Monday, October 1, 2012

How The Leaving Began

It took a herculean effort for me to walk out on my narcissistic spouse.  The craft of a narcissist, it seems, is the ability to stretch the boundaries between partners, pushing spouses to the verge of leaving and then tapering back to let them become accustomed to the loss.  And then to push the boundaries again, repeating the pattern until their victims have nothing at all left.  When there is nothing left to take, they become abusive.  That was where it had to get for me to leave.

Following, through the end of this post, is a document I put together to bring to a therapist for advice.  The only edits I am making are to remove the identities.  This is exactly where I was when I made the decision to get out.  For the record, on my very first visit, the therapist said -- "language" included -- "You need to get the f*** away from this woman.  You cannot fix this person!"

Reasons for Divorce

-          controlling behavior

-          demeaning comments

-          I'm always walking on eggshells trying to keep her from getting mad.

-          taking over major decisions I should be involved in (i.e. giving our car to her family)

-          demanding decisions and rejecting all my choices

-          given up on initiating sex years ago – always rejected (I know not to use the word "always", but on this issue it is justified as I started taking note at one point – not one accepted advance in months).  We have sex, but only when she initiates.

-          she sits alone in her recliner, reading a magazine.  Very unapproachable.

-          cannot watch TV, listen to music, or enjoy the computer without the "evil eye"

-          when I talk about my interests, she cuts me off – literally says, "I don't care about that"

-          when angry about anything, it's OK to yell at me (huge difference between this and venting).  She uses a phrase, "I need a dog to kick".  I'm generally that dog.

-          went to counseling years ago, and after a year, all seemed fine.  6 months after that, she referred to the experience as "that huge waste of time I put her through".

-          I've considered leaving many times for financial reasons.  I asked her for help – that we see a budget counselor, or even to just divide the income/expenses into hers, mine, and ours so I could save.  She said she likes having control of the money.

-          We rarely visit my family because the budget goes to hers.  We pay for her parents to visit us at least twice a year (in addition to Christmas, when we fly them out to take care of the kids over their break instead of dumping the money into daycare).

-          I used to fight.  I really did.  But *everything* was a fight, and she doesn't fight to resolve – she fights to win.  There was no getting my way without an endurance match, and I couldn't enjoy anything I "won" because of the hard feelings it caused to get it.  So I have given up.  And I hate it.  I don't want the kids to see this as an example of a relationship.

Two key arguments -- "straws that broke the camel's back"

-          late May - She got angry at Quartus calling from a friend's house as we were talking about plans for our back yard.  Started yelling at me to handle him and gave me the phone.  Afterward, she told me I do nothing but play video games and drink beer (for the record, I drink maximum one beer per night and play a game for an hour or two after everyone's in bed).  She blamed me for 15 years of high blood pressure and heart rate (repeating "15 years!" for emphasis at the end).  She used foul language several times during this assault.  Told me, "You never make a f---ing decision!"  I replied, "I try.  You won't accept my choices."  She came back with, "Great!  That's a great way to help lower my blood pressure!"

-          May 30 - International festival at kids' school.  We decided to go out to eat instead of staying due to lines and food choices.  Along the way, she decided she didn't like the restaurant choice I'd suggested (Del Taco, because they sell hamburgers and chicken nuggets our pickiest child would eat).  I suggested El Torito.  No good.  As I tried to guess what she wanted, she got more and more angry and resorted to swearing at me in front of the kids.  By that point, I'd suggested I could cook at home (too much time), fast food restaurants (she wanted table-service), and table-service (it was a Friday and the wait would be long).  When I gave up and asked where she wanted to go, she said, "Why can't you make a f---ing decision???"

That was the point where I realized I wanted out – that I had wanted it for a long time.  Not because we'd had that argument, but because we have that argument all the time (in addition to the other reasons listed above).  She rarely resorts to swearing, but generally uses words like stupid or idiotic to describe my choices.

I have not been happy for years.  But leaving always seemed harder than staying.  It hasn't gotten any easier, but I can see at least a chance to be happy – even though the thought of living alone terrifies me.

For the record – as far as "doing nothing"… I fold and put away laundry (she generally puts it in the machine and then takes credit for "doing laundry").   I fill and empty the dishwasher.  I most always cook when I'm home first (though that's not an issue with me because it's rare on a workday).  I usually shop for groceries.  I vacuum (she can't due to a shoulder injury, but Secundus does sometimes).  I clean the toilets and bathtubs (she can't handle chemicals).  I do the parent-part of most every science and art project the boys bring home from school.  And, though I "never make phone calls", every bill in our house is in my name because I'm the one who set up all the accounts.  I also pay all the bills.  I am admittedly not good at managing projects (i.e. the back yard) and doing large maintenance projects (flooring or painting), and I tend to procrastinate about them.  I don't say I'm perfect, but I cringe every time I hear an impassioned "you do nothing around here.  NOTHING!"

Monday, August 27, 2012

My Kids Have A Therapist - Finally

Divorce is hard on everyone involved.  Even those outside the nuclear family are adversely affected by the trauma.  But it's hardest on the kids.  That is one of the reasons I stayed in a bad marriage so long.  As cliche as it may be, I "stayed in it for the kids".

We had relocated before the divorce.  The kids were unhappy so far from where they were raised and wanted to be back home.  As part of the divorce, Yzma and I agreed to move back to our family hometown (which was neither hers nor mine, but was "the family's").  Still, this left the kids in two new homes and having moved twice across state borders.  They were happy to be back, but that didn't eliminate the stress of the moves and the divorce.

So I told Yzma I felt they should see a counselor.  "They saw one when we separated.  They don't need it," she argued.  They'd had a single visit with her therapist the week of our separation.

Time passed, and I asked again.  There was always a reason why they should not go.  "It will stigmatize them", or "There is NOTHING wrong with those kids", or "Where I come from, we handle our OWN problems".  In any case, there was not going to be consent, and without consent our divorce agreement forbade me from getting the kids the help they needed to deal with all that had gone on.

I eventually went to a therapist for my own issues with the divorce.  Yzma and I had a very unbalanced divorce agreement, and she was using the kids and the agreement to run both households.  Turns out in the end, he was not the right therapist for me, but he helped me get started.  "Based on your dynamic with her," he said, "you will never get what you want interacting with her directly.  You need to gently shut her down and put a lawyer between you.  Otherwise, she will use all the tools she has against you --  guilt, shame, anger, and rage -- because she knows she can get to you with them."

A divorced friend gave me his lawyer's number.  And I called.  In the middle of all this, Bella and I had decided to move in together.  She suggested that if I was going to go through the effort of legal action, I should set everything right, not just the unbalanced custody and child support.  She had been living with the kids and witnessed their discomfort and anxiety over the divorce situation.  So, in my proposed revisions to the divorce agreement, I included that I wanted to get the kids some therapy.

This did not go over well with Yzma, and she never agreed.  With all the back and forth, the big things -- the custody and child support -- were never even challenged.  But unexpected things were, and one of them was therapy.  Our inability to reach agreement resulted in mediation, and she finally conceded when everyone in the room reacted in shock to her utter refusal.  And even then, she would not allow the kids to see the therapist Bella and I had been seeing for some "new family unit" therapy.  The legal agreement we came out with was this:  The kids would see a therapist once, and based on that therapist's opinion, would have follow-up visits (alone or together) and/or be permitted to see the therapist Bella and I have been seeing.  Despite this being an afterthought of the legal endeavor, it may end up being the greatest win to come out of it.

I sent Yzma a list of all the nearby therapists on my insurance plan.  She sent back three names, and I chose one of those.  The last time the kids were with her before their first visit, she explained to them that she did not see anything wrong with them and that this was all dad's idea.  She didn't tell me this, but the boys did.  I explained that therapy was not for fixing what is wrong with a person, but that it is simply an opportunity to discuss things on your mind with someone who is not an involved party.  That the therapist doesn't take sides, and she doesn't share secrets that they tell during their time together.  She will listen and offer tools to help you deal with your challenges in the healthiest way.

We went for the first session, and the boys came out visibly relaxed.  Secundus had already arranged his first follow up session by the time he emerged.  The younger two were very happy and entirely willing to go back.  The therapist agreed wholeheartedly that the kids need this.  She also agreed it would be good for us all to go as a group to Bella's and my therapist.  But Tertius felt he wasn't ready for that, so she asked us to give her some more time to sell him on the idea so he doesn't feel pressured.  I am good with that.

My question, and the one that is most commonly reflected back at me when I speak of this, is, "What could possibly make a person refuse to allow their kids to have therapy after something as massive as a divorce?"  The answer always filters down to one thing:  She will be revealed, and her power to manipulate the children will fade.  These children will be confident and emotionally healthy, and nothing scares the narcissist more than that!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Divorce. Do It Right The First Time

Handling a divorce -- especially from a narcissistic spouse -- is a huge topic, and I will not even attempt to venture into the depths of it.  But I want to bullet point the key parts I messed up that resulted in a renegotiation of terms that almost paralleled the divorce in scale.
  • Get A Lawyer - I cannot emphasize this enough.  I thought we were on good enough terms to negotiate a fair divorce, but found myself unprepared for the demands and theatrics she put on in front of the mediators.  I would still recommend a mediated divorce over a court one if you can manage it, but do so with proper representation.
  • See A Therapist - The only way to get what you want out of a divorce is to understand just what that is.  A therapist can help you find the balance between getting what you need and going after everything just to screw the other person.  Feeling guilty for what I had initiated in the divorce left me vulnerable to losing a lot of what I was entitled to.
  • Don't Rush Just To Get It Over With - Don't concede to demands or terms you are uncomfortable with in order to end the process.  It is really hard to get through.  But caving in order to finish it up might result in you having to go through a similar process later just to set things right.  And it's harder to change once it's written up and signed by you.
As I said, there's so much more to this, but the main thing is to figure out your needs and pursue them appropriately.  You may find that a lot changes later concerning your wants and needs, and that is outside your control.  But if you know what those are, document them.

For example, I was working long hours with a long commute at the time of my divorce.  I knew  I could not take care of the kids during the week.  I expressed a desire for 50/50 custody during mediation, but accepted 70/30 based on my work schedule -- even though I had plans to switch jobs to one more amenable to a 50/50 split.  If I had it to do again, I would most definitely add verbiage to that effect. Once I had that new job, Yzma admitted 50/50 was fair, but refused to make a change to the agreement because "she liked it as is".  If the divorce agreement had a clause saying the job situation was temporary and the split would change to 50/50 when we were working similar hours, it would have enacted automatically.

I truly believe most people know what is fair and what is not.  Do your best not to cross that boundary yourself, and fight fiercely if your soon-to-be-ex-spouse does.  You don't have to be a jerk in the process, but you need to see this person as an adversary, no matter how agreeable they may seem on the surface.  Otherwise, you might be shocked at just what a narcissist will try to pull when one catches you unprepared.

Who's Who?

I am going to name people in a fashion I hope is easy to remember or figure out as time goes on.  Those I can think of up front are as follows (and are likely to change):
  • First Wife - Yzma
  • First son (deceased) - Primus
  • Second son - Secundus
  • Third son - Tercius
  • Fourth son - Quartus
  • My current partner - Bella
  • Dog 1 - Springy
  • Dog 2 - Wispy
  • Cat - Hiss
 You are quite welcome to call the names cheesy.  Because they are. :)

I Am Taking Back The Wheel

I walked into a bad marriage - knowingly.  I saw the signs in time to run, and yet I moved forward anyway.  I lived with this narcissist, who had many symptoms of borderline personality disorder.  I knew early on, and yet I stayed in that situation through 17 years, 3 kids, and 2 marital counselors.  I am learning now the dynamics of our situation and why I did it.

I am nice to a fault, extremely non-confrontational, and obsessively fair, and I am the perfect type of person to be controlled by someone like my ex-wife.  Or at least I was.

I left her a few years ago, and I am taking back the wheel.  I have since found love again, and the future is looking very bright.

In this blog, I intend to share the details of how I ended up where I am today.  I am hopeful that I can help others like me to realize they are not alone.  I plan to offer stories from my former marriage as well as opinions and personal observations about our situation.  I am also hopeful that others who are dealing with or have dealt with similar unbalanced relationships will contribute as well via moderated comments.

I am not a psychological professional.  Readers accept all responsibility for how they process and use my posts.  I will not promise to be fair or balanced in my posts.  Instead, I will post from my own perceptions of situations and leave it to you to understand that her version of the stories may vary.  I will do my very best to be open and honest about everything I post, but I will not use any real names.  I hope that you will find it helpful and that I will find it freeing and cathartic to put it into words.  Welcome.