How Do I Divorce My Abusive Wife?


I received the following email from a man who has finally realized that he is in an abusive marriage and that he needs to divorce. He describes his abusive wife’s behavior and concludes by asking, “How do those of us entrenched in these horrific relationships get out?  What is the first step?” My reply follows:

Hello Dr. Tara

I’m so “happy” to have found your blog “A Shrink for Men” and have, within the last 12 hours, read every single article that you have published so far.

I am sitting at work having just spent the day doing absolutely nothing.  This isn’t because I’ve been moping over my wife’s last screaming and yelling fit, but because during my wife’s last outburst she took my work computer and tossed it to the floor, fatally damaging the disks and losing me many months worth of documents and emails.  Why such an extreme outburst?  I bought her a spiral bound notebook instead of a glued notebook – who would have thought? – and she became quite aggressive: “you cant do anything right!”, “I should have done it myself”, “you just don’t care!”, “you’re an a**hole”.  I made the mistake of telling her that I wasn’t taking this and that I would go upstairs and do some work.  That’s when the bomb went off.

Today, of course, I lied to my boss and said that I had tripped on a child’s toy and the laptop had slipped out of my hand.  How could I admit that my wife had grabbed it off my desk and lobbed it across a room?  There’s quite a bit of stigma attached to “not being able to control one’s own wife” and I’m not taking any risks.  As it is, I don’t think it really matters.  This marriage has put such a strain on me that my once fantastic career is in tatters and within the next few weeks I will be facing the dole queue.  I have watched myself go from being a successful, happy, professional with a lots of friends to a depressed, henpecked, debt-ridden, isolated man.

She is the absolute dictator of my life.  She controls my finances, who I see, what time I come home from work.  I have to take my shower by 10 o’clock, take off my shoes when I come into the house, feed/bathe the baby when I get home from my 12-hour working day, take care of said baby when she decides to go out with friends.  Failure to do any of these things results in insults, silent treatments, screaming, yelling.  Of course the content is usually the same: I am worthless, I do not take responsibility for my family, I am lazy, I am inconsiderate, I do not listen, ad infinitum.  Any decision she makes is final and enforced while all of my decisions are up for debate.

Oh, I didn’t mention that she doesn’t work in any real sense.  Last year she had the idea that she wanted to run a web business, so I helped her set it up (read: I did most of the work).  Our baby is in day-care so that she can work, and I can honestly say that within the last 3 months, I don’t think she has put a single hour into her business.  That’s not to say that she’s not interested in her work as all her friends know that she’s a “business owner” and that she “has an accountant”.  All of this goes to her somewhat self-processed independence.  She hasn’t brought in a penny since the business started.  Of course, I don’t see a penny of my quite significant salary.  It all goes into maintaining the house, our child and whichever whim she’s on (new front door, lumberjack to unnecessarily chop down trees, in-house child minder, groceries for her out of work sister….)

I have let her ride roughshod over me for so long that my finances and support network are gone.  House payments will be due, there is my son to take care of, and I could well be out of work within a few weeks.

So my question is simple.  How do those of us entrenched in these horrific relationships get out?  What is the first step?

Kind regards,
Glen

Hi Glen,

What is the first step to getting out of this kind of relationship? Be very clear about what you want to do and then pursue it clearly, purposefully and strategically. Don’t harbor any illusions about divorcing this kind of woman. A difficult wife equals a difficult divorce. Think of all her worst personality traits and then multiply them by 1,000. The divorce process is designed to be adversarial and will compound her entitlement issues, deceptions, distortions, vindictive streak and general cruelty.

Here’s what I tell my clients who are about to begin the divorce process:

1. Don’t tip your hand. Don’t let your wife know what you’re thinking about doing. Many men make the mistake of trying to be noble and honest. They believe they’re obligated to be up front with their abusive wives and tell them what they’re planning. Big mistake. Huge mistake. Alternatively, many men think telling their abusive wife that they want a divorce will scare her straight. It might get her to be nice to you for a short time, but it won’t last. Plus, that gives her time to make her own plans and or stage a drama and call the police on you.

First, you can’t be straightforward with someone who has no sense of right and wrong other than she’s always right and you’re always wrong. You can’t be open and transparent with someone who deliberately tries to hurt you. If you offer this information to her on a silver platter, she will use it to hurt you. This is a battle for your financial, physical and psychological freedom. Do not underestimate how low she will go just to “make you pay.”

This kind of woman views divorce as the ultimate rejection. It’s a huge narcissistic injury. The primary reaction to a narcissistic injury is rage and violence. The violence may not be physical. However, purposefully setting out to bankrupt you and destroy your relationships with others—including your own children—is an especially cruel form of violence.

You need time to plan without her trying to manipulate and railroad you. I know it’s difficult. It was probably hard for you to set and enforce boundaries with this woman during your marriage. It is imperative that you and your attorney do so during the divorce.

Lastly, don’t talk to mutual friends and family members about this unless you’re absolutely certain that they won’t betray your confidence. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to keep her in the dark during the earliest stages. Don’t think of it as lying; think of it as not volunteering information. Don’t fall into the familiar pattern of being her hapless victim when it comes to divorce.

2. Do your homework. Visit divorce and father’s rights websites. Schedule consultations with attorneys in your area. You want to find a lawyer who:

  • Has experience and is respected in your local family court.
  • Has experience working with high conflict personalities. That’s lawyer talk for crazy Cluster B women and men.
  • Has experience working with negative advocates. Controlling abusive women gravitate toward attorneys who are adversarial (or more adversarial than the norm), drag out the legal process (to inflate fees) and encourage them to make up false abuse allegations. Water seeks its own level, so you want representation that knows how to handle “peers” who engage in what should be illegal law practices.
  • Inspires realistic confidence. How your attorney handles your divorce will impact your quality of life for years to come—including access to your children if applicable. Don’t go for the cheapest representation (by the way, the most expensive attorneys aren’t necessarily the best). If your attorney is incompetent, an appeaser or doesn’t have experience with high conflict personalities, it will end up costing you far more than attorney’s fees in the long run.

3. Documentation. Start keeping a record of abusive incidents—especially if they occur in front of the children. Invest in a small digital recorder to keep on your person. If you do a lot of direct childcare, keep a record of how many days you drive them to school, bathe them, prepare their meals, watch them, attend parent-teacher meetings, etc. This will serve as evidence when your wife later claims that she does most or all of the childcare and should thus have full custody.

The digital recorder will also come in handy if your wife is the type who likes to call the police. Remember unless you have some record of what goes on behind closed doors, it’s your word against hers. You can be the one with the black eye and cut lip and the cops will still cart you off to the county jail.

4. Protect your ass-ets. Many abusive woman take financial control in their marriages—especially when they don’t actually have a job. This has always mystified me. Nevertheless, if your wife has kept you in the dark regarding your finances, it’s time to get up to speed.

Begin to quietly (i.e., don’t alert her to what you’re doing) gather copies of any and all financial records that you can get your hands on. Scan them and put them on multiple disks or thumbdrives that you can store in a safe place. Create a new email that she can’t access. Get a personal mail box if necessary. If she monitors your calls, get a new pay-as-you-go phone for divorce related communication and keep the phone in a safe place. Don’t surf divorce websites on your home computer if she tracks your internet activities. Use your work computer or go to the public library.

These four steps are just the beginning of the process. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst possible case scenarios. Don’t be duped by your wife. Many of these women claim that they want to amicably separate, but their actions belie their words. You don’t want to be wondering 6 months into the divorce process how she managed to trick you and twist things around just like she did in the marriage. Figure out what leverage you have and then maximize it.

Rest assured, if your wife has shown you little to no empathy, has treated you unfairly and made outrageous demands during your marriage; she will be the same, if not worse, during your divorce. Even if she is the one who initiates the divorce, this kind of woman typically has a seek and destroy attitude. You know too much about her and for that, you must be punished and discredited. If this kind of woman “wins” in the divorce, she takes it as proof that she’s in the “right”—the “injured party”—and you’re the bad guy. Your assets and shared children become her war trophies.

Pretend you’re planning to invade the beaches of Normandy. That’s the degree of thoroughness and secrecy that’s required when trying to free yourself from one of these women. Also, don’t let her push your buttons. If you lose your cool at any time throughout the process, it will be used against you. Negative advocates have been known to coach their female clients on “how to get him to hit you.” It’s sick, it happens and you need to be prepared for anything. The good news is that once you get through the process, you can start to rebuild your life rather than let her stress and torture you into an early grave.

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. Nina
    April 27, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    D wrote:

    “In retrospect, looking back, and especially now having endured so much of the divorce process, I think that there were two things that were particularly terrifying once a man realizes he’s in an abusive relationship: (1) he knows that the right thing to do is not to stay, but to get out, but (2) he knows that everything is stacked against taking his kids with him – the entire system is designed to keep the kids with the abuser.
    It is the opposition of these two facts that is so frightening and maddening: you must leave, but everything will fight to prevent you from leaving with the kids.”

    D, and anyone else who would like to reply, I wondered, in light of what you wrote, were there people who tried to tell you they thought you were in an abusive relationship before you were finally able to accept that fact? And if so, did you feel defensive about that at first? Or protective of your wife? What was that process like, coming to accept that you were being abused and this had been going on for awhile?

    • D
      April 27, 2010 at 8:25 pm

      Nina – I endured abuse in private for many years before a few things happened in 2007 that took it over the top and at that point, out of pure need, I began confiding in a close friend and did so for the next two years. After about a year of listening to me, my friend started telling me this and as it so happens, he was studying to be psychiatrist and was really in a place to know and understand what was going on, but for my part, I didn’t listen to him for a year. Then there was a period of about 3-4 months where I took notes and the notes, together with my friend, finally made it come together – it’s a weird thing the mind does … you get so used to making excuses and sure, if someone did these things once in a very RARE while, then the excuses are plausible, but separated by 48 hrs to 5 days, over and over, relentlessly without break … you start to understand that you are making excuses.

      I also realized what was happening in our marriage counseling where my wife constantly demanded that I “take responsibility”, which I always thought I was doing. Whenever I would be beaten into agreeing that I had “been bad”, the counselors (plural here) all would sort of shrug their shoulders, dismiss it and move on, like they totally saw through her B.S., but were they were too polite to come right out and say so, or else, more likely: they knew that if they said so outright in her presence, then she would reject them as counselors.

      • Nina
        April 28, 2010 at 2:29 am

        Thanks, D, for saying a little more. A friend of mine began confiding in me about his marriage and after about two years of hearing periodically about issues in his marriage it started dawning on me that what he was describing was not just normal marital issues. It took me about another year to get the courage to say that I thought he was describing an abusive relationship, that I thought his wife was abusive to him, to their children. After talking about these issues that seemed like more than just the normal problems couples have, and after saying I thought he was in an abusive relationship, he now seems to minimize what happens, excuses it, explains why he is in the wrong. About the most he seems to be able to say is that she is difficult or maybe that she bullies, or that other than her anger, she is a good mother. It’s been very perplexing to me to be a witness to this process, of this person wanting to seem to talk to someone about what goes on and then his denial that what he is describing is abusive, toward him and toward their children. I suspect a factor is what you’d described in your post, that there was, for you, a lot of fear, realizing how much the system is stacked against you, in terms of being able to have custody of your own child. As I am not a psychiatrist, or even in any area of the mental health field, it’s been a real puzzle to me, why someone will in effect ask for help and then kind of refuse it, by trusting someone enough to confide about the problems and then distancing himself when he finally has someone who says, yes, I think you’re in a bad situation.

        Anyway, thanks, D, as your comments were helpful in making me understand a little better.

        • D
          April 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm

          Nina, I wish you the best with your friend. Sadly your story isn’t surprising at all to me. Sometimes the battle ahead is just too horrible to contemplate so we waffle and wane anyway we can until there is absolutely no other choice than to engage or be driven over. I think that’s often human nature. Your friend probably simultaneously intuits his need for help and is unprepared yet to face the uphill and treacherous battle ahead, there’s really nothing contradictory about it.
          Sadly too, I am forced to add that the fears men have about this are rational. The court system is if anything worse than our worst fears, we just don’t have the time or imagination to contemplate how truly bad it is, until faced with it.

          • Chris
            April 29, 2010 at 5:06 pm

            You’re right on, D. The system is critically flawed. My wife took my son to her parent’s house on the day she left, and I didn’t see him for almost 2 weeks. Now, I see him very very little – one day per week, and every other weekend. Every other week, I don’t see him AT ALL, for the entire 7 days. I filed for custody waaaay back in February, and we haven’t even begun our evaluations yet – oh yeah, custody eval costs $8000 alone. I’ve spent well over $10k already just fighting against her frivilous nonsense and daily drama… and trying to see my son. It should never take this long, or cost so much, just to see your own child.. especially when the person in control is CRAZY, and willfully withholding someone’s child from them.

  2. Bob194
    April 27, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Question: Before getting to this step, is it EVER possible–and if so HOW?–to actually tell your wife that she suffers from Borderline (or some less perjorative term like say PTSD), PROVE to her somehow that her reality has been distorted, have her ACKNOWLEDGE that truth, and then TRULY, TRULY, make the effor to change–even if it is just for herself and her own mental health?

    I know (or at least I think I know) that if I TRULY suffered from some mental or other illness that was harming myself and my relationships, I would want to know about it, from someone I trust, so I could SEE it clearly and make changes.

    I know for a fact that this kind of enlightenment of another person–particularly in this case–is quite unlikely–STILL–are there ANY circumstances that will increase the odds so that this COULD POSSIBLY happen–thereby helping yourself and the other person? It’s like you’d want to tell someone you cared about if you saw they had a tumor growing in a place they could not see it right?

    • shrink4men
      April 27, 2010 at 5:55 pm

      And therein lies the problem with Cluster B personality disordered individuals and other abusive bullies. They rarely see themselves as responsible for their own problems and misery. It’s always somebody else’s fault. On rare occasions, you can bring them around to some semblance of awareness and personal accountability and then the moment of lucidity vanishes as quickly as it appears and you’re back at square one.

      These individuals rarely seek treatment unless they’re forced to by law or are threatened with the loss of the relationship. Even then, there’s no guarantee treatment will be effective. In order to get better, they have to learn empathy and how to hold themselves accountable. Think “Mission Impossible.”

      Even the self-professed “recovering Borderlines” who sometimes surface on this site still blame others for their problems and bleat, “I didn’t ask to be this way!” No they didn’t, but their loved ones didn’t asked to be treated to a daily ration of shit from them either. They may not have asked to “be this way,” but their actions as adults are entirely their responsibility. Instead, they’re like perennial 5-year olds in adult bodies whose definition of accountability is, “Yes, I behaved in a hurtful way, BUT I thought I was being rejected or ignored or cheated on, etc., etc.,” as if that excuses their hurtful and deplorable behaviors. That’s not holding oneself accountable, but it’s about as close as most of them can get.

      Best,
      Dr Tara

      • Lighthouse
        April 28, 2010 at 3:03 am

        My experience firmly supports Dr.T’s hypothesis.

        It took me years to realize that the strength of my ex’s emotions not only distorted her experience of ‘reality’ through her distorted perspective, but also actually distorted her ‘memory’ of the facts upon which they were based !

        It meant that if I couldn’t capture events in her own writing or on tape or film then she would deny the facts.

        If you overtly tried, out came Ms. Nice. If you covertly tried and dare refer to it, out came Ms. Rage. Catch-22.

        It was a stunning realization…

        There is no possible mutually agreeable basis upon which to collaborate with someone who denies all responsibility.

        NONE.

        So Bob194 knock yourself out trying, but how’s it working out for you so far ?

        ;-)

        Lighthouse

        • Chris
          May 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm

          This is so true. I got into an argument with my GF concerning some cold hard facts about what she said to me in a text message on a certain date. She tried to convince me that I was wrong even though I was showing her the text with the timestamp. She just refused to look at it and just kept talking louder and louder as if muffling the sound of my voice changes the facts. The ability of these women to deny anything and everything is downright scary.

      • Chris
        April 29, 2010 at 4:59 pm

        Couldn’t be more true. When my ex was faced with the end of our marriage, instead of taking one, small shred of responsibility and doing something to change the course of things, she actually became more vigilant in her craziness and alienation of my family, and pushed it over the edge… and now blames me, of course.

        You CANNOT change these people, or convince them of any other viewpoint. They are right, everybody else is wrong, no matter what, 100% of the time. The faster people who are involved with these crazies come to terms with that, the better off they’ll be. TRUST US, BOB!!

      • Joe
        May 9, 2010 at 2:42 am

        I am pretty sure that my wife has BPD. She has nearly all of the symptoms that are attributed to BPD. The majority of the time, she can be a really nice person, but other times she uses either guilt or threats to coerce feelings from me. The relationship started years ago. After one date, she decided I was the “one”. This was followed by constant phone calls and stalking. Somehow or another, we were married eight years later. I still can’t figure out how this happened, and for nearly 13 years, we have been married. I have finally woken up to the fact that the guilt and threat cycle is all that sustains the relationship. I am the kind of person who hates to hurt another, even when it hurts me.
        We have just been through our first meeting with a marriage counselor. She was the one who sought this out. From her comments, I think she realizes that something is not right with her. So…is it not the right thing to try to help her get better? If I leave her, and I very much would like to get away from her control, would I not look like the selfish, bad guy? If I am a compassionate person, shouldn’t I being doing all I can to help her, regardless if I want to stay married to her?

        • Mellaril
          May 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm

          It’s great you want to try and make your marriage work. Continue to read the other blogs on the site and some of the forums. If you continue counselling, it should become apparent pretty quickly if the therapist is objective or your wife has found an ally with credentials she can use to tag-team you.

          I also recommend you read “Breaking the Deadlock of Martital Collusion” and “Connection, Disruption, and Repair, Treating the Effects of Attachment Trauma on Intimate Relationships” both by Marion Solomon. They are directed at clinicians. If you think they fit, the articles can give you some idea of how the cousellor might approach your situation.

          Good luck!

    • D
      April 27, 2010 at 10:47 pm

      Speaking strictly for my own case – my stbx (as all of these in the personality type we’re talking about) was always a pro at equalizing, i.e.: finding some way that I was just as bad as her such as and so as to nullify all of her bad behaviors. But at some point I realized: this is just abuse, and there is no excuse, it is just abuse and there’s no equalizing it or excusing it or dismissing it, it is abuse, bullying, and it has to end and there is nothing I have to do to earn the end of the abuse, nor is there anything that I do that deserves the abuse or equalizes it.
      After I figured that out, it was only a matter of time before she sensed it. Again, looking back, I can see her detecting how the old standbys weren’t working on me. After that she went into about a month-long tailspin where she didn’t know what to do and was back and forth and everywhere else on where she wanted to be with the relationship, and then she resolved it and figured out that she didn’t want anything to do with the relationship anymore.
      And on reflection – it’s not surprising, because everything was always (and remains) about power. Counseling, support groups, recovery, etc … it’s all about power and when she realized she lost power in counseling … new counselor. When she realized she lost power in the relationship … no more relationship.

      There are a lot of ways a person can probably make this complicated for him or herself, but the anchor I think we have to stick to is that abuse is abuse, there is no excusing it and no transaction required to end it (thank you Dr. T!), and we owe absolutely nothing to abusers, not even an explanation. They WANT you to argue with them, in their minds that equalizes it. No argument – you can state that it’s abuse and walk away, or just walk away, or just smile, or whatever, but you owe them nothing.

      • Karen
        May 1, 2010 at 7:52 pm

        Thank you for such a great post. I’m reading this one more than once.

    • Chris
      May 1, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      Man oh man you’re about to step on a bee’s nest. Telling a Cluster B that she is disordered is not going to get you anywhere. She’s going to turn it around on you and claim you’re disordered. After that every argument will turn into how you’re the one who has a problem. After you break up it will be because of YOUR disorder. It’s called projection and once they have a name for their brand of crazy they’ll try to make you own it.

  3. April 27, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    All of this is so accurate. The smear campaign my ex delivered included a website claiming she was a domestic abuse survivor. The fact that I was working on my Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, serving on a domestic violence board, and raising money for the Divorce Proof America campaign had little merit. When she could not find enough people in the church to support her false claims, she attacked the church itself for not supporting the needs of domestic violence victims. It’s unfortunate that society does not hold these women more accountable so they have a chance to experience the impact of their actions and have a chance to change.

  4. Gooberzzz
    April 27, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I am really glad I never married one these women. I have witnessed these types first hand. It has been bad enough having family and a few friends like this.

    The “smear campaigns” are horrendous. It’s amazing how quickly they are willing to completely and systematically obliterate your character and alienate you from people that would of otherwise been there to help and stand by you. It creates so much divisiveness among families, the workplace and in other relationships.

    Thank you for another great article. I hope the educated awareness you are offering forces these types in our culture to seek help, or at minimum go live in a cabin deep in the woods.

  5. IamClueless
    April 27, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Dr. Tara,

    I have been trying to gather the strength to leave. In the year and a half since, i have lost all my friends, loss contact with my family, and have been in financial ruin. I walk on land mines everyday of my life. To illustrate her behavior she treatened to leave because my family did not say “Hi” to her when she walked by. “And she says she’s not the crazy one” she says. I feel obligated somehow to help her since she has only been here in the U.S. for two years.

    I do not have any children with her so that is definitely a plus. I too have read every article and I am trying to muster up the strenth to leave and not turn back. I have no support system left and being alone is what drives me insane. I know the right thing to do is leave but what if its worst. My uncle told be its better to be alone than under that kind of stress. Where nothing is good enough.

    I have spent countless hours and sleepless nights finding her a job, buying her a brand new car, paying for insurance after a wreck. There are so many times that she worn down by buttons to the circuits and trying to remain calm. cool, and collective seems like a ever daunting task. Please help!

    • Bob194
      April 27, 2010 at 5:58 pm

      I am in the same boat, but the greatest help I’ve been getting for many, many months are my dreams–they are incredible. But I am usually to fearful to follow their instructions. Here’s the most recent amazing one. I am sitting with two older, kind men, in a warm den like atmosphere with a fireplace, one smiles kindly to me and says, “you need to be like Phillipe Petit”.

      That stumped me–as these dreams sometimes do initially-but then I realized what he was telling me was not to think of all the things I’d have to go through to get from “here to there”–all the potential scary things that could happen and barriers. Just put the gaze on the other side, clear your mind, and do it–the way that Petit must have navigated across the two towers back in the 1970s…

      I am continually amazed at the origin of these dreams–things I could never have thought up “myself” while awake…I am thankful for them, but feel I am disapointing the force often that is providing these for my benefit.

    • jp
      April 28, 2010 at 2:49 am

      IamClueless,

      You have no kids? So what’s holding you back…guilt? fear of the unknown? her reaction? finances?

      If you don’t have kids, you don’t really have much to lose except maybe some property/savings, etc., but you can always get back on your feet financially.

      You don’t have to figure everything out…just leave. Stay at a friends, or with family, or just secretly find an inexpensive apartment and one day when she’s at work, grab your stuff and go there…leave her a note that says, “I’m leaving you”.

      Two years is a short term marriage….I don’t see how you owe her anything, and she shouldn’t be able to get alimony.

      As for her moving from another country? So what. She’s an adult. She made a choice to move and knew the risks. If she’s horrible to you, then she’s the one who’s broken faith, not you. Women aren’t as helpless as you think or as she may be acting, and even is she is, that’s her problem. If you conscience is killing you, leave her enough for an airplane ticket back to where she came from.

      Guys, Doc, am I missing something here?

      JP

      • jp
        April 28, 2010 at 3:17 am

        IamClueless,

        I just reread your post and saw this:

        “I have no support system left and being alone is what drives me insane.”

        Think about that statement. You have indentified the source of her power over you: your fear of abandonment.

        You need to confront this head on, otherwise you will always be at risk of being enslaved to this woman or another one like her.

        JP

    • Rob
      May 1, 2010 at 3:33 am

      Dear IamClueless,

      I lost contact with my family, too. My ex-wife during the marriage not only started doing a parental alienation job on our baby against me, she managed to alienate me from my own parents! I was afraid to talk with them any more because of the hell she would unleash over any contact that she did not control, especially if it did not greatly benefit her.

      I wrote an article Parental Alienation Can Happen to Adults and In Marriages based in part on my own experience that might be useful to you. Part of rebuilding your support system and rejoining your family is helping them to understand what has happened to you. Many people know absolutely nothing about parental alienation, distortion campaigns, and other behaviors that are common for people like your wife.

      I’d suggest you try to rebuild your support network, starting with your family. You will need these people to get through a divorce with a psychologically abusive spouse like you’ve described.

      You’re also more likely than not going to need help from a mental health professional yourself. You’ll need to find somebody knowledgable about personality disorders and high-conflict divorces, so be prepared to do some looking. It’s best to do this BEFORE the divorce starts so you have a trusted person to help you deal with the horrible things that are likely to occur that may overwhelm your friends and family.

      You need this help not because you’re crazy, but because you are abused and have been conditioned both to accept it and to alter what would have been normal behaviors to try to avoid triggering more abuse. That’s part of why people have trouble maintaining limits with psychological abusers like your wife.

      Furthermore, you are at high risk for getting entangled into another such relationship. You’ll need to work on restoring your self-esteem, connections with family and friends, and learning the early warning signs for people like your wife to help you avoid getting trapped into another such relationship.

      Whatever you do, DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN with her! The introduction of kids into such a relationship tends to aggravate an already bad situation. For starters, a lot of the people who suffer from axis II cluster B personality disorders and are abusive are this way in part because they were abused themselves. When they have kids, it is like the memories of the abuse come alive again. These people have trouble discerning reality from their delusions, so they will start to think you are abusive and that you will abuse the kids. It’s only a matter of time before many of them report you for child and spousal abuse, get a TRO kick-out order on you, and do what they can to have you both enslaved and jailed. They think they are somehow protecting their kids and getting what’s due to them and cannot comprehend they are the abusers.

      Disturbingly, a lot of people will agree with them and support them, even going so far as to actively attack you on her behalf. That’s why distortion campaigns are such a nightmare, in my opinion far worse than physical abuse. Bruises and cuts will heal in a few weeks, destruction of your mental health, financial security, career, reputation, and relationships with your friends and family can take years to fix and may never recover to what they were prior to a distortion campaign.

      Keep reading Dr. Palmitier’s website. I continue to be impressed by her writing, insights, and the community of people she has created who are helping each other to deal with such difficult experiences.

  6. Chris
    April 27, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    It’s mind-blowing how right on this stuff is. Dr. Tara, you are BRILLIANT in the way you describe these people. I am in the eye of the divorce storm right now. My wife left on December 31st… and not like it wasn’t hell before then, but it’s been a living nightmare ever since. I had asked my wife for a divorce in August, but she pleaded. Things got progressively worse until December. She also got pregnant in October and is now claiming that I knew she was trying to get pregnant. Actually, I was planning on divorcing her. She found books about divorce and “how to help children through divorce” in my work bag, and found rent.com stuff in my email when she started going through my stuff regularly. She panicked, and got pregnant. Since December 31st:

    – I go for entire weeks without seeing my son. I filed for custody but it takes forever. I filed in February, but this will likely not be settled for months still. She is fighting it to the max and my parents have already given me over $10k just to fight for my own child.

    – I am in constant contact with my lawyer because my ex harasses me when I DO have my son, stalking my house, texting and calling non-stop. Her an her BPD mother stake out my home and have confronted me/made scenes at my son’s daycare.

    – Came home from work to an empty house one day, on a day I actually was allowed to have my son. She took all of my son’s clothes, hats, shoes, coats, gloves, etc… he was left with nothing at my house, and it was the middle of winter.

    – Took our jointly-owned SUV and left me with her piece of crap car that she wrecked three times. It broke down, so I bought a car for myself – I have two jobs to get to. She proceeded to let the car get repossessed and bought a car for herself… she’s living with her parents, and said she let it get repo’d because “she’s not the one who has to go get an apartment.”

    – Filed taxes behind my back and stuck me with a $2100 tax bill

    – Is now making up lies about following me to women’s homes when I have my son and “making out” with said women in front of my son, which is a total, 100% fabrication.

    – Deliberately tries to mislead me about my son’s medications when I have him, hoping that I screw something up. Also refuses to update me on his medical issues -I found out from our realtor one Saturday afternoon that my son had an ear infection/ruptured eardrum.

    – Will not allow me to be a part of the pregnancy/birth of new baby

    – Has posted obscene and malicious things about me on her Facebook page

    This is just the big stuff. You’ll get bombarded every day with something new – emails, texts, calls of all sorts.

    If you find yourself trying to divorce one of these people, trust me and most of all trust Dr. Tara – what she says is TRUTH. Your lady WILL use everything at her disposal to destroy you. I promise you. She will lie, cheat and steal if she has to, just to ruin your life. My wife knows what my son means to me, and has used him as a weapon against me from DAY ONE. They will stop at nothing.

    BE CAREFUL!! Have all your ducks in a row before you move ahead with a divorce, and prepare for the biggest shitstorm you can imagine. The better prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to defend yourself.

    One more thing – despite all the bullshit – in many ways, I’ve never felt better in all my life. SAVE YOURSELF. It’s worth it.

    • Happy Now
      April 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm

      Hi Chris, I know what you mean about the slanderous comments after you split. I had that both prior to and after I threw my stbxw out of the house.

      Her current project is to keep posting on various sites – these comments usually include my full name and she usually accuses me of ‘having numerous affairs with both men and women behind her back, because I am bisexual’. I have now restrained myself from responding as she knows I am NOT bisexual and nevr had an affair (this is mere projection) and is obviously doing it to gain a response or to affect my current relationship.

      She will accomplish neither – because, now I am in control!!!!!!

      And, anyway, given another relationship with her or turning gay…..I know what I would do!

      • Chris
        April 29, 2010 at 4:53 pm

        Holy freaking s**t! Mine says the same thing!! I’m gay now! I filed for divorce… but she says the marriage is ending because I’m abusive and gay. Wow. I just tell her, “Yeah, you probably wish I was gay, then you wouldn’t have to take any responsibility for this at all.”

        Happy Now is the perfect moniker. I’m sure you know… despite all they put us through during the divorce/custody battle, nothing is worse than a lifetime of being married to them.

        Congrats for breaking free.

        • Chris
          May 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm

          Cluster B’s love to emasculate you. If you are too tired or pissed off to have sex then you’re “not a man” and apparently if you want to divorce the witch you’re “gay”. They’ll chastise you as a wimp for being calm, caring, and compromising, while accusing you of abusing them at the same time. It’s truly unbelievable.

    • Ed
      April 17, 2014 at 12:42 am

      Dear Chris:

      Are you still around? I am have two very young children and am married to a BPD wife I know will do all the things you describe and has in fact already described some of the things she will do if we divorce. Any specifics on how exactly to get your ducks in a row and best prepare? It would be so helpful to me and I am sure others facing what you have been through.

  7. D
    April 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    I am (hopefully) looking at the end of my divorce. Glen’s description of his situation parallels mine so much as to be disturbing, only my children are somewhat older.

    It was May, 2009, when I finally came to grips with the fact that I was in an abusive relationship and even then I was still wrapping my mind around it.

    In retrospect, looking back, and especially now having endured so much of the divorce process, I think that there were two things that were particularly terrifying once a man realizes he’s in an abusive relationship: (1) he knows that the right thing to do is not to stay, but to get out, but (2) he knows that everything is stacked against taking his kids with him – the entire system is designed to keep the kids with the abuser.

    It is the opposition of these two facts that is so frightening and maddening: you must leave, but everything will fight to prevent you from leaving with the kids.

    But – in my case I did some of the things Dr. T recommended intuitively – I started keeping a diary and “planning the Normandy invasion”. I spoke with family counselors and attorneys. I fired one attorney when it was clear she didn’t get it.

    I found an attorney who counseled me to record everything, and I did.

    This is harder than you think. Technical failure is rampant. I went through four digital audio recorders. You drop them, they just quit working, etc. Sometimes the batteries pop out in your pocket, or the “off” button is pressed. You have to be 150% diligent with them in order to capture 1/3 of the insanity that she’ll put you through. You can at least take solace that she won’t ever quite giving you new material though – so even if you didn’t capture a critical and typical incident, … just be diligent to get it next time, next time is probably no more than 48 hours away.

    Oh – here’s another tip that will save you SO much difficulty: when you download your digital files to a hard drive, ALWAYS keep a notes file indicating the “important content” that occured with the set of files you are downloading.

    Dr. T’s words of advise about attorneys are critical too. There are so many ways to go wrong there. I basically got lucky, and that’s scary. In truth it wasn’t total luck – someone important knew my story, knew what was at stake, and gave me a tip, but if I didn’t know that person to get the tip …

    That might be something that a site like this could help with. I would be happy to add my “recommends” and “dis-recommends” on attorneys to a database for men seeking competent and understanding representation.

  8. Christian K
    April 27, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Oh man…this website has been a cornerstone for me! It amazes me what I tolerated for 2 years before the final bomb dropped! I stood by this woman through more verbal and emotional abuse, more black and white thought, and more temper tantrums than anyone should ever be subjected to. For what?? In the name of love? I feel for the next man that she gets a hold of. Oh and gentlemen…after the breakup/divorce begins, thats when the REAL hell starts. A smear campaign of epidemic proportion. I never knew I was such an abusive, horrible individual until I heard what she was telling everyone. Don’t think anything you would keep private won’t be on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, verbalized to everyone you and her know, and it will be one sided. Consider it part of cutting your losses and after all is said and done……RUN!!!!!!! Whew…I’m finally feeling like myself again. What an amazing feeling to be free. And don’t think they will ever change. Sure, even my ex made some changes here and there but they were more tangents to her core personality’s manifestations. What you endured…the next set of victim’s will endure. If you have any doubts allow me to quell them….what you’re going through will NOT stop, ever!! Thanks for the website. It was hard to realize that despite my ex-BPs best efforts the best it would ever get would be “tolerable”

  9. mike
    April 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

    saved this one also…i was thinking of “her” today and was talking to the person who suggested maybe i should consider getting out, and thats my sister..we both are forgiving people and today we both somehow brought “her” up and how we did miss her………………and a moment later…………………………i ran the many posts i read here and matched them to my true experience and reality said NOT!!! so timely
    indeed! mike

  10. Sunshine
    April 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Wow…I can’t stop reading this site! I hope to be there for my friend who has an abusive wife and two children and just now trying to figure it out in his life. My fear is that he won’t end the cycle. It’s such a helpless feeling to watch someone you care about go through this…

    • shrink4men
      April 27, 2010 at 3:47 pm

      It’s very hard to watch someone you love go through this. All you can really do is be there to help him through once the light switch is completely turned on.

      Best,
      Dr T

  11. Richard
    April 27, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Thanks Dr. T, this article is VERY timely, you saved me from making a HUGE mistake.

    Clearly a concept like “Collaborative Law” is out of the question when BPD is involved.

    • shrink4men
      April 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm

      Hi Richard,

      Well, never say never, but if you wife hasn’t been collaborative during the marriage, what are the odds that she’ll be collaborative during the divorce?

      If she were capable of being collaborative, fair-minded and kind you wouldn’t have reached this point in your marriage. Abusive bullies don’t compromise. They view fair compromise as weak. If you offer her a generous deal right off the bat, she’ll see you as a sucker and take it as a greenlight to press for more. Trying to be reasonable and fair with these women usually comes back to bite you in the ass.

      Know your bottom line and stick to it. Make her work for every nickle she tries to take from you. It’s a bit like trying to wear out an out of control, behavior disordered dog. Also, you might want to wait for her and her attorney to make the first settlement offer. Many of these women have a hard time articulating exactly what they want. Well, essentially, they want everything. I think many of them hesitate to make their demands because they worry that if you agree to it, they could have asked for more.

      You may want to wait and see what outrageous demands she and her attorney make and then negotiate down from there. If you make the first offer, they will probably try to negotiate up, up and up.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

      • Shobu
        April 27, 2010 at 7:48 pm

        I totally agree with this doc; I am
        currently about to finish a long drawn out legal war with my STBX, and she has not responded to any settlement offers from my attorney, not to mention, when asked in an email as to what she really wanted in a settlement (when she was claiming she was interested in settling) she replied “I really have no idea what I want”. Endquote. This was followed by an email saying how unreasonable the settlement we
        offered was, even though it was extremely generous in an effort to settle the case and save an rapidly mounting attorneys fees. They (her or her attorney) have not put forth a single reply or serious offer to settle in the last year, although they have been very willing to pull me into court for the littlest thing and have claimed in the same breath that I am dragging it out and “abusing the system”.
        Doc, you’ve been absolutely 100% correct on all this. Guys (and ladies) in these situations, obey the no-contact rule, don’t tell mutual friends about any of your plans, get an attorney with experience with people like this and has experience in trials, and don’t bother offering to settle, since these individuals will interpret this a weakness and in my experience will use this as a reason to drag this out further. Just realize
        you will get through this and there will be an end no matter what they try. They do look at all of this as a macabre win/loss, black/white scenario, but your best “revenge” is a life well lived, and if you end up with someone that treats you like the human being you are with the love you deserve, then so much so the better. (although being single and happy again is the same result; you can and will be free and happy once you are out. I can totally attest to that.)

        • FreedomFinally
          June 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm

          Great reply Shobu, my issue is the reverse, she is pushing me to settle, but is witholding important documentation regarding the $1m + in Cash she signed over to her mother over the course of two years.
          So when she asks “what do you want”, I literally have no idea…I really don’t want anything…I just want my kids.

  12. XFiles
    April 27, 2010 at 3:29 am

    How I wish my husband had this information available to him during his divorce from his ex from hell. His abusive ex dragged out everything but the kitchen sink to clobber him with – and she was the one who actually left! I cannot imagine what she would have done if he had been the one to leave her first.

  13. Happy Now
    April 27, 2010 at 12:37 am

    oops sorry – enlightening

  14. Happy Now
    April 27, 2010 at 12:36 am

    As with all the others here – I fully agree with Dr T.
    These women are absolute experts at not only the abuse – but also showing the outside world they are so lovely and we are the vindictive bast$%ds.

    You also need to assume you will be painted as the abuser – thats the way they operate. The friends and family members that know you will all know the truth, so screw everyone else. As I stated in an earlier post – my ex-abusive was actually arrested, charged and found guilty of asssault…but even then she portrayed me as the abuser…..with her friends and family supporting her as the victim.

    Coming out the other end is soooooooooo unlightening. The feeling of freedom and the ability to find someone who doesnt make you feel low and anxious is the pay-off.

  15. April 27, 2010 at 12:25 am

    “Your assets and shared children become her war trophies.”

    That is one thing my husband and I are dealing with now. Everything is a winner-take-all to-hell-with-the-underdog attitude and it doesn’t matter if the kids are caught in the middle.

    Thank you for another enlightening article.

    Glen, I hope everything works out ok for you. Nobody deserves to be treated like that. I think I would have called the cops when she trashed the computer. At least that way, her rage issues are documented for the judge in the long-run. Document, document, document…

  16. April 27, 2010 at 12:18 am

    I’m telling you that this is some of the scariest stuff I have read. It;s like hearing about a saboteur in your household. What;s worse is that a lot of people don’t even recognise there are women like this.

  17. jp
    April 26, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Glen, I second everything the Doc says.

    I would add that a big step you have to take is a mental one. Once you decide the divorce is what you want, you need to train your mind to think of her only as an adversary. As angry as you are with her, it can be difficult to do this. You probably have good memories as well. You’re probably a compassionate guy by nature. And at some level you may still have moments when you care about her, or wish you cold ‘fix’ her or the relationship.

    You need to stop yourself from sentimentalizing her or the past. You need to prepare yourself for her tears, which she will surely deploy during the divorce when she finds her bullying, shaming, etc., don’t work. In a sense you need to dehumanize her, which I imagine you’re reluctant to do if for no other reason than you know how it feels to be treated that way. But you need to do it anyway.

    She is not your friend, not your ally, not your co-parent (believe me…she’ll have no interest in co-parenting in any meaningful sense of the word…read up on so called ‘parallel parenting’ to get an idea of what parenting will be like).

    After the divorce she will not come to understand your need to have left, or eventually warm up to you or recognize your essential worth once the “dust has settled”. So don’t bother acting in a way you think might help you be ‘friends’ later.

    She’s the enemy. She stands between you and your children, your property, your dignity, and your health.

    Do your homework and prepare, prepare, prepare. If you do it right you’ll haver her off-balance and on the defensive from the day she’s served her divorce papers.

    Good luck,
    JP

    • April 27, 2010 at 12:27 am

      yes – my husband does Parallel parenting. There was a mental war he had to wage within himself before it was effective – like not replying to every email immediately and communicating only via email so it’s all in writing. Women like this become vindictive – not more understanding – once they have lost their object of control.

  18. Verbal
    April 26, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    That’s an excellent point about “trying to get him to hit you.” A few months ago my NPDw flew into a rage as I was lying on the floor watching TV. She came over and started kicking me repeatedly in the ribs. I finally had enough. I pushed her away from me, she plopped down on the couch, I stood up, and she said (direct quote), “Go ahead. Hit me. Hit me.”

    These women will absolutely try to drag you down to their level. I guess they must get lonely lying by themselves in a filthy gutter. Bringing you down with them just makes them feel all the much better about themselves.

    Also, in their binary world, they have no sense of scale or frequency. They can be verbally and physically abusive to you for years, calling you the worst names in the book thousands of times over. But if you slip up even once, in their minds your behavior is equally bad. Her rationale is, “I only lash out when I’m provoked, and he is exactly the same way.”

    Be very careful out there. Very careful.

  19. GFtotheBF
    April 26, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Biased in favor of women and mothers is what I meant to say in my earlier post…

    • Anthony
      May 4, 2010 at 3:29 am

      Dr. T – Thank you as always for the kind words and congratulating me on my schooling endeavor. It was tough, but I made it through. When you say, “that the individual doesn’t get a more serious diagnosis in their medical records.” What does that mean? Are there therapists that actually do this…for what, and whom? Does this type of practice really help anyone? (It’s very confusing). You would think that therapists should have an obligation and enough experience to see through the lies and call a “spade-a-spade” so to speak, or maybe it’s because they feel that the true diagnosis/label will stigmatize them before they even get started and drive them out of therapy without reimbursement. Then again, BP/NP can be great at hiding themselves from the truth. You know what really baffles me. They spend more time and negative energy running from it rather than accepting it and doing something about it. If I was diagnosed with BP/NP and saw how my life was always in shambles including the ones I care about, I would at best listen and learn to what people are trying to tell me so I can have a happier less destructive life; including everyone that I come in contact with. I just don’t get it. I find one word to describe it all, “incorrigible.” As mentioned, I really think there are way too many bad therapists out there that do not help the situation at all. Then again, it is the responsibility of the abuser to change themselves, for themselves.

      Keep up the great work!

      Sincerely,

      Anthony

  20. GFtotheBF
    April 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Glen,

    Please follow Dr. Tara’s advice to the letter – she is right about each point and it is not worth the risk to do this half assed or to try to be the nice guy.

    Unfortunately, the man I’m seeing made some crucial mistakes – many of which Dr. Tara mentioned above – because he wanted to do the “right” thing and expected her to do the same if for no other reason than to effectively co-parent their 7 year old daughter. The story is way too long to share here, but I can sum it up by saying that the less your wife knows, the better chance you have of staying out of jail, continuing to be a father to your baby and saving your career. My boyfriend had no criminal record, an amazing reputation in our community for being the go-to guy anytime you needed help, his students (he’s a teacher) and his colleagues respected him. And because of his ex-wife’s rage over him moving forward with the divorce and his life, her need to always be right and win at any cost, he’s suffered dearly.

    I am speaking from experience that this is no joke. Do the most and best you can to prepare yourself. The legal system is extremely biased towards women and mothers even in 2010 – nice guys get caught up in it before they know what’s happening. It takes one phone call to the police when your wife is pissed and your whole life changes.

    I wish you the very best of luck and so glad you found Dr. Tara’s site – her commentary has been super helpful to both me and my boyfriend.

    • shrink4men
      April 27, 2010 at 3:43 am

      Thanks, GFtotheBF. I wish all men would read this information—especially before they get married. I appreciate your kind feedback.

      Best wishes to both you and the BF.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

      • Anthony
        May 3, 2010 at 3:07 pm

        Hi Dr. T – How have you been? FYI, I finally finished school 2-weeks ago! Now I need a job:) I have some more information for you and your website. I received a text message the other day from my ex BP/NP. She now claims that she went to a therapist who is a “true” professional and does DBT. The therapist claims that she does not have BP/NP, but has an Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct. (CPT 309.4) Do you know anything about this? Does it tie into anything? Lord knows I doubt that she was being honest with the therapist anyway, but I do know that some therapists do this for insurance purposes. After reading your recent post about divorce from these women, I feel all their pain. Hey, I was kinda in the same situation too. I know from my experience that they will use any excuse for their behavior so they can pass it on to someone else. Judges should have a Law Degree and be a shrink at the same time so they can see through their evil ways of thinking and deception.

        Let me know what you think about my new findings…

        Still reading and inspiring to your website. God Blesses people like you!

        To everyone that is going through their pain with these women, keep your faith. God always knows the truth and well make things right! You just can’t see it now.

        Sincerely,

        Anthony

        • shrink4men
          May 3, 2010 at 6:37 pm

          Hi Anthony,

          Congratulations on finishing your school program! It’s good to hear from you.

          Psychologists typically diagnose “adjustment disorder or “V codes” for insurance purposes. Adjustment disorders are temporary. For example, you lose your job and you become depressed. It’s termed as an adjustment disorder so insurance companies will pay for 6-10 sessions and so that the individual doesn’t get a more serious diagnosis in their medical records. It would be my guess that this is why your ex ended up with a diagnostic category of “Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct,” which by the way, is absolutely hilarious.

          “Mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct” is a pretty good description of BPD—very resourceful shrink your ex found. The problem is that an adjustment disorder is only lasts between 3-6 months from the onset of the stressor and often passes by without most people having to see a therapist. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your ex has been behaving in abusive ways for more than 3-6 months, has she not?

          BPD, Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct, poor character, po-ta-to, po-tah-to. It doesn’t matter what the official label is; abuse is abuse and I suspect nothing will ever really change with her.

          Congrats again for finishing school! That’s the real news and not some shrink your ex has conned or who is just mollifying her. Focus on the positive and keep moving forward!

          Best,
          Dr T

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