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Emotional Detachment: When the No Contact Rule Is Not an Option


The No Contact Rule is always the best policy when ending an abusive relationship, however, many people don’t have that option. For example, if you share a child(ren) or if you both work for the same company and can’t afford to transfer or find a new job. In these cases, it’s vital that you learn how to emotionally detach and let the verbal jabs, criticisms, eye rolls, dirty looks, sighs and other passive-aggressive and/or just plain aggressive behaviors bounce right off of you.

What is emotional detachment?

There are two schools of thought on emotional detachment. Eastern-based, meditation types define emotional detachment as the ability to:

  • allow another person the freedom to be themselves
  • accept that you can’t change or control them
  • be compassionate and caring toward the other person while calmly accepting whatever happens

They explain that detachment is not indifference because indifference means you’re neither present nor caring toward the other person.

This is all well and good, but when it comes to an emotionally abusive spouse, partner or colleague, it’s not safe to be compassionate and caring in response to their abuse because it makes you a good target for more abuse. It’s only safe to exercise compassion and caring toward an abusive individual from a very safe distance – psychologically and/or physically. I don’t think it’s possible to develop compassionate emotional detachment until you’ve had time to heal from the abuse.

If you’re not quite ready to don saffron robes, the less “enlightened” form of detachment may be the best option for you. I define emotional detachment as the conscious choice to not allow another person push your buttons and hurt, anger, frustrate or annoy you. The easiest way to do this is to develop indifference. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference. While it’s natural to hate someone who has hurt you repeatedly; hate still gives her power over you. Indifference removes your psychological stake in her, her behaviors and the relationship.

It can take a while to develop indifference and emotional detachment. Until you reach the point where you no longer care what she says or does, my advice is to fake it ’til you make it. Here are some tips for cultivating practical emotional detachment:

1. Downsize her. Reduce the importance you give your abusive spouse or partner and increase positive influences in your life. Shrink her influence over you by:

  • Making new social contacts or reconnecting with old ones. The more time you spend with healthy, positive people; the less exposure you’ll have to her toxicity. This has the added bonus of reminding you that there are happy, kind people in the world which makes it more difficult for you to minimize or rationalize her hurtful behaviors and less likely to believe her lies that you’re a jerk who nobody likes.
  • Replacing bad habits with good habits. Instead of sulking, simmering in mute rage or flying off the handle, take up jogging, join a basketball league, etc. Making yourself physically and psychologically stronger will make you more immune to her nonsense.

2. When she says, “Jump,” stop saying “How high?” Tell her, “I’m working on something important. I can’t do x, y and z right now.” When she comes to you with a problem she wants you to fix or wants you to do something she’s capable of doing herself, respond by saying, “Wow, what are you going to do about that?” or “I’m sure someone as smart and capable as you will be able to handle that very easily. Let me know how it goes.”  When she rages; tell her you’re going out until she regains control of herself. If she gives you the cold shoulder; go for a walk or meet a friend at the gym. Create consequences for her bad behaviors, just like you would with a 5-year old.

3. Make yourself your first priority — especially if you have children. It is so very important to take care of yourself when you’re involved with an abusive woman. She’ll drain you and eat up all of your energy, resources and attention until you’ve nothing left for yourself if you let her. In this respect, this kind of woman is a parasite and you’re the host. If you don’t take care of yourself and maintain your physical and mental health, you won’t be able to be there for your children when they need you. This is the same reason airline safety regulations instruct you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting your child.

4. Observe; don’t react. Everything your wife, girlfriend or ex does that drives you up a wall is purposefully designed to hurt and get a reaction from you. She controls you like a puppet on a string by getting you to engage in the content of her verbal attacks, silent treatment and/or passive-aggressive jabs (e.g., saying something cruel in a sweet tone of voice and then accusing you of being oversensitive). Therefore, take a mental step back when she starts the fun and games and simply observe her machinations for what they are.

Her covert and overt attacks are the adult equivalent of a 5-year old who calls a grown-up a “doody-head,” pouting, saying a bad word or tormenting you by saying the same stupid phrase over and over again; “I know you are, but what am I? I know you are, but what am I? I know you are, but what am I?” When you show a 5-year old that they’re getting to you, they escalate the behavior—just like your abusive wife, girlfriend or ex.

5. Observe and reframe. Think of her as a 2-dimensional TV sitcom or melodrama character and stop taking her seriously. Oh boy! It’s time for “The Susan Show” again. What crazy things will Susan say and do this week? Stay tuned to find out! The reality is that abusive borderline, narcissistic and/or histrionic women don’t have any depth. They’re very 2-, if not 1-dimensional beings. There isn’t any “there” there. If you continue to search for some deep meaning in her behavior and why she does the things she does, you’ll only continue to frustrate and disappoint yourself. What you’re looking for simply doesn’t exist.

Alternatively, think of her as a lab animal who has learned which levers to push to get her reward pellet. When you stop rewarding her with the reaction she seeks, sit back and watch her go into overdrive. She’ll push even harder on your buttons and levers and try to find new ways to get a rise out of you. All you have to so is sit back, observe and smile until she gives up in confusion and despair.

Next week, I’ll continue to explore other ways to emotionally detach from your partner and her abusive behavior. Thanks for your patience.

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.

Photo credit:

Iron man by freakscity on flickr.


  1. venkat
    August 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Being a man, i cried after reading this article and other articles in your site. I have been married for 8 yrs and every day in my life, i used to think on what bad karma i did to anyone in my life to get a partner like this. It is my misfortune that i cannot leave her, since i have 2 kids and i love them very much. I have never seen such a cold hearted person in my whole life. Sometimes, it feels i can tolerate up beating and physical abuse from anyone, but tolerating her cold hurtful words is the most painful thing in the world.

    Your site gave me the strength and help me understand her issues. I am able to deal with issues in much better manner.

    thanks and god bless you
    venkat

  2. Laura
    July 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Wow, what a useful article on detachment. I have tried the saffron-robe approach and I believe I am a kinder and less selfish person for my efforts but I have found myself losing my sense of reality. Your advice to “watch the show” really struck a chord. I am in the role of passive audience member and the gentleman who said that this sadly necessary detachment “is not a real relationship” helped me a lot. And, yes, I truly needed to hear that our partner SHOULD be our primary source of emotional nourishment. That helped a lot.

    I am seeing that the man I am with has little to no depth or emotional accountability. He says over and over “I have the depth of an ashtray.” I thought it was insecurity but now I see it as emotional laziness and self-indulgence. Sadly, we can’t solve any problems, grow any closer, face the tough issues of aging or children because of this avoidance on his part.

    After two years, lots of patient and artful attempts to connect, and some therapy, I find I am dangerously lonely. Starting to starve emotionally. By that I mean I am tempted to be unfaithful and to lie as he has done. But I have never been a woman who cheats or lies and I don’t want to lose my hard-won integrity to this situation. Fortunately I have begun to work out, reach out and detach instead. Your wise and useful site is the best I have found. And to all the brave men parenting with psychos: hang in there. We good women do exist.

  3. Sarah
    October 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you so much for this site and the comments, I am the ex of an NPD and my new partner is the ex of what seems to be a lovely mixture of NPD and BPD, divorcing both of them at the same time has been exhausting and I have more grey hair now than I would have thought possible at 40.

    His ex is deeply passive aggressive and he feels this knot in his stomach when he has to see her to get the kids, she uses the kids mercilessly to extract favours, money etc and he does things because he cant see the kids damaged…..

    she has been on a bit of a bender disorder wise since she finally signed the papers to sell the house, she has tried to change the custody agreement through her lawyer then when some trade off was agreed she has sent a letter from the lawyer saying she is feeling bullied by her ex and he is only to contact her through the solicitor..obviously when she called at 7.30am on Saturday because her bedroom radiator was leaking and could he come over and fix it that was ok…
    so was when she called at 9pm because she couldnt work her printer….these things and more are tagged under child welfare issues, she still feels its his duty to trek over and plug in the back of the computer because she has got her daughter to ask as its her school report that wont go in…The children are affected by the heating being out so he should fix it…….It truly is like having a 6yr old in charge of the house and her constant interference is getting worse as the prospect of the divorce looms…

    I honestly dont think I could have coped much longer without reading some of the stuff on here……..its so damn frustrating dealing with it!

  4. MamaBear
    February 17, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Thanks a ton for this site. I’m a non-BP woman but have found the information here immensely helpful, because my ex-husband is BPD. (Never diagnosed, because I’d never be able to get him evaluated, but there’s no question.)

    After 20 years and two children with him, I divorced him seven years ago before I understood that the problem was him, not me. If I’d known then what I know now, I would never have suggested shared custody. That is going to change very soon, as he’s been getting progressively worse with the kids on “his” weeks. To make a long story short, my 9-year-old son’s guidance counselor called our county’s CYS after an incident with Dad several weeks ago when Dad snapped over something minor and got too physical with Son. Dad was livid and, of course, accused me. Son was unhurt but terrified, and while I’m sure Dad will be on his good behavior for a while I have no doubt it will happen again. (There have been other calls from the kids’ guidance offices in the past.) The CYS report is coming back as “unfounded” but I’ll be d@mned if I’m waiting for the next incident. I’m learning a lot from this site and will use what I find to help me calmly but firmly draw the line with Dad without getting drawn back into the head games. My goal is to get the kids out of there before more damage is done and with the least possible ugliness and legal mess.

    By the way – I’m very happily remarried to a wonderful man who’s a terrific role model for the kids. I’m just sorry it took me until age 40 to be in a healthy relationship. It is possible, folks.

  5. Vantage1
    February 2, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    My supposed friend of two years (one that my NPDXG steered away from me) works in the same building with me: different companies but same buildings. As much as it’s a pain, I make every concerted effort to avoid bumping into her: entering/exiting the building in different places and times, avoiding places we used to go for lunch, etc. While it’s an inconvenience for me, I’d rather have NO contact with this false friend I used to know. The last time we passed each other unavoidably, the moment she she saw me her eyes went straight into her purse. The funny thing is that when I am mad at somebody, I can look that person in the eyes without a moment’s hesitation or even a second thought; the diversion of her gaze could only mean shame, embarassment, guilt, etc.

    I met this false friend almost three years ago when I was hanging around with an old crew of people (a group I eventually met my NPDXG in) at some bar and a two-year friendship resulted. What I know now — after a LONG period of reflection and “Monday morning quarterbacking” — is that this “friend” just used me for a crowd of friends I hung around with. On one hand, I could feel insulted and hurt (this friend made dinners for me, we went to movies and movies together, was introduced to her family, etc.) but I look at it from the perspective that I should be flattered that such a elaborate front was maintained…all because I had “friends.”

    Sad and pathetic, if you ask me!

  6. Vantage1
    February 2, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    My supposed friend of two years (one that my NPDXG steered away from me) works in the same building with me: different companies but same buildings. As much as it’s a pain, I make every concerted effort to avoid bumping into her: entering/exiting the building in different places and times, avoiding places we used to go for lunch, etc. While it’s an inconvenience for me, I’d rather have NO contact with this false friend I used to know. The last time we passed each other unavoidably, the moment she she saw me her eyes went straight into her purse. The funny thing is that when I am mad at somebody, I can look that person in the eyes without a moment’s hesitation or even a second thought; the diversion of her gaze could only mean shame, embarassment, guilt, etc.

    I met this false friend almost three years ago when I was hanging around with an old crew of people (a group I eventually met my NPDXG in) at some bar and a two-year friendship resulted. What I know now — after a LONG period of reflection and “Monday morning quarterbacking” — is that thsi “friend” just used me for a crowd of friends I hung around with. On one hand, I could feel insulted and hurt (this friend made dinners for me, we went to movies and movies together, was introduced to her family, etc.) but I look at it from the perspective that I should be flattered that such a elaborate front was maintained…all because I had “friends.”

    Sad and pathetic, if you ask me!

  7. finallywokeup
    January 18, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    “She controls you like a puppet on a string by getting you to engage in the content of her verbal attacks, silent treatment and/or passive-aggressive jabs (e.g., saying something cruel in a sweet tone of voice and then accusing you of being oversensitive). Therefore, take a mental step back when she starts the fun and games and simply observe her machinations for what they are.”

    Bingo! I just went through this again. My ex sent me an unusually nice, sweet email saying she “forgot” to tell me she was violating a term of the divorce order, and that she was sorry. She sent it while she was in the middle of the violation. When I responded with some irritation and let her know the court would be notified, she replied that I obviously have anger issues.

    The key, though, Dr. T, is what you said above – take a step back and recognize the machinations. This is what helped. This pattern is now so ritualized that I could almost write her replies for her, and when I realized that it made her seem less threatening. It is not easy, though.

  8. Sean
    January 15, 2010 at 6:21 am

    I have been reading your blog for a year now. The advice and examples of been invaluable in understanding what was happening in my marriage. The biggest challenge has been the fact we have 3 children together, since being separated 2 years ago I finally have come too the conclusion there will never be any resolution with this woman.
    I became emotionally detached from her many years ago. This emotional detachment was not a conscious decision but a trigger to protect myself from what I thought would define the rest of my marriage. This eventually led to some very bad decisions, drinking, adultery and fighting. I am not proud of my actions and take responsibility for the consequences. She continues her behavior and I have finally stopped making excuses for this behavior. Divorce will not end this woman’s behavior.I appreciate having shrink4men as a resource to keep me moving forward to a healthy mental state of mind! I just wish there were more therapist who were trained in recognizing abusive woman. I have experienced almost every behavior you describe in your blog. I will be indifferent!Thank You

  9. Vusi
    January 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Dr T

    I dont know where to start. Let me just say maybe you are an angel.

    I am 35years old and I’ve been involved with a BPD for more than 10 years but could never tell what was really going on. I’ve been emotionally battered throughout this period. I am a strong individual who’d rarely shed a tear (as men never do), but I once found myself crying in front of my mother and just pouring out to her how I’ve been denied the love by the person I’ve treasured the most. This was 4 years ago. I ended up withdrawing from family and friends without realizing it. I GAVE MY ALL TO THIS WOMAN and got nothing in return but threats of her leaving (she’s left me 5 times to move back to her parents and I would go back to her and apologies before she’d return). She would never want to solve any issues with me and out of love for her I made myself a door mat. I’ve been solely providing financially and otherwise for almost 6 years now (Well she’s never been able to do much other anyways, let alone to learn anything)

    Just a background, my parents were not approving of her initially and I stuck up for her. the more they show us the resentment the more I wanted to portray her as the best thing ever – not aware i was courting a silky dragon. With time I guess my parents accepted. Afterall she was just too charismatic on the outside.

    Well to cut it short she left on the 9th, December last year, as usuals packing all her stuff and our daughter’s and my car back to her parents house. She did this to purnish me for having question her latest motives – she was now starting to have more and more overnight stays at her parents and when I started to question this she left. Out of the ordinary for the usual me, I started a No Contact strategy. All of the other times she’s been away she’d simply keep no contact with me until I felt guilty and went over to apologies, regardless of what. Well guess what, she called me last Thursday to say I can come pick up my daughter (6years old) and that I should just notify her when I am coming. I was calm during this call and only agreed. But after this call I decided to keep silence for a while afterall I was still hurting and needed some emotional recovery first before I could face my daughter. Again she text me on Saturday to say she wanted us to talk about my daughter’s school fees (I’ve been taking my daughter to a top-end nursery all along and had planned to take her to a better school later)The following day. So I just agreed but said it can only be the following week (this week). Guess what she called again yesterday while I was in a book shop so I decided not to answer and actually switched my phone off. well here is a text I got this morning from her:

    Look here xxx is your child and dont try and spite me through her. Your child’s got a right to you so if you dont want to pay for her fees pls let me know.

    The question is how do I respond.

  10. Toby
    January 10, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    I’m new here. I need to move on BUT TO WHAT? I’ve had THREE (count them) wives. Now, here’s the kicker…#1 BPD, #2 clinically depressed – a near decade of a platonic distant relationship with a zoloft zombie #3 HEY BPD!!! AGAIN!!!!
    ok, so I’m an idiot. I’m 40, nice looking, successful in my career…A REAL GIVER to every depressed BPD woman in my life…in fact, I can’t pick a real woman out of line up to save my life, I don’t even think I could tell you what a “normal” relationshipe really looks like. So what does a guy that is a complete idiot do when he can’t pick a real woman to save his life AND (oh this is good) still has #3 telling him (after the divorce of a month ago) “I will love you forever and we are bound forever, I will always love you” I’m not going to lie, I want her back BUT NORMAL!!! She struck me in the face repeatedly, cut my eye, cursed me like a sailor, threatened to abort my child on our honeymoon, called my mother a bitch, and beat down a door to get at me and slap me around some more. Then there’s the good side you want to keep of course…she’s either the angel or the devil…can she EVER get stablized or am I just hoping that my 3rd choice is better than my other two. To her credit, she’s motivated, successful, and beautiful…to her detriment, she’s never satisfied (but still wants me? go figure), hateful and mean. Are my attempts to continue therapy just false hope…I guess at my age, I hope for the gal that will make my life complete — lemme guess she’s an emotional vampire right. UGH.

    • January 11, 2010 at 8:40 am

      My advice, Toby, is to get trusted and emotionally intelligent friends and family to help you decide who to marry.

      You can’t have #3 back but normal – that’s a dream. I think she’s already had her three strikes, now she’s out. Letting her back in (especially if it’s with no conditions) is just enabling her and giving her the idea that she can do what she wants and still have you back as long as she asks nicely.

      Best wishes,
      Liam

  11. Chrissa
    January 9, 2010 at 1:23 am

    Sorry – should be s/he!

  12. Chrissa
    January 9, 2010 at 1:22 am

    It’s like Beauty and the Beast – If I’m nice enough he won’t eat *me*! That does not work.

    • Freedom
      January 9, 2010 at 2:38 pm

      And if someone is trampling thru the relationship like Godzilla going thru Tokyo… sooner or later it’s gotta be time to leave town.

  13. Chrissa
    January 9, 2010 at 1:14 am

    “This is all well and good, but when it comes to an emotionally abusive spouse, partner or colleague, it’s not safe to be compassionate and caring in response to their abuse because it makes you a good target for more abuse. ”

    Jumping cats! I have read a lot (maybe too many) self help books, and this is something which is left out – it seems in so many cases that it is up to us to be More Compassionate, Be More Accepting when the abuser is let to run roughshod. I do want to have compassion, and I mostly actually do – but there is a point where a person just has to look at what is done with the compassion received. Sometimes it is used as a bludgeon. I thank you heartily for saying that it is dangerous to extend it further. I know I spent a lot of time feeling like a bad person because I just “wouldn’t understand” the abuser, because “if only” I’d been “nicer”, etc.

    • shrink4men
      January 9, 2010 at 1:18 am

      You got it. This is an ongoing difference of opinion I have with many of my mental health peers. Okay, okay I think they’re utterly wrong and enablers of abuse and often cause more harm than good.

      It’s important not to let an abuser rob you of your compassion and humanity, however, it’s even more important not to let them continue to abuse you. Therefore, it’s okay and admirable to feel compassion, but from a safe physical and emotional distance. Having compassion does not mean letting the abuser continue to abuse you.

  14. Hurtfella
    January 4, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Hi,
    Just want to tell you Dr T what a help this site is.

    For the past week, I have been working my way out of an incredibly destructive 7 month relationship. I knew it was over a month ago. But I have been crippled by my desire to help this poor woman. To save her, make her better. Distraught by the fact that me leaving will hurt her terribly.

    Then I tell myself what she did to me. Try to seduce my brother in front of me. For over an hour. On the first meeting.

    Call my professional competitors over and over and tell them what a piece of sxxxt I am. All because I could not magically get her internet connected more quickly.

    Carry on internet dating while supposedly in an exclusive relationship with me. Then rage, throw plates and pots and pans at me when I gently raised it. All with those dead, souless eyes. Refuse to come to my house .. she only visited 4 times in 7 months. If I did not see here every couple of days at her place (45 minutes drive away), I was the devil, to be abused, shat on. She admitted recently she had gone back to some guy’s place (she met him that night) then went to another guy’s place ( who she met that night). All because I was not there for her .. one night. She then sent umpteen abusive emails (rot in hell, you are evil, etc) and dumped me.

    I tried NC. Worked for two days. Finally, I gave in when she started emailing and calling friends saying she thought I had killed myself. Hardly. I just took her at her word. I knew the fact she had dumped me was a get out of jail card, and ran.

    Stupidly, i replied. Explained I was out of there. I told her all the things she had done to push me away.

    She sent the most lucid, self aware reply I have seen from her in our entire relationship. Explaining she was sick, would always repel those who got too close to her. That she loved me, but had dragged me into the abyss. That she was sorry, knew it was over. But then went on to try to drag me back.

    I did not respond.

    She then emailed and left phone messages saying she was off to hospital because her life was over.

    She sent the same messages to close friends. How tragic. How bad I felt.

    I still have not contacted her.

    And i feel like a piece of sxxxt.

    I posted her key to her house to her today. With a simple note saying thank you for the good times; I won’t forget them. But this is over. You go your way and i will go mine. I need to mend and recover. I hope you heal. You deserve happiness and i hope you find it.

    When she gets that, I don’t know what she will do. But I think it will be bad. I am changing the locks here tomorrow. And taking my dear daughters 1000 kilometres away for a holiday for two weeks.

    I have been in tears all day, worrying about her. Feeling intense sympathy for her. Distraught about where this ended. Grieving for a woman I fell in love with harder than any I have ever met. But slowly realising that woman may not exist.

    So terribly sad.

    This was her favourite song. She played it to me when I first met her. Looking back, it should have told me a lot. Too slow on the uptake. Too intoxicated.

    These are the lyrics to Breahte Me, by Sia. Think it was on “six Feet Under”. Wonderful song. But the words say say much about my ex. Who I still love, but know I can never go near again.

    Thanks for listening.

    Lyrics to Breathe Me :
    Help, I have done it again
    I have been here many times before
    Hurt myself again today
    And, the worst part is there’s no-one else to blame

    Be my friend
    Hold me, wrap me up
    Unfold me
    I am small
    I’m needy
    Warm me up
    And breathe me

    Ouch I have lost myself again
    Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found,
    Yeah I think that I might break
    I’ve lost myself again and I feel unsafe

    Be my friend
    Hold me, wrap me up
    Unfold me
    I am small
    I’m needy
    Warm me up
    And breathe me

    Be my friend
    Hold me, wrap me up
    Unfold me
    I am small
    I’m needy
    Warm me up
    And breathe me
    [ Breathe Me Lyrics on http://www.lyricsmania.com/ ]

  15. January 2, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Hi,

    I just wanted to say I appreciate this article and that I whole-heartedly agree with it. The strategy that evolved for dealing with my NPD ex-wife and mother of my son is essentially exactly like this. I wrote a blog post about it here: http://unreasonablebehavior.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/zen-and-the-art-of-managing-unreasonable-behaviour

    Also, from the perspective of this relationship and from my experience of practicing Buddhism I have to agree with your interpretation of compassion when it comes to relationship like this. It’s important not to see compassion as the same as always ‘being nice’ (i.e. exposing yourself to abuse and leaving the abuser without consequences ). Compassion sometimes means ‘tough love’ and sometimes means having nothing to do with someone.

    Thanks too everyone for your stories. I had wondered if my ex perhaps had sociopathic tendencies. It was about 3 years ago that I read the diagnostic criteria for NPD and instantly recognised her. Many of your stories here also sound just like her and her way of thinking.

    Best wishes,

    Liam

  16. Bunker Dweller
    December 10, 2009 at 1:09 am

    Waty to be tough. If you have ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow =).

    • ron
      December 10, 2009 at 5:19 pm

      Yes, the manipulations involving consequences to the kids are very tough to deal with. My XW told me that unless I did all the driving, arranging, etc for my sons sports activities, he would simply not participate. This involved her getting out of duties she should have shared.
      But she was willing to let him suffer and I was not. So, I tok him to all his practicies and games. Thye really do not seem to worry much about their kids.

      • ExpatDad
        January 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm

        Yes, I have to deal with exactly this, and the financial manipulation. I already pay the full whack of child support, alimony for the ex (who was/is an extremely entitled/lazy SAHM). Kids desperately need extra activities (son getting seriously out of shape…) – it’s not going to happen unless I pay up for the activities on top (CS is supposed to cover all these kinds of things). Dilemma: allow myself to continue to be manipulated/financially abused, but kids actually get to do some healthy activities, or stand up for myself, impose proper boundaries and result: kids are the losers in that their health and general wellbeing suffers, and both I and them are the losers in that I will be badmouthed (all the more) – “You can’t do X because Dad won’t pay”. So far I choose the former, because there is only one loser (I), whereas the latter involves more losers ultimately. I have been choosing also to document that I don’t condone this, but do it only under duress/protest because the wellbeing of the children is at stake and unreasonably being held to ransom (so as to avoid a future claim for even more ridiculously high CS on the basis that my “willingness” to pay for extras indicates that I agree that the already max-ed out top whack I pay “isn’t enough”), but, yep, you guessed it – this provokes a histrionic counterattack response, and yet more badmouthing…
        Anyone got any further advice/strategies/success stories that worked for them?

  17. ozymandias
    December 9, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Hi Dr T

    Brilliant post. I was particularly struck with the “consequences” line. This is vital. My exBPD allows regular access to our 4 year old daughter but is determined it will be on her terms. As a result, I am often faced with changes to arrangements without consultation. When this happens I need to determine what she actually wants (she never asks for a favour of course, it has to be her doing me a favour).

    As an example, I recently received a text (it’s the best way) stating that she had booked to take our daughter to the theatre on a day when I have access. I know that she wants me to suggest an alternative day (the Sunday instead of the Saturday). I simply respond by saying it would be nice to be asked first but I will arrange to drop our daughter late on Saturday afternoon (I usually have her overnight from Saturday morning). I’m met with a furious irrational response (it cost me Xmas morning with my daughter – at least for now) but, ultimately, she re-arranged the theatre visit and my access remained the same.

    The consequence of her action meant she would have to have our daughter all weekend (bar the few hours I was with her on the Saturday). I know my exBPD only wants to appear to be a good mother, she doesn’t want to actually spend quality time with her for anymore than a couple of hours at a time. Hopefully she will think twice before trying to dictate access terms again. If it doesn’t work this time, I’m sure the message will eventually hit home.

    For a laugh, here is the text conversation in full.

    exBPD: xxxx is at a pantomime at 4pm on the 12th

    me: I have her on the 12th. Has this been booked for a while?

    exBPD: Yes and there has to be flexibility as per agreed with the solicitor

    me: It would be nice to be asked. Thats fine. I will pick her up at 10am on the 12th and have her back to you in time for the panto. What time do I need to drop her? 3pm?

    exBPD: Tell you what, i’m going to my solicitor. I’m not happy with the way your not being flexible or helping out with my work arrangements and I’m not happy you coming over on Xmas day. You can pick her up on the day youre supposed to have her. I’m not being flexible anymore. I will re-arrange panto but you’re denying xxxx, not me.

    me: Unsure how me agreeing to drop xxxx off early as you requested is being inflexible. Sorry to hear about Xmas day. I will collect xxxx as per agreement but i don’t have a problem with her going to the panto if you want her dropping early.

    End of correspondence.

    The reference to me not supporting her at work is a whole other post. See how I also didn’t bite with the Xmas Day prod. And by the way, I am working on that particular Sunday but I would have tried to change – if she’d only bother asking!!!

    Keep up the good work Dr T – this stuff is invaluable

    Ozy

    • jp
      December 10, 2009 at 1:38 am

      Ozy,

      I’ve been separated for 3.5 years, we have two little girls, and I deal with this stuff constantly.

      My favorite is how she always frames these attempts to schedule stuff during my time as in the girls’ best interest so if I complain she can say to me, “it’s about them, it’s not about you.”

      That obvious attempt at manipulation actually used to work on me–I was that brainwashed–until my daughters began letting me know they wanted more time with me. Now I say to my ex, “you’re right, it IS about them, and they need their time with their father…so no, you may not take them during my parenting time.”

      Let her go to the solicitor…since you’ve been tracking this stuff you can tell the judge you have no problem being flexible but you can’t be expected to make last minute changes to your schedule. The courts understand that. (What if you’d bought tickets to some event of your own, or lined up a visit with some friends and their kids?!) The judge will NOT be happy about her wasting the court’s time.

      Also, I always insist on comp time. If she wants them for a couple hours during my time, I insist on a couple extra hours later. It seemed petty to me at first, because I’m a normal person, but the fact is she has the kids much more than I do so I see my little time with them as sacred. If we had 50/50 custody–which I wanted and she refused–I’d be thrilled to swap hours with her left and right.

      Also, I have the kids for two dinners during the week and I will not give those up. (She likes to throw dinner parties and asks if I can bring the girls to her house in time for them to eat with her and her pals.) I believe routine is as important as quantity of time, and meal times are the essence of routine. She told me I was a freak and I called her on her BS: The girls eat 10 meals during the week at home (5 breakfast, 5 dinner) and of the 10 they get only TWO of them with their father. I told her there is no f*cking way I’m giving one of them up so she can have the girls around for yet another party. (She entertains CONSTANTLY.)

      Interstingly, what I’ve realized over time is that when I stand up to my ex she will often end up doing the right thing, but she will never, EVER acknowledge that I’m right or respond postively when or after I raise an issue or say “no” to something she wants. On the contrary, I am ALWAYS punished with some verbal abuse for the crime of standing up for myself no matter how thoughtfully, diplomatically or carefully I communicate with her and no matter how objectively in the right I am. It’s pathetic.

      (She also can’t apologize. Literally. In 14 yrs of marriage she probably apologized twice. She literally stuttered as she forced to herself to say the words and only did after I’d gone nuclear over the issue at hand and was about to walk.)

      JP

      • Steve
        December 10, 2009 at 6:24 pm

        In 23 years of marriage I think my ex sincerely apologized…oh…maybe 6 or 8 times… for anything….even minor things. Often, those apologies were “coaxed” out of her. It’s just so sad. Hang in there. Sounds like you’re doing the right thing. I’ve started communicating more directly with my daughter (16)regarding activites and parenting time because I found out she was getting a carefully sanitized version of my desires and I was getting a highly edited version of “her desires” back.

    • Recovering Alpha
      December 10, 2009 at 11:44 pm

      Scary. I’ve repressed so much, but reading your post reminds me of some really bad events regarding my ex and my kids.

      1. She too fits the “wants to appear to look like a good Mom” but really doesn’t want to spend quality time or effort. Two examples. A few days before I moved out to a permanent lease house, she heard I was moving some of my stuff to a temporary hotel. She had the kids. She raced home to meet me before I could leave with my suitcase. She was all duded-up and smelled like perfume. I told her I was getting out as she’d requested (which is something she had screamed she wanted me out — but I paid for everything). She said vehemently, “You’re watching the kids tonight.” I replied, “I’m leaving for a hotel.” She screamed, “I HAVE A DATE AND I’M NOT GOING TO BE LATE” AS SHE TOSSED (AND I MEAN AIR BORNE) MY 22 MOS OLD SON INTO THE BACK OF MY SUV FROM AT LEAST SEVERAL YARDS AWAY!!!!!!!!!! I tear up right now 7 months later thinking of it. Wow! I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. I was in shock and picked up the baby and took the other kids into the house. She got into her car and drove away for the night. She left for a few days. I don’t know who or where she went “on her date” and I suppose it was a guy and a wild night, but I’m too old to let that get to me. I was very hurt, but mostly due to the way she just tossed a baby. Yea, real “good” mother.

      Second example. A year ago or 2 she sent an email to my oldest son’s 7th grade teacher. It basically said that our son was a liar, cheater, not trustworthy, lazy, and so forth. When I read the email I was at work and had to go to the bathroom to collect myself. I came back and replied to her only (not teacher) that “Today motherhood weeps.” due to what she wrote. First of all my son is not any of those things. She just said that to explain why the teacher should “stay on my son to make him do his work right”. The teacher responded professionally (paraphrase) “Don’t give up on him yet. He is one of my best students.” Afterwards, she expressed anger at me for having said the “motherhood wept today” comment. WTF? If you’re own mother doesn’t support you, who will? THE FATHER!!! The older two boys chose to live with me 100% of the time, though I make them visit their mother alternating weekends. This has recently been proclaimed official by the court.

      2. She too never asks for a favor directly but uses subtle twists to make it look like she’s doing me a favor. Example. She had booked a hiking trip for 4 days out of town. I knew this from others who told me (I didn’t ask but they told me on their own). She sends me this email, something like (paraphrase) “You know you could have the boys on Wednesday through this Sunday and then you’ll have more time with them.” (She’s doing me a favor.) However, on alternating weekends that I don’t have the two little ones (the two older boys are with me ALL the time pretty much but take care of themselves to some extent) I work to catch up from lost time during divorce. So I said “No” but I heard she was badmouthing me for not wanting to spend time with my kids.

      And so on …

  18. Steve
    December 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Wow. Thank you for clarifying some issues for me. Without knowing it, I did start to develop a sense of indifference over a period of years. I think it was a survival tactic. Since I filed for divorce 4 months ago and moved, its easier to do and I notice things much more. I really struggled with the boundaries and wish I would have had that line, “Wow, what are YOU going to do about that..” a few years ago. That’s a classic. Anytime, ANYTHING went wrong, no matter how trivial, her first instinct was to dial my cell phone, and if I didn’t answer, dial it again…and again….and again, until I did answer, only to tell me about something that was neither urgent nor something she couldn’t take care of herself. (BTW: her cell phone was usually off and/or she didn’t answer voice-mails or texts until hours and hours later -if at all – because no one else’s needs were urgent). Now she HAS to do it HERSELF since I’m gone. Although I question how long that will last. She’s never been able to do much of anything unless she’s been, literally, forced to – and then not for very long. I’m also working hard on making myself a priority. That’s been nonexistent for so long, I’m not always sure how to do it, but I am trying. The renewed connection with family and true friends helps a lot to frame and re-frame as well. Excellent advice Dr. Tara. Thanks so much for your blog. Your articles re-affirm that I am not crazy, but have been with someone who lives in that neighborhood for a long time. Enjoy the holidays.

    • shrink4men
      December 9, 2009 at 6:09 pm

      Hi Steve,

      It’s never too late to start setting boundaries—especially during the divorce process. In fact, it’s even more important to set boundaries now than when you were living together. Otherwise, she’ll continue to try to ride roughshod over you even though you’re no longer together.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  19. 2curious2quit
    December 9, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Your article validates my survival tactics over this past year of my marriage. Thank you for these valuable insights.

    May I raise a relevant, but not necessarily an article specific, thought? I woke up this morning unable to rid my mind of the concept of “delusion” and “delusional behavior”. Because my wife is an industrial-strength NPD specimen, she demonstrates distorted entitlement, superiority, and uniqueness continually. Is it my imagination, or do clinicians and more enlightened lay people tend to minimize the delusion aspect of NPD? There are episodes in which my wife may as well be hallucinating she is so out of touch with the reality that is her true identity and circumstances. Drowning in debt yet privileged, shapeless and plain yet stunning, prone to judgement, planning, and decision lapse and failure yet brilliant. ARE THESE KIND OF FOLKS “CLINICALLY” DELUSIONAL?

    • shrink4men
      December 9, 2009 at 5:25 pm

      Hi 2curious2quit,

      Delusional? You bet. Not in a “schizophrenic hallucinatory” way, but in an “insidiously believable to those who don’t know her very well” way.

      I think the “delusions” you describe are actually defense mechanisms to make up for the waste of space, do-nothing lives many of these women lead.

      For example, a wife who’s too lazy and too scared to work because might not have the control she wields at home convincingly states, “I sacrificed my career for you and the kids; the children need me at home.” Never mind that the kid(s) are in school full-time and you’ve begged her to go back to work.

      Another example, she believes she’s a “designer” after reupholstering the family sofa or that she’s a “CFO” because she distributes the payroll checks at her part-time job.

      The ego defense becomes confabulation, meaning that she believes her own bullsh*t. If she were to admit the truth about herself, she would have to let go of the “entitled, I’m so special” crock. As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, it’s a matter of ego preservation (even though it’s a FALSE ego) vs. ego annihilation. These women live in a perpetual fantasy land. The trick is not to get sucked into it. When you point the truth out to them, they usually scurry a way to lick their wounds and re-inforce their defenses or they rage at you and accuse you of being crazy.

      So yes, crazy and delusional, but they’ll never admit it. Worse yet, they project their craziness and self-delusions onto others, which is abusive in and of itself.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  20. Phil
    December 9, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Dr T,

    Your advice is right on and it works. They will crank up the pressure when the old tricks don’t work but if you prevail the end result is much more peace than you’ve had for years. They are children and do everything for effect. This takes practice, it’s two steps forward and one step back but it gets easier. I’ve joined a gym, took up walking, puttering in the garage, visiting family without her (boy does that ever push her buttons). The down side is you must finally realize you are not in a real marriage, you are a maternal caregiver, that’s it and it’s the best it will ever be so this is not for everyone. Thanks to this insite I’m sure many will benefit from it.

    • shrink4men
      December 9, 2009 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Phil,

      Thanks. This is very important: you must finally realize you are not in a real marriage, you are a maternal caregiver, that’s it and it’s the best it will ever be so this is not for everyone. Thanks to this insite I’m sure many will benefit from it.

      Emotional detachment won’t fix her or the relationship, but it will help you regain your power over yourself and your sanity. It will also afford you some peace. She will still be her miserable self, but you are making the conscious choice to not let it affect you anymore except that you have a perpetual 5-year old to deal with.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

    • ron
      December 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm

      I find this advice very helpful and effective. I have been doing this type of thing for quite some time now, and the abusive behaviors are diminished to almost zero. I am divorced, of course, so my cintact is the bare minimum.
      If you employ these techniques long term, while still in the relationship, I beleive you will starve, emotionally. Richardd Skerritt writes about this in his books on disordered folks.
      Your spouse is your primary source of intimacy. Detachment is a good survival tool and helps you regain strength.
      But, it is no way to live, long term, in a relationship. It really works in the divroced with kids deal, though.

      • kim
        January 9, 2010 at 4:18 am

        I could not agree more!!

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