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Why Is My Ex Stonewalling Me?

butt faceDear Chump Lady,

I am 5.5 years post divorce. I got married to an amazing man last spring. I have rebuilt so much of my life that I am truly proud of.

I have had a bit of an emotional relapse of sorts. Issues at work have been triggering my tendency towards co-dependence, so I went back to therapy awhile ago.

My therapist, who has known me for 10 years, told me I was one of the most courageous people she knows. I keep trying to sit with this as I draw boundaries around what I will and will not accept from my co-workers.

But yesterday, I realized that there are some ways I still allow my ex too much real estate in my head. And it’s when he uses all his shitty manipulation tactics when it comes to “co”-parenting. And I think it’s factoring into my work issues.

I have learned to BIFF (brief, information, friendly, firm). We use Our Family Wizard to communicate. I am stellar at outward gray rocking (my inclination towards rumination, though, is a continual work in progress). I parallel parent as much as possible, and have learned to let go of oh-so-much in the swallowing of the shit sandwich (since this has been the key to parenting sanely when I have my kids).

Earlier this week, I proposed a change to the calendar. He responded, “I’ll think about it, but will need more time than the 48 hour window you have proposed.” Then I got, “OK, but it has to be a permanent switch, and please answer me back within 3 hours.”

When I asked what exactly he was wanting to be permanent, I got the oh-so-insightful answer: “What it was you said.” (Insert eye roll) When I elaborated on my confusion, he read the email but did not respond. Eventually, I sent an email clarifying that, with the days in question approaching and having not reached any agreement, I would go back to following the decree. This email he deliberately left unopened (despite reading other messages) for over 24 hours until he finally responded with an email that began, “I have been clear…”

I have been a ball of anxiety all week. The stonewalling, intentional or not (maybe he’s just obtuse?) was so painful.

My husband asked me last night, “Why is that painful?” To which I replied, “Because people aren’t supposed to do this.” And he reminded me of the truth I have accepted in so many other ways: I cannot expect honest or thoughtful communication from this man. Ever. He may not be awful in every context, but those are the exception, not the rule.

Where was that strong, courageous person that my therapist knows me to be? How am I supposed to channel that strength in the middle of being stonewalled? Even if I take another step towards radical acceptance, how do I navigate the logistics of what I can and cannot control when he refuses to even open the emails?




Dear BIFFless,

It’s hard to choke down another shit sandwich, but your new husband is right — never expect honest or thoughtful consideration from a fuckwit. You would think your ex could put it aside For The Children (as cheaters are so fond of chiding us), but I’m sorry. It’s too tasty a bait to manipulate you with. You need something? Your kids need something? That’s power. Power to fuck you with.

God, Tracy, that’s so cynical. Says the people who have never lived this.

Look, if he does something he should, follows the order, helps your kids in some way, that’s GRAVY. But please don’t expect it. His motivations are not your motivations. He may follow the court order because he fears consequences, or parent his children sporadically because he likes the glow of their kibbles, or other’s admiration that he’s valiantly adulting — but trust me, he’s not cooperating because he gives a shit about you. Or probably his children. Noncooperation is the set point. Because CONTROL.

You see small people who have needs. He sees curly short hairs with which to grab you. You care = manipulation fodder. You’ve ceased to be kibbles, ended your stint as useful appliance, but you can still fuel his power trip with needs. Any needs.

That’s why, if you’re “co”-parenting with a FW your best bet is to arrange your life in such a way as to never, ever need them.

Tracy, that’s impossible. Schedules change, emergencies happen, kids have needs. 

Hear me out. Radically accept that you are the Sane Parent. Everything comes from you — stability, honesty, and probably all the financial support. (That’s another shit sandwich, at least in the U.S. Child support enforcement is a joke. If you can get it, great, but do not expect it. Order your life in such a way as to be as financially independent from a FW as you can be. This is another sermon.)

The sanity will pay dividends.

Earlier this week, I proposed a change to the calendar. He responded, “I’ll think about it, but will need more time than the 48 hour window you have proposed.” Then I got, “OK, but it has to be a permanent switch, and please answer me back within 3 hours.”

You’re Charlie and you just kicked Lucy’s football.

Oh the joy of imperiousness. You gave him 48 hours, he gives you three.

When I asked what exactly he was wanting to be permanent, I got the oh-so-insightful answer: “What it was you said.” (Insert eye roll) When I elaborated on my confusion, he read the email but did not respond. Eventually, I sent an email clarifying that, with the days in question approaching and having not reached any agreement, I would go back to following the decree. This email he deliberately left unopened (despite reading other messages) for over 24 hours until he finally responded with an email that began, “I have been clear…”

The confusion was deliberate. It makes you ask him for clarity, which makes you vulnerable to needing something from him (an explanation), which makes you a mark.

Yeah, yeah, yeah Tracy. Enough with the explanations. What do I DO with this?

Document, document, document. Do you have language in your order about schedule changes? Reasonable accommodation? (Remember, I’m not a legal professional, I’m a lady with a blog, talk to your lawyer.) If this bullshit is a pattern (it probably is), gather your evidence, and ask your attorney to write a letter warning him he’s in violation of the order. Or consider a hearing to grant you physical custody and full decision making because he’s not cooperating with basic parenting requests.

Does that sound exhausting and expensive? Yes. So, when these things come up, ask yourself — can I do without? Is this an emergency? Can I ask someone else? Anyone else to cover?

Do NOT go into a self-pity spiral that it’s not fair. That he Should Help. It’s not fair. He won’t help. You bred with a fuckwit. It’s a very big club. Have a seat on our big squishy sofa of regret.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try and enforce things, like support, or basic cooperation. I’m saying accept that this is bigger than you, and requires the heavy boot of legal professionals and therapists. He’s not going to be different. He’s not going to stop punishing you, even though he’s the fuckwit here. Vital to being a fuckwit is never accepting responsibility. So, here’s a heaping helping of MORE responsibility! Just what every single parent needs.

how do I navigate the logistics of what I can and cannot control when he refuses to even open the emails?

Every situation will be different. But for most situations, I’d say learn to do without. Consider him a last resort. I know we’re supposed to believe in a Friends With Our Exes Fairyland. You may imagine he should accommodate you. Because, no hard feelings! We’re all adults here who love our children!

Go back and read my advice again. And put down the pipe.

For other situations, consider not giving him a choice. (Again, look at your order, I don’t want you in violation. Clean hands, always, folks.) Just say, with reasonable notice, “Wednesday doesn’t work. I’ll be there to pick up Taylor at 3 p.m.”

He doesn’t open his emails? How old is Taylor? Does she have a cell phone? Tell her. Tell the school. Tell the other parents. Work around the fuckwit. Consider a buffer person. “Mindy, Xavier’s mother, will be there to get Taylor at 3 p.m.”

Consider multiple forms of communication. Email, text, AND parenting software. Carrier pigeon. Leaflet bomb drops. No way he can claim he didn’t see it.

I have been a ball of anxiety all week. The stonewalling, intentional or not (maybe he’s just obtuse?) was so painful.

I have sympathetic anxiety just typing this advice to you. I’m on the other side, but I went through many costly court battles to retain full physical custody with decision-making just to avoid this shit, yet I still went through it. I remember asking my shrink in exasperation, “What do you do with passive-aggressive, stonewalling people?”

And he said: “You shoot them.”

This nice, mild-mannered shrink! I said, “Is that your professional opinion?” And he laughed and said, “Yes. They’re impossible.”

Seriously, please don’t shoot the fuckwits, CN. But realize, the dysfunction is bigger than you. We don’t control it. We only control ourselves. And our sanity is WAY more important than whatever Taylor’s got going on Wednesday.

BIFFless, don’t let your ex see your distress. Don’t respond. No contact as much as possible. Quit wishing people were different — coworkers, exes, politicians — and start focusing on what you do have agency about. Like your own sane parenting. Being a loving wife to your new and much better partner. Your kickass career. When it’s all too much, pet a dog. Have a second cookie. Go out to a wine bar with some friends. Come sit on our big bred-with-a-FW sofa to commiserate and laugh.

Sure, he’s exasperating, but can’t you see that you’re winning? You’ve moved on, and he’s just got petty bullshit.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at Read more about submission guidelines.
  • Yep. I totally get the ball of anxiety whenever I have to deal with my ex. I anticipate the hell it will trigger even asking a question. That end of the shit stick you can’t anticipate. Even with postage paid envelopes, it’s a Fight to get things signed and returned – over nothinggggg!

  • Just about every day I realize how lucky I am. FW died last year (I did not shoot him). So now it’s just me and all the BS like this that I dealt with for 5 years is OVER. I remember well the constant frustration. The panic attacks. The refusal to answer. The deliberate obtuseness. The demands that I answer in X amount of time. Being the only one to make concessions and change MY schedule to suit HIM. The little to no child support (he paid exactly one payment in 5 years, and he died owing me over $3K). My son got a life insurance payout and receives monthly social security survivor benefits til he is 16 which are more than twice what the CS were supposed to be.

    My deepest sympathies to this chump. It sucks so bad. You do have to be the sane parent. You do have to eat a lot of shit sandwiches for you kids’ sakes. I completely second CL’s advice: document, document, document. I kept detailed records of all the times FW asked me to take our kid on “his” days and the reasons he gave (not always true, as my sleuthing uncovered; all those “I have something I HAVE to do” turned out to be road trips with schmoopie) and all the times I offered him makeup days that he refused. So when he complained to the magistrate that I was “trying to keep [son] away” from him, I could pull up all those dates and times with emails and texts to discredit his claims. All the times I offered extra holidays. All those times he asked me to (demanded that I) keep our child because FW was “sick” (normal parents parent even when they don’t feel well). Etc., etc., etc. It served me very well, and though we technically had 50/50, I was awarded primary custody and the magistrate agreed that my son could go to school near where I live (a much better district) and FW had to provide transportation on his days even though it was a 30-40 minute drive each way (he made the mistake of describing how “flexible” his schedule was, whereas mine is not, and the magistrate was like “well, if that’s the case…”). FW ended up taking our son to school exactly ONCE, and then killed himself that weekend. JFC.

    Use lawyers, keep communication to a minimum and brief, try not to ask for permission (as CL suggested, just TELL him what you need to do), and find as many alternatives to FW as you can for childcare coverage when you have a scheduling conflict. I was fortunately to live with/close to my mother so I had backup. I also had a lot of friends who volunteered, although I never had to use them. So find a support system if you can. And do your damndest to get full custody. It’s so much better for the kids, despite what people generally think. My son is so much happier now that he doesn’t have all the back and forth (not to mention an angry, depressed, narcissistic, alcoholic father and a certifiably crazy alcoholic OW).

    Big hugs. You’ve got this. Keep up the therapy so you have someone to rant to and to go to for advice on handling all your emotions. I certainly used my therapist during my custody battle and she was so helpful in keeping me sane and validating my feelings. And consider therapy for your kids, too.

      • I read that whole wonderful response and didn’t notice a single typo. It’s the thought and wisdom sharing that count.

      • Yeah, I didn’t see any typos either. Thank you so much for what you shared (I offered my thanks further down last night, but wanted to reiterate here).

    • Unless things have changed, the Social Security that comes with a dead parent (in the US) goes until they are 18 or out of HS (whichever comes last). There is a special form for the HS to fill out if they turn 18 before graduation. If your son doesn’t know which of his classmates have a dead parent, he will meet up with all of them in the Guidance office when they all gotta get the form signed. My daughter said the office staff all looked really uncomfortable that day dealing with so many dead-parent people at one time.

      Another thing is that the monthly income reverts to start on the date of the death, so if it took you 3 or 4 months to get the paperwork done, he will get the checks for that many months after he turns 18. I totally miscalculated that and told daughter that if she got the form signed, she could keep the money. I thought it would be like 2 checks but it was more. She saved all that money and now has a nice nest egg.

      And yea, I also get a version of Survivor Guilt when I read stories of the fuckwitting that goes on for years after divorce. Sometimes I try to imagine what my Cheater’s version of it would be. For sure he would have claimed that it was me and not him who wanted the divorce and I’m sure his narrative is that throughout our whole marriage, what I really wanted was a tall white Colonel and I finally got my wish. (It’s funny that I got the thing he accused me of wanting because truth is that what I really wanted was a nice version of him).

      • They back dated the SS for me. That first check was big. I’ll double check the paperwork about the age limit. I thought they said 16.

      • Estate? Lol. He was completely broke. I didn’t even bother becoming executor because it wasn’t worth my time.

  • In sort of the same spot here. Trying to get ex to work out new child support.
    First i got the rage.
    Now the pity/ charm channel fused with some emotional blackmail. If i pay less or son will have to quit paying soccer because money is tight.
    Even though she just recently saved a big monthly expense because with our new arrangement she doesn’t need daycare anymore.
    And if course: anything you pay less would be a detriment to your kids.

  • “I remember asking my shrink in exasperation, “What do you do with passive-aggressive, stonewalling people?” And he said: “You shoot them.”

    I love your shrink, CL. In my last appointment, mine said “You don’t need antidepressants. You need a white van and a bag full of quicklime”.

    Best validation ever.

    • Love it. I got a similar answer from my mild mannered abuse therapist. She said that by design these FWs are trying to be horrible and as long as they’re alive there is no chance they will ever behave decently so the best thing is to wish them off the planet!

  • So on board with all of this — including that it is chock o block full of reminders I need to heed while dealing with my sister, LOL.

    One thing though: Individual situations are individual, and as such, this comes with a disclaimer that my next opinion may not work in every situation: I say, with any form of communication but ESPECIALLY with parenting software, it’s the ex’s responsibility to monitor whatever information channel(s) you usually use to communicate about your children.

    There should be one channel if at all possible, two channels MAXIMUM (such as texting for rare real-time “the freeway is at a standstill and we’ll be there ASAP” level issues, and parenting software for all else) that the sane parent must watch. By limiting the ways the ex can access you and the ways you reach out to the ex, you gain both sanity and ease of documentation.

    Once the channel or channels are defined, it’s totally fair to use ONLY those channels. Another person’s lack of review or response of what they are responsible to review and address doesn’t make it your job to elicit a response. Many questions can be easily converted to statements to help reach this goal. “FYI, Judy wants to go camping with her friend Sara this weekend. She must arrive here at my home by 3pm Friday to prepare for Sara’s parents to pick her up.”

    – No questions. (When you don’t need answers, there’s no need for questions. The ex’s approval isn’t required from your point of view. If the the ex wants to refuse the trip, that’s between the ex and daughter Judy. Adulting is hard.)

    – No arguable details. (“When do Sara’s parents want to leave?” Nope. We don’t have to haggle over unnecessary questions. Ex can negotiate details with daughter Judy directly. No negotiating needed with you. Your decision making is done.)

    – If the ex fails in the mission and Judy misses the trip, that’s between the ex and daughter Judy. (The sane parent can comfort her through her disappointment, of course, but it isn’t ours to solve what the ex screws up.)

    The specifics change with scenario and age-appropriateness, of course, but the general shape of the idea is often a sanity saver. (Thank, Therapists, for teaching me boundaries.)

    The more I learn to ask myself first whether I am negotiating or informing, the more I realize I don’t have to soften my messaging by suggesting there’s room to negotiate when I specifically want to set boundaries. Directness is a much cleaner path to the goal. It can be brutal sometimes when the other person is furious that I won’t negotiate, but it turns out it’s easier to fight about that than it is to fight with a three year old armchair litigator in an adult suit (“But, WHYYYYYYYYYYY???????? You’re so mean!”) 😂

    • CL, my therapist (another visit yesterday) and you are all telling me the same thing, and I need to hear it. Like: nobody needs to convince me of the virtue of any of all the boundary-holding. I just don’t have enough practice in the particulars. Or, in any case, what it looks like to “act as if” my boundaries are strong, while I keep mulling over CL’s words and eventually strengthen the boundaries so that it’s no longer acting.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond!

    • Very good point. “Am I negotiating or informing?”

      I wonder when we all shifted to asking instead of informing?

  • the big squishy sofa of regret

    brilliant. the big squishy sofa of regret is a good thing. thanks, all, for sitting on the big squishy sofa with me. i appreciate it!

    • I know, I liked that line. Is there a place for me even with a dead Cheater?

      My current misery is an adult step daughter who is generally a decent person but has spent a lifetime watching her mom jockey to get the most out of everyone around her. She has been given SO MUCH ( new car in 16th birthday, full paid college education, trust funds, fancy trips, knowing she will attend grad school fully paid for etc ad nauseum). I can’t blame her for what she was born into but when I see stepdaughter jockey for even more than that, it pisses me off so deeply that I risk turning into a Green-Eyed-Monster-from-Hell. Can’t she show a little graciousness for what she has? She wouldn’t know personal sacrifice if it knocked on her front door.

      • totally! there’s room for all on the big squishy sofa of regret. and pillows of varying softness for individual differences. and a dope ottoman.

      • Oh never mind, she has no front door…she is mooching off of me and its my front door. Personal sacrifice knows me well.

  • BIFFless, I’m sorry. I too am PARALLEL parenting w/a passive-aggressive, entitled, obtuse, fuckwit. CL’s advice is spot on. I still get awful anxiety about asking for medical expense reimbursements. Even though he pays those pretty quickly. It’s because so much of his other communication can be explosive, dishonest, manipulative.

    I am lucky that I’m still close w/a few former in-laws that agree his behavior is frustrating, and recognize I’m a sane parent.

    I rely on him as little as possible. Next week, I could ask if he could take our daughter an evening earlier (so he could take her to school the next morning, so I could leave on a trip sooner). However, I’m choosing to miss out on a few extra hours of fun so I can skip dealing with him and just take my daughter to school myself. Not dealing w/ex > two more hours skiing.

    Stop expecting any normal, decent behavior. Any time you get it, bonus! Keep on keeping on.

    • I also rely on FW as little as possible. I stopped asking him for any medical or educational and financial support for the kids years ago because he’d interrogate me and it made me feel sick. So I stopped asking him for any extra money for child expenses (that he was legally bound to pay).

      Did it cost me financially to take that all on myself? Yup. Was it worth every penny? Also yup.

      • It was (sort of) funny that at FW’s funeral, a lot of his friends talked to me about wanting to set up a GoFundMe for my son. I had to seriously bite my tongue because I wanted to tell them that I had been essentially supporting my son all by myself for YEARS because FW didn’t pay for ANYTHING besides whatever meals my son had when he was with his dad. I paid for school supplies, clothes, medications, shoes, etc. We split childcare costs but FW could never remember when it was his week to pay so I had to manage that too. My son was on FW’s health insurance because it was much cheaper than mine, but honestly the headache of having to contact FW about medical things wasn’t worth the couple hundred dollars a month. He almost never paid his half of copays, and often argued with me about medical care for our child. In my son’s whole life, my ex only took him to one dentist appointment (that I made for him, like I made every other medical appointment). That’s it. When my son needed psychiatric care for the anxiety, depression, and threats of self harm (at age 8!), FW was ANGRY that I had contacted the pediatrician and the hospital without checking with him first.

        FW thought he had discharged his parental duties because he bought my son a skateboard and a tablet. Like recreational stuff was equivalent to keeping the child clothed and healthy. I had to send clothes with my son when he went to FW, and then I wouldn’t get things back. And FW was sending him back and forth with his stuff in a GARBAGE BAG. I bought him a suitcase because my child deserved better. Once when my son forgot his winter coat (in January), FW refused to bring it to us all weekend because he didn’t feel like driving. I finally had to tell him to get his own clothes for my son because I was sick of losing everything I bought (he’d swear he didn’t have them, but when I cleaned out his house after he died, low and behold all the missing clothes were in my son’s closet). FWs make EVERYTHING so much harder than it needs to be.

      • Fourleaf,
        I didn’t get support and the sob story so I stopped asking. At the time I expected the child support system to work in my favor. Sort of.
        He could raise someone else’s family (I don’t think she got cs for 2 of the 3, and SSI for one) but not his own. Mostly because he couldn’t do it his way and he lost his high paying job and replaced it with other women and families.
        By the grace…. I say I got my kids to 18. He wanted me to forgive the remaining thousands and I did. Mostly because I didn’t want to collect forever and I wanted the internal peace. Plus I made sure the kids knew I did so.

    • Wow, CurlyChhump, I just asked FW for the same thing to catch a flight to CO that leaves before school. Of course I didn’t tell him why I needed to travel. Of course he didn’t respond yet. But now I’ve stuck myself in a spot where I either need to ask again or put my parents on standby (which I feel is rude, either they’re watching the kids or they’re not). He sets the schedule month by month and the whole system is not fair at all. Just because he says he’s working with me in the kids’ best interest doesn’t mean he is. I should know better than to engage unnecessarily, especially if it involves something I want. Too much potential for mindfuckery.

      • Ask them if they mind being on standby. I know I’d be okay with it. What I’m not really okay with is the cancelling without a good reason, but I know that’s what you’re trying to avoid. They may be happy to help you out.

  • BIFFless,

    Seriously, it’s creepy how similar FWs can be. Where do they learn these disordered behaviors? I also deal with a FW only through Our Family Wizard… and he would play the exact same communication games. And I’d bite and get frustrated and suffer anxiety and send the BS to my boyfriend (we’ve been together 6+ years now) who would scratch his head and wonder why any father would fuck with their ex to the detriment of their own kids.

    I learned that the less I pushed back the better. If FW responded “I need more than 48 hours to decide and the change has to be permanent” — it was best to say “forget it. I’ll let our son know he can’t go/do x.” And sometimes FW backed down and sometimes he didn’t.

    But if I wouldn’t bite? He’d take it out on our son and try to trigger me that way. FWs are horrible people. And your response is tied to the trauma you’ve dealt with from that ass.

    If it was super important and FW was unresponsive or refused to open OFW, I’d send a text reminder “Please open your OFW — I sent a change of schedule yesterday. If I don’t hear back I’ll assume it’s accepted per our decree.”

    I had to go through the attorneys REPEATEDLY to get help with his communication and force him to accept things he didn’t respond to. We had to make ridiculous costly adjustments because he’s such an asshat — to the tune of probably at least $30k (just on my side) over the 4 years after the divorce.

    But at some point, your kids get older. And now that my son is nearing 18, there’s much less FWs can do and control because FWs’ stupid shit only backfires with older teens.

    So hang in there. And know that this will pass. Pick your battles. Sometimes I just moved forward with shit and said “gee I didn’t know. You didn’t respond so it’s implied confirmed.” It’s not like he was going to go the attorneys lol

    You can do this. There’s ups and downs. The trauma response is a bitch… Don’t be too hard on yourself. But you’ll get through it. Stay the course.

    • “But if I wouldn’t bite? He’d take it out on our son and try to trigger me that way. FWs are horrible people. And your response is tied to the trauma you’ve dealt with from that ass.”

      Those words totally triggered me. I’m 95% convinced exFW abused my baby daughter to get back at me. I had health professionals involved, doctors and was 1 phone call away from police. I regret i didn’t have the strength to see it through what with all the other discoveries i was making about how despicable he actually was/is.

      The icing on it was when his own mother said “don’t take her to the doctors (coz baby was crying hysterically every nappy change when the day before he last looked after her she’d been fine & content & gurgling happily. This screaming went on for 4 months after his last interaction with her) they’ll suspect abuse.”!!!!!!

      It’s crazy making! Literally! They pass their own issues on to the innocent!

  • I used to console myself by thinking my Ex was a disability or disease of some type. For instance, I have type 2 diabetes. I did not choose this, it was partly genetic gift that keeps on giving, and partly lifestyle choices, but not anyone else’s fault that I have to do things differently, make different choices, because I have this disease. So, I thought of my husband, then ex-husband, father of my children as another disease I had. I did not choose to be sick, but I had dated him and married him, and had children with him. I made that bad decision and now I was stuck with his inability to do the simplest things in life.

    I learned early in our relationship I could not count on him to do the reasonable or sane, or compassionate thing I desperately wished he would do. Fortunately for me, I am strong willed and independent. After all, I had been trained by the emotional disregard my father always showed me. I was almost professional level at living without the security that someone would have my back. So, I adapted and survived. I taught my kids to adapt and survive. When you have to live with something you know you cannot change, you adapt. When I gave up the dream that my ex would ever learn from his mistakes and make positive changes in his life, I was free of expecting him to act like a capable human with a heart and conscious.

    When he would cancel at the last moment, or not keep a promise he had made to my children, I would always tell them — “It will be ok. We will do his instead.” I learned to always have Plan B and C available. I planned that he would not do the right thing. If he did show up, or keep a promise, it was like an upgrade at a fast-food restaurant. You see, I know I don’t need to supersize my fries, but if the restaurant gives me an unexpected upgrade because I waited a long time in line and wasn’t a jerk, then who says no? Kids! You have extra fries! Share with your friends! Dad’s in the driveway, and he has tickets to a movie tonight. Have fun! I’ll see you soon! Love you!

    The question I used to ask was WHY did I have kids with him? The only answer that makes sense to me is that I wanted kids and I cannot imagine my life without the 2 I have. If I had not had children, I would have adapted and done something different. Plan B, or C. But now that I have these particular 2 kids, I am here, and I will be the sane parent.

    You cannot depend on Lucy, Charlie Brown. But you can still try to play football. Just make sure you gear up, and plan on what to do if you get injured in the game. Lucy will never change.

  • “Why is my ex stone-walling me?”
    ‘cuz that’s what exes do. If they didn’t do this, they’d be the type of person we’d still be married to!!! I think what’s currently going on in your life (work related?) may be what’s triggering you being more vulnerable to the inclinations of a FW. Only go into battle when you’re at your best, retreat when you’re not.

    • I think the work problems and the FW problems are indeed playing off each other, to the detriment of how I deal with both. For sure. Shortly after one of the email exchanges last weekI had to go do a thing for work and I am not proud of the way I handled it. By giving him space in my head, I didn’t have what I needed to be able to bring a measure of calm to the work-related incident.

  • My relationship with Traitor Ex is emotionally charged. It probably always will be. I have to watch out for assigning motives and intentions to him. I only realized after he left how accustomed I became to FIGURING OUT WHAT HE MEANS because he is not a straight shooter. An expert liar is not going to be excellent at communication. There is always a lot going on, seven layers deep, which leads to confusion and wondering WTF is going on when communicating with them. The more straight shooting you are, the more confusing it will feel to communicate with someone who is not.

    It has helped me immensely to practice skipping over diagnosing his motives and intentions. Whatever his motives and intentions are, I can take my own emotions out of it when I initiate communication or respond to his.

    Conversely, I am on the receiving end of his ire because he assumes malice from me. He believes my intentions are to mess with him. He is not straightforward so he assumes I am not.

    BIFF also means taking the emotion out of the communication. I ignore the chatter in my mind that he lives to just mess with me (even though it may be true) and I just respond to the written words.

    There is a whole lot of turbulence going on under the surface that complicates communication. I try to practice ignoring that, stay on the surface (the words, not our history).

    One of my tricks is “How would I respond or communicate if he was someone I did not know or had never met before?”

    The history is the source of the histrionics.

    • Ignoring the actual chatter in practice is far easier than ignoring it in my mind. Still, I’ll keep thinking about your words and practicing. Sadly, FIGURING OUT WHAT HE MEANS is what I brought to the marriage originally. This is taking my personal healing to a whole new level. Thanks for your support!

  • Ugh – this reminds me of my ex who would dictate (actually “slur” is more of an accurate description than “dictate”) emails and texts into his phone via the dictate feature and send them as-is resulting in an incomprehensible mess of words as interpreted by the iphone. It used to make me so angry that he wouldn’t take one minute or one iota of effort to communicate clearly and dump it on me to do the work of de-coding. He acted like he was just too busy and important to bother actually writing something properly. Or that he was just sloppy. But I really think it was about power and deliberately sowing confusion. I started sending them back to him saying it wasn’t my responsibility to spend my time and effort trying to decipher these messages and he needed to read them himself, edit and re-send communications in full sentences if he wanted me to read or respond.

  • I understand and I commend you for your patience to co-parent with a FW!!
    From my personal experience with my FW, once the communication broke down irreversibly, I suggested to communicate via emails and letters. I thought that writing down words would help break the barrier and get him to understand what i am saying because we would be talking pragmatically, without emotions.
    Instead, the more professional I became with my language, the more he went in the opposite direction. I even eventually got a complaint that my language was too polite and “sterile” and “only robots talk like this”.
    Since we have no kids together, I held it together until we cleared out all other issues and we are now no-contact thankfully. I cannot imagine how it would feel to be forced to talk to him for the rest of my life.

    • Thanks for your support, chumpedlindyhopper. I’m convinced my ex reads my neutral tone as outright hostility, since anything less than coddling his ego is aggressive.

  • It helps to view fuckwits’ behavior clinically, “Oh, that’s an interesting twist on manipulation.” The only way to survive with these people is to detach (to the extent possible), and analyzing their behavior as if they are lab speciments is one strategy.

    • I used to do this to. I prepared myself for the inevitable tantrum or insults and then would say things to myself like “there he goes again”, “isn’t that interesting”, or “oh look, he name-dropped OW again to get me upset”. It made it feel much less personal. FWs gonna FW. It helps to view them as overgrown toddlers. My lawyer said “just step over him”, the way you’d ignore a screaming 2-year-old.

      When he tried to hoover me and elicit my sympathy for his plight (after OW left him) I felt so detached. I actually thought to myself “he’s trying to manipulate me”. I felt absolutely NOTHING.

    • Germs in a petri dish comes to mind. They have to be managed in case they spread disease but ultimately they jusy cause illness and chaos!

  • Long ago, I was working as a paralegal for a law partner who gave me what I now consider the best legal advice ever. He told me that most judges will see our paperwork long before they ever meet us in person, and they will form their opinion of us based entirely on our written work product. I went on to go to law school, and all that was thirty years ago, but I still consider it the most important legal advice I could ever have given or received.

    So I’m strongly with you: your communications, and every last thing you put in writing, should be calm, directly to the point, and friendly but without inviting a challenge. If you can’t pick up the kids the day he’s asked you to fill in? Don’t tell him why, a simple “I’m so sorry but Tuesday at 3:00 is impossible.” Full stop.

    If he hasn’t read your e-mail? You did exactly right: you gave him time to respond, and then wrote back clarifying that you hadn’t heard back from him, so you will revert to the agreed schedule. Full stop, again.

    • Indeed. A couple of years ago, I made this switch based on some court stuff we were dealing with. I only ever write for the judge. That’s not to say it’s easy, though. I appreciate your support.

  • Although I did not have children with FW, trying to communicate about his daughter from his first marriage often involved obfuscation and stone walling. As did our attempts at vacation planning, marriage counseling and the facts related to his cheating. I filed for the divorce I didn’t want and ate plenty of shit sandwiches to get it done. FW’s gonna FW.

  • This hits so close to home. I recently had to wait 8 weeks for him to respond to an OFW inquiry about MEA break that was a new break to be figured out due to recent court date with changes to parenting and judge NOT assigning MEA to what parent on Even years so that falls on us.. Well, we all know FW’s don’t want to make anything easy so my easy question of do you want it Even or Odd 8 weeks prior to the break went unresolved! Then when I sent an email asking if he would be in agreeance to setting a 48hour response time to emails he would not agree because “It’s not in our court order”
    Seriously 48 hour response time is apparently too much to ask for.

    • Always make a default choice if they don’t respond. Always have no response (within a reasonable time frame) BE a response. Don’t ASK them to respond. INFORM them of what the situation will be if they don’t respond.

      “Please let me know by Monday the 15th if you have a preference for even or odd weeks for the break. Otherwise we will have Child spend even weeks with you and odd weeks with me.”

      After all, as your FW pointed out, there’s nothing in your order about how fast he has to respond, right? Well, there’s nothing in your order say that you have to give him a certain amount of time to respond before you move forward, either.

      • “Always make a default choice if they don’t respond. Always have no response (within a reasonable time frame) BE a response. Don’t ASK them to respond. INFORM them of what the situation will be if they don’t respond.”

        This is GOLD and should be repeated.
        Thank you Apidae!

      • And as per Apidae the second time around I said if I dont hear back I will assume that’s agreed. Then of course got the immediate reply asking for various changes due to “I’m a very busy man” blardy blah

  • Sending supportive thoughts. When I divorced the serial cheating sociopath I got full physical custody and decision making of my youngest, who was 12. There were still issues exactly as this writer portrayed. They are all the same— there really must be a playbook. My youngest just turned 18 — I celebrated more for relief that I wouldn’t face the threats of court battles another year (he never followed through but would threaten each year to file modifications and a few times I had to hire a lawyer to respond). College is looming, but I saved more than enough for her. If that fucker refuses to follow the order to pay for a % of college at least she can go and I’ll decide whether a legal battle with him is worth it later. Come sit next to me on this comfy couch – there’s room😁

    • Thanks, Motherchumper99. Their playbook is the same, I’m sure of it. But where do they get it from? It must be floating in the air. Those of us left in their wake have to read the actual playbook of how to respond (LACGAL), I swear it should be required reading in high school.

  • I lived this hell for 3 years. Now he’s just gone (once he got his money out of me for our house that I bought). But his silence and non-parenting is his new form of control. He arranges his own visits with our 16 year old daughter. She asks me if it’s a convenient time to visit her dad and I just say “sure”. But the terror of those 3 years still haunts me and I worry about the day when I might have to interact with him again…

    • This is actually akin to the counsel I got from my therapist this week—back off even so much as the kids have to work things out with their dad, not me. Part of me is afraid that this will somehow scar my children (they’re teenagers). Pray tell, your daughter is handling it OK?

      • I had the court order written such that my teenage son spent time with FW “as agreed upon by Child and FW.” FW was so sure of his awesome sauce that he eagerly agreed. So, my son would say “Can I go with Dad on Saturday to get a haircut, etc.?” I always responded, “Sure! Just let me know where you are.” As I stepped out of managing their relationship, it rapidly deteriorated. Spoiler: FW did not actually possess any parenting skills.

        After only a few weeks, Son did not want to spend time with FW anymore. I stayed out of it, only reassuring Son that he was not a “thing” to be possessed, as Texas custody law terms it. I told Son I respected him and his decisions. FW did not and continued to harass Son until he turned 18.

        Did this scar Son? Yeah, pretty sure it did. But having a FW father will do that to you. At least Son learned to handle FW on his terms, while knowing I supported him 100%. Son is now 23 and thriving. Hang in there, BIFFless!

        • Thank you, Eve. It’s so empowering to read everyone’s good wishes. If I knew then what I know now, I would have set it up that way, officially.

  • Agreed, be cordial, but use everything at your disposal. Also, if they have a question or issue, I find that helping them helps ease some of the tension, and they open up again. My ex actually blocked me on the phone, I was contacting a mediator to send a message per our agreement, but an issue with our shared calendar came up and she emailed me because of the blocking, and I helped her. Since then, she ended the stonewalling.

    Sometimes being the bigger person helps, we know they’re petty and have a need for control, I am learning to separate myself from what she says or does, otherwise it would drive me nuts or give me anxiety.

    • I think one of my ex’s manipulative techniques is that he’s not actually awful all the time. Also, yes, I’m here to testify. I aged 3 years last week. Not separating drives one nuts or gives one anxiety. 😉

  • BIFFLess,

    Go slightly easier on yourself; it is hard to be uniformly and consistently strong and courageous 24/7/365; you are allowed some self doubt once in a while ….. if you didn’t you wouldn’t be a good person.


  • OMG… totally get this. And in similar situation.

    I think finally being in a relationship that REALLY matters has allowed my trauma to show up. I’ve been an anxious mess for weeks now.

    My xw has lost any interest in documenting spending from the joint account, so who gets the “adulting” role? Me. Thank god, there is little reason for interaction beyond this.

    But now I’m suffering PTSD symptoms and get to work those knots out (finally). Its painful stuff. But because I’m finally in a place that allows me to do this.

    • My therapist told me, after my PTSD symptoms got really bad (about three years after FW and I split), that our brains/bodies don’t let us process the trauma until we feel safe. So it makes sense that now that you are in a real relationship, your brain finally has the capacity to work through all the suppressed emotions. Hang in there. It gets better.

  • To be clear… they stonewall… they give the silent treatment… the recruit others to do the same… ALL WITH INTENTION! As CL says, it is all about control – to them. You just want a simple answer, yes or no. They want you to be a cat toy to their Cheshire Cat (yes, think Alice in Wonderland). And their desire to control you or suck you back in after you’ve gone grey rock is never-ending.

    Case in point: I’ve been virtually no contact with Mr. Sparkles since 2015 (discard was in 2014; divorce was final in 2016). We “co-parented” via scheduling software and communicated as needed via texts and emails (documentation for court should I ever need it.) This year my son earned his driver’s license and since his father works in the auto industry I assumed he would help with a car as we did for my stepkids. Through email, I was rebutted with “it isn’t feasible”… in other words, “click bait… engage with me ICSTMC… you need me now don’t you…?” Instead, I accepted his response. I moved on… looked at my budget, made my own decisions and surprised my son on Xmas. I then emailed his father what his “half” is for the insurance expenses (our divorce indicates we split 50/50 to which he has honored without too much effort and the insurance isn’t correlated to the car I bought him but being a driver of cars only)… but now… because I went ahead and got the car without him… I need to be put in my place by him stonewalling me on the insurance (talk about triggering flashbacks to my marriage).

    Now… could I take him to court, sure… but judges don’t want to see this nonsense. Does it annoy me… yup… much in the way any child throwing a sulky tantrum annoys me… grey rock has taught me nothing I can do or say will change the outcome with Mr. Sparkles. He’ll either deign to contribute his half or he won’t. While all his other children enjoyed this right of passage (and to which I helped pay when we were married), our son will only have it because I’m the sane parent.

    Is it frustrating, you betcha. But nothing… not even car insurance… is worth my peace of mind. I’ll sell plasma before I jeopardize my sanity trying to cajole this fuckwit.

    I’d recommend the same here – you tried to negotiate with a child, didn’t work… find a solution with your own supports and move on. You’d be amazed at what you can do when you put down the need to engage with a fuckwit!

  • The best thing was to document everything in real time when I went through this with my son. He repeatedly cancelled mandated “reunification therapy” appointments at the therapist HE got to choose, who was out of town. I had to drive child both ways, and often didn’t get the cancellation message until I was already there. Once he claimed he was cancelling because he didn’t want to put child at risk going through “torrential rains and flooding.” After the appointment, I emailed the therapist and scientific weather maps of his location and the route, showing there was at most 1/4 inch of rain at my home, his home, and the route to the therapist’s office.
    I now have sole physical custody and decision making. No contact unless child requests it, and child is adamantly opposed.
    Big hugs to everyone who has to cope with this. All the manipulation is so damaging to the children in these situations.

  • “My husband asked me last night, ‘Why is that painful?'”

    I have encountered this query many times from folks who just don’t understand (most of them being non-chumps): What’s the big deal? I know he’s a jerk but just deal with him and move on about your business.

    It is a big deal; communicating with the FW is a huge, huge deal. I’m over ten years out of the first (last? who knows…) affair bomb of his and can be going months and months (or years) about my blissful FW-free life but all it takes is for the lines of communication to open *just a wee bit* and, like BIFFless, I crash and burn for awhile because he still affects me that much.

    We almost never talk except for brief and polite texts like “I will be there at 5:00 to pickup the kids” followed by a brief “Okay, thank you” or the like and I’m pretty good at never letting the door swing open for more than these professional exchanges. When the pandemic hit in 2020, everything *really* changed and FW started communicating with me more, which I hated but, at the time I thought it made sense; everything was new and weird and we had to briefly discuss how it would affect things like pickups and drop offs for the kids. He swiftly opened the door of communication *wide* open and, after years of BIFFy no contact (bliss for me), he was in communication wondering what my pandemic plans were, sewing masks *for me* and the kids, and sending me texts wondering why I wasn’t taking things as seriously as he wanted me to be. I was put in a defensive position. I politely messaged that I was taking everything very seriously and that we were homeschooling when appropriate and I had a daily log where I checked our temperatures every day (it was 2020, after all and the world, for a time, had completely shut down including the schools). He responded with suggestions and advice about how he thought I should be doing things etc, etc. And *I’m* the parent with sole custody!

    I felt like throwing up everyday. Here my children weren’t going to school because the schools were too scared to run, I didn’t know what Covid was and was scared we were going to die if we went outside, and FW was needling me every day with messages. He (panicking about the pandemic) even asked for daily and then weekly reports on our temperatures. All of a sudden I was in constant communication with him and it suuuucked.

    I feel the original poster’s pain. I felt ashamed; years of rebuilding and no contact only to have him open up the door of communication and enter in like a bull in the china shop of my emotional wellbeing. Where was the stong Fourleaf I had been for years? Can I be taken down so easily by FW even years after th4 fact?

    I fell into a brief depression, admittedly, but then I climbed out of that pit again. And I felt a renewed commitment to BIFFy no contact. Every condescending text either recieved no response from me or, if I felt one was required, it was brief and dispassionate. Can this be three words? Maybe only two. Nah, I can get this done with a one word response. Did he demand a temperature report? Yup. Did I used to give them to him when he asked for them. Yes. Did I realize that it was keeping us in contact and made me feel sick to my stomach each time? Also yes. Did I shut down that nonsense by responding to the last request for our temperatures with “we’re fine” and then never giving him our temperatures ever again? Also yes. He stopped asking after I stopped giving.

    Eventually he realized that the door of communication had mostly closed again and was only open a tiny crack for only the most necessary and business-like of messages. And, eventually when he realized he couldn’t needle me into unneeded dialogue, he backed off. By the end of 2020 I was back to almost never hearing from this and it was great.

    You got this, BIFFless.

    • Thats what my FW would do. He sounds like the same person. I realized after 27 years my FW had OCPD. The marriage therapist after his latest Affair when I was in RIC diagnosed him with NPD as well. The issues with control and minutia. I realized the reason he wasn’t more abrasive and unpleasant with his OCPD is that it was tempered by his NPD. He needed attention and you catch more flies with honey. You cant be a grumpy old man and get P*** Buffet. Sole custody is the best.

    • I suspect covid and lockdowns triggered a lot of narcs’ control issues because the state was visibly telling them what to do. They also love the drama of course, probably the idiots raiding the supermarket shelves so everyone else in the country had to wipe their butt with a leaf.

      • My ex was absolutely insufferable during lockdown. I had our kid full time since I worked from home. FW wanted a play-by-play of everything I did, wanted our son to call him five times a day (on FW’s schedule, not ours). He stalked my social media (or had other people do it for him, when I blocked him) and used every innocuous thing to make unfounded accusations. It was exhausting. Meanwhile he was living with OW in MY house (and I was completely unaware of this; FW was crying about how “alone” he was). Constant BS letters from his lawyers. Utterly exhausting. He had lost control of me and he couldn’t have that.

  • “You bred with a fuckwit. It’s a very big club. Have a seat on our big squishy sofa of regret.” This is so hilarious and so wise. I have only recently found this site . Thank you CL & CN because you really are lifesavers. There are just so many feelings that we all go through in this process, and it can be so hard to accept certain things. But it does help immensely to just accept that yes, I bred with a fuckwit, and that sucks, and I can’t change that. But you are in good company, we are legion and we can all sit on that couch and regret our situation together. It reminds me that it isn’t my FAULT that I am here, and that many, many others have made the same “error”, but ultimately, I just need to recognize that I really am HERE and that I truly can’t expect better from him. If you expect the worst, (ie. he will never be helpful/cooperative) you can at least plan for that and not continuously be disappointed and frustrated. (Also.. LW’s ex is an absolute tool)

  • I was advised to ask specific questions that only had a yes or no answer. But even then, sometimes I would have to ask that simple question 20 times.
    CL’s advice was 👍🏻 . I feel that I probably caused all kinds of inflammation in my body from all the stress of coparenting with somebody who’s not operating at the same level. It’s a losing battle. And it doesn’t get any better. Try to avoid communicating, but if necessary, do it with humour in your own mind. Remember that definition of insanity that says that it’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!

    • I blame my cancer on FW and the intense levels of stress he caused – his triple life was painfully stressful uncovering it never mind being him & living it. I hurt for myself whilst also soaking in his insanity too. Stupid empath that I am! I had to cut him loose. We learn in the end 🙂

  • I go down that rabbit-hole of anxiety/sadness when I have to see FW. I was blessed to not have to co-parent as my kids are grown and have their own kids. My kids do not share info with me about him and for that I am grateful. He does occasionally appear for family events.
    After 5+ yrs, I also find myself regretting what happened and wishing it had turned out differently. I was looking forward to being grandparents together and traveling etc. I have to f’s left to give (yesterdays song-love it) and I am not the least bit interested in a romantic relationship with anyone. is this what normally happens 5yrs out after 30 yrs of marriage?
    It’s not that I want To be with him or see him. I wanted a different retirement although I am content. It’s confusing. The grieving still raises its ugly head. Hugs!

    • “I was looking forward to being grandparents together and traveling etc. I have to f’s left to give (yesterdays song-love it) and I am not the least bit interested in a romantic relationship with anyone. is this what normally happens 5yrs out after 30 yrs of marriage?
      It’s not that I want To be with him or see him. I wanted a different retirement although I am content. It’s confusing. The grieving still raises its ugly head.”

      Me too, and I’m five years out from D-day. I do think it’s normal to grieve the loss of the future you had planned to some extent. As long as you don’t obsess and ruminate, I doubt it’s anything to worry about. I also have no interest in another relationship. I’m just tired of it all. I’ve hit my lifetime limit of dealing with other people’s bullshit, and there’s going to be some bullshit with everybody, even nice people. So I’d rather not inflict my impatience and intolerance on anyone new.

    • I’m having similar feelings Thrive… I planned a different retirement (in about 10 years), I’m mostly content with my life and our child is mostly grown, but… grieving is still a part of this traumatic experience. I have new things to look forward to… but I am also still sad about being forced to give up the first dreams I had.

    • Thrive – This is exactly where I’m at, too. I am curious about how grief and cognitive dissonance intersect. I suppose it’s all a part of healing, but our story is different from younger chumps. Still, no contact is essential.

  • “I remember asking my shrink in exasperation, “What do you do with passive-aggressive, stonewalling people?”

    And he said: “You shoot them.””

    Love that therapist! He reminds me of my daughter’s psychologist. When she asked him his opinion on why FW acts the way he does, he said; “Because he’s an asshole.”

    I can’t add anything to CL’s perfect advice, BIFFless, and I agree with your therapist- you’re gutsy AF. Your feelings are only natural when dealing with toxic people. It doesn’t make you weak or needy and it doesn’t mean you aren’t meh about the FW. Nobody can be meh about being forced to deal with such a jerk. It sounds like it’s his continued fucked-up actions that bother you, not his existence or your past with him.

    • Thank you, sooooo much, OHFFS. It’s helpful to hear this. Seriously. I’m going to bookmark this blog post for next time this happens so I can remember how much love I’m getting from everyone.

  • Holy crap – this is how my ex is all the time. I live on the sofa of regret. Even minor interactions are battle grounds and I feel it in my core like a poison, slowly killing me from even small communications. Do you get the rush of anxiety anytime they send a message? I do. It takes so long to get the anxiety out of my system.

    When I want to react and I know I need to be grounded as the sane parent, I go back to this quote: “If you hold onto hurt and anger with a narcissist, the children will have no normal parent. The narcissistic parent will use them as puppets, lovebomb, and abandon them. You are their only hope.” — Tracy Malone

    You are their only hope.

  • Wow, this makes me glad that my son was an adult when I found out about FW. Not sure how many years he had been cheating but at least I am not going through co-parenting. Chumps who do this really have my admiration and respect. You are mighty!!!! What you are doing is hard and tough but you are there for your kids as a sane parent.
    FW still blames me for our adult son being NC with him. Son found some of FWs amateur porn with Schmoopie on his shared photo account and from then on he was pretty much no contact with his father. All my fault of course. FW’s last email and text was to ask me to talk to son. My response was a polite NO! Our son is an adult who is fully functioning and he can make his own decisions on his relationship with his father. It is so typical of these FWs to try to task the chump with mending fences or anything that requires work. As far as I am concerned, he made his bed and can lie in it. The less I hear from FW the better I feel. Seeing his messages just males my stomach turn.

  • My God how they all seem to work from the same playbook. Communication with my ex is soooo eerily similar. Just maddening. This post was so timely for me today – my only New Year’s Resolution for 2023 is to try to do exactly what CL is advising here in terms of accepting the situation and trying not to dwell on the resentment, frustration, and feelings of unfairness. It’s a STRUGGLE six years in to co-parenting our 3 elementary-aged like this without improvement: no support (over $10K in arrearages and he wants to take me back to court to cancel his support since he doesn’t make any money because of his job-hopping and idiotic life decisions), a VERY uneven and unreliable schedule, AWFUL communication skills….the usual. My biggest comfort is that the more time the kids spend with me, the less influence his narcissism, impulsivity, and instability will be able to directly affect them. Another thing that has helped me is to fully accept that he will NEVER change, so there is no point in arguing with him or trying to get him to see that he’s a shit-bag in hopes that he’ll improve. I have to try to remember that my life is much better than his, despite the extra responsibilities, and that I have the better relationship with my kids, and that I have integrity. I would much rather be me than him. Dumping nonstop energy into hating him and being mad about his behavior is a feeling I’m so tired of having. Comparing my life to my friends who have good, functional co-parenting relationships is also something I have deliberately tried to stop doing. (By way of deleting social media, and honestly trying to feel happy for those I care about instead of envious. And realizing everyone has their problems.) Boy is it a slog, but it is so comforting to read about how big of a squishy couch this is, even though it is disheartening to know how many fuckwits are out there.

  • This is the most concise explanation and description of coparenting with a cluster B personality disordered person that I’ve ever seen.

    • Agreed, Never Again.

      A masterpiece, CL! Needs to be an Introduction or first chapter of your new book. Golden sage advice!

  • You know, you can always get your power back by waiting a week and then reply with “Oops never mind. We will keep the schedule as is. Byeeeee.”

    It’s petty, but then . . . so is he.

    • RK ~ yes! and misspell a few words so he gets the message you dgaf (or starts speculating you’ve developed a drinking problem to give him something to discuss with his friends)

  • BIFFless wrote, “He may not be awful in every context, but those are the exception, not the rule.”

    See if the following sentence fits: “He may not be awful in every context… unless there’s a girl in a tank top nearby.” If it fits, then he’s officially awful in every context, no exceptions.

    I don’t know if your therapist is setting parameters on not speaking or thinking “too negatively” or cynically of your ex or if you’re setting them this way yourself due to principle and identity and because you’re currently with a decent husband in a decent marriage where feelings of ire and cynicism towards anyone would seem discordant. But I wonder if getting a little more in touch with your “inner beast” and appreciating the healing powers of gallows humor might be a constructive adjustment to gain immunity to the fuckery. To me, there’s nothing more adorable than a gentle, decent person who finally gets a bit fight in them.

    For what it’s worth, I had to make that “adorable” adjustment. It was a long road so pardon the long story but I’ll share if it helps. In college I participated in the media project of a grad student who paid for everyone to fly to DC where we stayed in his mother’s Federal-style mansion in Georgetown. The house and gardens were shockers but I was especially interested in his mother, a glamorously slim and demure woman in pearls. On the surface she wouldn’t seem like the type of person who would be kind and vulnerable but I could tell she felt everything. And I thought, “That’s me. Fuck.”

    It scared me because I sensed a sadness in this woman that might lay at the end of that path for me. You can have all the resources in the world but if you can’t protect your heart, you’re screwed. But then I got a hint the woman was doing something about it. At night when we were all sitting on the Conde Nast veranda, I noticed a well-thumbed copy of a women’s self help book lying on a table. I don’t remember the title. It wasn’t “Women Who Run With the Wolves” but had a chapter about suppressed anger that described “getting in touch with the inner she-wolf” as a remedy against victimization and self-harming habits (wonder if Shakira read it). The bit about not starving the “she-wolf” was what I needed to hear at that moment in my life– something about not getting trapped in an overly genteel persona but balancing this out with needed defenses. I liked the fact that the author didn’t frame the genteel persona as pathological masochism but instead a kind of evolutionary glitch in some people’s natures that might need tweaking. I hate self help drivel that frames kindness and the ability to trust as pathetic. I thought Robin Norwood’s “Women Who Love Too Much” was a blamey piece of shit. In a better world, those kinder, gentler traits would be the most well-adapted. I love those qualities in other people and think of “harmlessness” as the only real glamour. It’s just that now I don’t think of harmlessness as defenselessness but instead the admirable inability to harm the harmless or stand by passively watching them get harmed.

    The funny thing is that I was raised by feminist parents but through some accident of genetics I was always civil and gracious to the point of being endangered by it. So much changed for me after picking up that book. I started standing up for myself, setting boundaries, let myself get mad, reported a professor for harassment. My relationship with food changed. Instead of eating my feelings with three bowls of raisin bran to balm my wounds after getting picked on, I “fed the wolf” and it seemed she preferred the hunt and some raw meat to sugar and carbs and never had another cavity in my life. I started bonding with other people who were constructively angry and funny about it, joined some causes, even got drafted into a comedy troupe as a lark which helped me get over fears of public speaking or even speaking up. When a guy I was briefly dating got squeamish about the idea of female comedians and tried to discourage my hobby, I dropped him. Nicely but without eXpLaiNing. I had no intention of being a standup comic but how dare he spoil the most fun I’d ever had. My newfound grit probably saved my life when I was stalked by a violent coworker during an internship. I put the guy in jail. I got his dangerous allies fired. I was Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes howling “Towanda” in war paint. It didn’t turn me into a not-nice person but instead I was more effectively “nice.” I stood up for other targets of harassment at work and trained as an advocate for domestic violence survivors.

    Anyway, I realized the grad student’s mother was trying to correct course in a way that I needed to correct. She left a breadcrumb trail with that book and I always think warmly about her and hope she found happiness (another object lesson: fabulous mansions alone won’t bring happiness unless you’re reading a book on your fab veranda about cultivating your inner wolf). Sometimes you need to see someone like yourself taking a certain leap to know it’s possible and the right adjustment. Unfortunately it wasn’t entirely bulletproof. When I met FW, he mirrored me and seemed to embrace my “plucky” side. I thought I could relax until suddenly he did a 180 and started condemning me for all my more durable survival traits.

    I was temporarily stunned and blindsided by FW’s typical DARVO attacks and found myself being my factory-setting, dangerously civil self in response at first. In the face of someone else’s inexplicable anger, it’s a normal reaction of civil people to search around to figure out what they might have done wrong to incite that anger. I don’t hate that part of myself even if it was a liability in that moment. It’s still adorable but it can be used against us. Finally an attorney friend I’d met when participating in one of my causes shook me back into action by guessing immediately that FW was cheating when I described a bit of what had been going on. I didn’t grow up with cheating and it was kind of an alien concept but my friend’s interpretation clicked. Suddenly the 180 and a lot of other things made sense. Thankfully it was a well-oiled transition to shift into survival mode. As an animal control guy once told me, it’s hard for a predator to catch another predator. I got mad, I got funny, hired a PI and attorney and sprang a bear trap on FW.

    The affair turned out to be FW’s first and only (according to polygraphs), probably triggered by a dramatic fallout with his toxic mommy and his father’s death. But in retrospect it’s as if his subtle control of me over the years had all been gearing up to that epic betrayal. He was always that guy but didn’t want to believe he was that guy which made him all the more diabolically convincing. D’oh. Dramatic events just provided him with the right dose of self pity to start drinking his lunch and rationalize doing what he’d always secretly wanted to do. His behavior wasn’t uncharacteristic but the next logical step in a lifelong progression.

    My gracious factory-setting self– oops– still got sucked into the RIC fiasco for a while. FW had dumped the AP unceremoniously and was doing the whole unicorn routine. I hadn’t yet found CL so, not knowing what else to do, I went for the ride. But by then I had a double-mindedness about it and continued to shore up resources in secret and kept touch with my legal team. I had lunch with my PI in secret which amused me. My plucky side had gathered plucky friends along the way and they helped me maintain my double-mindedness. We joked at FW’s expense. Even while dabbling in hopium, part of me was casting a new, cold gaze at FW. I studied him like a bug, taking note of all sorts of chronic little fear/obligation/guilt-inducing gestures I’d never previously noticed. If I was making a huge mistake by giving him another chance, at least I’d come away with some useful data on fuckwit tactics. I didn’t feel even a little bit bad about being duplicitous. If anything, I levied another tax lien on FW for forcing me to be. “It must needs be that evil cometh but woe betide he by whom it comes” as the bible says.

    My bug studies paid off when I finally kicked him out and he dropped that very convincing earnest mask and went into renewed rounds of fuckwittery. Yep, narcs hate consequences. The stonewalling, games, attacks and bs he managed to slip in through coparenting still got under my skin but part of me was thinking, “Well looky there, we have Tactic #487, the hyperbolizing-what-I-said/meant-to-cast-me-as-aggressor-and-reverse-victim-offender thingy with a touch of Tactic #264, the “stoic hybrid sigh/shrug” indicating that, due-to-my-dangerously-imbalanced-unreasonableness-he-will-be-forced-to-“wearily”(-and-therefore-all-the-more-“credibly”-and-lethally)-confide-about-me-to-others-as-a-threat-to-destroy-my-reputation-and-socially-isolate-me, a subtler version of the classic you’ll-never-work-in-this-town-again coercion with a little he-could-use-this-deadly-tact-to-win-full-custody-if-he-feels-like-it shot across the bow.” I would go back to my lawyer, describe the hinted threats and my lawyer would either reassure me of the emptiness of the threats or batten the hatches. The kids kind of osmosed my defense system and started calling their dad on his bs. Because they found out about the affair through his own sloppiness, he couldn’t even cry “parental alienation.” He was grossly outnumbered and in a thumb trap and it eventually took the steam out of him.

    The lawyer and other experienced people I knew would commend me on my interpretive prowess, like “Wow, I’ve never heard it put that way but that’s definitely a thing!” or “Mind if I borrow that?” I learned to equate the body sensations of feeling unsettled, panicked, confused and vulnerable directly to the “gesture warfare” of oblique threats being made against me until those gestures lost their power to mess me up. And almost as if FW’s have some psychic ability to gauge whether their methods are working against a target, the fact that his tricks weren’t screwing me up anymore made him lose his cool and he put some blathering stuff in writing that worked against him. In the end I realized that FW had the soul of a batterer even if he never took his hands out of his pockets. Damn, I’d been boiled like a frog for years by a sleeper agent! Whatever shame I might have had about being duped and entrapped sort of disappeared when I took full stock of what a professional-level operator he was. It also exposed something that I’d read in a book on battering while training in advocacy– that abusers relentlessly try to foster dependency in victims as a way of masking the abuser’s own pathetic dependency. I was living in his head rent free which was why he kept trying to reverse the effect. It made me philosophical about whatever terrible traumas make people so pointlessly twisted. But in the end it’s not my problem or my circus.

    I think one of the messages of the old self help book was about harnessing defensive anger rather than fearing its destructiveness. I realized that when cynicism is aimed precisely and surgically where it belongs, it’s actually less likely to be misplaced and leak out on the innocent. I became more patient as a parent and friend instead of running amok with anger. If you get defensively angry when warranted and block further blows, you end up with fewer wounds and a lot less to be angry about in the final analysis.

    • Well, I can assure you, it’s not my therapist. The other day she noted that she wished there were stronger words than “f–er” to describe him. And it’s not my awesome husband. A normally easy-going guy who can handle his emotions really well, he has more than once told me that if they’re ever in the same room together, I should run, lest I witness something I’d have to testify about later on. Nope, it’s just me. But a work in progress. I aim for your brand of adorable.

      So much of what you wrote resonates, but this is a curious new thing: the idea that the body sensations themselves are a sign of the oblique threats. Also, that cynicism won’t be as likely to leak out on the innocent when it’s instead aimed precisely where it belongs.

      Thank you for composing such a beautiful comment. Much to mull over.

  • I didnt have kids with the ex so our divorce settlement could have been sorted in months. He dragged it out in the family court for just under 5 years! Ignoring, stonewalling, refusing to pay , refusing to turn up , refusing to provide anything. It went on and on and on, I nearly lost my mind .
    It’s about control . Despite his so called happy new life and wife , he spent 5 years of still trying to make mine miserable. He didn’t win in the end and has come out far worse off than if he had been ‘decent ‘ and just sorted it properly. But he absolutely refused to give up on controlling every last thing.
    Im so sorry your dealing with this it does truly suck.

    • OC yes but now he gets to spend his days telling all and sundry he got done over by his ex through no fault of his own and that the family law system is biased against men. That could fuel a poor me erection for at least the next 30 years.

  • I don’t call it quitting – I call it cutting my losses. The best way to deal with this ex is to cut your losses. If he were dependable and honest and trustworthy you would not be divorced. He’s none of the above so cut your losses. Don’t ask him for anything more than what he is supposed to do. If you need to change something call a friend or relative or someone you can depend on. You will never be able to depend on this guy, he does not want you to depend on him, so don’t. I bet he blames you for his cheating too.. I’d leave him alone, be glad he pays child support and actually shows up when it is his turn to have the kids (I’m guessing he does those things).

    • He does. Because image management. In this case, I knew he’d never not pay, it would be far too problematic for him to be seen as anything less-than when it came to fatherhood. Now, pay the right amount? That’s a whole other question. It’s an interesting thing to consider cutting losses, I’m realizing I still fight much more than maybe I need to, despite all that I’m not fighting.

  • I rarely negotiate anything with ex directly ~ he is a run of the mill narc tool that would love me to ask him for something so he could display his dysfunctional wares.

    I dont know about using multiple forms of communication ~ there is no reason why one as agreed wouldnt suffice ~ reduce communication to the bare bones inc what methods. Multiple forms just opens up other avenues for abuse, manipulation, game playing (mine started saying I had to notify him by text if I sent an email (not urgent) as he was such a busy man he couldnt possibly check without prompting)

    I tried to use a parenting app which then became another thing for him to throw a tantrum about.

  • This:

    “Hear me out. Radically accept that you are the Sane Parent. Everything comes from you — stability, honesty, and probably all the financial support. (That’s another shit sandwich, at least in the U.S. Child support enforcement is a joke. If you can get it, great, but do not expect it. Order your life in such a way as to be as financially independent from a FW as you can be. This is another sermon.)”

    I always want to say this whenever I’m reading about when the other parent didn’t or won’t do this, that or the other thing or that they are afraid he won’t pay. It’s better to plan no money and then get a surprise now and again. I know this because I let my ruminating about the lack of child support because I was shocked he didn’t do it and he was supporting some other woman’s family.

  • Yes, it’s all about control and power over the chump. Really appreciated CL’s take on this crazy-making messaging. My cheater is quite the master of the game I call “Keep-Away”, a childish game of keeping the ball away from whomever is interested in it, only the “ball” is information that is relevant to me and our family. At the same time, he’s gotten enough therapy language to use against me, so that he’ll “set boundaries” and not feel the need to answer anything I would like him to answer. A power play, is what it is.

    • “Gotten enough therapy language to use it against me.”

      It was a crazy-making day the day he accused me of gaslighting him.

      Thanks for the support!

  • I needed this letter and advice today. I go through the same situation and frustration on a regular basis with my ex skirting his parenting time – he will be my last resort from now on. Thank you for the wisdom as always!

  • Sounds like my ex. Avoids and evades. Doesn’t reply to emails or letters. Ignores all responsibilities. Thrn einders why things get worse and i get cross… Hasn’t given a shit about his kids for 6 years – moved 170 miles away. Child support are chasing him. My lawyers were chasing him, his mum was suing me for child access coz she was frustrated with him too.

    They are only playing a part of ‘awkward customer’ coz they are disordered. They don’t think logically and can’t see consequences. Think they’re being reasonable when in reality they are actually showing everyone their disorder out loud.

    The lady asked for changes to the schedule – he has to go one better, as he sees it, and make her suffer for asking and take back control in an illogical way.

    I lapsed recently. I was diagnosed with cancer and i panicked and sent him an email saying he may have to look after the kids (for once!). I get panic and evasion back. I include OW#2 (and sometimes his mother) in my emails as she has to act for him quite often as he does nothing. Now i realise I’d rather navigate cancer treatment alone than rely on him to step up or even show consideration for his children snd what they may be facing with me being sick.
    School mums I’ve only known for 3 years have given me more support and cared more about my children than he has.

    OW#2 had a fit when she thought they may have to take on responsibility. He is a father. He DOES have to pay child support (none forthcoming for 14months now). She thought looking after kids would impact their life! That they couldn’t afford to have them. That the kids they avoid are real! That the lives they ruined have the audacity to hold them to account. He stayed quiet and asked his mum to help me instead!

    Who wants a reluctant and crazy father? Stick with the original plan and ask others for help as they played their last card when the selfish lies they told were more important than their own family.

    It’s like nailing jelly to a wall!

    • Nailing jelly to a wall. An apt metaphor.

      Thank you No Way. May you find all the school mums you need to fight the cancer battle. Sending love.

  • Thanks to CL and everyone for their support. Will definitely be returning to re-read this again and again. Maybe will help with the rumination.

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