in the past, his attempted suicide stunt (I feel he only did this for attention and to blame me for causing him so much stress), and more.

    I know it doesn’t matter – he won’t get it, and it serves no purpose for me to tell him all of this. I guess I just need someone (or a lot of people) to confirm that NO CONTACT is the best thing for me, and that getting in the last word is just not worth it. I know it won’t make a difference, and my only goal in it is to get him to say, “Wow, you’re right – I’m really messed up!” lol, I know that’s not going to happen.

  10. maZubica
    April 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    holy crap, i just experienced number 4 big time!

    first it was “my internet isnt working” then it was texts to put me down and make me feel bad.

    great read Dr T!

  11. December 10, 2010 at 5:06 am

    Bill.
    I feel your sadness. I have been there. Just do what Dr T recomends –she knows better–.
    I was a amoker for 35 years and I was married to a npd for over 18 years. Both, the cigarrete and the lady had somethign in common: my adiction. I knew both were fatal, ugly and adictive -npd’s like hypnosys–. I think I got rid of both the same way never smoking again and no contact.
    It’s a several months achievement maybe, but it is worth. And have your compensation at hand. A smoker has to not fight the urge nut “surrender”; a person related to a npd is the same, “surrender”, accept it hurts, it’s hard, but is for your wellfare.
    I believe God talks to us through events we find in our journey. I believe God has thos in front of you so you become a better and stronger Bill.
    (Sorry if I don’t expressed myself correctly. I speak Spanish)

  12. Bill
    December 10, 2010 at 4:00 am

    I read and read and read but I can’t seem to find a way to break away. I have friends that support me and tell me the terrible things she’s doing but I still talk to her and go back to her. It’s KILLING me. I tell myself not to tlak to her or not to call her and then I feel guilty for not doing it. Yet, when I pick up the phone and start dialing her number, I regret doing it because I know what the conversation will hold. If I don’t call her I know what the next day will bring of “why didn’t you call” or “you were too busy talking to someone else to call?” Then the guilt comes rushing in. I hate that woman but I cant seem to pull away. I’ve talked to a counsiler but all he really did is side with me and say you can do it and take my money. PLEASE, SOMEONE HELP ME!!!!!!!

    • shrink4men
      December 10, 2010 at 4:43 am

      Hi Bill,

      I recommend joining a Twelve Step group for codependents. From what you’ve written, you sound addicted to this woman. It may be helpful for you to get support from others who are or who have been in your position. There’s really no easy or magic way to break contact. You just have to do it. Find a “sponsor” and call him or her when you’re tempted to call or email. By the way, just because she emails/texts/calls doesn’t mean you have to respond.

      Best Wishes,
      Dr T

  13. Rick Thompson
    November 27, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Jonathan has a great point about emotions in reverse or role-reversal. I just ended a 4-year NPD relationship that had difficulty closing and the healing process for me is gaining altitude. I believe us “normal” folks hurt in the beginning, heal, and get on with life and find happier venues. The NPD has to live with themselves so they never heal and just can’t stand to be ignored and show back up.

  14. Peter
    September 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    For me, I ended it on June 26th after another night of drunken hateful behavior. All night I was listening to: you’re no fun, you need to be with a librarian, you’re an old man (I’m 32 and she’s 48), I need to be with someone who is fun…etc. She got kicked out of yet another bar and I was sent home never to come back again because I wasn’t talking enough for her…the usual. Unbeknownst to her, never to return.
    After NC, I would get a variety nasty texts with an occasional I love you, miss you text sprinkled in. I went no contact for a while till July 29. She texted me she was going to be a grandmother and I responded with: “Congratulations!” – which I sent at 0907 – I was hesitant, but thought it the polite thing to do. She sent me 6 more texts throughout the day. The last two: 2311: “I wasted 2 years with you, why? You were not worth it obviously. Analyze that asshole.” , 0028: “From now on ur blocked. What was I thinking?”
    Well, I took HER advice and blocked her the next day (both texts and calls). She didn’t like that so much. August 6, she finally breaks through the call blocker with a private number leaving a couple of voice mails (which I have saved) – telling me how I’m a coward, that I’m a piece of shit, that if she ever saw me out in public that I’d better watch out, that I’m a dork, that she is no stalker – that she can’t believe I blocked her like she was some kind of stalker. She also admitted that she was drinking.
    Well, I broke the no contact again to respond and depend myself (oops) – sending her emails and texts of how she has hurt me with specific examples of such. I got back what I expected: no understanding and no empathy.
    Aug. 11: Got texts, mostly hateful like: “wish i would have never have went out with with you. You are actually really rude!” and “Fuck you coward!” – when I didn’t answer her attempted phone call.
    Aug. 20: I sent an ultimatum as a last ditch effort (my therapist suggested I could try since I never had) – I sent a text basically saying to go to therapy if she really wanted to try like she said and that I didn’t want to here from her till she did. (That day she had sent me 14 texts prior and 2 call attempts wanting to try us again). Her response was as expected: “You have made a big mistake” and a voice mail follow-up a few minutes later stating I’m the one that needs therapy, that I’m a coward that runs from relationships, that maybe I have the problems and this is why I infuriate people so much. It was a last ditch and I expected the response.
    More texts received: Aug. 21 (2), Aug. 27 (2), Aug. 30 (1).
    Aug21 (after ult.): Her: 1252pm: “This is the last you will here from me. There is such a thing as thinking and analyzing too much! Hiding behind texts and your computer seems to be what u r comfortable with. I offered to try and what do I get nothing but strangeness. My own voice and texts. I remember what I say. Whish you would have manned up a bit, cant change the way interact and the things you got mad at though. Think you have a lot of nerve giving me your dr.s name. Good luck Peter” (I had sent her the voice mails of her drunken behavior before in an attempt to show her how her behavior hurt me and why I didn’t trust her)
    Me: 104pm: “You offered nothing but more of the same…but whatever, your choice. Good luck to you too.”
    Her: 126pm: “No this is your choice. Be accountable for once. Your offer me nothing at all. Whatever to you.”
    Aug27: 920pm: “Hope u r well. My life is good, still miss u though.” Less than an hour later: 1007pm: “Yeah ur a dick! Take that to ur dr!”
    Aug30: 0944pm: “Checking to see if i blocked u right”
    I save my texts and voice mails just in case of lawful problems and to remind me of the nature of the beast. I have many messages showing the erratic irrational behavior. My therapist stated she seems to fit the alcoholic and bpd profile. I offer this – no contact all the way…learn from your mistakes. You may try to explain rational thought to these people, but they just don’t get it. I have shared my messages with some of my friends (both sent and received) – and the unanimous consensus is: she is crazy. You can’t logically communicate with crazy…so why communicate at all. Go no contact – it’s the only way. Dr. Tara’s article is right on.

  15. chris
    July 26, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Thanks fellas. I really appreciate the feedback.

    Other signs, now that I’ve been thinking about it:

    1. Periodic statements that would cut me down. This seemed to be a reflexive action of hers. This was a large warning sign for me that got me thinking about breaking up with her. It still too a good 4-5 months to do so.
    2. Bossy/Controlling. This was constant. She wouldn’t even let me cook eggs without hovering over my shoulder to inspect and improve. She would have tantrums when I didn’t have the energy to please her sexually at 3 am, in one of the ways that is very energy intensive. God forbid she would ask me to do something. She would just command. She would get cold when I would “get sensitive” that she was so bossy. Eventually, I would apologize.

    I have fairly high self esteem as a man, and am not used to this treatment. Therefore, I would constantly call her out on this behavior in hopes that she would modify the behavior for the good of the relationship. This is what led to the arguments that led to our breakup.

    I know a lot of you guys have had it a lot worse. My heart breaks for you. I feel very fortunate that I am becoming better at vetting these women for personality disorders, through hard won experience, before I married or had children. However, i know that my ability to spot disorders is still weak. i’ll be spending a lot of time from now on, on this site and more, to improve my ability before I make any type of commitment again.

    I’m hoping that Dr Tara writes an article on how to spot an emotionally healthy woman, in addition to the current articles on the antithesis of her.

  16. Stefano
    July 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Hi Chris. Don’t sweat it buddy. Mine even sent me a rather sickly picture of her with her new boy friend. I just pressed delete on my phone. Poor sucker is the next victim. No contact means no contact and it is all just designed to hoover you back in.
    I have had all the tactics even right down to naked pictures sent to my home with “see what you are missing written on them.” So you see if I can do it then anyone can do it and it does dry up after a while and they do go away but only if you stay no contact.
    I wouldn’t let the fact she has a new boy friend already upset you Chris, these types have to have someone with them. Let’s face it we can all go out and pick up the first person we see, even when we know we are not ready and on the rebound. Life teaches us that is not the way to happiness and as Phil Collins sang “you can’t hurry love.”

    It’s time to find ourselves again, get our confidence back and enjot who we are as people and let’s face it most of us have had no life for months or even years so let’s do all the stuff we love to do. Go out have a beer with friends, play your music loud…do what you want do. Believe I’m enjoying my ass off these days and in two minds whether to even bother with the dating game again. but I guess time will heal that.

    Keep smiling, keep the faith and stay strong.

  17. chris
    July 26, 2010 at 4:08 am

    Oh, and for context, she was constantly making long term permanent plans for us. Like marriage. I wasn’t delusional in terms of where I thought the relationship was vs what she thought. She claimed to be in deep love with me. Thats why this was so confusing.

    • July 26, 2010 at 8:06 pm

      Chris.
      I think most of us in this Dr T’s web feel at first a really hard surprise and took us time to understand that anything a npd woman said comes from an empty shell. There was nobody there. That’s why they don’t feel a thing.

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