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.