Covert Abuse: Watch Out for the Quiet Ones, Part One

The following article is written by another CrazyBuster, SSG. SSG and her husband have found ways to manage his high-conflict ex who is more subtle in her emotional terrorism. She’s more of a “quiet one” or covert abuser.

Next week, I’ll post Covert Abuse: Watch Out for the Quiet Ones, Part Two. The second post will offer specific suggestions for managing this type of high-conflict ex:

When most people think of a high-conflict ex, they probably envision the shoe-throwing, door-slamming, tire-slashing, cheek-slapping, tire-screeching and/or threat-screaming archetype. Unfortunately, this is often the case. Overt abuse is generally easy to identify.

Covert abuse, like passive-aggressive behavior, is often tougher to identify, but can be just as damaging, if not more so than overt abuse. Covert abuse, in my experience, can cause a person to doubt themselves and question their own sanity.

My husband’s ex-wife is one of the “quiet ones” or covert abusers. Although she wasn’t a rager or door slammer, the pain caused to my husband and the harm done to his relationships with his children was undoubtedly no less than that caused by the more overtly loud or violent types. His situation didn’t include holes in walls, deflated car tires or bruised skin, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered real and lasting damage.

My husband’s former wife had an affair, threw him out, moved the kids out-of-state with the new man (who soon cheated on her and left), lied to the children about what happened (rewrote history), held my husband’s access to his children over his head as a control mechanism and then, finally, punished him in the worst way she could (convincing the children to stop contact) for putting his life back together, moving on and remarrying.

My husband’s ex-wife isn’t a yeller. She’s small with a high-pitched voice and a demeanor that seems to squeak, “Am I okay?” But I have heard her teeth-clenched voice over the phone as she strains to keep her rage from simmering over. Her emails hold more venom than the worst curse words. Although, aside from the sheer frequency of them, they’re nothing you would show to anyone in authority to prove anything.

I mean, what’s wrong with e-mailing a Bible quote or 50 to people who never answer your e-mails? Isn’t it normal for divorced parents to communicate “about the children” or “for the children” on a regular basis even though none of the communication mentions the kids anymore? What’s wrong with leaving innocent voice messages when you have been asked repeatedly to stop?

Even when my husband’s ex was on her “best” behavior (prior to meeting me), she was setting the stage for full-blown parental alienation. She withheld critical information about their children from him and wove a cocoon around her and the kids that was solidified by the information she withheld from him.

She didn’t consult him about things like cars, braces, unchaperoned spring breaks and travel. While she kept secrets, my husband was allowed to have no privacy nor personal life after their divorce. One time she even tracked him down at the hotel where he was vacationing with a girlfriend for a weekend get-away. She did this, of course, “for the kids.”

Although my husband’s ex-wife did not respect him and encouraged their children to follow her lead, she still tried to prohibit him from moving on with his life. My husband’s ex began acting out as soon as she learned we were dating in a seemingly desperate struggle to not feel abandoned by the man she threw away. Because, you see, for some high-conflict individuals, people take on more value when someone else wants them or when they don’t need you anymore.

The first acting out episode was quite dramatic and channeled through their youngest child a.k.a. the ex’s best weapon. My husband’s ex had their youngest child make a screaming, crying phone call to him and accused him of not loving her anymore because he had a girlfriend.

After my husband and I became serious, his ex-wife’s transparent cries for attention and control ensued. For example, the predictable, manufactured, exaggerated or totally fabricated holiday or Friday evening crises. She refused to split visitation travel expenses evenly with my husband anymore. The kids’ summer and spring break visits to my husband’s home came to a screeching halt. If he wanted to see his children, he had to be the one to travel there.

Knowing she had full psychological control of the children, he went along with the game. I rolled my eyes. And we went on with our lives.

I figured her immaturity, which is what I thought it was at that time, would continue. But my husband and I had no idea what we were in for after we married. For the next two years, we experienced severe, constant harassment dressed up as normal communication. Five months into our marriage, the kids stopped talking to their father with no explanation.

The deafening silence was intermittently interrupted by wild, revisionist accusations the kids were fed by their mother. Meanwhile, my husband’s ex would call him attempting to rehash their marriage and divorce and swear to him, ten years later, that she really hadn’t cheated.

The first year of our marriage, the assault from “the quiet one” was particularly savage.

I witnessed my husband experience shock, then extreme confusion, self-doubt, upset, anger, torment and months of despair. Toward the end of our first year together, we went to a psychologist for help. There, we were given the tools to handle someone the doctor described as having borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Mainly, we learned to set boundaries. At the advice of both the doctor and the Crazybusters, we stopped allowing the ex to have private communication with my husband. This is very important. Abusers like my husband’s ex count on being able to isolate their targets. She knew she could get away with manipulating my husband or engaging him in anger one-on-one.

Private, one-on-one communication with an abusive, high-conflict ex is like a “warm bath” for  them.

My husband stopped taking her calls and we set up a joint email account for her to relay information about the kids. We told her we didn’t want to hear from her unless there was an emergency. Basically, we stopped rewarding her bad behavior (withholding the kids) and let her know her intrusion into our lives was not welcome.

Just as many crazy, abusive, high-conflict BPDs are want to do, my husband’s ex viewed our new boundaries as a challenge. She persevered in her mission to keep my husband from moving on with his life, to keep the focus on herself and to maintain control. Again, she used a variety of predictable and obvious tactics to try to keep my husband engaged with her.

She sent medical co-pay invoices knowing full well that my husband, who pays the kids’ medical insurance, was not responsible for them. She called our home phone and left messages asking us to send information she already had — like our mailing address to which she was mailing the co-pay invoices! She called at all hours hoping my husband would answer, which he never did. Subsequently, she left follow-up messages saying she was going to get an attorney because we wouldn’t take her calls or respond to her transparent ploys for attention.

Then the incessant e-mailing began. The messages very rarely had anything to do with the kids. They arrived in rapid succession and were rife with meaningless content for the sole purpose of seeking my husband’s attention. Although, she did send us photos of the kids – with herself in the pictures!

The barrage of unwanted communication from my husband’s ex continued — even though the kids refused to return his calls. But, by sticking to our rock solid boundaries – and it required effort from both of us – we weathered the storm.

Eventually, the children reconnected with their father as they grew older. Albeit, the relationships are fragile. My husband accepts that this might be as good as it gets due to the fact that the children lived under the influence of his ex, whom we liken to a cult leader, for over 10 years.

After 5 years of game-playing, my husband’s ex finally got that we weren’t going to go along with her crazy game-plan. While she still makes some communication attempts, like toxic fumes seeking cracks in a wall, she’s no longer a force in our lives. Our marriage is good and we are strong.

Thanks, SSG, for your first stellar contribution to Shrink4Men! Be sure to check back next week for Part Two.

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. Micksbabe says

    Wow, that brought back some memories — many of them current. Especially the part about the HCP seeing boundaries as challenges. My husband’s HCP ex-wife is like that blonde, red leather body suit-wearing android on Terminator 3. SHE REFUSES TO DIE! Regardless of how many semis run over her.

    My husband and I are counting down the months when until his kids are no longer under his ex’s “ownership” and he will then too, by proxy, be free. Free at last!

  2. SSG says

    Micksbabe, I used to refer to her as the Satanic Energizer Bunny. She kept going and going and going. It is exhausting to be on this end of it, and I was absolutely floored by her lack of shame/pride. But, like you indicate, when the kids get older, things change.

  3. Kevin says

    As I look back at past abusive relationships, I can’t help but kick myself for being naive. While I used to be involved with physically abusive women, I also used to be involved with women who tried to destroy my with psychological abuse. The cold and calculating nature of the women I used to date changed my view on relationships forever. My past relationships were so abusive that I refuse to date for a long time. I don’t want to be used again to try an make an ex-boyfriend jealous or to be the re-bound guy. I don’t want to fall victim to women whose love is determined by what I can give them with regard to money. I don’t want to get involved with women who feel it is empowering to hurt me just so they can get an ego boost. I don’t want to get hurt by women while in a relationship and have people tell me that it was my fault for being abused.

    I know there are wonderful women available, but I am way too paranoid to be in another relationship anytime soon. A relationship isn’t worth having if I have to constantly question a woman’s motives.

  4. says

    My husband stopped taking her calls and we set up a joint email account for her to relay information about the kids.

    Excellent advice. Another alternative I’ve seen work well is to use a third party to filter the email-only communications. For example, a family member that will pass along the messages that actually DO contain information or a question about the kids — and delete the rest.

    Great article SSG. I’m happy things worked out well for you :)

      • Jason says

        There are third party companies who specialize in this sort of thing. I believe one was mentioned here on Shrink4Men, but I can’t find it. One thing these services do is track ALL communication, which is very useful for legal purposes, if it comes to that.

          • SSG says

            Yes, I’ve heard of FamilyWizard. Even with us telling the ex she was to use a joint e-mail account, she immediately (in usual manipulative fashion) e-mailed the kids (and cc’ed) us telling them they were to only contact us in this way, too. I quickly responded individually to the kids, reassuring them that they could use ANY mode of communication — any e-mail addresses or phone numbers. I can’t imagine how she would have twisted around using FamilyWizard.

  5. Funky Monk says

    My ex-wife was indeed the “quiet one” in public but was quite another person behind closed doors: friends would comment on what a sweet wife she was and how lucky I was — one friend of mine even went so far as to say that she could never picture us fighting!

    Well the damaged walls, destroyed personal items, dented floors, kicked-in doors, not to mention the multiple scars on my arms, hands and leg, speak of another person than what she portrayed in public life. Although snippets of her true personality would sometimes escape during family events when she knew she could embarrass me the most.

    I guess the old advice rings true in this case: you gotta watch out for the quiet ones!

      • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

        Great question. How do you control crazy? Jail? I don’t have a problem with that, but it would require a huge (and long overdue) paradigm shift for the courts.

        • Mr. E says

          It would also be hard to prove “crazy” beyond reasonable doubt. I fear a lot of innocent people would end up in jail because they look like the crazy ones.

          The covert stuff is almost impossible to see. Everyone else sees her helping you carry a sofa, only you see (if you’re lucky) that she’s guided you under an anvil to drop on you.

        • Nikkie says

          Dr. Tara I have an issue with your comment there saying that you do not have a problem with jail time. Now while I do agree anyone who commits acts of abuse (female or male) should have some jail time I think our jails are already overcrowded with people who have mental health issues. I think the main task at hand really should be that the courts actually realize that these women (and men I do not discriminate) who show signs of BPD or any of the personality disorders or any type of mental health issue should be mandated to attend evaluations and possibly even be commited for a through evaluation to be done. and you can control “crazy” I do on a daily basis (I was disagnosed bi-polar 9 years ago) and my husband does as well (he is a disabled veteran with numerous diagnosis)its called therapy and medication. While I understand these women refuse to go to therapy and refuse to even consider that they have a problem this is were the courts need to wake up and take action. This is really the only way to actually ever solve the problem and these men (and women) can have peace of mind and mabye other families can be saved from the hell, heartache and pain I have read about.

          I have been married for 15 years and we have had times were I see those women reflected in my behavior (before diagnosis). I have been a lurker on this site for awhile and never thought to comment before until I saw what you said. I am a psychology major and have used this site for resources for friends of mine and advice actually given to a friend who is dealing with a high-conflict ex-husband. Please keep up with the good advice though you do help tons of people.

          • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

            Hi Nikkie,

            Thanks for the comment. I disagree, however. If an individual is breaking the law, they should go to jail, regardless of what their mental health issues are. Counseling is not a consequence. If counseling were a deterrent to abusive and criminal high-conflict behaviors — e.g., making false allegations, breaking court orders — then we’d see a decrease in these behaviors.

            The reality is that many individuals with these issues will never change and I for one am sick of seeing them perpetrate their abuses and crimes upon others over and over again. Perhaps you think that having these disorders is punishment enough and I agree — to a point. When these individuals impinge upon the rights of others that is when we need to show more concern for the targets of the disordered than the disordered.

            Dr Tara

  6. KJohnnyPo says

    His relationship with the children is fragile, but that may have to be as good as it gets.

    That is the downside to getting out and leaving young children behind. He has paid a horrible price at the hands of the monster. The kids have also paid a terrible price. I wonder how this will affect their ability to have normal, healthy relationships in the future.

    I’m glad that your husband has been able to manage the situation and minimize the damage. It’s a shame it took five years, but at least you’re in a good place now. Thanks for the article.

    • Micksbabe says

      His relationship with his children would have been fragile whether he stayed or left. My parents are still married. My diagnosed Borderline mother committed continuous acts of parental alienation right under my father’s nose.

      By staying in the relationship and having his children witness the abuse, AND HAVING HIS CHILDREN WITNESSING HIM TAKING THE ABUSE, he is doing far worse to model horrible adult relationships for them. Leaving his children behind is the only hope his children will ever have, to see a normal, healthy adult relationship.

      • says

        By staying in the relationship and having his children witness the abuse, AND HAVING HIS CHILDREN WITNESSING HIM TAKING THE ABUSE, he is doing far worse to model horrible adult relationships for them.

        So true. That was the first thing I learned from Dr. Palmatier’s posts and I am very, very grateful.

      • TheGirlInside says

        Hear! Hear!

        Ditto on my childhood–I see her for what she is b/c I’ve seen what she has done to me behind closed doors / without witnesses.

        Staying does NOT help the children. She is playing you for a chump re: her treatment of the children in ‘public’ (with witnesses) just like she plays your friends and family for chumps regarding her treatment of YOU (men).

        When you are not around, you have no idea the hell she is putting those chidren through….Take it from the Black Sheep.

    • SSG says

      You are more than welcome!
      My husband didn’t have a choice to get out and leave: He was thrown out and his ex moved the kids out of state. Once they were gone, he moved to another state as well, and then was later accused of abandoning them!
      He, like a lot men, was between a rock and a hard place. I have known people who have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars legally fighting these women, only to grow poorer and have the same result.
      My husband jumped through so many hoops to have good relationships with his children. I think he’s a great dad.
      The rule was he was not to move on and remarry. Impossible situation.
      But at least they are talking to him now (they don’t talk to me — I’m evil).

  7. Richard G. says

    This is all a waste of time. Men do much more harm to men, than any woman possibly could, by simply being the enablers and excusers of female dysfunctional attitude. If this wasn’t the case, society would much more fair and less biased towards one gender.

    I no longer address women who perpetuate this nonsense, but the men who back them up. You don’t cure an organism from the symptoms of a disease, but instead cure the organism from the disease itself.

    I appreciate what you are doing to help men, Dr. Tara. But for every woman like you that understands where men are coming from, there are 10 men and 20 women who shame and blame the crap out of men, and buy into this Victim Culture. Men need to learn to go their own way. It’s that simple.

      • Richard G. says

        Of course, and I appreciate what you are doing. You are a heroine for males everywhere who need a voice. But I feel that the odds are greatly stacked against men. Some people either just don’t care, or they don’t want to listen. And this is what bothers me.

        • Micksbabe says

          Small triumphs are being made in the court systems every day. PAS is recognized in some states. Arizona automatically defaults to shared custody. It’s still unusual, but more and more fathers are getting primary custody. If not for trailblazers like Dr. T, none of the necessary changes would take place. Edmund Burke said “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

          Rome wasn’t built in a day.

          • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

            I agree with your take, MB.

            Yes, the odds are stacked, Richard, and I think I understand why you hold this perspective. However, I also see small subtle shifts in our culture and this makes me hopeful.

            Btw, I’m not a heroine. I have feet of clay just like everyone else. I make mistakes and screw up on a weekly basis and do my best to take responsibility and self-correct.

    • Kratch says

      “by simply being the enablers and excusers of female dysfunctional attitude.”

      You do realize that, by blaming men for all this instead of holding these women accountable for their own actions, you are one of those men enabling and excusing female dysfunctional attitudes?

      • Richard G. says

        I never said that I don’t hold women accountable for their actions. But as long as their are men that enable and excuse the heinous actions of women, men who are innocent will never get justice, and they will always be in the dark. Why do you think that men who are abused by women are afraid to speak out? Because they need to “man up”, and as far as much of society is concerned, violence of any sort is a woman’s issue.

        Feminism is not the greatest threat to men. It’s chivalry. Without chivalry, feminism cannot persist. The men in power only care about one thing, and that is dividing all of us, and creating as much discord as possible. Feminists are simply in league with them, and they are using each other to get what they want, and that is power and wealth. But I am not going to get into that now.

        And learn to read between the lines. You just contradicted your own response to me, by telling me that I enable and excuse immoral behavior from women. That is the last thing I do. I hold women to accountability like grown adults, and the problem is that most people won’t. A large number of them being men, who can’t come to terms that women aren’t made of “sugar and spice”. Know your enemy. It’s the system.

        • Micksbabe says

          “Without chivalry, feminism cannot persist.” I really like this.

          Transversely, I’ve always believed that the only proponents for chauvanism are women.

          Introspection is always a good thing.

          • Richard G. says

            Exactly. I am not here to blame men for Feminism, or to absolve women of their actions. But we need to put things into perspective. The whole Feminist movement is a joke and a failure, and what’s laughable is how they claim that Feminism will help to free men from the their rigid Gender Roles.

            The only thing it succeeds in doing is giving women a myriad of options and privilidges, and absolves them of much personal responsibility, as long as they comply with the ideology, and it marginalizes and generalizes males to their very detriments, further criminalizing them. Feminism is treasonous to human rights, especially men’s rights. But we all know this, and I am going to leave it at that. I don’t want to go off-topic any further.

          • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says


            I think this is a great conversation. It’s important to express our differences of opinions without attacking each other, which is what’s happening here.

        • Kratch says

          The comment that leads me to believe what I said, is the following:

          “I no longer address women who perpetuate this nonsense, but the men who back them up. You don’t cure an organism from the symptoms of a disease, but instead cure the organism from the disease itself.”

          You define men’s supporting women as the disease, and women behaving badly as just a symptom. Let me ask you a question, if a woman falsely accuses a man of rape, and some of her man friends went out and pummeled the falsely accused, would you say the men who went out and beat up the man were the problem, and the woman falsely accusing the guy was just a symptom of those men? Would you define the woman as the problem and the men as a symptom? Or, would you simply hold both parties accountable for their respective roles?

          My point is, by saying that men pandering to women (which will happen regardless of the woman’s behavior) is the problem, and the women behaving badly is just a symptom (which you don’t feel the need to address), you are laying the blame squarely on men, instead of on those who deserve it. You are granting the women who are behaving badly an excuse to avoid accountability (IE, it’s the men who enabled and excused me, I wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t encourage me”), which is precisely what you claim to oppose. You should be holding whoever is behaving poorly accountable for their own actions (the women who are acting out for acting out, and the men who are excusing them for being stupid), instead of just the men.

          ” You just contradicted your own response to me, by telling me that I enable and excuse immoral behavior from women. That is the last thing I do.”

          That’s not contradicting myself. Contradicting myself would be making a claim that is directly opposite to another claim I’ve made. What you would do (IE, a claim you made) doesn’t count.

          This is the last post on the subject for me, as it isn’t on topic. You can respond or not as you so choose. I’ve had my say.

          • Richard G. says

            I can’t believe that I am coming back to this topic.

            First of all, I am not putting all of the blame on men. My issue, MY MAIN BEEF, is that there are men who continue to excuse the actions of women. Something I am not doing myself. This is why I don’t respect the Men’s Rights Movement. I have a huge distaste for MRAs. Because while we are busy barking at the dogs on the other side of the fence, we have snakes slithering in our own grass, and biting us in our behinds, administering their venom.

            You all fail to grasp what is really going. Women will never fully pay for their crimes, as long as we have male feminists like Joe Biden, passing laws such as VAWA, and various judges and juries in our court system who excuse women for their heinous actions, by giving them more lenient prison sentences. This is the point that I am trying to make here. You are painting me as a White Knight when I hate chivalry in all of it’s forms. In order to attack Feminism, and hold women accountable for their actions, you need to take down the very barrier that is in place. This barrier being men WHO HATE OTHER MEN!

            And the men encouraging and enabling a woman’s heinous actions, are the very same men who co-sign a woman’s actions. I am not saying these men are brainwashing or influencing women to do anything. But they merely co-sign it, and continue to spread the venom.

            I am done with this topic, and I feel that I am deviating from the topic. I am tired of addressing women, when they are being shielded by Feminists and White Knights. Words alone will not bring the justice and equality that we need.

          • Awakened says

            I think you have a point. We need to discuss our problems, but we also need to be aware how this nonsense made it into our lives. Here is a list of feminists. Not sure if it’s complete, but there’s big money and a lot of power in subverting nations.

            Bella Abzug
            Kathy Acker
            Rachel Adler
            Larisa Alexandrovna
            Gloria Allred
            Rebecca Alpert
            Pauline Bebe
            Hanne Blank
            Lisa Bloom
            Judy Blume
            Daniel Boyarin
            David Brooks (journalist)
            Susan Brownmiller
            Judith Butler
            Aviva Cantor
            Judy Chicago
            Hedwig Dohm
            Andrea Dworkin
            Ryan Eby
            Eve Ensler
            Amy Eilberg
            Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
            Susan Estrich
            Susan Faludi
            Shulamith Firestone
            Betty Friedan
            Sarah Michelle Gellar
            Ruth Bader Ginsburg
            Ilana Gliechbloom
            Emma Goldman
            Elyse Goldstein
            Lynn Gottlieb
            Blu Greenberg
            Tina Grimberg
            Charlotte Haldane
            Nina Hartley
            Tova Hartman
            Judith Hauptman
            Dorothy Ray Healey
            Brenda Howard
            Sara Hurwitz
            Paula Hyman
            Elfriede Jelinek
            Erica Jong
            Roberta Kalechofsky
            Michael Kimmel
            Lydia Rabinowitsch-Kempner
            Naomi Klein
            Edith Konecky
            Barbara Kruger
            Anna Kuliscioff
            Michele Landsberg
            Lori Hope Lefkovitz
            Gerda Lerner
            Ariel Levy
            Fanny Lewald
            Rosa Luxemburg
            Frederica Sagor Maas
            Hana Meisel
            Annie Nathan Meyer
            Jennifer Miller
            Haviva Ner-David
            Martha Nussbaum
            Tillie Olsen
            Judith Plaskow
            Rachel Pollack
            Katha Pollitt
            Sally Priesand
            Trude Weiss-Rosmarin
            Tamar Ross
            Muriel Rukeyser
            Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
            Rosika Schwimmer
            Mendel Shapiro
            Christina Hoff Sommers
            Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
            Susan Sontag
            Daniel Sperber
            Gertrude Stein
            Gloria Steinem
            Sandra Steingraber
            Cathy Young
            Yona Wallach
            Wendy Wasserstein
            Trude Weiss-Rosmarin
            Naomi Weisstein
            Ruth Westheimer
            Naomi Wolf
            Joel B. Wolowelsky
            Elizabeth Wurtzel
            Cathy Young

    • Jason says

      I’m not exactly sure what your point is, however you seem to be speaking generally, not specifically. In my ex-wife’s case, while there was one religious leader who unknowingly became an enabler, my ex was enabled by women, most divorced and several who wanted to be. Unfortunately, there were a small number who were conned by by ex-wife, though could have avoided that by simply being a little skeptical (at which point my ex goes into a verbal/emotional rage mode.)

      You also misunderstand the dynamic at play within the marriage. In my specific case, my wife did not physically rage. Her emotional abuse was extremely subtle and, as Dr. T said, got me to the point where I questioned my own sanity. Even after our divorce, I questioned whether my version of reality was accurate. Fortunately, my marriage counselor, a sister and my oldest daughter knew enough details to reassure me that my observations were accurate. Since then, a son whom I thought my ex had thoroughly alienated confirmed, without me saying anything, many of the same observations I’d made.

      I was fortunate. My ex is very low key and once the divorce happened, except for occasional bizarre comments to family and her friends, I’ve become just another page in her scrapbook. There are many men here who have to deal with women who are doing everything in their power, including using the courts, to destroy them.

      • Jason says

        What I’m saying is that you seem to be arguing in the abstract, while Dr. T is dealing with the concrete. Yes, feminism has created several generations of women who feel entitled to everything and a court system that hasn’t adjusted to new realities. While that can hopefully be repaired, in the meantime there are many men who are suffering and need help.

  8. Mr. E says

    When the light bulb first started flickering on for me, I stumbled across another site that explained covert abuse. I thought for sure that’s what I was dealing with.

    However, it turns out my wife is rather overt in her abuse – I just didn’t realize I was being abused because I didn’t have any black eyes or broken dishes. I really thought I was a jerk who didn’t deserve my lovely, lovely wife. Now I realize that the constant criticism and put downs are as obvious as a kid’s rhyming taunts.

    On the other hand, some of the stuff my mom did was definitely on the covert side. Things like telling me, in a sympathetic tone, not to try painting because I didn’t have good small motor skills. WTF?? Or talking me out of performing at a school assembly because I wasn’t well-rehearsed enough and she didn’t want me to be embarassed (luckily for me, the school principal refused to let me out of performing. Did great and have a great memory!).

    I think the covert stuff is far more insidious, and more likely to cause long-term damage, than a big-mouthed bully. It takes time to discover and understand covert abuse, and it’s just about impossible to explain it to anyone who hasn’t lived through it.

  9. RTMan says

    My wife is very smart & gifted verbally. Unfortunately she often uses her prodigious abilities for control games and put-downs that are so subtle that, if I tried to explain them, most people would think I was being petty. Her rants/rages (in private) can amount to a continuous barrage of insults, game playing, and manipulative language–trying to persuade me that I am fundamentally at fault for not saying it right, not enough attention, or being inconsiderate of her needs. Naturally, none of her friends see this side of her.

    I too have learned to set boundaries. I will call her on her bad language. If that doesn’t work I will tell her that I am not going to listen anymore, and I will physically leave for awhile–often emotionally injured by the nastiness of the insults and unsettled by the manipulative language. She will respond with “Now you are withdrawing. You never talk with me when there’s a problem.” (she can twist anything against me) Then she will complain to our marriage counselor “He won’t talk.” Just this week, the marriage counselor sternly challenged me, brushing aside my complaints of physical and verbal abuse, “What are YOU going to do to improve the relationship?” I try to explain that what she calls “talking” is abuse, but he does not see it. Again, it doesn’t help that my wife communicates well and doesn’t show her dark side in the counseling office. The counselor thinks I am being stubborn and stereotypically reticent and defensive. Ugh.

      • Nikkie says

        There are actually more people who feel the same way as Dr. Tara and psychology has not been hijacked by feminism (I actually take offense to that comment). My class (I am a psychology major) has quite a few young men in it and more are coming into the field every year. I don’t see how you could say that, yes I do agree that services for men in abusive relationships is sorely lacking and society as a whole still cannot even concieve the notion that women do abuse men but to blanket statement like that is wrong you are generalizing a whole field that is split into tons of categories of research and practice (Clinical Psychology and Licensed Mental Health Therapists are just 2 fields).

        If you elaborate more on why you feel this way and why you make that blanket statement mabye I can understand your point of view but for now I cannot because as of yet in my course of studies I have yet to see anything remotely regarding feminist theory or theories in psychology.

        • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

          Actually, Nikkie, the field of psychology has been feminized. As a whole, the field portrays women as victims and men as perpetrators. I have worked with countless men who have been further victimized by therapists, social workers, mental health clinicians and psychologists — of both sexes.

          I’ve been contacted by young men who are studying psychology that report how they have been silenced and ostracized in their academic programs for speaking out against the predominant women as victims/men as perpetrators model. Furthermore, some of the worst male bashing I’ve witnessed occurred in psych academia.

          Just because this hasn’t been your experience, doesn’t mean it isn’t true for many other people.

        • Awakened says

          Well Nikkie, you weren’t present when my ex-wife and I saw the marriage councilor. My personal experience is that your field has been warped and feminized to an insane degree. I had to sit an listen to this “therapist” who had been endorsed by that hack Dr. Fil. beat me down in every way possible. Every fifteen minutes she would remind us of her affiliation with stardom. What a complete waste of time this woman was. She did nothing, zero, and blamed me for everything. So, in short. If you’re going to be in this field at least be fair to men. I’m sick of it already.

    • jp says

      My wife is very smart & gifted verbally. Unfortunately she often uses her prodigious abilities for control games and put-downs that are so subtle that, if I tried to explain them, most people would think I was being petty. Her rants/rages (in private) can amount to a continuous barrage of insults, game playing, and manipulative language–trying to persuade me that I am fundamentally at fault for not saying it right, not enough attention, or being inconsiderate of her needs. Naturally, none of her friends see this side of her.

      My ex is the same type of nasty. A couple of comments:

      1. Trouble explaining it? I describe it this way, and then people understand: it’s not each indvidual controlling, devaluing comment that’s necessarily horrible…though they’re hurtful…it’s the steady stream of them, day in, day out, that does the damage. A steady small drip of water can wear a hole in granite given enough time.

      2. None of her friends see it: They will. Once I split from my wife she lost her primary target of control and abuse-as-anxiety-relief. Who do you think she turned it on next? Her friends and family. That’s when they see it.


      • TheGirlInside says

        “death by a thousand pinpricks” Think about that…try to imagine poking pins into a regular sheet of paper….1,000 times. What do you suppose that paper would look like a 1,001?

        Describes AXH perfectly…no wonder they can convinces us that we’re the crazy ones.

  10. Jason says

    Not only is the covert abuse difficult to deal with, it gives the abuser plausible deniability and, using the right words, incredible credibility with others. What was especially exasperating in my situation is that a few simple, direct, questions by listeners would have exposed my wife’s lies to them. That said, one in-law on my side is entirely alienated from me–while she realized that my ex was being irrational, she still believes the accusations!

    During marriage counseling, I was forced to face the reality that my parents also engaged in covert emotional abuse of the type Mr. E referenced. Fortunately, having experienced it herself, one sister knows exactly what I went through and has been an incredible help to me. I believe that one reason I tolerated my ex-wife’s behavior as well as I did is that in some respects it was normal. That realization still frightens me.

    As I said earlier, I’m lucky. My wife now dismisses me, which while emotionally painful, is a whole lot better than her acting as the OP’s husband’s ex. I hope for the best with the OP.

  11. Cousin Dave says

    This article is the best description I’ve yet read here of my ex. She never hit me or threw a lamp at me; she was way too passive-aggressive and sneaky for that. Instead, she’d say to my face that she loved me, and then immediately tell her friends that I was a chump for believing her. She had a sly way of creating drama in public places, like the time she had an unexplained crying fit at a wedding reception (because not enough attention was being paid to her). And she tried to gaslight me; she’d take money out of the bank, and then when I asked her about it, she’d say, “You did that the other night. Don’t you remember?” She had many affairs and told her lovers a bunch of lies about me. She spread rumors and gossip, not just about me, but about most of her friends too, even her own family. I realized it when, after hearing my ex tell me what a horrible stuck-up bitch her sister was, I got to know said sister and found her to be a perfectly normal, likeable gal. (On the other hand, ex worshiped the ground that her gold-digging, cokehead mother walked on.)

  12. Up_and_away says

    It is important to set boundaries from the very first moment. And therefore, you have to be sensitive about where the abuse begins. Often it starts with little symptoms of disrespect and then grows worse as the person tries out how far she can go. Such a behavior is very hard to change once you have reached a certain point.

  13. Awakened says

    Oh yes. This does ring a bell. My ex is also the quiet, shy type. However, it has taken almost two years to understand the hell that she put me through. Narcissistic behavior coupled with passive aggressiveness is a deadly combination. I never, and I mean NEVER have the bad days I used to with her. I could never figure out what was wrong with my life. I did everything in my power to do well. And I did. It’s that nothing I did was ever good enough for her. She’s on her third boyfriend now after the divorce and I am certain that they aren’t as blind as I was. Good luck to these fellows. I wish they would contact me first…These kind of women that terrorize emotionally are the worst. I just can’t put into words how grateful I am to not be around her anymore.

  14. kiwihelen says

    I think the other problem with the quiet ones is that it can sometimes take a huge amount of time for their victim to see their abuse for what it is.

    SO only worked out his Mum is like his STBX, but without the ranting on a recent holiday, at age 47.

  15. exscapegoat says

    What amazes me is how many people fall for their garbage without even questioning it. My mother is likely NPD/possibly BPD. After decades of abusive incidents, mostly emotional/verbal abuse, she proved she couldn’t respect any boundaries I set for her. So I was going the civil, but distant route with her. Occasional holiday greetings, special family events. And I decided to stay in a hotel a bit away from the one where she and my brother were staying for his wedding.

    The decision for a hotel for any visit came after my last visit to her home. I took her out for Italian food on Mother’s Day when I went to her town for a visit. It’s one of her favorites and my my stepfather hates the smell/taste of garlic, so he’ll rarely go to an Italian place. There was a lot of leftover food. I was going to leave it, but she insisted I have it wrapped to take back. I pointed out that the smell might bother my stepfather. She said it wouldn’t. She can get irrational and scream when people waste food due to deprivation in her past. So I took the food to avoid an argument. I heated it up for dinner when my stepfather was out of the house. She then informed me that the smell was too strong and I should eat it outside.

    So I ended up eating my dinner on a patio, in plain view of dog crap. If that wasn’t enough to kill my appetite, when I was a kid I had bad allergies. Which made me breathe audibly when I tried to eat. For more than a year, her reaction was to tell me I was disgusting, rather than to take me to a doctor to see what was wrong. Antihistamines really helped once I finally went to a doctor. But if I had a cold, I could still have trouble breathing. On at least one occasion, I was told I made her lose her appetite and sent to my room to eat alone. This only reminded me of those memories. When my stepfather got home, there was a slight smell from it being microwaved and we’d opened windows to get rid of it. He complained about it.

    There I was, a 40 year old woman, eating by myself as punsihment for smelly food with dog crap in plain view. And being chastized for the smell of food which I didn’t want to bring home in the first place. I decided then and there, I would never stay in their home again, I’d visit at a hotel next time. When I saw the place where the wedding was, it was very small, with the rooms all facing out on the courtyard and no private space to get away. I realized she’d be able to get access to me constantly and I wouldn’t have a break from her. So I chose a hotel nearby.

    Despite this treatment in private, she goes on about how much she loves me and wants to have a closer realtionship with me. I’m made to look like the ungrateful villian of a daughter. People, including my sister-in-law, actually believe this garbage. Without even discussing it with me. Up until the big blow up which led to estrangement, I’d never been anything but kind and nice to my SIL. I welcomed her into our family, I helped organize a small gathering of our relatives to celebrate their engagment. I organized photos I knew they’d like in a digital photo frame for them. I bought a “welcome to the family card” and wrote a note welcoming her, as well as a wedding card/gift. But she was influenced by the mama martyr campaign. I was excluded from many aspects of their wedding, such as pre-wedding family photos, the family table, etc.

    I’m guessing it’s because we have so many enablers/apologists in our ranks. But I just find it odd people believe one side even if it’s totally at odds with the way they know someone to be. If someone’s generally warm and kind to me and someone else is going around blabbing to anyone who will listen about how cruel and ungrateful that person is, I at least wonder what the other side of that story is.

    In fact, if the other person keeps quiet, I tend to think I’m dealing with a PDI. It just amazes me how many people will jump on a PDI’s side merely because they’re crying and carrying on about someone else. People don’t even bother to look for or ask for proof. This is what makes emotional reasoning and smear campaigns such effective tactics for PDIs. The target, be it a husband or a boyfriend or a daughter is automatically guilty with no chance to defend oneself. Solely on the emotional say so of a disturbed, manipulative person.

    As some of you know, I lost my relationship with my brother & SIL over this. I found out through other parties when my niece was born. I’m going to miss out on her childhood and that of any other nieces or nephews from that part of the family. I don’t even know if she’ll want a relationship with me when she’s an adult. I’m going to reach out, but obviously, I will have to respect her wishes and if she chooses not to have a relationship, I’ll have to accept that. All because I won’t take my mother’s abuse.

  16. Dawn says

    My ex was more passive aggressive than anything else and to start with I don’t think I even noticed it.
    When I was forced to return to my former home last week to pick up some things he kept hanging round muttering that he was feeling lonely and isolated and that our relationship was unhealthy as he stepped back from his friends..

    Really??!! I had no friends or family within 2 hours drive. His dad lived 5 minutes away and he struggled to keep in touch with him! Every invite we got from his friends, he would say we’re going then change his mind at the last minute!

    He would spend all his time he wasn’t at work fishing so we rarely spent any time together. When I started to fill this time with my family he blamed me for the time he spent fishing!

    He wasn’t a doer but a withholder if that makes sense..

  17. RockyBalboBa says

    Missed this conversation by a few months…

    Ok agreed some women can ,at times, be horrid abusers just as some men can be. In fact the worst abuse I’ve ever received personally in this lifetime was done by women. Both covertly and overtly.

    No, I do not dislike women in general because of this. I attempt take everything on an individual basis.

    There is an accountability issue no doubt, a disconnection, denial factor and everything else inbetween that promotes such behavior in many women. It has been taught as well as adopted due to environmental factors.

    I personally believe very few are actually born with such. Here and there yes however overall? A learned response. A personal opinion from experience that.

    Our culture promotes it just as it promotes many other emotionally disastrous behaviors (understatement)

    Evolution of man/womankind will never hit it’s full potential as long as these issues go unaddressed. Silently swept under the rug. Especially during our developmental/formative years.

    Culture can be destructive and from my point of view offers fewer rewards than undeserved backhands (in it’s current state).

    Only we can change this by working on ourselves! Desiring to be functional, emotionally healthy or wiser people (if you will) toward ourselves, others and the universe in general.

    My pain is life long. As this started literally from the day I was born however despite that? It’s still a choice. A choice to grow, mature and learn from it all OR destroy ourselves and others due to the emotional insanity forced upon us.

    Point being: We have choices! MANY OF THEM! no one is immune to choice in some form or another. The term responsibility literally depends upon it.

    Choose wisely, forgive sincerely and grow exponentially.

  18. MikeE says

    “Her emails hold more venom than the worst curse words. Although, aside from the sheer frequency of them, they’re nothing you would show to anyone in authority to prove anything.”

    This reminds me of why I maintain a total no contact between my ex and I. When taken on an item by item basis, she is no longer anywhere near the extreme that she used to be, and an outsider would consider her communications to be normal. Yet from my perspective, once you cross the line from being “mean” to being abusive, there is no going back again. Every small thing now becomes part of a larger pattern. Once that larger pattern gets set in motion, there is no removing it. EVER. It doesn’t matter how long she can maintain the act of being “nice”, because the moment she has a single thinly veiled insult, it gets tacked onto the pattern of abuse. If it came from anyone else I’d consider it to be constructive criticism, but because it came from her it becomes abuse.

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