Editor’s note: Here is a letter from a Lovefraud reader whom we’ll call “GI Joe.” This reader is in the military, so July 4th seemed an appropriate time to post this article. First, I want to acknowledge him and all members of the military for their service. Secondly, the answers to his questions have to do with freedom.
My ex-wife and I divorced in 2012. The marriage was a nightmare that lasted more than 11 years and left me financially ruined, emotionally distressed and alone. To make matters worse, my ex moved out of state with my children, making it impossible for me to see my children on a regular basis.
Since I was in a financial hurt locker, it took me years before I was able to save up enough to battle her in court to get full summer vacations with the children, every other Christmas holiday, and guaranteed phone calls and skype calls. She even has to pay half on travel costs for the children to come see me.
In spite of all of this, my sociopathic ex finds ways to make my life difficult and further alienate me from the children. Pictures of my children and I that were hanging on their bedroom walls were removed. My ex spath even went so far as to instruct our children to begin calling her new boyfriend (now her husband) “daddy,” causing more confusion for the children (especially my 5-year-old daughter, who now differentiates her stepfather and myself as “fake daddy and real daddy”).
To even make matters worse, I receive no financial support from my ex while the children are with me, to include the fact that my ex is also keeping the child support I send to her. So with this being said, I have to support myself and three children (ages 12,11 and 5) all while serving in the military, which bears a pretty large financial burden in the form of day care expenses.
To top this off, even though I pay my ex over $16,000 a year in child support, I don’t even get to claim them on taxes as our divorce decree did not specify this and my ex files for taxes before I can even say anything about it. Last year, my ex filed her taxes with her husband and claimed all three of my children, to include one child she has with her new husband. She does not work, and her husband is also in the military. By doing this, she ensures that I am not able to accrue large amounts of money, keeping me from financially stabilizing myself and also ensuring that I will not be able to afford going to court in order to rectify these wrongs.
My question is, How do I allow myself to heal when I am still very much in contact with my ex spath? How can you heal when you cannot defend yourself?
If I do as yourself and other writers have suggested and partake in a no-contact order, then I risk losing my children and/or allowing them to become brainwashed by my ex. I know I have to go to court again with her because as long as things stay the way they are, I will never be able to get on my feet and it will become increasingly harder for me to spend time with my children as I will not be able to do so financially.
How do you maintain that arm’s distance to allow the healing process to begin? I believe very much so that this issue needs to be resolved in order for me to truly move on.
Donna Andersen responds
Know that what you are experiencing is typical when you’re trying to co-parent with a sociopath. Often the sociopath’s objective is to do everything she can to make your life miserable. So let’s talk about, to borrow a military term, countermeasures.
Your letter brings up three issues:
1. Dealing with your ex-wife
2. Dealing with your children
3. Your own recovery
I’ll discuss these issues one at a time.
Yes, usually Lovefraud recommends no contact with the sociopath. The big exception to that policy is when you share children with him or her. Then your objective needs to be minimizing the contact, and making whatever contact you do have less stressful.
The only communication you should have with her should be related to the “business” of dealing with your children. If she tries to engage you in any other discussion, do not take the bait. Do not reveal anything about your life.
Even though it is sad that she is out of state and it’s difficult to see your kids, the good news is that she is not in your face. This should make it easier to attain what I call “emotional no contact.”
Emotional no contact means you do not let her get to you. When she pulls her latest stunt, whatever it is, you simply do not react. Remember, sociopaths feed on reactions. So if you deny her a reaction, you are not feeding the beast.
You want to get to the point where you can anticipate what she’s going to do, and when she does it, you privately roll your eyes. In your mind you should be saying, “There she goes again.”
Maybe you’re already doing this, and if so, that’s great. If you’re not, getting to this point has to do with your own healing, which I’ll discuss in a bit.
About the money — First of all, perhaps it’s better to use your money to see your children under the arrangements that exist now, rather then spending it on lawyers. You could spend thousands of dollars to go to court, and end up with a situation that changes very little.
If what you really want is to be able to claim your kids as a tax deduction, maybe there’s another way to accomplish that. Can you call the IRS, explain your situation, and ask for a “clarification”? It won’t cost anything. And who knows? Maybe the IRS will become curious about what else she’s doing with her taxes.
(Lovefraud readers: Has anyone tried this? Is there any reason not to do it?)
Finally, document, document, document. Keep very good records of anything that happens to your children, and any inappropriate parenting by your ex. Save every email, text and document. Keep notes, and develop a way to organize them. Should you ever decide that she is abusing your kids, and you must to go back to court, you’ll need evidence to prove your case.
You want to be a beacon of love and stability for your children. Every time you speak to them, tell them that you love them. Make sure you are reliable and keep your promises. (Their sociopathic mother won’t do either.) Call when you say you’re going to call. Do what you say you’re going to do.
Your kids will see the difference. After all, your youngest already knows the difference between “real daddy” and “fake daddy.”
About the pictures — can you make a Facebook or Pinterest page where you can post them? This can be a reminder for your kids that is always available. Keep updating the page with messages and pictures. (For safety’s sake, make sure the page is private.)
Because the American family courts are often a fiasco, many, many parents have seen their kids court-ordered to live with sociopaths. It can be hard on the kids. But eventually they grow up, and I’ve heard kids who have “aged out” of the situation talk about their experience. Here’s what they say to the healthy parent: Don’t give up. Keep being there for your kids, however you can.
If the kids aren’t themselves disordered — which, unfortunately, is a risk — eventually they will see the truth.
In your letter, you said that you feel the financial issue needs to be resolved in order for you to truly move on. Actually, this is not true.
Recovery from the experience with a sociopath takes two tracks. The first track is dealing with whatever practical mess the sociopath left for you. The second track is your personal healing.
Here’s what you should understand: You do not need to wait until your financial situation is resolved to begin your emotional recovery. You can make progress on both of these tracks at the same time.
I wrote about this a few months ago on Lovefraud:
Most of our upset after tangling with a sociopath comes from wanting things to be different. We wish that we never met the person. We wish we’d gotten out when we sensed something was wrong. We wish that the sociopath could just be normal.
The key to recovery is acceptance. This does not mean that you condone the sociopath’s behavior. But you do accept that the situation is what it is.
Then you grieve it.
Processing the pain
You’ve experienced a terrible loss — the same as losing friends in Afghanistan or Iraq. You’ve lost the woman you thought you married, the family life that you wanted, the joy of being with your children every day, the future that you envisioned. Make no mistake — the loss is severe.
You’ll need to process the grief, which means allowing yourself to feel the pain. If you’ve done this, great. If not, realize that when emotions are bottled up inside of you, they fester. They affect the way you perceive life. And if the pain is stuck within you long enough, your body turns it into disease.
Give yourself permission to process the pain, knowing getting the negative emotions out of your system frees you.
When you feel better, you may start to see new solutions to the practical matters you’re faced with. You’ll also be able to offer more love to your children — and that’s really important.