I thought today, I’d take a break from reposts and rantings about current events. Sometimes, I just need an old fashioned venting session. This particular vent is, yet again, about Ex. It may get profane, so brace yourself or move along.And please, no shaming comments about how inappropriate it is for me to write about this. I’ll write about whatever I damned well please. I know the situation and the people involved. You, most likely, don’t.
July 4th is a big day in Bill’s family. Not only is it Independence Day, which is a big day for anyone in the military community; it’s also Bill’s older daughter’s birthday. Older daughter happens to share her birthday with younger daughter’s daughter– Bill’s granddaughter– who was born on a more recent July 4th. Bill was looking for a gift for his granddaughter, but not for his daughter. Older daughter is still estranged, thanks to her selfish, narcissistic, manipulative mother. He’s come to terms with it. She’s about to turn 30, and she has to make decisions for herself. But that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating to watch from the sidelines.
What do we Americans usually do on birthdays? Most of us celebrate. Sometimes we go on trips, like Bill and I did last weekend for my birthday. We send gifts or have parties… or send a card.
Recently, younger daughter told Bill that she would like to send her sister something for her upcoming 30th birthday. Unfortunately, older daughter still lives with Ex, which makes it hard for younger daughter to communicate with her without interference from their mother. Ex evidently monitors older daughter’s phone and mail. I don’t agree with this policy, but it’s not my life. For some reason, older daughter tolerates the invasion of privacy, even though multiple people– including Bill– would love to help her move out of her mother’s house and live life more on her own terms. What can I say? You get what you settle for.
In any case, younger daughter said that she doesn’t think she can send her sister a birthday present or card. Why not? Because she says it would cause more drama for her sister than is worthwhile. Here are a few potential scenarios that could occur if younger daughter sends her sister anything for her birthday…
Older daughter: Look! My sister sent me a birthday gift!
Ex: How nice for you. She didn’t bother to acknowledge my birthday.
Ex: That looks pretty cheap. I bet she didn’t spend more than ten minutes picking it out. She doesn’t know what you like, does she?
Ex: That gift is so inappropriate. It’s not the right size, color, style, etc… (you get the idea) Nice that she can send you a gift, but completely ignore me on MY birthday.
Younger daughter has lived with Ex long enough that she knows what happens when someone other than her has a “special” day. Ex has a very long history of ruining holidays and special days. I have written many posts about how she regularly fucks up major religious holidays like Christmas and Easter…. although the last Easter she ruined turned out to be a wonderful blessing, since it meant the resurrection of Bill’s life. She once ruined Bill’s birthday by sending him many boxes of his possessions that she’d held onto for six years after their divorce, along with hateful letters from his daughters AND adoption papers to allow him to let #3 adopt them. She can’t stand for other people to be happy, get rewarded, or otherwise enjoy connections with other people. She regularly shits on other people’s joy and tries to sabotage their successes.
Now… this isn’t really my business at all. I only know about it because Bill told me. I have a lot of empathy for younger daughter, who was always close to her older sister. I know she’d like to be closer to her now, especially since they live in separate states. But she can’t even send texts or call her without interference from Ex. She says Ex will access older daughter’s phone and read what’s on it. When younger daughter calls her sister, Ex will demand to know who’s on the phone. And she just acts like she owns the three kids who still live in her house. This is her way of maintaining control. It’s pure narcissism, and it sucks.
I am comforted in realizing, though, that Ex can’t live forever. Hopefully the ones still at home will eventually break away from her toxic bullshit and live their own lives… although she does have a child who has severe autism and will probably always need help. That’s supposedly one reason why older daughter still lives at home. Ex doesn’t take proper care of her youngest child, so older daughter, who is also reportedly on the spectrum, does it for her.
I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal that two adult sisters feel like they can’t wish each other a happy birthday without interference from their twatbag mother… (sorry, I know name calling is childish, but this shit really pisses me off). Both of Bill’s daughters are grown women and more than capable of telling their mother to fuck off. Of course, they won’t put it in those terms, since they’re LDS and don’t like to curse. Or, younger daughter is still LDS. I’m not sure about older daughter.
Apparently, now that the church is no longer an effective parental alienation tool, Ex doesn’t attend anymore. I’m sure older daughter stays home, too, especially since church members apparently tried to help her in the same way they helped younger daughter break away from her toxic mother’s influence. Some might say the church’s influence is also toxic, but I honestly don’t think it’s worse than Ex is.
I’m experienced enough to know that this problem is one that Bill’s daughters have to solve by themselves. It’s going to take them growing a backbone and insisting that their mother stay out of their business. That’s hard to do, though, when one of them still lives under Ex’s roof. It’s like older daughter is stuck in quicksand, with many people standing around the sandpit with life rings, just waiting for her to grab one and get pulled out of the toxic mire. But she won’t grab the ring.
It could be that older daughter doesn’t mind the craziness. Maybe she’s afraid of the unknown, or worries that she can’t survive on the outside. I know younger daughter told Bill that she didn’t contact him for a long time because she was afraid. She’d been told so many lies… and she worried about everything from potential abuse to a cold reception. Of course, now she’s found out that she could have always reached out to him for help, and life is soooo much better on her own terms. But it can be hard to convince people still entrenched in Ex’s private pseudo-cult that escape is possible and life is good on the outside.
I just think it’s sad– and rantworthy– that my husband’s daughters can’t trade birthday greetings without a bunch of drama from their mother… or even just the perception of potential drama. Obviously, this is something that happens a lot in Ex’s house. When younger daughter explained her apprehensiveness about sending a gift, Bill knew exactly what she meant. He remembers his days living with his ex wife, trying to do something good, kind, or nice, and somehow, she would manage to fuck it up or ruin it. She is a master at sabotaging other people’s joy and satisfaction.
I remember, after their divorce, Bill would agonize over gifts and cards he’d send to his daughters when they were kids. Of course, Ex probably never gave them the things he sent… or she’d throw them away or sell them… or somehow discount them with disparaging words about what a loser she thinks Bill is (even though she made two daughters with him and asked him to raise her older son). Apparently, she makes babies with “losers”. She’s either got terrible taste in men or she’s a fucking liar. I’m going with liar. She doesn’t appreciate decent people. In fact, the nicer and kinder a person is, the more disrespect she seems to hurl at them. Especially, if they’re men.
Anyway… I know it’s not my business or my problem. I just think it’s terribly sad, and wanted to vent about it. I don’t have a very close relationship with my three sisters, but they all managed to wish me a happy birthday last week. It was good to hear from them. It makes me sad that younger daughter now knows a little bit about the tremendous pain Bill went through in the many years he was kept exiled from his children. They can commiserate over this shared bad treatment they received from someone who should have been loving and kind to them. Every day, I wish to God he’d had those kids with me, instead of his ex wife.
This is a repost of a book review I wrote in 2015, about 18 months or so before Bill reconciled with his younger daughter. At the time, I was hanging out on Shrink4Men.com, run by Dr. Tara Palmatier. I have less of a need to hang out on that site now, since Bill has reconnected with his daughter. I still think this is a good book, though, so I’m sharing this as/is review for those who might find it useful.
In November of this year, I will have been married to my husband, Bill, for thirteen years. We have had a great marriage for the most part, except for dealing with his former wife and the two kids he had with her. Those adult children are extremely alienated and haven’t spoken to Bill since 2004– with the exception of letters they supposedly wrote in 2006, formally disowning him. One might think that Bill is an utter failure at being a parent, but I know the truth about what happened and I know that had he not chosen to have kids with a crazy woman, he would have been a much beloved and highly successful father. In fact, he was much beloved by his kids until he got divorced and married me.
Before anyone asks– no, I am not the cause of Bill’s first marriage breaking up. I did not meet Bill in person until 2001, almost a whole year after he and his ex wife legally split. I did meet him online prior to that, but Bill’s marriage was already in a death spiral by that time. Moreover, we were strictly platonic until the divorce was final (and really until we actually met in person). Ex, on the other hand, had a boyfriend and was quick to move him into the house Bill was paying for right after they separated. Boyfriend is now Ex’s third husband. She has five children with three different men, and after each of her divorces, the resulting children ended up alienated from their fathers.
It’s been a few years since Ex last directly harassed us, though every once in awhile she rears her ugly head and does something to remind us that she’s lurking. Overall, things have gotten much better for us, though. It’s sad that Bill lost contact with his kids and former stepson, but letting go of them ultimately proved to be the best thing he could do for his sanity, his wallet, and our marriage. Even though Ex mostly leaves us alone now, I am still fascinated by people with high conflict personalities.
A few years ago, I found Dr. Tara Palmatier’s excellent Web site, Shrink4Men.com. Dr. T’s blog is written for men who are involved with abusive women and the non abusive people who love them. While many might scoff at the idea of an abused man, I know for a fact that there are a lot of guys out there who have suffered abuse at the hands of a woman. I think Dr. T’s Web site is an important resource that serves an underserved group of people. There are plenty of places for abused women to get relationship help if they need it. Men, by contrast, often have to go it alone.
This year, Dr. T and noted men’s rights activist Paul Elam teamed up to write a book called Say Goodbye To Crazy: How to Get Rid of His Crazy Ex and Restore Sanity to Your Life. This book, which was released on Mother’s Day, is primarily written for women like me, married or in a relationship with a man whose ex is toxic and abusive. Why? My guess is that it’s because women are more likely to read self help books than men are. Look at all the heavy hitting books out there that have been popular like Women Who Love Too Much and Men are From Mars; Women are From Venus. These are books directed to women about relationships with abusive men. They were hugely successful with their easily quoted titles. Even though both of those books been around for decades, people still remember their titles. I think Elam and Dr. T were smart to recognize who their audience really is.
Though Say Goodbye To Crazy is a great book for men trying to reclaim their lives after being involved with a destructive, “crazy” woman, the authors write as if it’s the man’s new wife or girlfriend reading, rather than the abused man himself. They refer to the destructive ex wife or girlfriend as “Crazy”, as if that’s her name. Using a conversational, empathetic tone, the authors explain what and who “crazy” is and describe some of the destructive antics women with high conflict personalities will stoop to in order to get their way and wreak havoc on other peoples’ lives.
Reading about things “crazy” does was like reading Bill’s life story for the ten years he was involved with her and the few years immediately following their divorce, as she struggled to keep him bending to her will. As I read, I often found myself nodding in agreement, both in terms of our experiences dealing with Bill’s ex wife and the things we did that finally got her to leave us alone. It is unfortunate that in Bill’s case, saying goodbye to crazy meant also saying goodbye to his kids. On the other hand, not having contact with the kids and not letting Ex use them as weapons means that we also have no contact with Ex. And that has meant peace, harmony, sanity, and prosperity.
Say Goodbye To Crazy helps men choose appropriate and effective attorneys and therapists. For instance, the authors explain what kinds of questions to ask therapists and attorneys before hiring them. They point out ways to spot biased and/or ignorant therapists and lawyers before wasting time and money. They also explain the differences between counselors and their training. Indeed, they even take a shot at social work, the profession I was trained to enter before I became an Army wife.
Dr. T and Elam explain that social workers tend to be female centric and biased toward feminism. As someone who has a master’s degree in social work, I have to agree with them. While there are social workers out there who are open minded about gender, the profession is female dominated and people within the social work profession generally deal with women’s issues. There was a time when this strong emphasis on feminism was needed. Unfortunately, I think in some situations it’s gone too far in the other direction and some men are being treated unfairly by social workers due to their gender.
Please don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think women need champions or that women aren’t victimized by men; it’s more that if you are a male who is dealing with an abusive woman, you don’t need someone telling you to be more empathetic and tolerant toward her crazy behavior. You need someone to be YOUR champion and help you escape the abuse. If you can find a competent social worker who can do that for you, by all means, take the help. Just remember who the patient/client is.
Elam and Dr. T also write about the concept of “parallel parenting” and why it’s so important when you are trying to raise a child with a high conflict parent. They offer advice on how to find mental health and legal professionals who will support the idea of parallel parenting to minimize the post divorce craziness in your life.
Dr. T and Paul Elam write about the many ways “crazy” will try to manipulate and control people– anyone who is within her sphere of influence. I can speak from experience that Ex tried very hard to get me under control, even to the point of inviting Bill and me to Bill’s father’s house for Christmas one year. She expected me to go along with her wishes in the interest of “making nice” and showing the kids that we’re all a big happy family. She did not ask me if I wanted to go. She did not speak to me about it at all. Instead, she told Bill this was how we’d all be spending our holidays and just expected that I would acquiesce. She thought I would be desperate to try to win over the kids and the in-laws. I understood that the kids had no interest in seeing me and the in-laws just wanted to hang out with the grandkids, so that made it easy to say “no” to her crazy and ridiculous demands.
I stayed home while Bill visited his kids at his dad’s house. He booked a hotel while Ex and her current husband stayed with Bill’s family. Ex ended up looking like a gigantic asshole as Bill sat alone at the Christmas table with a hotel reservation and a rented car. Bill’s dad and stepmother initially blamed me for not coming and tried to get Bill to stay with relatives. He declined, since he’d already paid for everything and he wanted his family to understand that his ex is an asshole… and by allowing this spectacle, they aided and abetted her asshole behavior.
Of course, what Ex was really trying to do was force me to bend to her will and get me on turf where I’d feel forced to tolerate her abuse. To achieve that end, she used her own children like human shields. I suspect she figured I would not want to risk upsetting or alienating them or my husband’s father and stepmother, but she made a serious miscalculation in her assessment of me. I understood that I could never take her place as the mother to her kids and wouldn’t want to try. I have my own family and I don’t even tolerate much manipulative bullshit from them anymore. Why would I take it from my husband’s former wife?
In the short term, I got a lot of crap from Bill’s dad and stepmother for not going with Bill and standing by him while also enduring Ex’s toxic bullshit. However, in the long run, not going was the best and smartest thing I could do. Crazy, high conflict people are masters at finding peoples’ hot buttons. Had I exposed myself to Bill’s ex wife, she would have gotten information about what makes me tick. She would have then used that information to drive a wedge between Bill and me and others in his family. At the very least, that holiday would have been completely ruined and, God forbid, had it gone well, Ex would have a reason to make it an annual event.
You may think I’m being dramatic. I’m not. I am deadly serious about this. High conflict people, males and females, live to cause drama and love to destroy friendships, romantic relationships, and family ties. Bill’s ex wife successfully alienated him from his two daughters. But that wasn’t enough. She also tried to turn his own parents against him. She told them bald faced lies about the kind of person he is, twisting situations and things that were said to make it look like their beloved son is a monster who hates women. She went on a campaign to turn his extended relatives and friends against him. And she did all of this despite the fact that he really is a decent guy who bent over backwards for her and their kids.
I am aware that there are a lot of men who walk away from their parental responsibilities. Bill is not one of those guys. He paid a lot of child support for his two daughters and Ex’s son from her first marriage (whom Bill never adopted). He frequently tried to set up visitations and phone calls. Ex successfully did everything in her power to thwart his attempts to stay in his kids’ lives until they finally sent him hateful letters disowning him just in time for his birthday. Ex also sent adoption papers, which she invited Bill to sign so that her current victim could legally become “daddy”. Bill didn’t sign, though the temptation was certainly there.
While I have pretty much written off Bill’s kids, Bill has not. He still loves them and would see them if they asked to meet. I, on the other hand, don’t care if we never see them again. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve revealed to us who they really are. They claim we don’t deserve to know them? I submit that the opposite is true. I would never tolerate that behavior from people I don’t know. As far as I’m concerned, Bill’s kids are strangers, not family members. I have only met them once and I am not their mother. In fact, I barely qualify as a stepmother. And I am not the one who made them strangers to us; that was their mother’s and their own decision. Understandably, Bill has different feelings about his daughters. If and when they eventually contact him, he will handle the situation as he sees fit and I will do my best to stay out of it.
I realize that not all men who have been married to crazy women have situations as extreme as ours has been. For those guys (and their girlfriends or wives), Say Goodbye to Crazy is an excellent guide. For me, it was just more affirmation that as “crazy” as Bill’s ex has always seemed, there are many more people like her, male and female. In fact, many people have it much worse than we ever did. We are not alone. If you have the misfortune of being in a relationship with a high conflict person, you are not alone, either.
I’ve been a subscriber of The Atlantic since last year. I do read a lot of the articles. In fact, I read more of The Atlantic than I do a lot of the other periodicals to which I am subscribed. However, over the past year I’ve noticed a few things. First off, a lot of the articles are recycled repeatedly on Facebook. Secondly, they keep nagging me to turn auto-renew on, even though I clearly made a conscious decision to disable it (big surprise– auto-renew is turned on by default). In their emails pleading with me “not to miss an issue”, they point out that they’ll tell me before they charge me, and I always have the choice to disable auto-renew. If that’s the case, why not just let me make that choice for myself and leave me the fuck alone about it? And thirdly, so many of The Atlantic’s articles are incredibly depressing, outright ridiculous, and/or overly and annoyingly “woke”. I’m not sure if I will resubscribe when my current subscription ends next month, but the emails pleading for me to let them automatically take my money are off putting.
Reading The Atlantic the other day kind of led to yesterday’s slow news day on my blog. I kind of had to take a mental health day and just write a book review. I went a little nuts on Tuesday. It started with the cannelloni I decided to make for lunch. I wanted some red wine to go with it, even though I usually try not to imbibe when Bill isn’t home. Well… I started enjoying the wine, then I got online and read an article in The Atlantic. It was another one of Lori Gottlieb’s Dear Therapist columns, dated from June 2019. The piece was entitled “Dear Therapist: I Can’t Stand My Fiancée’s Ex-Husband”. The sub title-explanation was, “He wants to take pictures with her and their daughter like they’re still one happy family—and I want him to stop.” Below is the letter in the article:
I am engaged to be married to a wonderful woman who has a 6-year-old daughter with her ex-husband. They share joint custody. A major contributing factor in her decision to end their marriage was her ex’s controlling nature. Even now, after being divorced for more than two years, he tries to control her life.
One of the ways he tries to do this is by insisting on taking pictures of the three of them at every function where they are all present. First day of school, graduations, etc.—he has to have pictures taken of himself with my fiancée and their daughter as if they are still one big happy family.
Since the divorce, he has gotten engaged as well. I can only assume his fiancée must find these odd “not-a-family pictures” as strange as my fiancée and I do. The sole reason we haven’t shut him down when he insists on them is that we think maybe it is a nice thing for the little girl to have pictures of herself with her mom and dad. But we dread every event when we know he is going to expect this.
Will it do the daughter any harm to stop him the next time he starts insisting on this awkward situation?
Lori Gottlieb’s advice to the letter writer who can’t stand his fiancee’s ex husband was to cooperate for the sake of the child. She explained that she has had many children of divorce in her office who have lamented about how their parents didn’t get along. She evidently sees nothing wrong with the letter writer’s ex husband insisting on family pictures, even though both his fiancee and the ex husband have found new partners and the fiancee, apparently, doesn’t like the forced picture taking either. I do think the letter writer is pretty classy for realizing that the photos with both parents might be nice for the daughter. Hopefully, it will mean that he doesn’t try to replace his soon to be stepdaughter’s father. Sounds to me like bio dad isn’t about to let that happen. I can’t blame bio dad for that, but I also don’t think bio dad should be pressuring his ex to do something she’s not comfortable with doing, for the sake of pushing a “one big happy family” myth.
Those of you who know me at all, might know that I automatically sympathize with the letter writer. I didn’t even have to read the guy’s letter to sympathize. Ex pulled that “one big happy family” bullshit on Bill, too… I would include myself in that comment, but she never asked or even considered how I would feel about pushing that narrative. And that was just one of MANY reasons why, over 18 years after my wedding day, I still can’t stand her and don’t want to be associated with her. I have very good reasons for not being able to stand her. At the very top of the list is the fact that my husband saw one of his daughters last year for the first time since 2004!
That’s right. She categorically denied Bill visitation for years while she happily took $2550 a month from him for three children– one of whom wasn’t even his kid (she denied eldest son access to his father, too). Early in our marriage, she tried to strong arm Bill into naming her the beneficiary of life insurance policies valuing $1,000,000, even though he was paying her about half his salary in child support and had already provided $500,000 in life insurance coverage to her. She told vicious lies about him (and me) to the children and even tried to turn his own parents against him. She also abused him in ALL ways– mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, sexually… you name it, she probably did it. He still bears the scars from the physical abuse. Through it all, my husband has been extraordinarily classy. To this day, he doesn’t trash talk his ex wife, although he does commiserate with his younger daughter about her. It turns out she treats her kids as badly as she does her husbands.
I, on the other hand, have absolutely no qualms about trash talking Ex. She totally deserves it, and I make no apologies for despising her. But it didn’t start out that way. Back in 2002, when I was blissfully ignorant about her, I imagined myself being kind and patient and understanding toward Ex and the children. I wanted to be a good stepmother, loving to his children and sharing access to him. I didn’t think I’d be friends with Ex, but I thought maybe we could be civil. I really try to be civil to most people unless they give me a good reason not to be. I encouraged Bill to stay involved with his daughters. I hoped and expected he’d visit them and be part of their lives. I hoped and expected I would be part of their lives, too, in whatever way. In those days, I probably would have been among the naive, glibly telling people in step situations that they must always do everything for the child’s sake, no matter what.
But, as some of my more regular readers know, I’ve only met Bill’s daughters once, back in 2003. I had no influence on their lives, because I wasn’t allowed to be part of their lives. I could have seen them at Christmas in 2004, which was when Bill last saw them together. That last meeting was, unfortunately, a trap, although Ex had tried to frame as a way to show the children that we’re “all one big happy family”. After that Christmas, Ex completely cut off access to the children and Bill lost contact with them for years. Yes, he could have tried going to court, and he did speak to a lawyer about doing that. But in those days, he simply didn’t have the money or the time to devote to child custody hearings. After his divorce, Bill was saddled with a bankruptcy and a foreclosure, and with the kids on the other side of the country, there was no way he could fight without courting financial and professional ruin– two conditions that would not have made him look good to a family court judge, anyway. It probably also would have ruined our marriage, because unlike Ex, Bill would have allowed his daughters total access to their mom. And we would have been fighting with her constantly.
As it stands now, only Bill’s younger daughter is speaking to him. We both feel fortunate that this happened– because for a long time, we never thought it would. And, personally, I had also gotten to the point at which I was trying not to care anymore and just wanted them to leave us alone. Of course, now I’m glad younger daughter is in contact with Bill. She’s turned out to be a good person. Older daughter remains estranged and, at this point, I’m beginning to think that’s the way it will always be. Maybe that’s the way it should be.
Bill had told me when we were dating that his ex wife could “rip me to shreds”. I kind of laughed at that… and it didn’t turn out to be true. I never let her get close enough to me to be able to “rip me to shreds.” I’m not afraid of her. I think she’s a pathetic loser, and I am pissed off that she was able to do the damage she’s done and continues to do. I’m truly sorry that she was abused as a child and is mentally ill, but that does NOT give her the right to harm other people And the fact that she has done SO MUCH HARM to SO MANY PEOPLE means that I can’t stand her, and will NOT cooperate with her, EVER. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my stance about Bill’s ex wife. She’s not a good person. Fortunately, the girls are now grown women, and I no longer have to worry about pushing the “one big happy family” myth for their sakes.
Anyway… on Tuesday, as I read that article, I visited the comment section and wrote, “Can’t blame him. There’s a reason they’re exes. I can’t stand my husband’s ex wife, either… actually, that is a massive understatement.”
I knew the reaction to my comment was probably going to be negative. I did immediately get one angry emoji. That person apparently blocked me, too. Oh fucking well.
But then I got this comment from some guy named Steve, who wrote… “but if your husband has kids with her, please encourage and support him in being civil for the sake of the children. Being a stepparent that appears against the children’s mother is going to make everything, including your relationship with the kids, much more difficult and stressful for everyone.”
Oh please. This tired screed again? So I responded to the guy, more aggressively than maybe I should have. I won’t lie. I found his comment pretty offensive and presumptuous. I mean, I guess one could assume that I’m the problem because I flat out stated that I can’t stand my husband’s ex. Not knowing anything about me, maybe I would make a similar assumption. It’s a human thing to do. Still, I just felt this overwhelming urge to speak up for people in my situation. It’s really tiresome when people glibly make suggestions like the one Steve made to me. Why would Steve or anyone else assume that someone who comes second or later is going to automatically be the problem when it comes to fostering relationships between divorced parents and their children? Why would he assume that I can’t stand the ex simply because she’s the ex?
There really is a reason why people become exes… and I don’t blame the letter writer for not liking the forced family photos. Those forced family photos are not a reflection of reality, and the ex husband’s insistence on taking them may, indeed, be due to his control issues. Not knowing the people involved, I can only assume they know each other and the situation better than any reader ever could. And while Lori Gottlieb does write that oftentimes, when she speaks to couples, she finds that both parties are equally to blame for problems in a relationship, there are also a lot of situations in which one partner really is a control freak or a narcissistic abuser. The ex insisting on something like taking family photos may seem very minor, in the grand scheme of things, but that might be part of a much larger issue that led to the couple’s split. In any case, I think the fiancee should have the right to veto the photos if she wants to, and no one should judge her for that. The letter writer should be supportive and understanding, no matter what his fiancee chooses to do.
I also agree that divorced couples with children should do their best to work together whenever possible. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to be civilized and occasionally “take one for the team”. But when people split up, they should not be expected to promote a false “happy family” image for the child’s sake. If they can do so realistically, that’s one thing. But it sounds like in the letter writer’s situation, at least two of the adults aren’t comfortable with promoting the charade. Their opinions should be respected, too.
Perhaps against my better judgement, I ended up explaining some of my situation to Steve. I’ll admit, my responses were pretty angry– remember, I’m currently lonely, stressed out, and at that point, had been drinking wine. Steve’s off the cuff “advice” had made me angry, because it’s the kind of useless shit I’ve been hearing for years. I’m tired of people assuming I’m the problem, simply because I’m not the mom and I happened to come second. I would have been delighted to have worked with my husband’s ex wife, if she had been similarly willing to cooperate. Unfortunately, that was not how the situation was when the girls were minors. She’s still spinning tales, and taking advantage of anyone who allows her to, and apparently, getting away with it… although younger daughter, at least, has figured her out and doesn’t want her near her children.
When I responded to Steve, I was thinking of the letter writer, as well as all of the other people I know who are in this very same boat. I know my personal story is probably kind of extraordinary. Most people’s exes aren’t as horrifying as Bill’s ex wife is. Most people are in a position to be able to enforce visitation rights, at the very least. Or their exes realize that by denying their children access to their natural parent (as long as there isn’t a damned good reason for them NOT to be), they are hurting the children. On the other hand, I do know some people who are dealing with truly awful, manipulative, controlling, abusive exes… and the people– especially the women– who subsequently get involved with them often end up being labeled as “wicked”, “homewrecker”, or “obstructive”, or they have to endure rude assumptions and questions like “Are you the reason they got divorced?”
Steve and I went back and forth a few times. He turned out to be a pretty okay guy, and I even ended up thanking him, because in the end, he was ultimately understanding and kind. And now that I’m reading my responses to him, sans wine, I realize that I was a bit triggered and, perhaps, more hostile than I should have been. The truth is, things are pretty stressful right now. Bill is on an extended TDY, so I don’t have anyone to talk to, other than online. This isn’t the first time I’ve spent weeks alone, but doing this routine during a pandemic, in a foreign country, and after having been “locked down” for months, is very trying.
I do know things could be worse. Bill is not in a war zone with a narcissist; he isn’t regularly fighting with his ex wife; we are both healthy; and we have plenty of money to pay our bills. I know there are many people out there who would laugh at me and tell me to get over myself. But even though I know things aren’t really that bad and have historically been worse, that doesn’t change the fact that the other day, it was like I’d run into a perfect storm of triggers that got me pretty wound up. The truth is, I kind of exploded… then imploded.
I ended up going to bed early on Tuesday, after a tense and very brief– and incoherent– chat with Bill. We had a much better chat last night and I apologized for the state I was in on Tuesday. He was understanding, as usual, reminding me that this is a “stressful time”. And it is… the boredom, loneliness, and hopelessness of the past fourteen months have taken their toll. It doesn’t help that my husband, who is half vaccinated, is on yet another business trip lasting weeks. I feel like we’re separated. There is a light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, though. In a few weeks, we’ll both be fully vaccinated, and it looks like the TDYs from hell may be over for awhile. And maybe we can do something enjoyable and spend some money on a trip somewhere. Hope springs eternal.
Anyway… I know I should avoid comment sections for the sake of my blood pressure and mental health. But, if I didn’t read comments, I probably wouldn’t have enough material to blog every day. Other people’s reactions and perceptions can make for fertile content mining. I also know that there are people out there who were glad I spoke up about that fake “one big happy family” falsehood. For a lot of us in these step relationships, that just isn’t reality… and I don’t think we do good when we try to present it that way.
A few years ago, I wrote a post on the Blogspot incarnation of The Overeducated Housewife entitled “The Ex is Much Like Wile E. Coyote”. I was inspired to write that post as I realized that a lot of Ex’s big plans eventually fall apart, much like they always did for Wile E. Coyote on the Road Runner cartoons. She has a way of coming up with really big ideas, but somehow, they almost always eventually lead to failure, if not outright disaster. Unfortunately, Ex is great at convincing people, so a lot of innocent folks have been harmed by her big ideas.
When I wrote that post, back in the fall of 2018, I was under a lot of stress. Most of it had nothing to do with Ex. However, because Ex has caused me and a lot of my loved ones considerable pain over the years, I couldn’t help but engage in a bit of snark. That post attracted a comment from a person calling themselves “Wondering Why”, who took exception to my habit of “trashing” Bill’s ex wife. This was the comment left for me by “Wondering Why”:
I have to wonder why you see the need to publicly trash your husband’s ex, repeatedly, on your personal blog. Why do you air such personal business? There is so much negativity coming from you in many posts, and SO much TMI info. So much of it is simply inappropriate. Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you need to write it and then publish it. Write it to get out your angst, but seriously, let it go already. You come off as snotty, petty and bitter.
I think I know who this person was. As I have mentioned before, I carefully watch who visits my blog. I could see that this person had visited several times and had even engaged me in chat once or twice. She has since moved to Germany and is a member of a group I run. She once told me that she’s a “first wife”, and I think she assumes Bill’s ex wife is a normal and “nice” person, and that I’m just a mean, bitter, second wife who is picking on her. I can see why she thinks that, based on only reading a few posts.
However, my negative opinions about Ex didn’t form in a vacuum. They are quite well justified, and venting about them helps me maintain my peace in an insane situation. The truth is, Ex does a lot of destructive things that complicate life for many innocents. Her crazymaking has a tendency to make people myopic– they can’t see the big picture and get stuck in her lunacy. It’s painful and distressing to watch if you’re a decent person, which Bill and I are.
Believe me, nothing would have made me happier than if Bill’s ex and I could get along and cooperate for the sake of family. She’s made that impossible, and now that younger daughter is older and talking to Bill, we’ve learned that this is how she treats most people who get close to her. She somehow convinces the most vulnerable people in her life that they can’t live without her, even as she fucks up their lives.
I have noticed that “Wondering Why” now acts like she didn’t leave that comment, and I have never confronted her about it. She’s friendly to me in the group I run. However, I did respond to her comment on the blog itself, as did a number of regular readers who know the backstory about Bill and his ex wife. In fact, that comment spawned several posts, because I was irritated by the hypocrisy and tone of it. This is a personal blog. It’s not always going to be light and breezy reading. If that’s what you want, get a subscription to Reader’s Digest.
Anyway… this post is not so much about a random commenter’s uninformed opinions about my character and posting habits regarding Ex, as it is about Ex’s harebrained schemes that always seem to backfire. Ex does a lot of really impulsive and ultimately stupid things, a lot of which have lasting and very negative consequences. It would be easy to ignore her dumb decisions if they only affected her, but alas… they affect a whole lot of people, as I recently mentioned in my post, Ripple eff-Ex Volume 2. Case, in point, Ex’s foolish decision to convert to Mormonism.
Back in 1997, Bill and his ex wife were living in Arkansas. Bill had temporarily left active duty and, despite having an international relations degree from American University, he was working swing and third shifts in a factory. They were broke, and Bill was constantly working to try to keep things running. Meanwhile, Ex was doing everything she could to ruin their finances and fuck everything up.
During that time, Ex, who also had a friend who was LDS, noticed a “beautiful” family at a restaurant. Or, at least this is the story I’ve heard… I’m not sure if this really happened, or it’s just a fable that sounds good. Ex supposedly noticed how well-behaved, happy, and peaceful the family appeared to be. They said grace before eating, and looked like they all got along so well. She allegedly complimented them on how nice they looked and they told her they were Mormons. I’m not sure if I believe this is exactly how it happened, but like I said, it sounds good. The upshot is, Ex unilaterally decided that she wanted the family to convert to Mormonism.
Bill was desperate to save his marriage, and he knew that Ex was going to do what she wanted regardless. He agreed to join the church. So Ex contacted the LDS church, who sent missionaries. I’m sure they were only too delighted to have a golden contact family– that is, a family who came to them willingly for church membership, rather than having to be convinced to join. Even though Bill loves coffee and booze, he willingly gave them up to make Ex happy. He jumped through all the hoops and got “endowed”, meaning he became “temple worthy” and was deemed good enough to wear the special undergarments that supposedly grant super spiritual powers. Ex also became temple worthy, and the two of them went through a special religious ordinance called “sealing”.
I have written about LDS sealing before, especially in my old blog. It’s a very big deal to LDS church members. The ordinance takes place in a temple, which only the most devout church members can enter. They even have cards with bar codes on them that indicate whether or not a person is “temple worthy”. The members have to answer questions before the cards are granted, and they have to keep them up-to-date.
So, Bill and Ex were sealed “for time and all eternity”. Aw… isn’t that romantic? I’m sure when they got sealed, they were happy to know that their family would be preserved forever, even in the afterlife. During the ceremony, Bill and Ex also got special new Mormon names. Ex doesn’t know Bill’s name, because she’s not cleared to know it. But Bill knows Ex’s name… which is actually the same name all of the women who got sealed on that day at that temple were given. Same as the men. Every day, a new name from a special list is chosen, and everyone who goes through the temple on that day gets the male or female “name of the day”. Because Bill and Ex had two daughters together, as well as Ex’s son from her first marriage, who, at the time, was using Bill’s surname and being raised as if he was Bill’s son, the children were also sealed to Bill– “for time and all eternity”.
Sealing, according to the Mormon tradition, technically means that after we’re all dead, Bill and Ex will still be married. This is where/things get a bit complicated. Mormons take sealing very seriously; however, the rules seem to vary or change depending on who a person is and who they know. I have heard a number of different things about what happens when a couple divorces and/or one person resigns their church membership. It mostly seems to depend on who’s involved with the temple divorce and who’s in charge of the church.
There was a woman who used to post frequently on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard. She had an abusive ex husband whom she married when she was very young. She was “sealed” to him, because that’s what good and faithful Mormons do. But their marriage fell apart because he repeatedly assaulted her. She tried to get a temple divorce from her ex husband. This is a separate thing from a legal divorce– it’s something the LDS church does for women.
A temple worthy Mormon man is allowed to be “sealed” to more than one woman. All he has to do is get a sealing clearance indicating that he and the next wife are both worthy. But for women, it can be a hell of a lot more complicated, because women can only be “sealed” to one man, and getting unsealed, while technically possible, can be extremely difficult if one doesn’t have the right connections. Well, the lady on RfM has repeatedly written that even though she’s tried for over 20 years to get the “temple divorce”, the church would never do it. You can read more about this here. She also wrote that her hairdresser, who is “well connected”, got her “cancellation of sealing” in just a few weeks.
Take Marie Osmond, for instance. In 1982, she married and was “sealed” to Stephen Craig, who was a basketball player at Brigham Young University. They have a son together, but split up after only a few years of marriage. Marie later married Brian Blosil and, I can greatly assume, was granted a “temple divorce” so that they could be sealed in the temple. Marie went on to have two more bio children with Brian, and adopted five others. All of those children would have, presumably, been sealed to Brian Blosil. Marie later divorced Brian and remarried Stephen Craig. I’m sure that she and Stephen were resealed, simply because of who she is. For rank and file people, though, this is not such an easy thing to accomplish.
Bill officially resigned from the LDS church in 2006. When he resigned, he got a letter from the church letting him know that his name was removed from the church’s rolls and all blessings and so forth had been revoked. They also sent a cute little pamphlet inviting him to come back to church and get over being “offended”.
One would think that resigning from the church really would mean that he and Ex were automatically temple divorced, right? Not so fast. Again, it seems to depend on who you are and who you know– and probably how much money you give to the church.
Bill does not have any issue with his ex wife being sealed to someone else. In fact, he’d welcome it. When he resigned from the church, Bill even put in his letter that he supported allowing Ex to be sealed to her current husband, #3, who joined the church at Ex’s behest. But we also know that even if a former spouse has resigned from the church, church officials will send a letter to the former spouse if the actively LDS ex spouse wishes to be sealed to someone else. The letter invites the ex spouse to provide any reasons why his or her LDS active ex spouse should not be allowed to get re-sealed. Of course, any opinions given and the details provided aren’t an instant veto. Church officials make the final decision, although they might take into consideration any info they get from the Exes who respond to their queries. It’s just one more way they can get dirt on their members.
Some years back, when Bill and Ex were still squabbling over her decision to cut the children off from Bill (which really shouldn’t have surprised him in the least), Ex mentioned that she was going to try to get their sealing cancelled, so she and #3 could be sealed for “time and all eternity”. I remember early in our marriage, that always bothered me a little bit… because while I’ve always believed sealings are a bunch of hooey, I didn’t like the idea of Ex thinking she still had a hold on Bill. Now, of course, I don’t give a flying fuck what she thinks. I know for a fact that Bill won’t be uttering Ex’s secret name in the Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdoms (cuz I know neither of them are Celestial Kingdom material). But… I also know that Ex never managed to get that temple divorce. I always figured that she never tried very hard, probably because being sealed to Bill is a good thing to throw in #3’s face when she thinks he needs to be brought down a peg. You can’t tell me that Ex never compares #3 to Bill… because that’s what she does to everyone. She is a pro triangulator, and will happily stoop to whatever low depths she can sink to in order to keep people in her sphere compliant with her goals and wishes.
Well… recently, it came to light that Ex had, in fact, tried to get that temple divorce. Younger daughter explained that she and #3 had tried and failed to get permission to be sealed, and they appealed all the way to the First Presidency of the church. That’s about as high as it gets, folks. But the church refused to give her the sealing cancellation for a couple of reasons. First– either one or both of them were not “temple worthy”, meaning they weren’t following all of the rules and paying the necessary tithes to get into the temple. Second– Bill could always decide to rejoin the church, at which point, all of his “blessings” would be reinstated. And younger daughter added that Ex was told that even if the church did allow Ex and #3 to be sealed, Bill’s children and ex stepson would NOT be sealed to #3. Only their two children together would be sealed to #3. Evidently, because of that, Ex stopped trying to get the temple divorce. Obviously, being sealed to #3 was less important than having another thorn to stick in Bill’s side over their divorce. And if she couldn’t steal Bill’s daughters in the afterlife, what good was jumping through all the hoops? I doubt she cares much about #3, anyway.
The best part of this story? It turns out that younger daughter did not want to be #3’s daughter for time and all eternity. Once the temple divorce idea was finally put to bed, she said, “So that means I’m going to stay sealed to my dad? Good!” Of course, she was not speaking to Bill at that time. But it does his heart good to know that younger daughter never forgot him, as Ex had claimed she had.
So… like I said, Ex is much like Wile E. Coyote. She comes up with brilliant plans that she doesn’t think through completely, and they very often end up turning to shit. The decision to joint the LDS church, which I’m sure was a way of getting Bill to be more like her fantasy ideal of a good husband and maintain control over the children, has blown up in her face many times. In fact, the LDS church even served as a way for younger daughter to escape her mother’s clutches. Church members, noting the way Ex is, helped younger daughter out immeasurably when she needed to get away from her mom. And they have tried to help older daughter, too. Unfortunately, older daughter remains stuck… at least for the time being.
I always have a lot of empathy for people who post on RfM about the whole “temple divorce/sealing” issue. I know that subject causes pain, particularly if one is a believer in the church’s teachings. But even if one is not a believer, it’s kind of hurtful to think of your spouse being “sealed” to someone else, even if it’s a bunch of religious mind fuckery. On my original blog, I posted about this subject when, back in 2012, someone on RfM posted about how he was sealed to his first wife and his second wife was upset about it. Here’s what he wrote:
I am in a really difficult situation and would really love to hear from others on my problem. I was raised in the mormon church. I went every Sunday. As a kid, I held all of the leadership roles one could hold. I didn’t go on a mission because my “testimony” just wasn’t there. I rarely expressed my thoughts about the church because it felt so fake. I got married instead at the young age of 19. We had a civil marriage and got “sealed” in the SL temple exactly one year later, in June. Our first child was conceived that same month and born 9 months later. We had another one 18 months after that. Life seemed to just roll along. I just did what I was told. Finally, after 22 years of marriage, I found a reason to take a job in another city and so I could commute (and get out of the situation as much as I could). Little did I know that the end of my marriage came after only a year or so of commuting (BTW, we got pregnant again, unplanned, and #3 child was born just before I started the new job). After one year of commuting, I met someone and fell in love. She was non-mormon and didn’t really know much about the religion. We moved in together and I told my wife I wanted a divorce. She was very angry at first but then we finally ended the marriage.
Now for the problem:
My second wife and I have been married now for almost 8 years. We live in a different city than my kids (750 mi away) but we get to see them fairly often. My 10 yo girl spends time with us and loves her step mom. My ex (still single but has a BF) and I get along, no real problems at all. My older girls, now married and have small babies of their own, are warming up to us again. The problem is that my wife wants me to divorce my ex in the mormon church. She is adamant about it and says that our marriage will not be complete until I do this. We don’t practice the religion. Heck, I met with a SP 9 yrs ago when we were living together (and before my divorce was final) and told him everything. I don’t even know if I’m a member of the church anymore, and I really don’t care. I have two main concerns: 1. Opening this “can of worms” will cause a huge issue between my ex-wife and I where we have things working just fine right now. I don’t want to create problems that will be costly down the road due to our 10 yo. 2. My kids are STRONG believers of mormonism. If I do this, they will surely find out, and everything we have worked for will be ruined as far as my relationship with the older kids is concerned. If I lost my relationship with my older kids (and their kids), I would hold my wife accountable and would never be able to forgive her. I’m in a tough spot. Would love to hear from anyone who has been in this or a similar situation, or you just have thoughts about it. Also, I have no feelings for my ex wife. My wife sometimes thinks that I still have feelings for her. I don’t. We are friends to the extent that she is the mother of my children, and I want to just keep it that way. We only communicate when it comes to the 10yo. Thx.
My heart went out to this man and his second wife, so I left this response for them (remember this was circa 2012– things have changed since then):
I empathize with your current wife. My husband and his ex were sealed after they converted. Unlike you and your ex, my husband and his ex do not get along. His kids are very estranged and TBM and he hasn’t talked to them in 7 years. She has remarried, but as far as I know, the sealing she has with my husband is still intact (i.e.; we haven’t gotten anything from the church about a sealing cancellation, though my husband did resign a few years ago). For the first few years of our marriage, it did kind of bother me, because I figured the ex was still thinking she had a claim to him… She had told my husband that she had never wanted the divorce and didn’t want to be married to her third husband. I didn’t think he’d ever go back to her, but that sealing thing was just stuck in my craw.
But oddly enough, as the years went by and the ex did some truly mean and hateful things to destroy my husband’s relations with his kids, I started to care a lot less about it. The LDS church is a bunch of horseshit anyway. Besides, my husband has made it very plain to me that he doesn’t have any loving feelings for his ex-wife. That was visibly clear one morning when I accidentally happened to mention her name in the bedroom when we were about to have sex. He immediately lost his hard on. After that, I knew she was absolutely no threat and their “temple marriage/sealing” meant absolutely NOTHING to him. And that’s really all that matters to me. As long as he doesn’t have any thoughts of reconnecting with her, I’m cool. Of course, in the years since that bedroom incident, it’s been made even clearer to me that he would never get back with her. He hasn’t spoken to her in over five years.
Maybe your wife needs to spend some time among us here in exMormonland… It really is a meaningless thing if you don’t believe in the mumbo jumbo. It sounds to me like your wife just needs to know in no uncertain terms that the fact that you have kids with your ex wife doesn’t mean that you still have romantic feelings for her. I think it’s great that you two can be civil though. Believe me, I wish that was how it could have been with my husband and his ex. Total estrangement from his daughters has been very difficult for him.
Thx specifically for your reply. I’m sorry to hear about the relationship your husband has with his kids. That is very sad to me, and I hope things turn out for the both of you the way you want them to. I really appreciate your insight to this whole mess. It has helped a lot.
And my reply:
I’m sorry my husband has a bad relationship with his kids, too. But that has a lot less to do with Mormonism than it does with the fact that his ex wife is just unreasonable and crazy. She did the same thing to her first husband and the son they had together and will likely do it again when she and her third husband split. And I’m pretty certain they will split eventually, though she may prove me wrong.
I hope my husband’s daughters someday figure out what they’ve thrown away and come to their senses. But even if they don’t, I hope they find peace. My husband and I are very happy and though it’s been hard for him not to have contact with his daughters, he knows that they’re young women who have to find their own way.
I wish you luck with your situation. It sounds like you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable ex wife and a good relationship with your kids. That’s a blessing. Your wife probably just needs to be educated about Mormonism. Once I learned about it, it really helped me get over the sealing lunacy.
Wile E. Coyote, I tell you… Ex has a special gift for fucking things up… especially for herself! And friends, this is just the tip of the iceberg, which is why I continue to occasionally “trash” my husband’s ex wife on my blog. She is certifiably nuts, and she has hurt a whole lot of people… and continues to do so. Happily, she can no longer hurt Bill or me. And now that younger daughter is older and has gotten out of the toxic fog, she’s well on her way to being “vaccinated” against Ex’s fuckery, too. It’s bad enough when your mom is nuts… but adding ridiculous religious bullshit to life, which is already complicated and tough enough, really makes things harder than they need to be. That’s very unfortunate, as #3 once said to Bill when he said he wouldn’t be spending Christmas with him and his ex wife in my father-in-law’s home but, instead, would be coming home to his wife. I may not be “sealed” to Bill, but I love him dearly and I’ve never abused him. Living with that “for time” has got to be better than being shackled to an abuser “for time and all eternity”.
I guess when we’re all dead, Ex might be wandering around listening for Bill to call out for “Leah”… and she might be waiting a long time for a man to pull her through the veil. 😉 Of course, since Bill turned his back on the “one true church”, maybe we’ll be in Outer Darkness. I suspect that will be a more interesting place than Mormon Heaven is, anyway…
I used to read Slate Magazine’s advice column “Dear Prudence” fairly regularly, especially when we were still living in the States. I remember reading Dear Prudence in the Washington Post, too, especially when it was written by Emily Yoffe, who wrote an awesome book about adopting a beagle from BREW (Beagle Resource Education and Welfare). Bill and I have adopted three beagles from BREW ourselves, so naturally I wanted to read What the Dog Did: Tales from a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner (2005). I remember Yoffe also famously wrote about competing in the Mrs. America pageant just for the sake of the experience. That was part of her “Human Guinea Pig” series for Slate. I probably ought to read Slate more often. It might annoy me less than The Atlantic does, with its daily doses of depressing articles about the rapidly degrading state of the world and how it’s never going to get better.
Anyway, this morning, a Facebook friend commented on a column by Dear Prudence. Dear Prudence is currently written by Daniel M. Lavery, who was born Mallory Ortberg and raised by evangelical Christians. I may have to read more about his story. I had not heard of him until today, but apparently he is well known and regarded as a writer, especially in transgender circles.
The topic that so intrigued me this morning is entitled “My Daughter Cut Me Out of Her Life! She didn’t even tell me she’s pregnant.” The letter that prompted the headline was from a mother, distraught that her formerly pleasant and cooperative adult daughter got married to a “controlling” man. Ever since the wedding, daughter has been much firmer with her mom– in fact, Mom thinks her daughter has “turned into a different person.” Recently, the daughter stopped taking her mother’s phone calls and texts. Below is the letter in question.
Since my daughter married “Chris,” she has turned into a different person. It started on her wedding day, when she got drunk and screamed at me for “always putting her down” after I made a (not insulting!) comment about her non-traditional dress. That was four years ago, and things have gotten worse since then. She and Chris have spent every Christmas with his parents rather than me and my husband, she ignores calls and texts, and she has gone from attending every pre-pandemic family function with thoughtful gifts on birthdays to missing all but funerals and sending gift cards as Christmas presents. She has spoken to us twice since February, and on one of those occasions ended up screaming abuse at us until my husband hung up.
I found out the worst news recently and cannot process it. My daughter is pregnant, and not only had she not told us, but she didn’t plan to. I only found out, mortifyingly, because a friend saw something on social media and asked me about it (I’m not on social media). My husband and I tried getting through to our daughter, but she has changed her personal number and only Chris answers the house phone. When confronted, he told us that she no longer wanted any contact with us, and that “they” did not want us in their child’s life. My husband accused Chris of controlling our daughter, at which point Chris hung up. I have since called and pleaded with him to let me talk to my daughter, but to no avail. He has always been a cold person, but I never thought he would do something like this. I know that my daughter has some responsibility for her choices here, but I agree with my husband that Chris seems to be a powerful influence in isolating her from us in this extreme way. We are at a loss as to what to do from here. I cannot bear the thought of never meeting my own grandchild, and part of me can’t believe that our daughter would be so cruel as to follow through with this plan to keep us from them permanently. Is there anything I can say that might get through to Chris, or that I could put in a letter begging my daughter to reconcile? My husband and I miss the sweet, warm girl that we raised, and feel as though we’ve lost her to a cold, angry stranger.
Prudie gave the usual excellent advice. But what really stuck out to me was my friend’s comment. She wrote that the letter “smacked of ‘missing missing reasons.'” Prior to today, I had never heard of such a concept. I decided to follow the link my friend shared in her comment. I found myself on a blog page about parents and children who are estranged. It appears that the blog, Issendai.com, is mostly about psychology, and in particular, estrangement between parents and their children. I will have to explore it more thoroughly today.
The post my friend shared is entitled “The Missing Missing Reasons”, and it’s all about how parents of estranged children seem to “miss the boat” on why they are cut out of their adult children’s lives. These parents will say their children “never gave them a reason” for the estrangement. But then, after they start talking or writing, they reveal that their children actually DID give them a reason. It appears that the estranged parent simply didn’t acknowledge the reason.
In the above letter, the distraught mother claims that her daughter became someone she doesn’t know anymore after the daughter got married. She blames Chris, the husband, for the daughter’s change. She makes him out to be an abuser who is trying to prevent her from meeting her own grandchild. But if you read carefully, Mom also claims that her daughter “got drunk” at her wedding and yelled at her mother for “always putting her down” after the mom made a “not insulting” comment about her daughter’s unconventional wedding dress.
Just that initial part of her letter makes me think that “Heartbroken” has a habit of discounting her daughter’s feelings and expecting her adult child to defer to her. I suspect she might be the type of parent who think she’s always right and always deserves respect, even when she, herself, isn’t behaving in a respectable way. In her letter, I don’t see any acknowledgment from “Heartbroken” that she may have caused her daughter hurt or offense, even if it was completely unintentional. Instead, she assumes her daughter’s husband is entirely to blame for this estrangement.
Even though Heartbroken writes that her daughter “has some responsibility for her choices”, she doesn’t seem to understand that, as a competent adult, her daughter actually has complete responsibility for her choices. She isn’t a child anymore, and her mother is no longer the boss of her. It could be that Chris is helping her by screening her mother’s calls, but unless he’s the worst type of abusive monster, my guess is that he’s not doing it because he’s a control freak. He’s probably doing it because his mother-in-law is a possessive control freak who doesn’t see her daughter as a fully functioning adult, capable of having and expressing her own feelings and making decisions about who will, and who will not be, in her life. And unfortunately, until that unborn baby she’s carrying is also an adult, she is also capable of making choices for her child, which could mean that Grandma gets “canceled”.
I have some empathy for both sides of this situation. First off, I am a youngest child with family members who have historically discounted my opinions and treated me with contempt and disrespect. Fortunately, of all my family members, my mom has always had the most regard for me as an adult. In fact, when I was a child, my mom often expected me to be more adult than I was. She was in a hurry to see me grow up, because she had made it plain to me that she hadn’t expected or wanted a fourth child (me). I turned out to be a pretty good kid overall, but I had an attitude and wasn’t exactly genteel, high achieving, or well-behaved around her friends. Consequently, I often heard hurtful stories about how obnoxious I was as a toddler and small child. Some would say I never outgrew those traits, even though overall, I really wasn’t that difficult. I never got arrested or pregnant, and I finished high school, college, and graduate school on time, and with little help from anyone else, other than financially.
In my case, my mom became a lot easier to be around once I became an adult. She would probably say the same about me. I’m probably much less annoying as an adult. I certainly require less from her, so she can just be my friend. I notice my mom was also a lot less annoying once I got married. I think she was afraid I’d never be able to launch… or find a suitable mate. Bill turned out to be very acceptable and we’re doing fine, so Mom has relaxed a lot. I think it also helped when she no longer had to deal with my dad or keep their business from tanking.
And secondly, I’m married to a man who was estranged from his daughters. One adult daughter is still estranged. The other has reconnected, which is something I never thought would happen. Younger daughter has explained a lot about why the estrangement happened. When she and Bill started talking again, he approached gently and listened to her. In her case, the estrangement wasn’t so much because it was what she wanted. Her mother pretty much forced her to disconnect and filled her and her sister with fear and doubt.
In that process, I was painted as “the bad guy” because Bill stopped putting up with his ex wife’s abusive bullshit. I also made for a convenient scapegoat as a so-called home wrecking whore. Meanwhile, Bill approached Ex with calm assertiveness rather than meek submission or outright aggression. I’m sure that was infuriating and frustrating for Ex. She once even commented on how his tone had “changed”. She didn’t like it, because she was used to deference. And she blamed me, when she should have realized that he had simply recovered from her toxic bullshit and had made up his mind not to tolerate it anymore.
It took years, but that calm and gentle approach is paying off as Bill strengthens his ties to his daughter and her family. Meanwhile, it sounds to us like Ex is being shut out of at least two of her five children’s lives. And this time, the estrangement isn’t because they were forced– it’s because they’re now adults and they have chosen to disconnect, to some degree.
Ex is the type of person who will send an email full of emotional blackmail, blame, rage, and begging in order to get her way. She’s manipulative and disrespectful, and expects her children and other family members to kiss her ass. She has a one dimensional approach to relationships and sees them only in terms of how they relate to her, without any regard toward how her actions and behaviors affect other people. Meanwhile, she does everything she can to present a facade to the rest of the world about what an “amazing” person she is. It’s all a lie, and it’s obvious to most people who have any situational awareness.
I’m not saying I think “Heartbroken” is like Ex, though. She may have been a much better mother and may be a superior specimen when it comes to simple humanness. But in her letter, I read the words of a woman who blames other people for everything and doesn’t have much self-awareness or personal insight. For instance, she legitimately may not have meant her comment about her daughter’s wedding dress as an insult. However, that was clearly how it came across to her daughter. We can’t always control how people interpret what we say or do, but if someone does take offense to something we say or do, it’s his or her right. And then, we weigh whether or not we care about their being offended. If we care, maybe an apology or explanation is in order. If we don’t care, then fuck ’em, and we reap the consequences.
In this case, it sounds like Mom cares that her daughter has cut her out of her life. She doesn’t want to be canceled from her unborn grandchild’s life. With that being the case, she may have to humble herself and be a bit more introspective. She may have to alter her behavior and show her daughter more respect, or at least acknowledge that some of the things she’s said and done in the past have been hurtful and caused offense. If she isn’t willing to make that concession, she may stay canceled.
Most normal people don’t like being estranged from others, especially close relatives, like a parent. I’m sure “Heartbroken’s” daughter thought about it before she cut off her mom. She may have determined that being separated from/no contact with her mother is less painful than enduring her mother’s recurrent intrusiveness and disrespect. When a person is still a child, they have to tolerate a parent’s disregard and disrespect. But the wonderful thing about being an adult is that we all have the ability to make choices for ourselves. And it sounds like that is what “Heartbroken’s” daughter has done.
It may turn out that this relationship can be salvaged. The letter writer’s daughter may be a reasonable person, and she may welcome her mother back into her life if Mom starts treating her with some basic respect and civility. But it sounds like she’s not going to deal with her as she is today, and she’s not going to subject her child to her mother’s repeated disrespect, either.
The reason I think it’s been a pattern is because “Heartbroken’s” daughter mentioned it at her wedding, of all places. It was her day– a day I’m sure, drunk or not, she definitely wasn’t wanting to spend arguing with her mom. Then, the mom made the comment that she didn’t think she was insulting her daughter. But her daughter clearly took the comment about the wedding dress as insulting– on her day– and, more importantly, pointed out that it wasn’t the first time. So this has been an issue for a long time… and now that daughter has her own family, why does she “need” her mom? She doesn’t… at least not in the most basic ways. She’s a grown and functional person, with a husband who supports her, and soon a child of her own whose needs she will have to consider. And her mom, God help her, is still thinking only about herself and her needs as a mom and grandma.
I have cut some people out of my life. It wasn’t easy for me. I think about all of the years I spent with some of the people I don’t talk to anymore. I have some great memories. But after awhile, the good memories are outweighed by bad ones, and feeling traumatized and angry after multiple toxic interactions. After awhile, healthy people tend to make the decision to stop drinking the poison and put the bottle aside… I’ve done that, and it’s overall been a good thing… even if I do still have some great memories. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t listen if someone indicated that they wanted to talk to me, and it was an actual conversation involving more than one perspective. I think “Heartbroken” is firmly focused on her own perspective and how much she hurts. Until she realizes that her daughter was also hurt, she probably won’t get anywhere.
I think if “Heartbroken” is willing to open her heart and her mind, let her daughter know that she hears her and is willing to try to change the way she communicates, she may find her daughter is more willing to include her in her life. But if she just wants to blame her daughter and her son-in-law, I’m afraid Grandma is gonna stay canceled.
Anyway… I’m going to have to read more articles on Issendal.com. I’m glad I took a minute to read about “missing missing reasons”. It’s a concept that I think affects a lot of relationships involving high conflict, immature people who lack insight and introspection.