by Quinn Pierce
For a long time, I tried to keep confrontations with my ex-husband to a minimum. I always thought that I could avoid causing my boys any further harm by just ‘keeping the peace’. I considered it a small price to pay if I had to tolerate inconveniences and insults in order to give my children a drama-less environment.
But, as is always the case when negotiating with a sociopath, the price was much higher than I ever imagined.
I believed I was setting an example by taking the high road and not engaging my ex-husband in his game-playing antics. Unfortunately, what I was doing was letting a bully set the rules and move the boundaries at will.
And while I thought I was helping my boys to feel safe and secure, I was acting in a way that made them think I could not protect them from their father. If I couldn’t stand up to him when he tried to exert control and disrupt our lives with small, insignificant acts, how could I stand up to him if he did something really hurtful or scary?
I guess I didn’t realize that a sociopath will act the exact same way whether someone is nice or not. It’s definitely true of my ex-husband. The more accommodating and agreeable I am, the more he tries to take advantage of me and push past the boundaries I have set. It seems as though his ultimate goal is always to have me engage in some type of drama, and so, he pushes until there is conflict, takes advantage of my conflict avoidance, or enjoys every second of his drama-filled arguments.
For me, it was something I had to figure out through experience, since it didn’t really register when anyone else shared this type of advice. Which means it took a totally unexpected, and somewhat bizarre event, to show me just how misguided my judgment was when dealing with this man whose only consistent characteristic is spitefulness.
And that event occurred after I finally decided to reinstate a long forgotten rule of not allowing unexpected visits from my ex at my home. Not long after my minor reprimand and reminder to him not to show up unannounced, I received two hate-filled emails from his new wife outlining every aspect of my life that she felt needed criticizing and judging. Apparently, my life is just chock-full of reprehensible, despicable, and immoral behavior. Actually, I was a bit jealous of the ‘me’ she described with such animosity; in reality, my life is not nearly as interesting or well planned.
It may not seem all that unusual for a new wife to despise an ex-wife, but I was very surprised by the email attack by this woman. For one thing, I had probably spoken to her for a total of five minutes in the previous two years. Secondly, I never gave as much thought to her as she obviously did to me, and I found it unsettling that she had such strong opinions of someone she hardly knew. Lastly, I actually encouraged my boys to have a relationship with this woman. Ok, maybe I couldn’t say the words “step mom” without feeling ill, but I figured the boys would need all the support they could get when visiting their father, so I was actually relieved when he met someone who had children the same ages as mine.
This may provide some insight as to how I missed the warning signs when I married my ex-husband in the first place, since twenty years later, I still seem to have this naïve streak that gets me into these predicaments.
Waiting For The Opportunity
At any rate, I needed to talk to my boys about this strange turn of events. I knew they would be hearing some less-than-pleasant things said about me next time they visited their dad, and I wanted to let them know that, although I was disappointed by the disrespectful and cruel email attacks, I really didn’t care what she thought about me and they should just ignore anything they heard.
What this incident did, however, was far more significant than learning how much anger and hate a virtual stranger held toward me. It gave my boys an opportunity to unleash all the emotions they had held in for two years.
Following My Lead
Once those floodgates were opened, there was no turning back for my boys. All of a sudden, I was hearing details of their visits that I never heard before. And, my boys were starting to speak up for themselves when staying over at their father’s house. What’s more, they became very protective of me and were no longer pretending everything was fine at my ex-husband’s home.
I was stunned by the transformation of my children. I realized that they were just waiting for the opportunity to talk about what it was like visiting their father’s house. I had actually prevented them from expressing their concerns, opinions, fears, etc, because what I had considered to be ‘keeping the peace’ had actually created an atmosphere that did not encourage the boys to speak their minds or share any negative experiences.
In essence, by trying to prevent conflict and confrontation, I had caused more stress for my children. I let a sociopath make and change the rules,-giving him his coveted control, while I appeared unable to protect the boys from his harmful behaviors.
I couldn’t believe the outcome of my actions were actually the complete opposite of what I had intended. I guess I had continued a pattern of compliance from my marriage that I didn’t even realize was still happening. It nearly broke my heart to learn this.
Better Late Than Never
It’s strange to think I am grateful for being verbally attacked by my ex-husband’s new wife, but I would say that I am. She provided the catalyst to the events that would subsequently give my boys the opportunity to find their voices.
And I learned how important it is to maintain boundaries and not let the bully exert control. I had become so used to avoiding arguments and conflicts that I didn’t recognize those situations that required me to stand up to my ex-husband. He recognized that trait in me, and he took advantage of what he saw as an easy opportunity.
So, I am grateful. I don’t know how long it might have taken me otherwise to figure out that my non-confrontational approach to my ex-husband was causing anxiety and stress for my children.
Who knows, maybe someday I’ll email her back and thank her for telling me what a horrible, controlling, vindictive person I am…then again, it was really a pain to have to change my email address after her unsolicited opinions of my character flaws began flooding my inbox, so maybe I’ll just call it even.