By Quinn Pierce
When you are in a relationship with a sociopath, you quickly learn the act of avoidance. Without saying a word, a sociopath can let you know exactly when he or she is angry or disappointed with your behavior. That leads you to begin reacting to subtle clues and hints that may never be stated, but are clearly understood.
For me, I began avoiding all situations that would create that indescribable tension in the house. The feeling of walking on egg shells while holding my breath.
Sometimes, it would mean turning down a shopping trip with friends, or a trip to the store without the children. It just became easier to avoid these situations altogether.
At the same time, the boys and I knew what types of activities were ‘safe’. And those usually included anything that put my ex-husband in a good light. He would take the boys anywhere there were people to praise him for being a good dad. He would suggest I go out with friends if there were others around to hear him encourage me to have fun without him. It was always a way to maintain his façade.
This action-reaction type relationship became a sort of game. I would try to read what would be acceptable and plan according to his moods. He would control what everyone did by his non-verbal responses and reactions, which he could later deny and attribute to my ‘over-sensitive’ nature.
False Sense of Control
Whatever method, it was a way to reduce conflict. Ironically, to outsiders, our relationship appeared to be very much controlled by me. I was often accused of being controlling and domineering. And, of course, my ex-husband would never claim otherwise.
That wasn’t the only strategy he used to make it appear as though I was in control. Another technique he used was leaving me to make decisions without any input from him.
For a long time, I really did feel as though I was in charge of certain areas of my life. What I didn’t realize was that he was actually putting me in the position to take all the responsibility if things went wrong. For example, if I made a decision about what car to buy, he could then complain about how much it cost, how it drove, the practicality and/or design of the car, etc.
It was one of his favorite ploys. Instead of saying anything negative before or during the decision making process, he would use his silence to his advantage. If the decision was something that made me happy, he could easily find something to criticize claiming he never approved of it in the first place.
If the decision was something that put him in a good light, he could pretend it was just as much his idea. And probably the most significant to him, if the decision made other people upset or angry, he could say he didn’t have anything to do with it, it was just my decision and I was controlling.
I can’t remember a time when he ever gave a definitive answer on any decision. Unless he was forced to do so, he would gladly let others decide for him, and even then, he would complain that he was not given a choice, etc.
Coming To His Rescue
In keeping with his need to not get his hand dirty, he also convinced me and others to fight his battles for him. I remember how distraught he would be when he was ‘unfairly wronged’ by someone else. He was very good at playing the victim role to me, as well. I would feel this almost maternal sense of needing to protect him from these cruel people he would describe. And, sometimes, I would do just that.
I made phone calls and wrote emails to people who were supposedly treating him unfairly and making him feel so terribly hurt. There are days I think I owe several people apologies, because I now know it was more likely that my ex-husband was the one to do the hurtful acts, and I was used as a pawn to deflect what he had done. But, for one thing, it’s too embarrassing to even write such an apology at this point, and secondly, it will only pull me back in to a world I have long since walked away from.
Choosing the Important Battles
The real irritation for me was learning that my ex-husband actually maintained a relationship with these people, most likely by painting a picture of me that cast him in a sympathetic light. His skill at manipulating others was a big factor when it came time to decide which relationships I should try to maintain after my separation. The reality became clear quickly: unless I wanted to play tug of war over friendships with my ex, I was going to have to walk away from almost all of them. And that’s what I did.
I didn’t have the energy to try and present the real story to friends and family who already believed I had been the controlling one for most of my marriage. I had two young children who needed me much more.
Learning How to Heal
We were no longer walking on eggshells, but it would take a while for us to get used to the feel of our new steps. When you learn something and believe it to be ‘normal’, even if it is unhealthy, it takes a lot of retraining thoughts and emotions to a new situation.
Anything new, even feeling safe and happy can be an uncomfortable feeling that actually makes us uneasy. Sociopathic spouses spend much of their energy creating a sense of ‘normal’ that does not exist outside of that relationship.
My healing continues with hard work, support, and forgiveness…of myself. I struggle to make decisions without questioning my choices, and I have to make a very conscious effort every day not to avoid unpleasant tasks.
Once I am able to accept happiness and safety as my new normal, I will finally have real control over my life.