Shrink4Men Comment of the Week: How to Minimize Contact with your Abusive Ex-Wife When You Are Co-Parents

Hi Everyone,

Every now and again, I review old Shrink4Men articles and comment threads and am always impressed by how articulate, wise and helpful the Shrink4Men community is. Many of these comments contain such important insights that they’re able to stand on their own. In an effort to feature this information and keep it fresh, I’ve decided to post a “Comment of the Week” every Friday.

This week’s featured comment is from longtime Shrink4Men community member, JP. He posted a great comment this week on the original Shrink4Men blog that explains how to reduce contact with an abusive, controlling ex, even when you have to co-parent with her.

JP writes:

You’d be surprised how much contact you can eliminate if you’re disciplined about it. It will seem bizarre at first since you’re so fresh from splitting up, but you can tell her you’ll only discuss scheduling and medical issues via text and email, and that’s it. The phone for TRUE emergencies, but respond in as few words as possible. Later, when things have shaken out, you can allow more contact if needed.

Also, it helps to always have a plan instead of open-ended, “What do you think?” conversations. Give her a choice of agreeing or not. For example, pre-split you might have said, “Junior’s been complaining of stomach cramps. I was thinking of taking him to the doctor. . . whaddya think?” Post-divorce it would be, “Junior’s stomach’s been bothering him. I’ve made an appointment for him to see the doctor tomorrow. Let me know by tonight if you object.” If she doesn’t reply, consider it a ‘yes’ and take him.

When you have to see her, keep the poker face. Show no emotion regardless of her attempts to provoke you, charm you, appeal to your pity, etc.

Even if your feelings are still raw, you can fake the detachment. You’ll probably find that the physical display of detachment will actually help foster your internal state of detachment.

If she starts working your buttons, concentrate on your breathing or find some external object–a lamp shade, picture on the wall, etc.–on which to focus your attention.

If all else fails, don’t be afraid to turn and walk away. Just do it in a calm detached manner.

Remember, now that you’ve split, everything you do is under a microscope, so be a prince–not towards her, although you need to be above reproach there, but in your conduct with the kids, and in general. Also, realize you’re setting precedents that will impact your final settlement. In particular, your parenting schedule and the money you give her for child support may well be used as the basis for the final settlement, even if in your mind it’s a temporary set-up. So make sure you’re getting as much time as you can with the kids and giving her as little money as you can.

Forget chivalry. You’ll just get screwed for it later. In fact, if you can find out what the child support guidelines are in your state/province/parish/whatever, you should calculate your child support payment based on these guidelines, give her that and not a penny more. She’s going to hate you no matter what, and she’s never going to give you credit or reciprocate later for any generosity on your part, so don’t let her opinion of you influence your choices.

Good luck.

This comment has lots of good advice. Briefly, I want to emphasize a few of JP’s points:

1. No matter how, kind and generous you are; you’re going to be portrayed as the villain, so do what’s good for you. Many men who become involved with controlling and abusive high-conflict women and/or abusive personality disordered women are genuinely nice guys who want to be seen as nice guys. This is a trap when you divorce one of these women. You can give her the shirt off your back and all your vital organs and she’ll still portray you as a jerk. Therefore, protect yourself and your ass-ets.

Don’t be an appeaser and don’t agree to anything that’s not in your or the children’s best interests in the hopes of amicably resolving the matter. The more you try to appease a woman like this, the more she’ll try to take from you.

2. Make generosity a choice, not part of a court order. Figure out the absolute minimum you have to give her while separated and not one red cent more. Who cares is she accuses you of being selfish, cheap, stingy and cruel? If you want to provide extra for your kids, do so AFTER the settlement has been reached and the ink has dried. JP is absolutely correct about not setting precedents.

Also, make her work for every penny she tries to squeeze out of you. Many high-conflict women are supremely lazy. Hopefully, the more obstacles you put in her path, the more frustrated she’ll become and perhaps give up.

3. Never let her see you sweat. The goal of the high-conflict and/or abusive personality disordered woman is to inflict pain and get a reaction out of you. When you react with sadness or anger, it rewards her abusive behavior. Better to be called an unfeeling robot than let her know she’s getting to you.

Good stuff, JP. As always, I’m extremely grateful for your contributions. —Dr T

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting 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. TheGirlInside says

    I second that…JP, I copied and pasted a few of your posts from other articles, as you are able to articulate the feelings, the relief, and…well, the experience so perfectly.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. george says

    I also read a nice article by Dr. Deena Stacer on communicating with your Ex when there is high conflict. It’s called, “How to “Ex” Communicate-When Coparenting Does Not Work”. I have found it useful in understanding high conflict coparenting (such as with a BPD ex) and how to handle communication with that person. It echos many of the same things expressed above. It’s worth a read. If you are interested, I’ve included the link.

  3. B Experienced says

    I have found with any Cluster B that if they have an audience in their life to give them what they want; which by the way they call support, it is more likely that JP’s approach will work. I agree that you have to have a thicker skin and consider the source in order to not let them get to you. You will be wrong no matter what you do. Consider JP’s plan a lesson in self confidence and autonomy as well as a way in which you are growing stronger. It is, also, satisfying because the B can’t do that and that is what they need and must do to get out of their masochism and won’t. There is no need for vengeance from you because they do it to themselves. By you living well, you add a level of justice served to you by yourself which you full well know is hard to find for yourself elsewhere especially in the legal setting. You have more power than you think you do this way as well.

    I have a problem with the concept of a HCP. In order to be diagnosed with a PD you have to be grossly impaired in the areas of not taking responsibility and falsely blaming others. I believe a better gauge of who will be a HCP in the context of the Cluster B’s is how much narcissism they have, how much of an audience and woo woo supporters they have on their side to validate their warped perceptions so that they feel visible as well as the level of Histrionic PD present. Another key component is how much of their identity was tied up in them being your wife or lover without anything else mattering to them as much as you. They fight hard to get you back too because they lose the role defined by you and losing their identity is very scary and painful because they can’t figure out how to get one in the first place! Lastly, how many times have they lost in their lives?If it isn’t much, you have a very spoiled and hate filled child on your hands and the stakes of you and yours being in danger are much higher. If you have one who is more prone to self harm, I believe you are in lesser danger. They have lost a lot in life, and they are used to it and are very comfortable with it. They usually will have a pity party even if they are the only one attending and be more prone to self harm because they internalize their self hate . I believe these patterns are the crux of whether they will act out or in or abuse the legal system instead of saying pervasive blamer because it is too simply too broad and lacks needed distinctions.
    If you study the stealth abusers such as Clara Harris, Betty Broderick, Nancy Kissell, etc, the above patterns fit them of being the kind to be more dangerous and dogmatic kind in a legal or interpersonal setting.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Hi BE,

      You raise some very interesting point re: who will become high-conflict in terms of Cluster B pathology. According to your hypothesis, a personality disordered person is more likely to act out in a high-conflict manner if:

      1. They’re more prone to acting out/directing their rage/blame at others rather than those who engage in self-harm.

      2. Their level of narcissism is high (i.e., “It’s never my fault. It’s always someone else’s fault. I’ve been wronged. I’m special. Therefore, I’m entitled and you owe me.”)

      3. They have at least one or more negative advocate to keep the high-conflict fires and imaginary victim-status fueled.

      4. They’re used to getting their own way they’ll have a harder time “losing” (i.e., resolving matters amicably and fairly). Also, if you’ve acted as a buffer to shield them from real world consequences, they’ll be even more angry about the end of the relationship because now they’ll need to deal with the mundane aggravations the rest of us peasants deal with each day.

      5. They’ve made their entire identity being Mrs. So-and-so/Super Mom. Since many don’t have identities and interests of their own; it becomes a matter of ego preservation vs. ego annihilation.

      Makes sense to me. Thanks, BE!

  4. exscapegoat says

    Lots of good information in JP’s comment, Dr. T’s blog entry and the comments here. I was 12 when my parents split. My mother is likely NPD and possibly BPD. One thing I’d add is no matter how tempting it is to use an older child as a go between, to avoid conflict with the Cluster B , DON’T. It only puts the child in the middle and the child has to live with the Cluster B.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Unfortunately, using a child as the go-between happens all too frequently. I know of one NPD/HCP who uses her 16-year old to deliver bills to her father during his visitation that are additional to CS. When he refused to deal with his ex’s continued demands for money, the ex enlisted their child as a bill collector. Sick.

      This is just one example. The grown-ups need to be grown-up. If you can’t handle having adult relationships, don’t expect your kids to do it for you.

  5. Mudbone25 says

    I’m dealing with an ex-wife who has characteristics of a Histrionic personality disorder. She was very high conflict when we were married, gas-lighting, verbally and physically abusive. Nothing was ever her fault. She would fain sorrow for things she said or did, but it always came back to, “you made me do it attitude.” She was a bully pure and simple. I used to tell my son (from a previous relationship) It’s like dealing with an 8 year old. There is no reasoning. He agreed. he told me, “Dad, she thrives on strife.” Needless to say, he was happy about the divorce but sad for me, it was touching because he knew I was hurting, so he hugged me and said, “It’s ok.” I hated that for him, I really thought she was going to be a good model for a healthy relationship that my son could see. I can’t begin to tell how wrong I was, and how her moods would go violent. I ate food without her, world-war III, OH MY, I threw a Dr.Pepper away that had been sitting on the counter for 4 days. BUT THAT WAS HERS SHE WAS STILL GOING TO DRINK THAT! I was a bad Christian, a bad leader of the household, a bad father, I’m like my mother, I’m iggidy- aggetty- oooo.

    July of this year we tried to reconcile, I thought maybe this could work. We have a 3 year old daughter together, I’m willing, she said she was willing, she loved me, she missed her husband (ie. someone to abuse)She said, I’m committed, I want us to work, I love you, lets figure out how to do this. It’s late August, we do our daughter B-Day together. Then 2 days later she went out on a date with a guy she had been seeing since July…Nice…so much for working it out. I said, “You can have him. I hope it works out.” Of course she went on a tirade called my office 8 times my cell phone, she texted e-mailed, cussed me, told me she was screwing him….blah blah blah…”Good, I’m happy for you. now be gone spawn of satan. This behavior went on for weeks.

    It’s December now. I’ve tried to keep low contact with her. She still constantly texts, or calls, randomly, especially when I have my little girl. We have 50/50 and my son lives with me. She says how she wants to co-parent and we need to raise her together. WTF?? seriously? You didn’t want my help when we were married, and now you want to co-parent???

    Oh, FYI, she’s in love with this guy now, 3 months, and she’s in love, doing things together with my daughter. That’s good, as long as he’s good to my little girl I don’t care. Of course he did loose his law license a few years ago because he was on drugs and an alcoholic, and he stole money from his law firm, plead guilty to felony theft(all public record) went to rehab, got his license back last year, on 5 years probation with the Legal Attorneys over site committee or whatever. But hey, I do believe people can redeem themselves, He divorced earlier this year. I figured it was probably a rebound relationship, but it really doesn’t matter. If he stays clean and is good to my daughter I don’t have a problem. There is NOTING I can do about it anyway. Reversed, I’d probably loose my 50/50 with my daughter because I was dating a felon.

    2 weeks ago I was sick, she called me about ANOTHER crisis with our girl. “She has dried white stuff on her ear, what do I do? Geez, take a wet cloth and wash it off moron. WTF??? Anyway, she kept offering to bring me food, I declined, repeatedly after many offers. She would call and check on me later…she would rent me a movie and bring it to me…etc.etc..etc. Well 15 minutes later she shows up at my house, unannounced, with our daughter. “I came to check on you.” again, another WTF moment. It as a cold day, she said, “OH, I have something for you.” she walked over to me, lifted my shirt and put her cold hand on my side, and started laughing, then she was hitting me with pillows, and throwing my little girls shoes at me, very playful and flirty, offered me her ticket to the football game, I could go with her dad and step mom. I asked her if she was on drugs. Before she left she pushed/bumped her body into me, playfully.

    Fast forward. I called her out on her flirtation. She, denied she was flirting, and she was just being nice, she is insulted, she would never betray the trust of the man she loves, on and on and on. Then she accused me of flirting and that I wasn’t good at it and I needed to work on it…blah blah blah…called me again last night denying the flirting. 5 times of denying total. I think she protest way too much. Either she is trying to convince me, or she is trying to convince herself. I don’t know which.

    Now she is telling me our daughter is coming home and telling her that I don’t like her boyfriend. OMG! this woman is insane. The CRAP she makes up!!! Never have I said one thing. What 3 year old says that???!!! I’ll tell you. One who’s mother is fishing and asking if daddy knows about her BF, asking if daddy doesn’t like him… She’s crazy. I record and document everything, so I’m not worried, and my son has witnessed major meltdowns, as well as my neighbors. I really don’t know what to do. I told her basically I just need to see you every two weeks, and that’s it. Only emergencies. I don’t think she will honor it. But it has been a day and a half and I have herd nothing, so that’s a start.

    My greatest fear with her is she works in the legal system, she is well known by attorneys and judges, and she is so well liked and charming, and pretty and charismatic, that people say, “Her? No way, I find that hard to believe, she’s so nice and charming, and she helps women of domestic violence.” That really bothers me because she hides so well. I told my friends, she is not who you thing she is behind closed doors. She only acts this way around you guys and in public. But not always true, she had a few fits at restaurants.

    Any advice? what should I expect? What can I do? I think it’s best for our daughter to be away as much as possible, it’s the best and healthiest for her because her mom is not going to change, and I will always be wrong. so if I’m going to be hated, then now she can have a reason. I’m not engaging.

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