As of this writing, I have been separated from my ex-husband for 22½ years and happily divorced for 14½ years. There was certainly one bright light after the wedding – my child… an amazing daughter to whom I refer as the best baby ever born. She is everything to me, and I don’t believe that I would have weathered this storm without her support, encouragement, and a smile that would melt the deepest and tallest glacier.
“I am not going to be the one to ruin that relationship.” That was not only my mantra, but it also became my commitment to my daughter with regard to her father. Prior to separating, I communicated with my entire family that I did not want anyone to bad-mouth my ex in front of my child; by and large, they acceded to my wishes – but outside of my child’s earshot, one family member particularly insulted, demeaned, and criticized both me and my ex. To this day, this person (to whom I am indentured) is blind to the fact that he/she is exactly like my ex in character and temperament – and they absolutely can’t stand each other (never have; never will). Even though they have not been officially diagnosed by any mental health professionals, I can honestly say that both check off several boxes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
While I am including this TAR Tale under “Parental Alienation”, I want to tell you it is possible to minimize the effects of this terrible form of abuse and manipulation for your children.
My ex-husband is a brilliant person. A perpetual student with several advanced degrees (including two Masters’ and a Ph.D. in an extremely marketable field). We fell apart following the birth of our only child – she was, after all, an infant and needed everything to be done for her. She became the center of my world, and I had no problem with that. Jealousy and competition became the orders of my ex’s life – resentment over my maternity leave, having to buy diapers instead of movie tickets, cleaning up after my child, and generally committing every waking hour to her. He felt all of this was at his expense, and he participated less than minimally in the wonderful job of parenting.
I told him that he must leave our home after a “straw that broke the camel’s back” day. I woke up early to get my daughter ready for her day with my Dad, who provided care for her while I worked full-time 20 miles from home. Before I went to pick her up from my Dad, I went home to put dinner together for the three of us. My heart started palpitating, I became short of breath, and I found my ex in the bed where I left him 10 hours prior. He hadn’t even taken out the trash to be picked up the next morning, and left a huge mess in the kitchen.
Using my best outside voice (many of my friends will say that I don’t yell), I demanded that he come downstairs. Fifteen minutes later, he showed up in the living room. I said, “you have two weeks to find a place to live.” He knew that was coming – and offered no argument. I called 911 to come and evaluate if I was having a heart attack when he went back upstairs. After being told that it was a panic attack, I settled myself down and went to pick up my daughter and treated us to a fast food dinner. He moved out the next day; I can’t tell you the relief I felt.
My ex could have made this very difficult, but I never gave him any ammunition to use against me. I didn’t file for divorce for 7½ years, left him on my health insurance for five of those years, and allowed him to call me three days in advance of when he or his parents wanted to see our child. My daughter and I told each other everything; she was so precocious and spoke in sentences at 16 months to my complete relief. She understood when I explained that she had to live by the rules of three households – mine, my parents’, and her father’s parents’ homes – and she adapted pretty easily. Every month her father would ask me if I wanted to go through with a divorce; believe me – if I thought things would improve and he would be a member of the family, I might’ve said “no”. I knew that change was not happening, so when a dear friend brought me to her law firm saying “we’re getting you divorced” I did not refuse. We had to take classes to manage custody, finance, and contact; my daughter’s teachers told me that she could teach the class for her peers all on her own. That was another relief for me – she was adjusting to our new life pretty well.
Fast forward. He opted out of the divorce hearing and didn’t contest anything. We had no property, and he certainly didn’t want the responsibility of caring for our daughter even half of the time. He also did not pay child support after the divorce. I’m no hero, but I remained steadfast in my commitment to my daughter.
“I am not going to be the one to ruin that relationship.”
The best advice I can give all of you struggling with leaving a toxic, narcissistic relationship is this:
- Build your relationship with your children. Let them know where they fit into your life. Make them your priority. Love, hug, and kiss them all the time.
- Never speak ill of your ex if at all possible, especially while the kids are tiny. If your ex speaks badly of you, make sure that your communication is open enough with your children to attempt to explain why she/he says mean things about you. If you take a few minutes to think about how to explain, you can adjust yourself in the direction of “tact & diplomacy” – one of my Dad’s favorite adages.
- When the kids are tweens and teens, let honesty enter the conversation. While you still need to interact with your narcissistic ex, make sure all of the rules are clear. It’s okay that we have most of the control – it sends the message that you will not allow your children to be victims of a toxic relationship or person.
I think that the worst thing I said to my ex after he didn’t show up for our child’s high school graduation – “She’s an adult now. I never want to sit across a table from you ever again.” Finally, after not paying child support for more than 10 years and never being denied a visit when it was convenient for him, he has limited contact with my daughter and knows very little of her life. This does not make me happy; and there is no room for vengeance in my heart which is filled with my daughter’s love. Honestly, I hope that someday he will learn how to build his relationship with her. He really has no idea what he’s missing; that is the tragedy in all of this.