How to co-parent with an abusive, narcissist ex-husband


April 13, 2013 _ If you are reading this, you are most likely trying to figure out how to stay sane and keep your children safe because you are co-parenting with an abusive man.

I know that most of my readers stop by either because they know me, or because they have found me searching for help. I am going to speak to the latter today.

Dear Mothers of children of an abuser, I understand your anxiety. I’ve been there. I have two children with a narcissist abuser and have been trying to co-parent with him post divorce for 8 years. It isn’t fun. In fact, it has been the most difficult experience of my life. Worse than loosing my mother to cancer. Worse than anything I’ve ever been through and it has taken years of therapy, support from friends and family, journaling, courtroom battles, lawyers and so on to get where I am today _ finally finding acceptance and inner peace. You can get there too.

If you want to learn more about my personal story, please read through this blog site, email me or comment. I am happy to help you in anyway I can beyond this site. But today, I’m going to give you some quick tips on how to handle this challenge in your life.

Part I

Understand what you are dealing with. An abusive man will not change, ever. Period. So stop trying to help him, make him, figure him out. You must come to terms with this as quickly as you can. Denial is very dangerous in this dynamic. I know you believe that he has some good in him and that good, if nurtured by you, will come out. It won’t. I have been researching domestic abuse and narcissism for more than a year now and I have yet to find one story about an abuser who has changed their spots and lived happily ever after with their mate. You must let go of this pipe dream, albeit noble.

Letting go of the denial is the first step to grieving the loss of your dreams of a happy family, hope of a better future with your husband and the father of your children. But you must and time is of the essence.  As you begin to accept the truth that you will never be able to control your ex from stopping his horrible behavior toward you or your children. Basically, you can’t. You can set boundaries and involve the authorities on a small scale, but abusers are very good, better than you, can manipulating the system in their favor. So this is a fight you will likely loose.

And that realization leads to anger and depression. But, that too is part of the process of finding inner peace and a better life.

Once you have given your chance to feel all of these feelings, you will be on a much stronger road to recovery. You must allow yourself to cry and shout and basically wonder how you got into this mess. This stage is horrible. Talk to a trusted friend. Watch sad movies that cause you to cry. Listen to sad music. Feel it. It will help in the long run.

You need to get to acceptance as quickly as possible and the only way to get there is through the fire so to speak. Avoiding the pain will do you and your children no good.

Your ex-husband is a dangerous man and you need to be healthy to deal with him and help your children handle their father. Look at it this way, some people have to cope with chronic illness. Some people are born into devastating poverty. There are tragedies abound. I turn to God to cope with this fact. God promised us each a life to live, but not without challenges. He promises to walk with us as we faced those challenges. This is ours. We must walk with an abuser as we raise our children. I have a dear friend who’s child has autism. Another friend who’s child passed away when he was 2. Another friend who’s child has Asberge’s. My nephew has type 1 diabetes. These are all challenges they have had no choice in but have to face. Denial hurts their walk. It doesn’t help. They must accept their circumstance quickly in order to navigate it the best way possible. Our children have an abusive, narcissistic father. The best help you can give them, is to let go of the fantasy that he will change, or that the legal system will change, or that fairness will win out. Your life and your children’s lives matter more than maintaining a fantasy. Get over it and get real.

Part II

Get a great attorney and a wonderful understanding therapist. You need to get as much in the court system as possible. Do not try to be forgiving, kind, noble or understanding of your ex-husband plight. He wants you to believe that he is the victim, not you. Don’t feel guilty. That is your co-dependancy talking. Ignore advice or comments encouraging you to find ways to get along. It is not possible for any length of time. Instead, figure out ways to get as much covered by parenting plans, court order, etc. Don’t settle for anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Hang in there. You won’t win everything, but fight hard for what you think is right for your children. Think always of them and what will give them the best shot at a normal childhood. But always remember, they will have to deal with the challenges of their father. You won’t be successful in protecting them from that.

With a very, very detailed parenting plan you will be on the road to a peaceful life. Your ex will not likely violate a court order. Or if he does, you will have the court behind you and there are serious consequences to the violation. If he does violate, seek legal help immediately. Don’t hesitate. Remember the first time he hit you? Did you call the police? Mostly likely not and look how that worked out. Learn from the mistakes of our past. Involving the legal system whenever you can will cut down the episodes of violations because most abusers are wimps at heart and don’t want to get in trouble.

Also, you must follow the plan at all times. Do not make “an executive decision” for the sake of your kids. If you do, you will be seen as the problem and the courts will act accordingly. I know this is hard, because who knows their kids better than you. But, you must remember that once the courts are involved in custody of your children, you are not the final say over their upbringing. When this gets you down or angry, then reread Part I! Grieve and move on. Remember, we all have challenges.

Part III

If your ex-husband is a narcissist, like mine, then you need to understand his personality disorder or you may continue to be a victim of it. Abusers will abuse whomever they want. You are not the reason for their abuse, no matter what you have been told. Abusers want to dominate others at all times. They will never learn from their own experience. They will always spin events in their lives so that they are the winner. Read about narcism. Read about the dynamic. Read about your role in the relationship. It will help you know how to react.

I have found that limited contact is the best course. I am not able to eliminate contact with my ex because of court ordered communication. But, I have the “permission” to stay away from him as much as possible. And after years of trying to find a way to “get along” with him, I have finally found it is best to steer clear. I had to mourn a lot over this decision. Early on, I wanted contact so that I could watch over my children while they were with him. Later, I was sad that there was a part of my children’s family lives that didn’t include me. I had to realize that that was part of life. Not fair, but accurate. And the sooner I accepted the truths, the better I and my children would be.

Today, my 18 year old has to deal with his father, not me. The more I let that happen, the better for my son, who needs to learn the skills in dealing with a narcissist. He will have one in his life for as long as my ex is alive. My younger child has to handle it as well. My job for my children is to provide a listening ear and an understanding heart, but not to meddle in their relationship. It is hard, but it is best.

I do whatever I can to remain detached from my ex. Here are a few things I did that you might find helpful:

  • I got a new email address that I use for friends and family. My old email is just for my ex and spam! I check it only every few days or so and only when I’m emotionally ready.
  • I find ways to do exchange of children without seeing my ex. I ask friends or plan for school pickups, etc.
  • If I do have to pick up my children at their father’s house, I get on the phone while I’m in his driveway. I don’t make eye contact and I move as quickly as possible.
  • When my kids are with their dad, I communicate with them directly using their cell phones.
  • I don’t lie about the abuse I experienced when we were married. I share with people when necessary why I don’t want contact with my ex.

If I never have contact with my ex again, I am OK with that and I do think that is best.

8 Responses to How to co-parent with an abusive, narcissist ex-husband

  1. Jet says:

    This is a wonderful post. Heartbreaking, but so true of everything I’ve heard and/or experienced since leaving. Even though we have been apart for almost a year now I am still somewhat caught up in part 1. It was such an instantaneous separation, one night he was here and the next night he was gone, that I still hold out on a tiny bit false hope. I know it’s stupid, and deep down I know that what you say is true, but I still long to look in his eyes and see that he loves me. Stupid stupid stupid…I know. I know.

    • Blogger says:

      Wow, thanks for posting your story. Yep, so hard and stupid… I work today at making sure I forgive myself over and over. My ex blames me enough, I don’t have to blame me too! I hung on to that hope for many years, even after divorce. I think it is pretty normal. Afterall, we want something good. Keep working to get yourself past it. Post here as much as you want and know that a sister is reading your story, shedding a tear with you and saying prayers on your behalf. You don’t need to change who you are to move on. Just accept that he won’t change. Good luck. You can do it. It takes time. You are meant to be here on this planet just the way you are. Prayers!

  2. Your realistic and pragmatic approach is encouraging. Your strength will be of huge benefit to your children as they grow …all the best to you

  3. Blogger says:

    Thank you for saying so and for reading. Take care.

  4. EJO says:

    A couple of months ago I started writing down stories depicting my experiences. It is something big for me because I have never been able to write. I mean anytime I had to write I found it torture. I received a lot of prayer over writing because my recovery group wants to hear my testimony. One day stories started flying from my fingers. This is one of the first ones I wrote.
    The Flying Fish: A story of control, subversion and submission.
    It is an overcast day. It is morning, we have gone to breakfast and are now at the beach. The water is murky and the skies are gray. The day is not very warm. It is our first trip to the beach. As we finish setting up, we notice up the beach in the water some pretty big fish were breaching. I hear my sons father telling him go in there and try catching one of those fish. Hurry he says before they go by. My 15 year old son starts to go into the water. I tell him don’t go in, the fish are breaching because there is a predator chasing them. He hesitates and looks over to his father. His father tells him do not listen to your mother she does not know what she is talking about, she is stupid, she knows nothing. He has heard the words before. We all have. He knows the meaning behind those words……… Do Not obey your mother……there will be hell to pay if you do…….consequences for my son consequences for me. I tell my son again….but he is already up to his waist in the water. I wade out to my knees asking him to come in. My daughter stands behind me calling my name I can hear the worry in her voice. A woman is running towards me, Lady, Lady, get your child out of the water there is a shark. She joins me signaling as I am again calling my son out of the water. He finally heads to the beach. I am relieved yet sad.

    • Blogger says:

      My boys are told the same thing by their father. I am no longer with him, but they are and I worry about the “sharks” in the water when I am not there. Stay strong and keep writing. I find that it helps. I hope it will for you.

  5. Catherine says:

    Hello,
    I would like to reach you by email if that is possible. Are you still using this blog? And is there a way I can send you a message? I am going through a very similar experience myself and would like to talk. Thanks so much!!

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