by Quinn Pierce and H.G. Beverly
Quinn Pierce and H.G. Beverly both married and divorced psychopaths. They both have children with these men and are therefore connected to them for life. Here, they share their experiences and advice.
Let’s start with a big, looming question. When and how did you figure out you were with a psychopath?
I had no idea I was married to a sociopath for most of my marriage. But the signs were there—for years, I battled depression, anxiety, feels of worthlessness, and all the classic symptoms of a spouse in an abusive relationship. However, I didn’t know what a sociopath was, nor did I understand that abuse could be anything other than physical; so I rationalized my life, made excuses for my spouse, tried to help my children, and believed I was suffering from depression and anxiety due to my own chemical make-up. It wasn’t until I started seeing a counselor who was well versed in abuse, PTSD, and sociopathy that I was given the pieces of the puzzle that were missing. Ironically, as I became healthy through counseling and a complete overhaul of my medication, my husband’s abusive behaviors escalated. Once I was clear minded and able to recognize the signs, I was stunned to realize how much of my life had been manipulated and controlled.
My husband could not handle a healthy wife. I did not understand at the time that he was enabling me when I was ill, but I was interpreting it as care and concern. When I was healthy and strong, he continually criticized me, called me crazy, sick, manipulative, unstable, etc… When I was depressed, he brought me gifts and ‘took care of me,’ which was his way of almost praising me for needing him. Once I knew the effect he was having on our family and after months of unsuccessful counseling (I later learned that couples counseling is never effective with a sociopathic partner), I asked for a divorce.
I was naïve and undereducated on psychopathy, so I didn’t know until far into a seven year divorce/custody battle during which my ex relentlessly used the court to attack and drain me.
I didn’t know because I had no language to know. No one I knew ever talked about psychopaths or sociopaths outside of an occasional conversation on Ted Bundy types. I didn’t know that it’s estimated to be as common in the U.S. as ADHD. And even though I went through graduate school during my divorce to become a clinical social worker and Gestalt psychotherapist, no part of my training programs focused on evaluating and identifying non-incarcerated sociopaths/psychopaths. Called ‘Antisocial Personality Disorder’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used for diagnoses, this particular disorder is most commonly associated with a creepy feeling of coldness—or criminality. And that’s a mistake. I had to learn most everything I know on the topic through independent studies and research.
The lesson in all that for you is that you should never assume or believe that any clinical practitioner or expert in the mental health system can fully see and assess (or even not be fooled by) a psychopath. We’re all human. I recommend that you work with someone who has specialized in this area or has pursued additional training or research. And even then, keep the human factor in mind. I read in Anna Salter’s book, Predators, that research shows untrained college students are as capable of picking up on deception as FBI agents—meaning not that they’re great at it but instead that none of us are as good at it as we think we are. Particularly with psychopaths, who don’t experience or display physiological dissonance when lying.
So for a long, long time, I didn’t know how to look for the signs in my own life. And even though I met and worked with advocates at two Victim’s Units, law enforcement, the family court, multiple therapists for myself and my children, an assortment of attorneys, psychologists, mediators, and two guardians, not one of these individuals ever suggested to me that my ex may be a psychopath. Not one.
And that’s shocking, given that he has abused our family on every level since 1999 with ample evidence and witnesses. How and why do they ignore this abuse? Because he never breaks a bone. Financial abuse, psychological abuse, gas-lighting, isolation, legal abuse, emotional abuse, stalking, threatening, menacing, choking, trespassing—none of these things are/were enough to matter, even when they form behavioral patterns that span years.
It’s hard to find support and protection in systems that lack the training or even the vocabulary for identifying non-incarcerated psychopaths and their impacts. We need more training in assessment, we need clear definitions that span organizations and eliminate gaps, and we need more research on psychopaths as partners and parents.
How did this impact your divorce? Any advice?
When I asked for a divorce, my husband refused to acknowledge my request. He kept saying he would not leave and that I was crazy. We actually had an in-home separation for nearly a year because I could not get him to move out and was not strong enough to forcefully do so with police involvement. I thought it would be more detrimental to my children if I caused a scene. This was something that had been ingrained in me over many years. I truly thought I was protecting my children by staying married and not causing any more conflict. I had no idea how much harm it was causing my children to stay married to this man.
Once he realized I was not going to change my mind about the divorce, he started the smear campaign. He called my family to tell them that I was crazy, that I was seeing a crazy psychologist who was putting ideas in my head that were making me destroy my family, and that my medication was making me irrational and out of control. He also went door to door in our neighborhood telling neighbors that we were separating and that he was moving out so as not to disrupt the children’s living situation—and whatever else he could think of to make himself look like the good guy.
Luckily, I had a lawyer who saw though my husband’s facade immediately, but most people in my life believed him and supported him, including much of my family. The divorce was a time when I felt very isolated and alone, but I was determined to finally do what was best for my children and myself. I made many concessions in the divorce, simply because I picked the battles that were important and gave in to anything that was merely ego related or things he was trying to do just for spite. I wasn’t going to engage in those games, I only fought for what I believed my children and I needed to survive. He still hasn’t followed through on some of the terms, even though it’s been five years.
The family court system benefits enormously from long, drawn-out battles. So even though they may groan about the collective headache they get from “high conflict” couples, they also make an enormous amount of money on these “cash cows.”
My ex had a strong, steady income but no assets. I had a very minimal income and lots of assets. He used his income to drive seven years in the court, and there’s no emergency brake for the party who doesn’t want to participate.
The income and assets went to our attorneys. And after seven years, even the court professionals all started to admit that we both weren’t “high conflict”—that my ex was actually the problem. His behaviors finally created some chinks in his own armor. So the final outcome has been pretty positive. But wow, it took a long time and more than what I had to get here.
How are your children dealing with it? Any key recommendations?
When I initiated the divorce, my children were ten and eleven. I was very honest with them, but on an age appropriate level. I explained that the three of us had been working very hard in counseling to get better and help each other, and their dad was not willing to do the same, so I needed to keep our home healthy and safe. I learned that even though children can’t always articulate what they feel, they understand what is going on around them much better than adults do at times. The day my husband moved out, my younger son stopped wetting his bed and my older son no longer had outbursts of anger and crying over little things that upset him. And I truly mean the very day he moved out it stopped.
My recommendations for children during the divorce is to get them into counseling and provide an opportunity for them to express their fears, anger, worries, relief, or whatever they are feeling without being told that they have nothing to worry about or that everything is fine. They know everything is not fine, and they are going to worry. I made it a priority not to bad-mouth their father, but at the same time, explain what behaviors of his were unacceptable and unhealthy. I think it was a relief to them just to know that it was not okay to be treated in the way they had been for so long.
My boys have reacted in very different ways from one another. One tried to be the happy, perfect child who didn’t upset anyone; the other has been able to distance himself from his father and accept what his father is capable of giving him—and not giving him. I have a very close relationship with both of my boys, and I know they will waver in how they feel about their father. I try to respect their need for whatever type of relationship they have with their father. Now that they are teenagers, however, I will talk to them about their father’s motives and predictable behavior so they can stay healthy and protect themselves, as well.
My children have been through things I never imagined would happen and that will always make me gasp with sorrow and fury. I thought (again, I was naive) that the court would work to protect children. But their original guardian ad litem did not adequately fulfill his duties in that role. For example, he refused to conduct investigations when asked by other professionals. He failed to do due diligence. He met secretly with my ex and bought into the lies he was told about me, even when they directly contradicted hard evidence and testimony. At times, he would laugh at my distress.
Because he became captivated by my ex and his “values-driven” proclamations, my children’s guardian refused to see or protect them from evidenced behaviors that were causing clear damage in the form of bruises, burns, and psychological disturbances. This guardian also prevented other people from protecting them, including their therapists and even me.
Because of the broad systemic failures that allow generally unmonitored guardians take control of children’s lives, my children spent years enduring unchecked chaos, parental alienation, bullying, love bombing, isolation, and other forms of abuse. The reasons why this guardian remained on our case are lengthy and will be the subject of another article. In spite of all they endured, my children are amazing and resilient. They are engaged in activities they care about and are generally leaning into their potential. They are caring, loving, thoughtful leaders. They are brave, smart, and committed to growth. They are socially well-adjusted, and they try hard.
Everything they are and will be that’s good comes from them—the potential inside them—and from the loving support of our amazing extended family network. It comes from my enduring, committed care. It comes from a few therapists who have made positive impacts. And it comes in spite of the years of unnecessary suffering they’ve endured in a system that either supports or fails to stop the behaviors of a non-incarcerated, charismatic psychopath.
What does “no-contact” look like when you’re co-parenting? Do you have any tips for managing the day-to-day interactions?
At first, I tried to remain very accommodating and cordial. I was new to understanding sociopathic behavior, and I believed I was making my boys’ lives easier by being friendly and agreeable to my ex-husband. Eventually, I learned that I was actually confusing them by allowing their dad to continue to manipulate and control our lives by always changing the terms of drop off and pick-up times, allowing him to come to the house, and constantly pushing the boundaries I had set. Once again, I was avoiding conflict, and he was continuing his manipulation and abuse. It now seems obvious to me that he should never have been allowed in our home. I promised to keep my boys safe, but I allowed the one person in their safe space who could hurt them.
Once again, this is where it became vital to my health and safety that I had a counselor who understood a sociopath. She has helped me navigate through all of the ploys and games he plays. The one thing that took me the longest to understand is that my ex-husband will react the same way no matter how I treat him. He sees me as his enemy and the one who destroyed his security and sense of control over his own life. Even though he is remarried, he will always blame me for anything that goes wrong in his life.
For me, no contact means that I do not speak to him outside of written communication (email is always preferred). Even if we are together at a meeting for one of our children, I will not speak to him unless there is someone neutral present, and only if I have to. He will always try to intimidate through non-verbal communication or by throwing me off-balance with surprise requests or accusations, or confrontation. So, I eliminate that by not allowing him to engage with me in conversation. I also have my boyfriend do most of the drop off and pick up so that I am removed from the situation. The rest I leave to the lawyers.
One important note: no contact also means not tracking your ex’s life through friends, family, Facebook and other social media. If you are trying to see what he or she is ‘up to’, you are engaging in their world and not allowing yourself to live freely of their abuse, control, drama, etc. It’s not possible to stay emotionally and psychologically healthy if you remain connected to him or her in this way. I used to justify that I wanted to make sure I was prepared for whatever he was planning to do to me or my children, but sociopaths are pathological liars, so there is no benefit from hearing or reading what they have to say. The only way to protect yourself is to arm yourself with information, a supportive social circle, a great therapist, and a commitment to a healthy life free of the sociopath. The best way to help our children be healthy is to lead by example.
I have to have contact. It’s pretty much mandated. The psychologist we were assigned to when my ex filed for full-custody of our boys (he wasn’t interested in our daughter in his last filing) basically said that not only do we have to chat, we also have to sit together at events and games. We’re supposed to host birthday parties together. Because we need to get along for the sake of our children.
I totally agree with the “getting along” part. And that has to be carefully managed.
My ex is always going to disrupt. For example, he’ll sneak off at an athletic event and drive away with one of our children during my parenting time without telling me. I’ll be dashing around the crowd, looking for our missing child, and he won’t respond to my calls as I try to figure it out. This kind of behavior is more common than not.
And he’s completely unresponsive to necessary parenting interactions (texts, generally) and overly communicative in ways that are manipulative and even delusional when he’s had a few drinks. In these instances, I do not engage.
I’ve become a master in self-regulation. I can ignore and I can respond. I can move forward even when he is working to sabotage. I can fix things. I can get our kids to their try-outs and big events. Even more, his nasty comments don’t bother me anymore—and let me tell you, he knows how to strike where it will hurt most. (Mothering, my character, etc.) It took me years to get there.
I’m not perfect. I’m not invincible. Sometimes I wake up at night with a racing heart in a full sweat. Sometimes I get in the shower and have a sobbing cry. Sometimes I call my mom and vent for an hour. But for the most part, I’m able to manage this individual who works daily to create chaos and to thwart peace and joy at every turn for every person who’s close to him.
Do I have a fantastic quality of life? No. Do I get really tired? Yes. Do I need good support? Yes. Do I always get it or even seek it out? No.
But it’s still a triumph. I’m still here, and I’m a better, stronger, wiser person than I ever would’ve been. I know who loves me, and I know who I love. I know how to love. And I understand the value of character. I surround myself with people who are strong, committed, and caring. And I let go of those who are not.
That’s a pretty good place to be.
So why would the psychologist make us do all this? He means well. He’s operating within the confines of the court. And because of that, we need more research and evidence showing that psychopaths are not good parents. It seems like common sense, but after so many years in the court system, I feel confident saying that none of what happens there makes a lot of sense. Batterers are more likely to file for full custody, and they’ll get it 80% of the time. What’s the sense in that?
So I’m looking out for my kids in a flawed world. In a world that owns us more than I ever realized before my divorce. And we’re all doing that, on some level.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can share?
The best advice I can give is to trust your instincts and those of your children. There were many warning signs and red flags that I ignored, simply because I believed I was doing what was best for my children, despite their struggles with anxiety and depression from very young ages. Also, don’t communicate with your ex or current spouse through your children. Take children completely out of the communication process. If your ex sends a request or question through your child, write to your ex immediately and tell him or her that you will not acknowledge any messages sent through your children. Sociopaths will use children as tools of manipulation. My children are an extension of me in my ex-husband’s eyes. Unfortunately, sociopaths can’t feel unconditional love even for their own children. We can protect our children by not allowing their sociopathic parent to use them in this way and empowering them with our unconditional love.
Hang in there. I communicate with a lot of parents who are actively being alienated from their children with no help from the court. And parents who are asking for help while escaping abuse who are instead degraded and shamed and even laughed at. Parents who run out of money and can’t afford to keep up with a psychopath’s relentless fight. Parents whose reputations have been slandered and who find themselves isolated from their children and their communities.
Faced with despair and the seeming never-ending energy of a psychopath coming after you, nearly everyone wonders at times whether they should give up. I say, DON’T GIVE UP. I’m not telling you to engage the fight—because dodging the psychopath is often the best way. Let their behavior circle back and crack their own armor. Save your assets and your energy wherever possible. Stay present. Find a path that works for you. Get advice from people who have experienced the system, who understand psychopaths, and who can give you a plan that results in the best outcome with the least damage. And don’t give up.
Rely on your character. Trust in your strength.
Don’t give up.
H.G. Beverly is the author of The Other Side of Charm.
This post can also be found on hgbeverly.com.