The following article is written by another CrazyBuster extraordinaire: Peppy. Like Micksbabe, she also married a man with a high-conflict ex and alienated children.
In her first Shrink4Men article, Peppy shares lessons she learned after meeting and marrying a man who was once married to Crazy. Peppy discusses prerequisites you should have in place before pursuing a serious relationship post-divorce.
After freeing oneself of a relationship with a high-conflict personality (HCP) spouse or significant other, most people feel a great sense of relief. When I met my now husband, he’d been divorced for 2 years. He described divorcing his HCP first wife as “being paroled from prison.”
While going through his divorce, he met a woman who he thought was “the ONE.” In his estimation, he’d finally found someone who could offer all the love and affection he’d been missing during his 6-year prison-sentence of a marriage.
In hindsight, this relationship was his “transitional” relationship; a relationship that helped re-build his self-esteem until he realized it wasn’t meant to be a long-term proposition. I share this with you because it’s important to be cognizant of this phenomenon and not over-commit to the first woman who shows you kindness.
When I met my husband, he’d had his transitional relationship and his son was 4-years old. I thought to my never-married self, “Oh, he’s been through it all and his son doesn’t even remember his parents being together. Surely the divorce is well behind him.”
I wanted to believe my man was ready for the next phase of his life, where he would get a second and better chance at love.
I was naïve and I was wrong.
I soon discovered that time does not heal all wounds, as the popular dictate suggests. In fact, in HCP Land, time is meaningless. It goes against all rational thinking and belief systems, but it’s the reality of the situation.
In a HCP’s distorted mind, hurts and slights that occurred 10 years ago are as fresh as last week. And even though the ink on your divorce decree has long since dried, the HCP believes you are still her “property” and that she should come first, even if she has to mask her demands by superimposing them onto your children.
This means that HCPs continuously draw their exes into their internal turmoil and drama regardless of the divorce and subsequent re-coupling. Reality does not matter to the HCP, so it has to matter deeply to you if you want any subsequent relationship to last and thrive.
What matters more than the passage of time is boundaries. Creating and enforcing boundaries with an HCP ex is often hard-fought and hard-won. However, they are absolutely essential for you to have a happy and healthy new relationship.
Before you can venture wholeheartedly and honestly into the dating world, it’s important that you develop the ability to uphold boundaries around yourself, your dating life, your extended family and your children. This is no small task.
Before you begin dating, please keep the following factors in mind:
1) Separate lives means separate. Do your best to keep your life separate from your HCP ex. After you divorce, your life is your own. Your private life is just that — private — and, as such, is none of your ex’s business, other than information you’re court-ordered to provide if you share children.
Your ex no longer gets to dictate how you spend your time and with whom. She must no longer be permitted to enter your home. You should confine most or all communication to email so that everything is business-like and on the record.
It’s especially important to have these kinds of boundaries in place before you bring a new woman into your life or she and she alone will be blamed for any subsequent boundary setting. If these boundaries aren’t in place before you begin dating, you’ll effectively set your new love up to be the target of your HCP ex. She’ll probably become your ex’s target regardless, but at least you won’t be complicit making her the scapegoat.
2) Don’t allow your HCP ex to portray your new love interest as “the other woman.” While it’s important to keep your dating life separate from your HCP ex, it’s equally important that you not hide any serious girlfriends or significant others from the HCP.
This may sound like contradictory advice and, in a sense, it is. It might seem like you’re protecting your new love from the Crazy storm that is your HCP ex by keeping her a secret. In reality, it will only serve to make your new partner feel like “the other woman” even though you are divorced. It also reinforces your HCP ex’s false belief that she still maintains the numero uno position in your life.
My husband’s ex insisted that I call and introduce myself to her (a.k.a. pay homage to the Golden Uterus). She tried to position herself as the matriarch of their now-defunct family and make me one of her “subjects.” I refused and insisted that my husband introduce me to her in person, you know, like normal people do.
Men, try to treat your new relationship as you would have treated any new relationship before your HCP ex taught you to walk on eggshells.
3) Enforce boundaries with your family of origin post-divorce. As you create boundaries and move on with your life, you may need to help your family of origin do the same. Your extended family also needs to leave the past behind and not burden your new partner with lengthy discussions or reminiscing about your HCP ex.
Please make sure that before you introduce a new partner to your family, that they remove all public photographs of your wedding to your ex or other inappropriate displays of the marriage and family that have now ended. It may not seem like a big deal, but it sends a message to your new partner that she is an intruder.
Some divorcees continue to celebrate holidays and special occasions such as birthdays with their HCP ex. This, in my opinion, is a sure fire way to stay single. I suggest you re-think that approach if you’re interested in finding and keeping a new partner.
4) Avoid the step-monster trap that will surely be set by your HCP ex. It’s vital that you help your new partner gradually build a relationship with your children. You must not permit your HCP ex to marginalize, degrade, or otherwise diminish your partner. You must not permit your children, if they are old enough, to marginalize, degrade, or otherwise diminish your partner.
It might seem easier to have your new partner fade into the woodwork when your children are around. That does, in fact, work for awhile. However, if you have any hope of a successful long-term relationship, you’ll eventually need to lead the process of integrating her into your family, and that includes your children.
If you aren’t capable of putting your new partner first and honoring her place in your life, then you may want to rethink entering into a serious relationship. Let me repeat, if you aren’t capable of putting your partner first and of honoring her place in your life, then you should not enter into a serious relationship until you’re prepared to do so.
Date in a superficial manner, have friends or casual safe sex partners, but DO NOT subject another human being to the toxicity of a HCP if you aren’t capable of protecting her from it through effective and rock solid boundaries.
These are choices you’ll eventually need to make.
For perspective, when my husband and I had been dating for about 6 months, I noticed some very disturbing patterns of behavior with his HCP ex. They were still engaged in an unhealthy dance with each other, all in the name of their son. They’d been apart for 3 years and the ex was still attempting reconciliation from time to time.
Back then, I told my now husband of 9 years what I’d observed and said, “In my opinion, you have three choices. You can get back together with her, you can continue to operate the way you do with her and stay single, or you can set some limits and move on with me or another woman.”
My husband chose to set limits and we eventually married.
For the record, any woman worth having will say the same to you at some point if you do not implement boundaries with your HCP ex. For your sake and hers, I hope that she won’t have to do so.
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.