by Quinn Pierce
I remember walking along the sidewalk, the ice-covered snow crunching under my feet. The moonlight did nothing to warm winter’s night air, but I couldn’t feel the cold.
I just walked. One foot in front of the other.
Next to me, my dog, Sammy, followed my pace keeping her long Great Dane legs in short strides. This was our usual Saturday night outing since separating from my ex-husband. It was the only thing I could bring myself to do instead of sitting at home, missing my children and crying.
I tried so hard to shield them from the angry and hurt emotions swirling around my dissolving marriage. I believed it was best to try to foster a healthy relationship between my boys and their father. It was a naïve and potentially harmful decision for all of us.
Walking With Grief
I knew my ex-husband was a sociopath. I knew he was verbally, emotionally, and psychologically abusive. I didn’t completely understand, at the time, what that entailed as far as his father-son relationships with my boys. I could only process so much information at a time, and my nights spent alone seemed to be the time I would do just that.
I walked for miles those nights hoping to clear my head. But it was difficult to concentrate on any one thing. I would spend most of my energy praying my ex-husband was on his best behavior and treating the boys well. Some nights, I would lose track of time and return home frozen and exhausted late into the night.
Sammy never complained. It’s as if she knew I needed to walk, and I needed her company. It was another form of therapy for me.
When my boys returned home on Sundays, I felt as if I had been holding my breath for two days; it was always such a relief. During that time, I was very conscious of not doing anything to cause an argument with my ex-husband. I didn’t want him upset or angry when he was around the boys.
I didn’t realize that I was leading myself down a very dangerous and unhealthy path. My ex started changing the rules almost immediately. He pushed back boundaries, and became very invasive to our lives. I knew this was causing me stress, but I accepted it thinking I was saving my children from additional strain.
I hadn’t yet learned the two fundamental rules of dealing with a sociopath ex-spouse:
- No matter how you treat a sociopath, it will not affect the way he or she treats others.
- Any act done through kindness will be perceived as a weakness and exploited in every way possible.
Awakening to the Truth
It wouldn’t be until the crisp, winter snow had been replaced by warm, summer rains that I would begin to understand the importance of these rules. The difficulty comes in when we try to make sense of the thought process of a sociopath. It is counterintuitive to the way a healthy person thinks; which is why it would take many more months of practice before I could put my knowledge into action.
Every week, my children came home out of sorts, anxious, distressed. I spent hours talking to them about their feelings and how I could help them through this process. We all continued to go to counseling, and I thought I was being as supportive as possible to their needs.
But, in trying to placate my ex-husband, I was allowing myself to be treated in a way that I would, otherwise, not accept. I was lowering my standards of self-respect in the hopes that my children would receive the respect I was giving up.
It didn’t work out that way.
I started to notice a pattern. Whenever I challenged my ex-husband for his behavior towards the boys, he would lash out towards me and maybe, or maybe not, change how he interacted with the boys, but it wasn’t so much based on what I wanted as it was based on the legitimacy of my threat. Anything that produced a legal action would curb his behavior; otherwise, it was business as usual.
And that’s just what it was- his usual behavior. His actions were entirely dependent on his needs, his moods, his wants- exactly like that of a child, but without the fear of consequences.
On the other hand, my boys’ reactions did change according to my responses to my ex-husband. They were less anxious and more talkative when my attitude became more assertive. It’s as if they were following my lead.
It was an important lesson for all of us. I thought I was giving them security and confidence, but I was sending confusing messages that were causing them to feel insecure. They knew their father’s behavior wasn’t going to change; all they saw was me giving in to his demands and not standing up for myself. I now believe that I was inadvertently teaching them to be afraid of their father, and at the same time, I was showing them that I would not be able to stand up to him and protect them.
It was the complete opposite of what I had intended.
Sometimes, the most difficult life lessons have to be learned through trial and error. Looking back can give clarity, but it can also be quite annoying to see all your mistakes so clearly.
It’s important, however, not to spend too much time in the past. I now know what I need to do to move forward, and those steps are much more important.
Sammy is older now, and her old bones aren’t eager to go for long walks these days. Luckily, moving forward only requires small steps, and we have traveled far enough to deserve a little rest. Maybe, this winter, we’ll watch the snowfall outside the window while wrapped in a warm blanket of our new-found serenity.