If you’re unlucky enough to have a difficult ex after divorce then one of the most perplexing, time-consuming puzzles may be trying to understand or rationalize their behavior.
There’s the argument that you shouldn’t try. Just accept it for what it is because the only thing you can control is your own behavior and reactions. Conversely, understanding that there is a reason for their bizarre behavior may make it easier to come to terms with what is going on, to draw your boundaries and to know quite assuredly that it’s not your imagination.
Helen and her husband were married for fifteen years. She says the marriage was always difficult but her career and three kids were a cocoon. After her divorce his behavior got worse and it was hard if not impossible to ignore. Here’s Helen:
You have to understand that along with my ex being emotionally and verbally abusive, I’ve had a psychiatrist say he‘s a sociopath. To people in town he was a Boy Scout troop leader. He was a Little League coach. He looked like he did all the right things, but it was the look.
He portrayed me in town as having stole his company, having abandoned him and having a mid-life crisis, going off and meeting someone else. It hurt tremendously.
Friends told me, “People will figure it out. Don’t get involved. Don’t say anything. They will figure it out.”
It hurt, but sure enough, lo and behold about seven, eight months later I had people coming to me apologizing and saying, “We had no idea, but wow. It’s amazing the type of person he is.”
That was kind of good.
And thank goodness. He’s done some pretty outrageous things in public.
I’ve talked to a lot of psychologists and my son’s psychiatrist called him a “narcissistic lunatic” in Court.
I’ve questioned why stayed married for so long and even my psychologist said, “You would not have stayed if he was this bad.”
They believe he had emotional issues, possibly even bipolar issues, but they were kept in check by me. Then once I asked for a divorce that was a trigger. Once I left there was no one to keep it in check and unfortunately now it has come out more and more in public.
He was screaming at my son at a soccer game in front of people. A girlfriend of mine called the police because she was so scared of him. The attorney he hired called my attorney before my birthday in 2010 and said, “I’m scared for your client. I’m not sure how stable he is.”
My eldest daughter and my son saw way too much. I remember my poor son sitting there one time when I was married and I was really upset. He called Grandma on the ‘phone and said, “Grandma, how do I get Mom to stop crying? She’s so sad.”
My little one said, “Mom, why don’t you just get a divorce.” She was eight at the time.
I’m remarried now and my kids were very excited about the wedding. They absolutely adore “Steppy” – they call him “Steppy” for stepfather. I don’t know if it’s typical or not but my eldest daughter said, “I love Steppy and I wish he could be our neighbor and I wish Dad could be different and you could get back together.” She was thrilled with the wedding but there was that part of her that said I wish we could be back together.
Their father has been very manipulative and emotionally abusive to them and my eldest daughter unfortunately has been the brunt of it because she challenges him, not in a disrespectful way, but just questioning him and things like that.
One weekend she was going to her dad’s house, there had been an incident at school and apparently her Dad was crying beyond belief when she got off the bus. I was taking her to a cheerleading competition so I explained as much as I could of what had happened that day as carefully as I could and she said, “Seeing Dad cry made me feel weird.”
It took a while to come out, but basically what she was saying was she feels like her Dad is a bad guy and seeing him cry made her see a side she hadn’t seen before and she was feeling guilty for thinking badly of him. She said, “Mom, if he was crying and he had a good side maybe he can change, maybe this is the changing point and if this is the changing point maybe we can all get back together.”
She was with him the rest of the weekend. It broke my heart but I knew it would happen. By Sunday night she came home and said, “Yeah Mom, I see it now. He was crying basically for one reason, but he’s still the same Dad, he’s never going to change.”
That breaks my heart.
She tries to remind my youngest about his behavior, She says, “Dad does this and Dad does that.” I say, “Honey look, each one of you has a different relationship and experience with your Dad. Your sister was very young when we broke up. She didn’t see everything you saw. You have to allow her and respect that she has a different relationship.”
My youngest will say, “Can I have a night over with Dad?” and I’ll say “Sure.”
I’m never going to stop that if that’s what she truly wants.
Recognizing that your children will each have a different relationship with you and with your STBX is one of those obvious but not so obvious statements.
It’s the reason why someone who’s difficult to live with can appear to be a fine, upstanding go-to person in the community. I’m with Helen’s friend in her advice that there’s little to be gained in trying to dispel the myth – people will realize the truth on their own in time. And that applies to your kids, too.
There’s also no point in trying to force your experience with your STBX on to your children and I think recognizing that they each have a different relationship helps with accepting this. None of us get to choose our parents. Helping your children have the best relationship possible with your STBX, giving your children strategies for coping with the bizarre behavior is part of doing what’s best for your children. You’re not asking them to choose.
And yes, children wishing for reconciliation is normal, even in the face of insurmountable difficulties, even after your divorce is final and even after you think you’ve left the trauma of divorce behind. I think it’s because children cling to the notion of “family.” It takes them a while to see their rearranged relationships as “family” and helping your children navigate their relationships with both you and your STBX will help with that redefinition of family.
I remember being surprised when some eighteen months, two years after my divorce my son said in tears that he still wished we hadn’t got divorced. It’s three years later now, and now he understands why we got divorced.
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