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What to Do When your Abusive Ex-Wife or Girlfriend Tries to Maintain Contact with your Family and Friends After the Break-Up or Divorce


So you finally had the courage to end your marriage or relationship, are moving on with your life and discover that your abusive ex is now trying to maintain or strengthen her relationship with your family of origin after years of trashing them and trying to cut them out of your life. Why?

When you’re in a significant relationship your social and family circles grow to include your partner’s friends and family. Some of her friends become your friends. Some of your friends become her friends and you both, hopefully, develop relationships with each others’ families. What happens when you break-up or divorce? Who gets custody of friends and family members?

The Best of Circumstances

When a relationship dissolves between two healthy adults, especially if they’ve been together for a considerable length of time and/or share children, the separation can be just as difficult for family and friends. Psychologically mature individuals don’t take sides or get in the middle and understand that the nature of their former relationships with the ex will change. The couple and the people who have been in relationships with the couple all experience a sense of loss and go through a kind of grieving process.

The Worst of Circumstances

When one member of the couple is dysfunctional, abusive and/or has a personality disorder, friends and family become just another mechanism by which to control and hurt the non-abusive/non-disordered partner. Abusive women often view friends and family (including their own children) as war trophies, human shields and weapons during and after a break-up or divorce.

The irony is that most abusive women try to isolate their partners from family and friends during the relationship. This kind of woman does this in order to consolidate her power and control over you and to suck up every ounce of your attention. She deeply resents her in-laws and your friends. If she’s not overtly rude and disrespectful to their faces, she’ll put on a sweet face in their presence and gun them down behind their backs.

After the relationship ends, many of these women try to cozy up to the same people they spent years vilifying. This is extremely confusing for most men since their wives or girlfriends incessantly complained about and trashed their friends and family while together and created crazy drama whenever a visit, trip or family/friend event loomed on the horizon.

Here are some possible scenarios after ending a relationship with an abusive woman:

1. The relationship ends and she leaves your family and friends in peace. Although, she may make it difficult for your family to see your child(ren). If this is the case, count your blessings and find a good attorney to help you work out a fair custody arrangement.

2. She demonizes both you and your family. This is fine when you don’t share children. Let her spew her venom and stay as far away from her as possible and ask your family to do the same. However, if you share kid(s), this is highly destructive and understandably painful for you, your family and the child(ren). This is a case of blatant Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAS) and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), in which case you should find out your parental rights in your state and pursue swift and strong legal recourse.

3. The relationship ends and all of a sudden your ex spends more time with your family than she did when you were together. Why? It’s not as if some miracle occurred and she suddenly realized how wonderful your family is. She’s desperately trying to retain control over you by staying involved with your family. This kind of woman is especially likely to do this if you’ve begun a new relationship. She wants your family to like her more than you or your new love interest and/or she wants your family to take her side to show the world she’s “right” (whatever that means) and that you’re “wrong.”

She also does this to portray herself as the victim and you as the bad guy. She wants to try to turn your own family against you. She makes up egregious lies. Some of these women will even go so far as to claim you abused her and the children. For example, “He’s crazy. He’s changed. He’s having a mid-life crisis. You have no idea what I put up with all these years. How could he abandon the children and me?” The projections never stop.

I call it the Crocodile Tears and Sympathy Tour. It’s just more of her manipulative and controlling nonsense. She’s in a much better position to do this if there’s a child or children involved. She pretends she’s spending time with your family so they can see their niece/nephew/son/grandson all the while distorting the truth and playing upon your family’s sympathy. Bottom line: You should be the one who takes the kid(s) to visit your side of the family.

In a relatively healthy relationship/marriage, it’s natural to want to maintain relationships with people who became your family through your intimate relationship. A relationship with an abusive woman is not a normal relationship. It’s like a cancer you need to cut from your body, your psyche, your life and your family of origin. You shouldn’t try to maintain a “friendship” with her and neither should your family because it allows her to continue to hurt you. Keep contact to a minimum and make it brief, civil and business-like. Give your family links to this website if they have a difficult time understanding the situation.

Why Some Families Go Along with It

1. Fear. If kids are involved, your family is probably afraid they won’t get to see them if they explain to your ex that it’s not really appropriate to cry on their shoulders or accompany the children to family get-togethers. She needs to use her own family (if she’s on speaking terms with them) and friends (if she has any) for support or hire a professional with whom to spin her tale of woe and victimhood.

2. To be nice and get along with everyone. This is commendable, but it doesn’t allow all parties involved to grieve the end of the relationship/marriage and move on. It also allows her to continue her manipulations and abuse, which need to end.

3. Cluelessness. Your family has no idea what your ex was like behind closed doors. They think they’re being supportive of you by allowing your ex to cling onto them. They think they’re being “big-hearted” when, in reality, they’re allowing your ex to manipulate them and hurt you, their own family member.

4. Dysfunctionality. Well, you were probably attracted to your ex for a reason and it would seem that your family is it. In which case, you need to mourn your relationship with your family in addition to your significant relationship/marriage, so that you don’t make the same poor relationship choices in the future.  This may require that you put some emotional and/or physical distance between you and your family while you work through it and get some therapy.

What You Can Do About It

1. Tell your family exactly what’s going on. Educate your family. If you kept your mouth shut about the abuse you suffered out of misplaced loyalty, shame and embarrassment or because you wanted to “protect” the mother of your children you need to speak up now. If your family doesn’t know what happened behind closed doors, it will make your ex’s smear campaign more effective because the break-up will seem out of the blue when the reality is it was a long time coming.

Tell your family all the nasty things your ex said about them over the years. Explain how much she hurt you. Tell them about the abuse. Ask them to support you in this. You don’t want to badmouth her? Telling the truth isn’t badmouthing if it’s the truth. The best way to stop abuse is to bring it to light. Rest assured, your ex is badmouthing you to anyone who will listen. If you didn’t stand up to her during the course of your marriage you need to do so now. This type of individual’s behavior is wrong and destructive, so don’t sugarcoat it and don’t let her get away with it anymore. Those days are over.

2. Ask them to invite you and your child to family events; not your ex and the child(ren). Abusive borderlines, narcissists, histrionics, etc., don’t respect boundaries nor will they accept that the rules of common decency, consideration and civility apply to them. Therefore, you need to create the boundaries within your immediate and extended family. This kind of woman will continue to push everything to the max for as long you let her.

3. If your family won’t respect your boundaries and actually believes her nonsense, you need to disengage. It’s yet another painful letting go process to contend with, but it may be a necessary one. Furthermore, these women are like small children; the more they know a specific behavior is getting to you the more they do it. Therefore, try to let it roll off your back and focus on the things that make you happy and bring you fulfillment. Your abusive ex will probably escalate her desperate and pathetic attempts for attention and to screw you over, but if you resolve not to give her that satisfaction she’ll ultimately frustrate herself; not you.

Endings are painful, but the longer you allow her to play her  shenanigans with you and your family and friends, the longer it will take for you to heal from this relationship and move on. Additionally, if you starve her of these sources of attention, she’ll be forced to look elsewhere for it, i.e., her next victim.

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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Is Being a Stay-at-Home-Mom Fair to your Husband?


sacred-cowFurthermore, is it fair to your children? The following is a comment from a former stay at home mom who disagrees with points I raise in Why your Wife’s Excuses for Not Working are Lame and The Real Reason your Wife Doesn’t Want to Work. Is being a mom “the toughest job there is?” Or, is it spin for women who could return to work, but have chosen not to do so?

Sacred cows make the best hamburger. – Mark Twain

Dr. T,

I’m a woman who enjoys reading your blogs, but have to disagree with you on this point. In my case, I was working when I became pregnant and fully intended on returning to work after the baby came. I couldn’t understand why some women gave up such high paying jobs to stay home. However, when my daughter was born I changed completely. I soon realized that my time with her was fleeting and wanted to relish every minute of it. . .

. . . I began to dread returning to work. Not because I didn’t like my job. I loved my job. I’m a teacher. I had good childcare planned for when I returned to work. My mother-in-law was going watch her. I was just consumed with guilt at the time. I couldn’t imagine someone else telling me about her first word, her first step. When she was upset, I wanted her to run to me for comfort. I wanted to be the main influence in her life.

We weren’t well off and I knew  quitting my job would put us in a bind financially, but at the time I felt that if I failed at being a mother I would’ve failed at everything. You can’t imagine how much I enjoyed each day with my daughter. When she was two I had another daughter. It was very stressful and my husband didn’t always understand that stress. He assumed I was playing all day. We did go to the park, the pool, have picnics, but when you have two toddlers every moment is filled with stress. I was exhausted when my husband would return home.

My daughters are now 15 and 13. I went back to teaching full time when my youngest started kindergarten. . . I’ve never regretted the decision to stay home when they were young, and am very thankful that I was able to do so. . . I understand the point you’re trying to get across in your blog, however there are many women who choose to stay home even after their children are in school and it’s not because they’re avoiding work or because they just want someone to take care of them.

My husband did not understand my desire to stay home with our daughter. He expressed his legitimate concern over finances and, although he didn’t verbalize it, I got the feeling he thought I was just “taking it easy.” I knew it would hurt us financially, but felt that we could cut back in many areas, and that the benefits of staying home with our daughter would be worth any sacrifices we made. . . He is no longer my husband. We divorced the year before my youngest was in kindergarten, so that was the main reason I went back to work. . .

. . . After I returned to work I tried to help out in their classrooms as much as possible and, fortunately, have many wonderful stay-at-home friends whom I relied heavily on to help take care of my daughters. It was very difficult for me as I have no family in town and, as a teacher, it’s not easy to take days off to drive children to dentists, dr. appointments, etc. . .

. . . I can’t imagine anyone enjoying their job as much as I enjoy mine.  However, if I hadn’t divorced I’m not sure if I’d have returned to work. I felt very needed at home. . . (Let me also express the gratitude that even though my ex-husband did not fully understand the desire I had to stay home, he supported my decision.)

I do understand the point you’re trying to make, Dr. T, but please be careful lumping all stay at home moms in the same category. It presents a stereotype that many women do not fit. And let me also state before I sign off that I find you insights and advice valuable! Thank you!

Mary

Hi Mary,

Thank you for the thoughtful comment. It appears that you’ve truly found your calling in teaching and caring for young children, which makes the vocation of kindergarten teacher a perfect fit for you.

I’m not lumping all stay-at-home-moms (SAHM) in the same category. As a mother, wanting to stay at home and bond with your kids is one of the most natural things in the world and an absolutely legitimate choice IF it was mutually agreed upon by a woman and her partner BEFORE having children. Many families can’t afford to have a child on just one income and only feel able to start a family because they’re a two-income household.

Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s fair to the husband to say after you’ve already given birth, “Oh, I changed my mind. I’m not going back to work now.” I’m sure there are many men who would love to stay at home with their kids and nurture their bond as fathers, too, but don’t because they’re honoring their responsibilities. In fact, I’m sure a lot of the men who find themselves in this situation feel duped, betrayed and excluded from the full parental bond.

I respectfully disagree with you about a woman’s “need” to stay home after the child/children are enrolled in school. Yes, kids need rides to appointments and emergencies come up, but it doesn’t require a 24-hour on-call mom taxi service. Non-emergency medical appointments can be scheduled for Saturdays. Some doctors have very early weekday or later evening hours. Or, you take an hour or two from work with advance notice for regular check-ups.

Staying at home after the children are enrolled in school, is a choice, not a necessity. Many women struggle with feelings of guilt at the thought of returning to work. That’s normal and shows what a loving mother you are. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, discuss them with your partner, and remember that feelings aren’t facts. Mothers who struggle with feelings of guilt and the “need to be needed” need to work through these feelings—especially if it’s damaging their marriage.

I know many men, personally and professionally, who feel mighty resentful and angry about their partner’s refusal to return to work. These men don’t think their wives/partners are “staying at home and taking it easy.” However, they do feel, and rightly so, that they’re having to shoulder the entire financial burden and then have to hear complaints that they don’t do enough around the house or spend enough time with the children.

I wonder how most women would react if the roles were reversed and their husbands unilaterally decided that they were quitting their jobs to stay home with the kids because it’s the most fulfilling choice for them and told their wives that they expected them to carry the entire financial burden? It would be heaven on earth if we only had to the things we find most fulfilling in life. Unfortunately, most people don’t have that luxury. So you compromise and do what you need to do to survive and pay the bills for part of the time and do what’s most fulfilling to you the other part of the time. Being a mother doesn’t exempt you from this reality.

Being a mom is the toughest job there is” is a popular and sacred cow statement that’s almost reached dogmatic proportions. At the risk of unleashing the hounds of hell, I disagree. What about being a dad? You never hear anyone say, “being a dad the toughest job there is.” In some ways, I think it’s more difficult to be a father in our society.

Fathers don’t get to spend much time with their kids because they’re the ones who are often the main breadwinners while the wives get the glory for spending the money on the kids and physically buying them clothes, toys, etc. Moms get to be seen as the “givers” and “nurturers,” when it’s the dads who are providing them with the funds that enable them to do so.

When some marriages end in divorce, most dads don’t get full custody and get to spend even less time with their kids. And, in many situations, because their exes are angry with them about the demise of the relationship, moms trash the dads to their kids, which further strains the father-child relationship.

On talk shows and “news” programs, there’s a lot of focus on “the importance of being a father.” However, what society really means when they talk about “the importance of being a father” is paying child support on time and not being a deadbeat dad. Thanks for the sperm and the support checks. Now go away. It’s rare that media sources talk about the importance of a father in a child’s life. All in all, I think a lot of fathers get the short end of the stick.

Furthermore, being a parent isn’t a job; it’s a relationship. You put work and effort into relationships whether their platonic, familial, parental, romantic or collegial, but they’re not jobs. That’s spin for women who have made the choice not to return to work. You get to quit a job, change a job, get paid for a job, be promoted on a job and punch out at the end of a day.

I’ve always found women who view being a mother as a “job” to be defensive and over-identified with the role to the exclusion and detriment of everything else, including their grown-up relationships. Anyway, this is just my perspective. I don’t expect everyone to agree with it. In fact, I imagine some people will want to clobber me for it.

For the record, my mom worked part-time after I was born and returned to work full-time when I was in pre-school. I don’t remember feeling resentful or angry about this. Like you, we also didn’t have family locally to help. She relied on a network of friends, school programs, and neighbors for transportation, sitting, etc. Ideally, that’s how a community is supposed to work. It also teaches your children the importance of relationships and support networks instead of fostering the expectation that people should be at their beck and call and drop everything to cater to their needs.

I respect my mother and admire her for her choices. She was a great role model who has independently and successfully run her own business for the last 30 years. My point is, my mother behaved as if working was normal and nothing to be upset about and, as a child, I adopted her attitude. If kids sense that you feel bad or guilty about something, they’ll pick up on it and amplify those feelings back to you.

Thank you again for your comments, Mary. I enjoy the discourse, especially when it’s of differing viewpoints!

Kind Regards,

Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Counseling, Consulting and Coaching with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to shrink4men@gmail.com.

Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.

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Am I in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship with a Narcissistic or Borderline Woman?


weight of the world on her shouldersThe following question is from a frustrated husband who feels blamed and neglected by his wife. He wants to know if his wife might have Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic personality Disorder or if something else is going on.

I stumbled across your website in a search to determine what’s going in my relationship. I’ve been married for 8 years (we dated for 5 years before we got married). We have a beautiful 5-year old girl whom I love dearly.

My wife comes from an abusive family. Her dad physically, verbally and mentally abused my wife, her mom, and her siblings. My mother-in-law announced she was ending the marriage on my wife’s 21st birthday. I was there. Awkward!! From that time until we married 5 years later, my wife felt  she had to take care of her mom and brother and sister and became very bitter and resentful about it.

My wife was a marketer in a large metro area when we married. After 3 years, we relocated to a smaller area in an effort to start a family. This was her idea so she could be close to her mom. We immediately became pregnant and once our daughter was born, I became the blame for everything wrong in our relationship. She chose to be a stay at home mom and absolutely loathed every minute of it. She repeatedly complained that everything was “falling on her shoulders.”

She still holds on to the bitterness and resentment of her past and wears it like a badge and allows it to interfere with our relationship. Now my wife’s back to work in the marketing field again, but not in the capacity that she desires. Her job’s stressful and when she comes home, she’s too tired for me and our daughter. I work full-time as well, but also take care of the house, cook, get our daughter ready for school and drop her off. All she really has to do is get ready for work. I do these things to alleviate some of the pressure so she won’t feel like it all falls on her shoulders.

She recently took a temporary consulting job on her days off, which she seems to enjoy. As it stands right now, she barely has time for me. I don’t appear on her radar and when I do, I’m just another item on her to do list. I encouraged her to take the consulting work because I wanted her to find something she loved in order to bring that good energy back into our marriage. I fear that it will be for naught.

When I try to talk to her about how I feel neglected, how our daughter feels neglected, how she just sits there and watches me pretty much do everything around the house and take care of our child, it always becomes my fault or she dismisses me by saying I just don’t understand how hard her job is.

I don’t have a lot of people encouraging me to stay in this marriage at this point, including my wife’s sister and brother.  I love my wife and I want stability for our daughter. Last night, she did stay she would work on “us,” but I feel I’m just being placated. I’m at my wits’ end. I don’t know what to do anymore.

– Martin

Hi Martin,

I’m very sorry to read you’re going through such a difficult time in your marriage. I don’t know enough about what’s going on to determine if your wife falls into the BPD/NPD spectrum.

My hunch is that she’s the oldest child and, as such, in an abusive family, she probably became the parentified child. Meaning that at an early age she felt she had to or was required by her parents to take care of/protect her mother and siblings.

It appears she was sucked back into the professional caretaker (martyr) role, that is, if she ever broke free, when her mother divorced her father. Parentified children often grow up to be professional caretakers. When children feel responsible for their parent(s) and/or sibling(s), they create an identity of self-sacrifice in the service of others, but at their own expense.

While they eventually begin to resent this role, it’s hard for them to let go of it because it’s a distraction from dealing with their own issues and feelings and also gives them a sense of control. An abusive family is a chaotic environment for a child. Learning behaviors that offer some control and protection are incredibly difficult to un-learn even when they become a problem later in the person’s life.

Professional caretakers will agree or volunteer to help others, often without being asked and when they’re already stressed to the max, because these other people (usually the same group of family members or friends) “need” them. These same people rarely return the support they receive from the professional caretaker; it’s usually a one-way street. On the flip side, professional caretakers have a difficult time accepting support from others. It conflicts with their identity of “having to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.”

Unfortunately, it seems as if you’ve been wrongly added to the “just another person I have to take care of” list. I can only imagine how hurtful it is to seen as an “obligation” rather than a partner, lover or helpmate—especially since you seem to be doing more than your share of caring for your wife and daughter. She probably isn’t able to recognize that you’re trying to help her because, on some level, I think she’s really pissed off about being pulled back into her screwed up family dynamic and she’s stuck in the martyr/caretaker role.

Maybe she believed that once she was out of her parents’ house and married that she wouldn’t have to take care of them anymore. And what happened? On her 21st birthday, when she was technically an adult, her mom announced she was divorcing her father and was pulled back into the family drama. Never underestimate the power of a sick and dysfunctional family dynamic.

Your wife is no longer a child and neither are her siblings. Her mother is probably the main source of the guilt and continued obligation. Your wife will have to be the one to set boundaries with her family because the people on the receiving end of the professional caretaker’s ministrations rarely do. However, first she needs to recognize there’s a problem and that she’s a big part of it.

Leaving the major metro area and giving up a job she loved was her choice and definitely not your fault. She was an adult when she made that decision, not a child at the mercy of her parents. Being the parentified child is a difficult role to break out of. Unfortunately, by sacrificing her career (and now it sounds like her marriage) to “take care” of her mother and siblings, she’s in jeopardy of losing the one person who actually puts her needs first.

This isn’t unusual. Professional caretakers don’t know how to relate to a person who isn’t dependent upon them and reject help and support from others (or seem unappreciative of it) when offered because it makes them feel powerless and out of control like when they were very young.

It appears that you’ve gently tried to explain how her behavior makes you feel and the toll it’s taking on your relationship. If you feel comfortable, perhaps you might want to discuss some of these issues with her and ask if it’s something she’d be willing to work on in counseling together. Try not to bring this up in an “I’ve been analyzing you and I know what’s wrong with you” way because that will just put her on the defensive.

I’d approach it from an “I love you, but you’re not happy, neither am I, and I want both of us to recommit to our marriage to make it better.” She’ll probably try to put you off or resist at first by saying she’s too stressed, doesn’t have enough time, and/or “as if I don’t already have enough to do! Now you want me to make time for therapy?!

I encourage you to gently, but firmly stand your ground. Remind her that you want your marriage to be a mutual source of support and comfort—that you don’t want to go to therapy to make her more stressed, but to find a way to come together again. Tell her that it hurts you to see her so angry and tense because you love her, that you know she’s made a lot of personal sacrifices for her family (mother and sibs), but she’s hurting her own family (you and your daughter) right now with her behavior. Try to do this in a non-blaming way.

I hope this is helpful. Please check back and let me know how you’re doing.

Counseling, Consulting and Coaching with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to shrink4men@gmail.com.

Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.

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If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

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