Managing a co-parent with a personality disorder: Note to self…

After my reflections yesterday about knowing where to turn during the most stressful and abusive confrontations with the husband I met up with the boyfriend and he confirmed everything I had thought about the negative impact of sharing all of this with him. He actually told me that if things didn’t change then it would be damaging to our relationship. He also asked some questions about how one goes about applying for a restraining order. Oh my goodness, talk about alarm bells! Right now I don’t think I ever want to mention a single negative thought about the husband in his presence ever again. The thought of losing him right now is more than I can take – apart from the fact that I love him, I see him as the epitome of a tolerant, reasonable, caring, understanding partner and if someone like that couldn’t roll with the ongoing situation then I’m entirely doomed!

Several thoughts have been going through my head since then. The most important thing is for me to begin to re-focus on strategies to deal with the husband’s personality disorder.

I need to re-establish firm boundaries, concentrate on minimising contact where possible and let him know in no uncertain terms that I will not tolerate aggressive verbal assaults – not on the phone and certainly not on my own doorstep.

I am still following the relationship between the husband and his on/off girlfriend. She is clearly a well educated, emotionally intelligent, progressive thinking person but she does not seem to have caught on to the fact that he suffers with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). She sends him links to articles which provide both anecdotal and scientific evidence of what it takes to make a relationship work. She fully expects him to read and take on board something called ‘Principle Number 1’ which comes from a book called Fierce Conversations. I have familiarised myself with her sources and, to a reasonable minded person it all makes perfect sense and provides a nice reminder of how to conduct oneself in order to achieve success and happiness and balance in relationships. Unfortunately for her, none of this insight and wisdom will make a damn bit of difference to the husband.

For someone with a personality disorder there is no right and wrong, there is just their right and everyone else’s wrong. 

It will be interesting to see if she ever does manage to break free. She’s given him every reason in the book why it’s not working and he continues to pester and plead and lay the pathos on thick.

But enough of them. I need to focus on protecting myself and my children, emotionally. I read recently about some strategies for bringing up children who are in regular contact with a BPD parent: managed emotions, flexible thinking and moderate behaviours. No one wants their child to either take on the negative traits of a personality disorder or conversely to become a doormat. I think that in a very non-specific way I am not too bad at modelling these three things (albeit that sometimes when I am pushed to my limits I do shout and I do get upset and I need to work on that). I am also in danger of modelling some doormat tendencies when it comes to my interactions with the husband, but I am treading a fine line.

It is a relief to read an article by an ‘expert’ which confirms to me that at least some of my strategies (the ones that my loved ones object to) are on the right track. There is a huge difference between escalating a conflict between two rational, mentally robust people and escalating a conflict when one person is not all there.

In a way I feel some affinity (in the most surface level way I hasten to add) with the predicament in which our Prime Minister, Theresa May, currently finds herself. She has visited Trump and been seen to extend the hand of friendship and even invited him for a full state visit to our country (triggering over a million people to sign a petition against such a gesture). She has been dubbed ‘Theresa the Appeaser’ in Parliament and called upon to give the US president the hard line – the message that we don’t tolerate his kind of prejudices over here. But put yourself in her shoes: we are the little guy, he has the power to impose trade embargos and other ‘punishment’. International politics is a game of diplomacy whoever is in charge, but in this case, we are not dealing with a normal rational person (in my humble opinion) but a megalomaniac narcissist. 

Now I’m not saying that the husband is a megalomaniac narcissist or that he has the power to mete out crippling punishment but he does have the ability to de-stabilise the delicate balance that I try to maintain for the sake of the children. That’s the absolute bottom line and it’s essentially the sticking point for me: how do I adjust the balance of power – start calling him out on the unacceptable behaviours – without escalating his abuse?

I already know that anyone dealing with someone with a personality disorder is in a no-win situation and therefore it is less a case of playing out your hand and more a case of politely declining to join in the game in the first place.

If that means ignoring phone calls and sticking to the facts at hand by text then so be it. If that means meticulously pre-planning everything in an attempt to foresee potential conflict then so be it. If that means turning a blind eye to inappropriate comments then so be it.

I’m not saying that it will be easy because someone with a personality disorder will be hell bent on establishing and maintaining control, but, similarly to parenting a small child, their behaviour needs to be managed and addressed and nipped in the bud before they have you believing that they have set up what is considered to be the ‘normal’ way everyone behaves and responds to each other. I’m notoriously bad at letting my children get away with stuff so this is all a huge challenge but one which I need to address. Now or never.

Who you gonna call?…

In two week’s time it will be a whole year since I told the husband that I was leaving him and one week later I made my physical departure with the children. I remember the trauma at the time – those first horrific phone calls which I took on speaker phone and my dad filmed on his phone for evidence of the abuse and the twisted facts.

I remember my mum saying to me, this time a year from now imagine where you’ll be; imagine how much happier you’ll be. And it’s true, I’ve come a long way – me and the boys have been in our own (rented) home for five months now and I’m just about managing the money that’s coming in. I’ve been in a new relationship for 14 weeks and it’s been wonderful – I’ve been able to appreciate what it is to love and be loved by someone who thinks and acts like a normal, sensitive, open, understanding person – someone who is looking for the same things out of life that I am, who has the same values and thought processes as me. Someone who, whilst past that stage of life, has told me it makes him sad that him and I won’t ever have a baby together and experience that journey side by side.

But despite all of that the divorce is nowhere near done. We are waiting for an expert to give us a proper valuation of the husband’s work pension. We are still up in the air about house valuations. I don’t know how much (if any) of his financial information the husband has or hasn’t submitted to his solicitor.

Not only that but he is still behaving in an abusive, unacceptable way. This weekend he had the children and, surprisingly, his 12 year old daughter decided to stay with them as well for the first time since long before Christmas. (He’s now Father of the Year according to his Facebook status but that’s another story).

When he brought them back last night it was dark and pouring with rain and he came to the door of our house calling me a liar, saying I am rude. He then proceeded to throw open my recycling bin and then demand to know if I had started drinking beer as there were two empty cans in there. Now he knows that I know that he knows about my boyfriend so this was all very childish and done in such an aggressive, accusatory way. I had to point out to him that not only have we been separated for nearly a year but that he has been in another relationship for some time – a fact which he totally dismissed.

It’s by the by that his not so new relationship is badly floundering – he’s keeping the poor woman in a perpetual cycle the same as he did with me, the difference being she has no children with him, no ties – doesn’t even live nearby which just goes to show how powerful that Borderline manipulation can be – anyone on the outside looking in would have been long gone with a complete social media block on by now.

I had tentatively mentioned to him the fact that I’m supposed to be taking the children away to a holiday park with my family for a weekend in a couple of weeks time when I dropped the kids off on Saturday. The only problem with this situation is that, when my sister made the booking at the end of last summer we hadn’t realised that her kids February school holiday and mine were two different weeks.

I had forgotten all about it when the husband submitted his contact dates and had accepted his request for the Friday overnight and all day Saturday of that weekend. As a compromise I had decided, albeit tentatively, to take the children out of school on the Monday so we would be able to still go down for two days without impacting on the husband’s contact arrangement. When I told him this he surprised me by suggesting that I keep them for the weekend and take them down Saturday/Sunday instead of pulling them out of school on the provision that we work out an alternative date for him to see them.

I have to admit I was very relieved at that point, however, come Sunday evening’s unpleasantness on my doorstep he withdrew his suggestion and said he would still have the children thereby effectively blocking our weekend away.

I felt so conflicted – on the one hand I just wanted to forget about the weekend away – it was all just too stressful to try and work it out without his cooperation. On the other hand I felt bad about letting my sister down – she had deliberately booked this mini-break with me and the kids in mind and knowing that we haven’t been away as a family for the last 18 months.

Today at work I sent him a text telling him that either he was willing to be flexible or I would have to cancel the weekend away which would be very disappointing for the children. He proceeded, over the next couple of hours, to demand that I speak to him on the phone to ‘discuss’ it to which I repeatedly declined telling him to simply provide an alternative date if he was willing to do so.

It transpired that his real reason for wanting to speak to me was to try and convince me to drop the entire legal side of our divorce and instead go back to mediation because he was finding it all very expensive. Well, to coin a phrase, no shit Sherlock! It’s hardly a drop in the ocean for me either but I would come out of mediation with bugger all – there is no negotiating with someone who’s idea of what’s ‘fair’ is very far from your own. I am happy to let the courts decide.

All of these interactions are so stressful and hurtful and make me feel really helpless at times. At times I just hate him for being this way, at times I feel like I’m in control and then he ups the ante and I’m left spinning again. At these times all I want to do is run to the nearest phone and call… someone. It used to be my mum and dad but I began to feel that they are simply too emotionally involved. My mum gets very upset and even angry at me for, in her eyes, letting him bully and manipulate me. My dad wants me to take action that I feel would exacerbate a bad situation.

I do talk to my sister from time to time and she is less stressed but she also wants me to take action that I’m not comfortable with. I began talking to my boyfriend about it all which was a huge relief to begin with because he was a lot more neutral than my family, but as the weeks have gone by he is now beginning to feel wound up and angry by the husband’s bullying and his bitter rants.

It’s reached the point where I just don’t want to tell anyone even whilst needing so badly to share the facts of what is happening to me. I seem to be more able to put the super stressful moments behind me relatively quickly knowing as I do how the husband’s moods ebb and flow and how his threats and manipulations seem to fade when his triggers die down.

I am learning how to handle him – I am learning that turning off my voicemail and choosing when and if I take his calls will not lead to anything other than a frustrated rant on his part. I am learning that I can’t win with him so there is no point in entering a ‘debate’. I am learning that minimal contact works best.

Maybe I am truly in this alone emotionally and there is no-one to call.