divorce, Ex, family, narcissists

Maybe Ex did me more than one favor…

Apologies in advance for yet another post about Ex. Now that Donald Trump is going to be back on mainstream social media, my fixation on her could be coming to an end soon. Or maybe not. After all, I’ve been married to her ex husband for twenty years, and I still can’t seem to move past the awesome fuckery of it all… Luckily, Bill is worth everything and more.

I’ve often said that Ex did me a favor when she divorced Bill. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had. We are disgustingly compatible, except in the mornings and the evenings. Case in point, last night at barely 9:00pm, Bill was sitting at the bench in our dining room, eyes closed, head leaned back, mouth open, and practically in a REM state. I was still quite wide awake.

This morning at 5:45 am…

He was really animated, trying to tell me about some film… He got annoyed when he realized I was taking a photo, but it was mainly because he’d inspired me, yet again.

I wasn’t quite awake at 5:45 am. I had just read a letter sent to an advice columnist in The New York Times. It was written by a second wife whose stepson was getting married. She and her husband had reached out to the bride’s parents, hoping to form a bond. Stepson discouraged her from contacting the bride’s mom. She soon found out why…

My stepson is getting married this year. His father and I embrace our future daughter-in-law and looked forward to meeting her family. I began corresponding with her mother and expressed our interest in flying out to meet them. My stepson discouraged this; he said they would be visiting our area soon. But we weren’t introduced to them when they came. Later, I received a call from his fiancée’s mother, who clearly mistook me for my husband’s ex-wife. She said she loved meeting me and referred to “the new wife” — me! — as “not blood.” At Thanksgiving, my stepson and his mother flew to visit his fiancée’s family and made lots of wedding plans, including for a rehearsal dinner for which we will pay half. How can we get past all these hurtful exclusions, some affecting our pocketbook? (I note: My husband’s relationship with his ex-wife is frosty.)

I hadn’t yet read the columnist’s advice as Bill went off on his early morning tear. I also hadn’t had any coffee, and wasn’t quite ready for Bill’s insane early morning energy. I did, however, see some of the crappy comments on Facebook regarding the situation in the advice column. Lots of people were projecting their own experiences in their reactions to this letter. Some people were downright mean!

I wasn’t focused on Bill’s early morning chatter, because my sleepy brain was still processing the advice column and people’s tone deaf comments regarding the situation. Stepmothers so often get a raw deal… even as I will admit some stepmothers deserve it. But not all stepmothers are assholes. Just like any other group of people, it takes all kinds. I saw a lot of people saying the stepmom in the letter was “whining”. Others wondered about the circumstances regarding how she and her husband got together. I notice that few people assume stepfathers are “the other man”, but stepmoms often get that assumption, especially if the first wife is still living.

I’ve mentioned before that more than one person has asked me if I caused my husband’s divorce. Um… that would be a NO. I had NOTHING to do with it. I didn’t know Bill when he and Ex separated. I didn’t meet him in person until almost a year after their divorce was final. And, thanks to Ex’s extreme parental alienation tactics, I didn’t have a chance to fuck up what was left of his daughters’ childhoods, either. I only saw them once when they were still kids. Meanwhile, Ex got her very generous child support in full and on time every month.

It’s not a secret that I’ve been pissed off at Ex forever for being such a hateful, mean-spirited cunt. Sorry… not a nice word, but in her case, it’s absolutely warranted. And I don’t feel that way just because she severely alienated the children, which was bad enough. I don’t even feel that way because she “invited” me to my own in laws’ house for Christmas. I feel that way because she abused Bill in ALL ways… including the ways that are too horrible and humiliating to mention.

Put it this way. If she were a man, she could have gone to prison for what she did. She absolutely could have gone to prison as a woman, too, but that would have meant admitting to being a sexual assault victim and reporting what she did to the police. It also would have meant seeing what she did for what it really was, which, at the time, was much too horrifying to ponder.

That all being said… and I am being totally serious, here. I do realize that there’s a certain freedom in being so alienated from my husband’s daughters for so long. The wedding scenario in the letter above will never be a concern of mine. Bill wasn’t invited to his daughter’s wedding, which I gather was not official, as younger daughter and her husband are devout Mormons and no doubt did the religious ordinance sans the “unworthy”. Younger daughter did tell Bill she’d wanted to invite him, even though she got married before they started speaking again. I guess she figured inviting Bill would be more trouble than it was worth. I doubt Ex and #3 were there for the temple sealing, as they are reportedly not temple worthy. I doubt they got that way for a religious ordinance.

Because my husband’s daughters were so alienated, there wasn’t too much drama coming at us from them. I remember when we first got married, Ex ominously wrote in an email that she would never want the children to get in the way of our relationship. And then she did all she could to make it so they rejected Bill. That decision was calculated to hurt us, and it did. However, instead of breaking us up, it made us a stronger unit. Twenty years later, we still laugh at each other. We still inspire each other. Younger daughter speaks to Bill, and is now getting to know him again. And I’ve never had to worry about any weird or awkward situations involving weddings, graduations, baptisms or other family events.

It’s hard to think of this as Ex doing me a favor. The truth is, it was all very hurtful. I totally understand the letter writer’s pain. What makes it even worse is that society, in general, has no regard or empathy for stepmothers. We’re often seen as interlopers, at best. While stepfathers are often commended for “stepping in” for bio dads who weren’t there… whether or not the bio dads wanted to be, stepmothers “can’t win for losin’.”

Over the past twenty years, I’ve heard that my husband’s kids are “none of my business.” I’ve also heard that I “must love them as if they are my own children”. I’ve been asked if I broke up my husband’s first marriage. I’ve been told that I should regard younger daughter’s children as “my grandchildren”. I’ve only met younger daughter in person once, and that was twenty years ago this summer.

I don’t think the vast majority of people really stop and think about the many scenarios that cause subsequent marriages. This is a subject that is so personal and painful for so many that people tend to come up with a narrative that they apply to all situations. It’s a type of prejudice. Many people who hear that someone is a subsequent wife wonder how she became a subsequent wife. I guess we can thank fairy tales for that image…

Stepmothers are presented as money grubbing evil shrews with no feelings. The bio mom is always innocent and sweet. The stepmom is a selfish bitch who steals other women’s men from them. It’s laughable, in my case. I barely ever dated before I met Bill. I’m definitely not a man stealing hussy, although sometimes I legitimately can be a bitch. 😉 I try hard not to be a bitch unless a situation calls for it.

In my case, being a second wife has been a weird experience. My parents never divorced. In fact, there’s very little divorce in my family, as a whole. I don’t have stepparents, and never expected to be one myself. So, when Bill and I decided to get married, I optimistically figured I’d just do the best I could. Bill had warned me that his ex wife was a mean person. In fact, he once told me she would “rip me to shreds.” Maybe she might have done that, if I took anything she says or does personally.

I don’t take Ex’s behavior personally, because I know that it wouldn’t have mattered to her who Bill married. She would have been nasty to ANYONE. She saw (and probably still sees) Bill as her possession, even though she threw him away, and she would have resented any subsequent spouse. I’m just glad I can see that for what it is and feel quite free to tell Ex to fuck off. She deserves it. Being nice to her would not have changed the way she would have treated me. In fact, it might make her feel even more threatened. If I was a “Snow White” type, all sweet and kind, she would have probably been even more spiteful and jealous, like the wicked queen in the aforementioned fairy tale. Ex doesn’t like other people showing her up, and being determined to fake keeping sweet for the sake of optics would have probably made her behavior much worse.

My husband’s ex wife is so incredibly dysfunctional that there was never a hope of my having a normal relationship with Bill’s kids. She treats them like possessions, rather than people in their own right. Fortunately, younger daughter claimed her own self-determination. Older daughter, I fear, is going to stay stuck. I don’t think my situation is necessarily the norm. Most mothers aren’t as hateful and selfish as Ex is. They don’t wish for their children to be mistreated or disliked by others. Ex talks a good game about being a good mom, but her actions are opposite to what she says. I was never going to get a chance, no matter what. So, I never had to worry about my feelings getting hurt by being snubbed by younger daughter’s mother-in-law. But we also didn’t have to contribute money toward her wedding.

Of course, now that she’s talking to Bill again, younger daughter does get financial and other help from her dad on occasion. Bill gave his daughter and her husband some money for the deposit on the place where they are now living. To her credit, younger daughter offered to pay Bill back. Apparently, Ex would make her older kids pay her back for things, even as she’d happily take their birthday money to buy diapers for their younger siblings. Bill was horrified, and told her to consider the money a wedding gift. She was very grateful and thanked him profusely.

I think, if I were the stepmother in the above scenario, and my feelings were really hurt, I might consider having my husband go to the wedding alone. Then I’d hit a spa, take a short trip, or do something else fun for me. So many people were commenting that the stepmother should just step aside and know her place. I figure in a situation like that, my “place” might be outside the wedding venue, somewhere where I’ll be welcomed. But that’s just me. And, in fact, this was the approach I took in 2004, when Ex invited me to my in-laws’ house for Christmas. I stayed home, and Bill went to see his kids… for the last time, it turned out, until 2020.

If going to a spa is too self-indulgent or ballsy, then maybe the stepmom should just enjoy the wedding like any other guest. Don’t offer to help in ANY way, unless it’s specifically requested. Let the moms do the heavy lifting. And then, if the wedding gets too boring, cut out and go do something more interesting. It sounds to me like the stepson doesn’t like her very much, anyway. She married his dad, not him. Let Dad handle the bullshit. Stepmom can detach and please herself. Some will say this is a self-centered solution, but it doesn’t sound to me like the stepmom can win in this scenario. Either she cares too much, or not enough. So she might as well please herself.

I am a very lucky woman. My husband is wonderful. He’s kind, generous, reasonable, and adorable to me. He’s his own person. He accepts me for who I am. In fact, he even celebrates it. Bill told me this morning that he enjoys my outspoken personality, because I often say the things he’s thinking. He worries a lot more about offending people than I do, so we balance each other out. If I were more like him, I doubt our marriage would have lasted twenty years. People would be constantly violating our boundaries.

Below is the columnist’s advice… which I think was pretty sound:

I totally understand your bruised feelings. That phone call on which you were mistaken for your husband’s ex-wife sounds awful! I suspect the explanation lies largely in that “frosty” relationship between your husband and his former wife. Visits seem to have been organized to keep them apart and to prioritize your stepson’s mother. (I get that: I happen to be a mama’s boy myself.)

Now, your stepson certainly could have handled introductions more deftly. But ceremonial occasions — like “meet the parents” — can be tough for children of divorce if their parents are antagonistic. So, unless I am misreading this situation, try to forgive your stepson and take the long view: Life won’t end at the wedding! Getting to know your stepson’s in-laws may simply take longer than you expected.

As for splitting the costs of the rehearsal dinner — which I assume was acceptable until you were treated unkindly — I would stick with that plan. If my assumption is wrong or if the price exceeds your budget, speak up. But don’t make a fuss on principle. Letting the small stuff slide in favor of building better relationships is often a wise strategy. I hope it works for you and your husband.

Again… if it were me, I might consider making other plans for the wedding day. It would depend on the level of disrespect shown to me, and my husband’s feelings on the matter. I don’t enjoy getting into conflicts with people or going to places where people don’t want me around. Stepmothers have feelings, too, and I’m not one to show up for things just to promote the status quo. But that’s me… and my husband is the type of person who understands. My focus is my relationship with him, because I married him. The stepson in this case is an adult, and presumably intelligent enough that his perspective isn’t the only one that matters.

I know a lot of people read my rantings about Ex and think I’m the problem. I’m being honest when I say that I married Bill because I love him. I always hoped to have a good relationship with his daughters. I was definitely willing. At first, I was willing to be cordial to Ex, too. She made it very clear from the beginning that she saw me as a competitor and an adversary. She didn’t want her daughters to get to know me, and did all she could to see that we never interacted without her close supervision. I’m not Ex’s ass monkey, so I opted out of the arrangement she unilaterally made for me without my input. I think, as an adult, I have the right to opt out of her plans for handling me. She made it abundantly clear that the kids weren’t “mine”, and she would heavily moderate any influence I might have. So I figured the best thing to do was to let her have HER kids. I had no rights to them, but neither did I have any responsibility.

Now Bill’s daughters are adults, and they can theoretically decide for themselves what’s best. I’m glad that younger daughter gave Bill a chance and is now able to bond with him. Maybe if more stepmothers saw themselves as wives first, there might be some less pain in these situations. But then, sometimes stepmothers really are second moms. Like I mentioned above, everybody’s got a story, and not all situations are the same. The right way to handle any situation depends a lot on the people involved. In my case, Ex is so toxic that it’s best to simply opt out to the extent possible.

I will say, though, that opting out of Christmas 2004 was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. She tried to punish me for doing that… I guess, assuming that Bill would resent me for the way Ex retaliated. But Ex is an adult, and responsible for her own actions. If she wants to try to punish me for not dancing to her tune, she can certainly try. I don’t accept her punishment. And it’s clear that she never knew Bill, nor did she ever love him. I do love him, and because I love him, he probably won’t be alone when he’s an old man. Ex, on the other hand, probably will be. And now that the kids are grown, I’m having a good laugh at her. 😀

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Ex, holidays, narcissists

Christmas time is coming… you know what means, right? Here’s the best Christmas gift…

Before I get started… this isn’t going to be a super lighthearted post. It might be funny or interesting to some readers who know our story, and it could be helpful and informative to others… I just want to warn anyone who’s here looking for festive glad tidings that this post ain’t it.

Still with me? Mmm’kay…

When I was really young, I loved Christmas. I loved the food, the music, staying home from school, and getting Christmas presents. I loved being with my family, too. As I got older, Christmas became more of a burden. I found out that Santa isn’t real, not that I was ever a big believer in Santa… I recognized my mom’s handwriting on the packages. Then I felt like I had to buy gifts, and I never had any money. I also realized I didn’t know the recipients well enough to get them something they really wanted, so it felt like I was wasting money that I didn’t have.

As time went on, I came to realize that Christmas had lost its magic for me and filled me with apprehension and stress, rather than the touching family moments depicted on the Hallmark channel. It wasn’t until I married Bill and swore off family gatherings that I started to enjoy the holidays again. So… from about 2005 onwards, Christmas became fun for us… I now enjoy Christmas. I like shopping for Bill, because I know what he likes, needs, and wants. And we don’t try to make Christmas what it isn’t. It’s just a day. We enjoy the day and all the good stuff that comes with it. He is the one person I can count on to love me for exactly who I am. That is a huge blessing. I, in turn, love him for exactly who he is.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t see drama about to erupt from other sources. Most of it stays away from us in the most personal sense. However, because Bill and his daughter have reconnected, he’s hearing about drama from afar. It occurred to me that this is the time of year when narcissists usually become completely insufferable. And based on what I’ve seen from Ex lately, I think it could hit a fever pitch this year.

Behold:

On the surface, this sort of seems like a “cute” post, right? She’s putting up her Christmas tree, and oops! She forgot to add one of the middle sections! She must now get on social media to show everyone her “mistake” and ask for advice.

Ummm… I know for a fact that Ex knows how to put up a Christmas tree. And I think she knows how to fix this problem. That tree has just four parts to it. It’s not even like the trees of yore, which had dozens of individual limbs and color codes that had to be put on one at a time. It takes two minutes to put up a tree like the one pictured, even if you put the wrong section on the lower part. On our tree, the top part wouldn’t even fit on the bottom section. And why in the hell would you put lights on before you assemble the tree?

But then I notice at the end of her post, she writes “On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… no help on the Christmas tree.”

Uh huh. That was a dig at #3, who is apparently checked out. After twenty years of this kind of shit, I can’t really blame him. It took Bill half as much time to withdraw from Ex’s craziness. So when he ignores her, she hits up social media for attention.

Some of you who might be reading this are probably thinking… “How do you know all of this? And more importantly, why do you care?”

The fact is, I don’t actually care, except to the extent that it upsets younger daughter. She lives in another state, true… but it’s the holiday season, and narcissists are typically a nightmare during the holidays. They just can’t help themselves. They have this image they desperately want to project, and they expect everyone else to buy into the image. The trouble is, even if other people are cooperative, the reality never lives up to the perfect image in Ex’s mind. That causes her a lot of stress and gives her excuses to stir up drama.

The holidays are also a time of year when people are expected to be kind, grateful, and happy. Narcissists aren’t naturally kind, grateful, or happy people, even if that’s the image they try, and sometimes manage to project, to strangers. BUT– they expect YOU to be all of those things and more. If you protest when they criticize you, there will be hell to pay. “You can’t win for losin'”, as my sweet husband likes to say.

So… Ex decides to “spread the wealth” that comes with being upset during the holidays. Instead of sending warm wishes in a Christmas card or a lovely present, she sends hateful private messages full of rage, accusations, and guilt. Instead of making a phone call or starting a video chat, she drops a load of psychic angst via Facebook messenger. And then, when the response is anything other than groveling or mea culpas, she “shares the wealth” of misery to other people who care enough to listen to her complaints. Ah… holiday stress. It’s the narcissistic gift that ripples across generations, right?

I’ve been in Bill’s life for over 20 years, and I have seen Ex spoil MANY holidays. She usually craps on Christmas, but I’ve also seen her fuck up birthdays and Easter. Since one of her daughters and a granddaughter were born on July 4th, you can bet that day will be messed up, too. It’s a double whammy– Independence Day and a birthday for two family members. She hates it when the attention isn’t focused on her, so she’s got to do something to get into the limelight.

Years ago, Dr. Tara Palmatier, the Shrink4Men, wrote an excellent article about high conflict individuals during the holidays. If you have one of these in your life, I highly recommend that you check it out. Narcissistic exes who routinely act even more like self-centered idiots during the holidays is a real “thing”. It’s not all in your head. Dr. T also wrote a hilarious gift guide for the high conflict person in your life. Yes, it’s tongue in cheek… and maybe it’ll make you smile as you figure out how to get through another holiday season… and maybe consider if you really want to spend the rest of your life dealing with this kind of ridiculous nonsense.

A few days ago, younger daughter told us a bit about a recent conflict she had with Ex, who berated her for her supposed shortcomings. Younger daughter, to her credit, attempted to stick up for herself. She actually told Ex that she was being abusive. She hoped that Ex would see the error of her ways… but sadly, Ex didn’t get it and simply heaped on more abuse and blame. I couldn’t help but shake my head. I could totally relate.

I once made the mistake of thinking one of my own family members was mature enough to have a discussion about some abusive behavior from a Christmas past. Sure enough, she turned into a victim, and I was the bad one for bringing it up. The crazy thing was, I was actually trying to be positive. I was trying to tell her that her tantrum during the last Christmas I spent with my family of origin had strengthened my resolve not to tolerate that shit from anyone else, including and especially Ex. Saying “no” to this particular relative had led to my having the strength to say “no” to Ex the following year, when she “invited” Bill and me to Bill’s father’s house for Christmas. Instead of looking back on that incident objectively, she claimed I was being mean to her. She turned into a pathetic victim.

Younger daughter is more mature than I was when I was her age. Hell, she’s probably more mature than I am now. 😉 As she was talking about this dramatic exchange she had with Ex, she got this wizened look on her face and said, “It just totally blew up in my face.” And I knew that she realized, then and there, that there is no point in trying to talk reasonably with personality disordered people like this. They can’t see your viewpoint. They won’t consider your perspective. They have no empathy. That’s part of their disorder and, sadly, it won’t ever change. The best you can do is minimize how that shitty nonsense will affect you. Learn to either diffuse it or ignore it, or better yet, go no or minimal contact.

Then last night, we heard from younger daughter again. She was very excited about and thankful for a birthday gift Bill had sent her. And she told us that she had decided to apologize to her sisters for all of the things Ex claimed they were angry at her about. She also sent them copies of what Ex had sent her in her private message of doom. To that, I say, BRAVO. Ex is a world class triangulator. She has perfected to an art form the skill of telling people different things to get them upset at each other. They don’t speak to one another, so whatever they know has been filtered through Ex, who naturally spins it so that it’s completely twisted and totally askew. She said that older daughter was “nice” and wrote “I accept your apology.” I could see by the slight flash of snark on younger daughter’s face that she could tell it was bullshit that older daughter felt owed an apology for anything. It was quite hilarious.

But what I’d also like to tell her is that it’s a brilliant move to send transcripts of Ex’s diatribes to her sisters. Why? Because then they can see for themselves what was actually communicated. There’s less opportunity to take it out of context. And, there’s a LOVELY side effect to taking this action. Once Ex knows that her secrets aren’t being kept, she stops writing things down and sending them.

Back in 2006, when I wrote to Ex for the first and only time, I ripped her a new one because she had sent Bill an email with all sorts of nasty bile about me, and how the kids hated me and didn’t want us in their lives. She then asked Bill not to tell me what she’d written. She claimed she wanted to “spare my feelings.” Nope… that demand wasn’t about sparing anyone’s feelings. She wanted to drive a wedge between us. She is Olympic class at doing this; I’ve watched her do it for over twenty years. She was hoping Bill would resent me for being an obstacle to having his daughters in his life. It backfired, because Bill could plainly see that I had nothing to do with stopping him from having relationships with his kids. Moreover, the (now adult) kids are free to think whatever they want about me. That’s not something I can control, nor would I want to try. BUT… I will not tolerate Ex telling my husband to keep secrets from me and interfering in our marriage.

She could see that I know all about her and that Bill is loyal to me. Sending him nasty emails simply gives me more evidence of who and what she is. I’m not going to keep her secrets or accept her abuse. So, when that fact became clear, she stopped sending Bill emails! Blessed be! She also never called him again! The last we directly heard from her was, unfortunately, when she sent many boxes of Bill’s possessions restricted delivery, along with an itemized list marked “confidential” and a toxic little story book Bill used to read to the girls… HA! There was a nasty letter about what a horrible father and husband Bill is, along with paperwork for Bill to sign that would allow #3 to adopt Bill’s daughters. Of course he wasn’t going to sign the papers. Even if he did that, she wouldn’t have to file them, and he would have to keep paying child support. And then she’d have a paper with his signature on it to use as an alienation tool. That nasty little delivery occurred just in time for Bill’s 42nd birthday. Another special day ruined!

Bill still has all of that stuff. He’s kept it for the day when he needed to explain it to one of his daughters. Sure enough, that day recently came, and he told his daughter about what Ex had done. He did that because, in her recent little tirade, Ex told younger daughter about how Bill hadn’t wanted to pay child support and “offered” to let #3 adopt them. So younger daughter asked about what had actually happened… or even just Bill’s side of the issue. She’s figured out that her mother lies and twists things to suit her agenda. She knew there was more to the story and she wanted to hear it. So Bill told her his side, and offered to show her the stuff Ex sent anytime she wanted to see it. He told her about how he went next door and spoke to our neighbor at the time, who is a lawyer and is still a dear friend. 😉

But, I think what really made me PROUD of younger daughter and impressed by her smarts was when she looked into the camera and said, “Now I can see things from both sides.” She said she remembered how Bill recently explained to her how, when she was still a kid, Bill would call and try to speak to his daughters. At that time, younger daughter was always “unavailable”. She was in the bathtub, or had a headache, or otherwise couldn’t come to the phone. Gradually, former stepson and older daughter also quit speaking to Bill. Ex turned the ringer off of the phone, so he’d call and no one would answer. Younger daughter became more and more hostile, and for a long time, I didn’t like her. My dislike was because of the image she was portraying. But that wasn’t really her. It was a facade spackled by Ex, designed to turn off anyone who might influence or assist her daughter, whom she sees as solely her “property”. Ex can’t share, and she resents anyone who takes what she thinks belongs to her. That includes other people, especially those who have passed through her birth canal. 😀

Since younger daughter now lives in another state, and has her own family, she is now seeing things the way Bill used to see them when he and Ex communicated. Now, she gets it! It’s a beautiful thing that she finally understands– although I am very sorry that she’s now on the other side of her mother’s abuse. Being on one side is bad enough. I guess we can take comfort in knowing that this is how she treats everyone eventually.

In any case, I strongly suspect that the holidays are causing an uptick in drama at Ex’s house. But I also suspect that her husband is about to ditch her. And this time, she might not land on her feet. So that will cause her to act up and act out, and try to pull other people into her crises… to include strangers on social media whom she asks about how to put up her stupid Christmas tree as she slides in a little dig toward #3, who clearly isn’t paying enough attention to her during this holiday season. Too funny… and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person, huh?

What I’d also like to tell younger daughter is that I’ve learned not to be too hard on anyone who has to live full time with Ex. For a long time, I didn’t like people who seemed to be on Ex’s side. But now I realize that Ex makes people miserable. She’s a toxic person, and having to live with a toxic person is unpleasant. Toxic behavior is contagious, especially if you live in the FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt that comes with living with a high conflict person). It’s not really personal. They’re literally living in an environment that makes them “sick”. I have observed people leaving Ex’s sphere and becoming completely different, happier, healthier people. I also observed my own mother becoming a different person after my toxic dad passed eight years ago.

So, when her sisters are snarky, rude, or clueless, or #3’s mother says something thoughtless or insulting, it might be helpful for younger daughter to remember that they live in a toxic place, and they are affected by Ex’s toxic bullshit. Misery loves company, so they’re inviting her to join in their little miserable soiree. That might help her feel more sympathetic when they say shitty things to her. Actually, in her case, it probably would have that effect. In my case, it probably wouldn’t. I’m not as nice as younger daughter is, and I have never had a “loving” relationship with the people involved in this situation. In fact, I barely know them at all. So… I guess I could muster empathy, because they’re fellow human beings, and I don’t like to see fellow human beings suffering.

Anyway… Bill told his daughter that she doesn’t need to apologize to anyone for living her life on her own terms and being as healthy as she can be. One of the best things about being an adult is that you have the ability to make choices like whether or not you’re going to show up for people who behave like jerks. Children don’t often have a choice in whether or not they tolerate abusive behavior. Adults do. And younger daughter is well beyond the age of majority, so she really doesn’t have to tolerate this crap anymore. Better yet, she has young children of her own to protect from this toxic, narcissistic fuckery, which is an even more important reason to tell Ex to “zip it” and kick her to the curb.

For you, Ex.

I’d say that realizing that she doesn’t have to put up with ruined holidays and acting accordingly is the best Christmas present a person could ever get. I know it was a life changer for me when I stopped showing up for dysfunctional family holiday drama. 😉 So… Merry Christmas! And have a happy, HEALTHY, new year.

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Ex, holidays, LDS, lessons learned, mental health

When the only flags you see are red…

I apologize in advance for going a bit off the rails in this post… I’m still kind of triggered by how all of this turned out, although I would say we mostly have had a happy ending of sorts.

This morning, I watched a YouTube video by Exmo Lex. I’ve written about her a couple of times in the past year. She’s an ex Mormon whose husband’s family disowned her and her husband because they don’t want to be LDS anymore. Although the video below is about Mormonism, I was a little triggered by it for other reasons, which I will explain in the following paragraphs.

This is a theme I’ve been a little triggered by lately…

Some regular readers may know that my husband, Bill, and I have been through a similar situation. Bill’s kids disowned him when they were still minors. One of the children, now an adult, and ironically an active member of the LDS church, has resumed a relationship with Bill. The other adult child remains estranged, although she and her mother have no problem continuing to glom on to Bill’s father’s family. Personally, I think it’s very sad, because one would think after so many years, these people would catch on to the fact that Ex is only interested in relationships that benefit her. It’s happened over and over again… that all too familiar cycle of abuse. And the one thing that really punctuates it is the complete lack of respect and regard for other people’s boundaries that Ex demonstrates time and again.

I KNOW that eventually, Ex will discard the people she’s reconnected with; although she never totally severs any connections– probably due to a fear of abandonment and constant need for narcissistic supply– she also never stays close. There is always some kind of eventual falling out that leads to her victims’ eventual discard. But the discards, unfortunately, are never permanent. She always comes back like a bad case of herpes. And she comes back, not because she loves, or even likes, her targets. She comes back because she needs something. Usually, it’s money, or someone else to do her dirty work.

This post wasn’t supposed to be just about Ex, though. It’s about red flags, and signs that indicate that a relationship is “toxic” and needs to be ended. A few days ago, the person who runs the Reddit Ridiculousness Facebook page shared a recent entry from Reddit’s popular AITA (am I the asshole) page. It was about a woman whose husband’s family regularly excluded her from family dinners, while they welcomed her husband’s brothers’ girlfriends. The poster got angry because, once again, she was being dissed. So she decided to go to the same restaurant where her husband was dining with his family and have a steak. Naturally, this upset her husband and his family, who no doubt realized that this was a rather pointed indication that the OP was tired of the disrespect. Still, the husband had the NERVE to get pissed off at his wife for having a steak in the same restaurant where he was dining with his parents and brothers and their girlfriends. Here’s a link to the original post on Reddit.

When I read this the other day, before the update about her leaving her husband was posted, I was reminded of the time Ex “invited” Bill and me to his father’s house in Tennessee for Christmas, and how totally disrespectful it was. Back in 2004, Ex had decided that this was the best way for Bill to enjoy “visitation” with his kids. She and #3 and their baby would be in attendance and there would be stuff going on, making it impossible for Bill to bond with his children and/or influence them in any way. When this happened, Bill and I had only been married for two years, and Bill still hoped he would be able to stay in his daughters’ lives. He knew that if he didn’t attend the holiday gathering, his ex wife would punish him.

For several weeks, I debated as to what I should do. After all, I am Bill’s wife, not Ex. And since I am Bill’s wife, those were now my in-laws, not hers. Yet, here she was, inviting Bill to his own father’s house. It really infuriated me, not just because of her fucking gall, but also because Christmas 2003 was spent with my family, and it had not gone well. I knew that if I went to the Christmas gathering at FIL’s house, and had to spend several days with Ex, yet another holiday would be ruined. I also knew that Bill’s kids weren’t interested in getting to know me, and would never have the chance to get to know me during that trip, which we also couldn’t afford, due to the enormous amount of child support Bill was paying. So, I finally decided that I would not attend. We didn’t tell the in-laws or Ex, because we didn’t want her to cancel the trip. Bill wanted to see his daughters. We knew that part of the reason she had cooked up this little scheme was because she wanted to get a look at me and an idea of what she could get away with.

So I stayed home, and Bill went to Tennessee alone to see his kids. It turned out to be the LAST time he would see them until March 2020, when Bill was finally able to visit his younger daughter in Utah. During that visit at Christmas 2004, younger daughter refused to speak to Bill. #3 was a perfect asshole to Bill, treating him with disdain in his own father’s home. And Ex bent SMIL’s ear about how I had “snubbed” the family by refusing to come. By the time she was finished, Ex had SMIL blaming ME for that fiasco. I had nothing to do with it. I didn’t plan it, nor did anyone even ask me what I thought about it. I was just expected to show up and smile, no matter what.

Many people told me I should have gone to that Christmas gathering and tried to be friendly with Ex. I remember on RfM, a poster took me to task when I wrote about this situation in 2011. She claimed I had “made up” the story, and it was my fault that everything fell apart. This was what the poster got from my anecdote:

You are making this up – you did not cooperate and you will never know what kind of effect it would have had. You thinking it would have had no positive effect is your way of justifying what you did. Right or wrong – you will never know. When it comes to my ex having a relationship with his kids, I will never get in the way, but I am not like a lot of ex’s I have heard of.

You may have had a positive influence, but you will never know. I am a bit inclined to agree that ‘no good would have come of it’ it is pretty clear that was your intention all along – based on results.

I am also certain you would not have had a good time – you had no intention of doing so. You can only control you and making shit up to justify your behavior is only that – making it up.

Then, when I pointed out to the poster that she doesn’t know me or the other people involved, she insisted that I was in the wrong… and was making up this story. She reiterated that it was MY FAULT that Christmas 2004 was a disaster, because I didn’t cooperate with Ex, turn the other cheek, and let her treat me with disrespect. The person did eventually come around after hours of arguing with me and other RfM posters, but it took some real doing to convince her. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are programmed this way. They think that giving in to controlling manipulators, who are abusive and mistreat other people, is the best way to attain peace and positive results. I eventually told her to fuck off, and this was her response.

No attitude at all, I am just saying that she was so sure it would be bad that she got to be right. Sheesh – tell me to fuck off if that makes you feel better. IMO this is a case of an unwillingness to be accountable. The outcome may have been much more positive had she set boundaries while still going. One will never know and speculation is all that is going on here. IMO pridefulness got in the way of everything. The end result is that her DH has no relationship with his children and IMO that is a tragedy.

Feel free to blast me, but get accountable here and stop acting like the victim.

As I mentioned before, I wasn’t the one who had come up with this plan. No one asked me for my opinion about it. I was just ordered to show up for it, even though it was incredibly disrespectful and inconsiderate on many levels. And the reason I was being expected to show up was supposedly for the kids’ sakes. But honestly, how many kids really want to see their stepparents on the biggest holiday of the year that badly, especially if they don’t have a relationship with them? It would have been one thing if they knew me and were eager to see me. But at that point– and still today– I had only met them in person once. My not being there wasn’t going to make any difference to them. It would only matter to the adults– FIL, SMIL, and Ex, and Ex only wanted me there because she wanted me to be in a controlled environment where, she expected, I would rein myself in and not cause a scene. The in-laws just wanted permission to invite Ex so they could keep seeing the grandchildren. My feelings didn’t matter, because in their minds, I was the interloper– even though I had NOTHING to do with the divorce. It was as if because I came second, I should simply tolerate blatant disrespect as a matter of course. Well, that’s simply not in my DNA anymore.

And actually, I don’t think I was “acting like a victim”. In fact, I avoided being a victim, because I could see through Ex’s scheme and didn’t show up like a lamb to slaughter, setting myself up for yet another shitty Christmas. There is no way Ex and I would have gotten along, because Ex isn’t a normal person, and she wasn’t willing to cooperate with Bill on any level. What kind of person invites herself to someone else’s home, demands to be allowed to stay there, even though it’s her ex husband’s family’s home, and then demands that her ex husband and his new wife show up to observe the biggest holiday of the year? It’s absolute lunacy! And it took incredible nerve and entitlement– as well as willing flying monkeys– to pull it off. In the years that followed, Ex tried to get Bill to sign papers that would have allowed #3 to legally adopt the girls. Of course, I doubt Ex would have filed the papers, because that would have meant no more of Bill’s generous child support. As it was, she got the girls to legally change their last names. BUT… SMIL has forgotten all about that, and has allowed that bitch into her house again. She has apparently believed Ex’s lies about her own stepson.

When another RfM commenter wrote that she wasn’t sure if I did the right thing, I responded with this:

I am not asking anyone to “agree” with what I did. The fact is, a lot of people didn’t agree with what I did. I second guessed my decision myself for awhile, until it became very clear that the Christmas gathering was a trap set by a narcissist who sought to control me and my husband.

Here are the facts. My husband’s ex has a long history of putting people in awkward situations and exploiting them. A year before my husband and I met, the Ex served my husband divorce papers at his father’s house over Easter. The children were there for “that” little spectacle, too.

I did not plan that Christmas gathering. I was just expected to attend, whether I wanted to be there or not. Visitation of the kids was an issue that was between my husband and his ex wife. I had nothing to do with it. I am not their parent and THAT was made abundantly clear from the very beginning.

I would have liked to have had a relationship with them, but I wasn’t about to have one on my husband’s ex wife’s terms. That would have set us up for years of her violating boundaries.

It seems to me that if the Ex wanted me to “bond” with her and her husband, along with the kids, she would have picked a holiday with fewer expectations, less religious significance, less pressure, and less stress– say, Memorial Day or July 4th. She would have chosen a neutral location. She would have asked ALL of the adults who were involved if they agreed with the arrangements, instead of just expecting everyone to comply with her demands without question. She would have approached this situation with a lot more respect for EVERYONE, not just me.

When someone advised me to ignore the woman who kept telling me how “wrong” I was to skip the Christmas gathering, she wrote:

That’s not what I’m saying, what I am saying is that her attitude and attendance could or could not have made a difference. His children have been told to demonize her and she did not show her face to present anything different. Had she gone and chosen to act like an adult, they would have seen she is not the horrible person their mother has told them she is. They did not get that chance because she refused to attend. I am just not one to say that pouting, stomping your feet, and saying I will not set aside my own pride for the sake of my husbands children is a good thing. You all can say that all you want, I just don’t agree.

ETA – Many divorced couples are setting aside their differences and attending events together in order to create a win/win. My ex and I do this, my daughter and her ex and her new bf’s ex do this. It’s a healthy thing IMO – it shows that adults can set aside their differences and create something better.

Mmm’kay… so “acting like an adult” means that I should simply tolerate abusive bullshit from my husband’s ex wife? That means that we give up precious vacation and family time to put up with her schemes, no matter how completely horrible and sick they are? My mental health doesn’t matter? Wow… unbelievable. I might have agreed with the poster if Ex was a normal person. She’s not a normal person, and this wasn’t a friendly invitation. It amazes me that this person is so sure that, not knowing any of the people involved in this scenario, we could all just come together in harmony, and that the whole thing hinged on me. What was really important is that Bill was able to see his kids. I didn’t need to be there for that. And I don’t think I was a victim. I think Ex is an enormous asshole who uses her children and other people to feed her need for control. She should have sent the kids on a plane, but she refused to do that. She had to be in the middle of it, controlling everything. Sorry, but as an adult, I don’t have to sign up to be under her control. Fuck that, and fuck the poster who apparently thinks that having a “golden uterus” entitles Ex to call the shots.

Someone finally spelled it out to the clueless poster who blamed me for the Christmas disaster. She wrote:

“My husband was trying really hard to nail down visitation with his daughters. He truly loved his kids and wanted to see them, but his ex kept shooting down all his proposed visitations. “

His ex was making it difficult for him to see his kids.

You’re projecting your situation on hers, and then condemning her for not being able to do what you were able to do, bigred. THE OP was working with a deck stacked against her. There was never going to be a positive way out of this one – the ex was clearly not interested in keeping things civil and wanted to be in control of everything (right down to dictating how she’d be staying in OP’s DH’s family home!)

She was right to back out of the situation to keep herself out of the equation. Remember – they’re not her kids, and he doesn’t have primary custody, so the term “stepmother” would be so incredibly loose as best that she had no right to get in the middle there.

There was a history of problems, and she rightly stepped back out of them.

The ex poisoned her kids against the husband, and used the OP as fodder for more negativity. The OP couldn’t have done a single thing here, other than make things worse if she stepped into it.

There was a lot more to that post. I’m still kind of triggered by it, even though I wrote it eleven years ago, and it was about an incident that happened in 2004. It’s not easy being a second wife and stepmother. It was especially hard for me in the early days, because so many people assume that second wives are abusive homewreckers. Bio moms and first wives are often automatically assumed to be victims, when that isn’t always the case. Ex uses that “First Wives Club” idea to promote her own agenda. One person wrote this– again assuming that I caused this shit, and projecting their thoughts onto our situation. I promise you, I didn’t cause this.

Whenever I hear the term ‘alienation’ I see it used as a way to trivialize any legitimate feelings the children have and lump them all on the ‘offending’ parent.

If my dad left my home, moved halfway across the country, and started a whole new life with some stranger, spending more time with her than me (as a daughter myself, I have no doubt that these girls saw this as ‘dad loves her more than us’ thing) I think I would be hurt and angry too.

I doubt the ‘evil ex’ had to do much, if anything, to ‘get’ those girls to write off their dad. I also have to wonder how much of the craziness/anger with the ex has to do with her being upset that her children are so upset.

I know this shit usually takes two, I just always have to wonder what the other side of the story is and why this dad had, according to the story, spent so little time with his kids in the last 2 years. He got married and had not one, but two kids with this woman. Did she just turn crazy after the divorce? I’m sure he played no part in it, he was just an Innocent bystander, right?

Sorry to say this, knotheadusc, but as far as those kids are concerned, you ARE an interloper. You got involved with a man who was already in a committed relationship, a father/minor daughter relationship. The kids haven’t been ‘alienated’ by a wicked ex, they are human, and for all intent and purpose, you stole their daddy. At least that’s how it feels to them.

So, the above person hasn’t heard of people in the military, who usually have to move at least every three years? Ex also moved after the divorce. She went the opposite direction, and lived in a state where there are very few military installations. She demanded so much child support that we couldn’t afford to visit. The courts weren’t involved in their divorce, other than to approve the filing, and we didn’t have the time or money to use them to force her to allow visitation. And after a divorce, Mom can get remarried, but Dad can’t? And somehow, this is all MY fault? Ex demanded the divorce, and I didn’t even know Bill in person when it happened. Later, we learned from younger daughter that Ex had pretty much forced her and her sister to be alienated. They weren’t naturally inclined to be that way.

Finally, Bill decided to explain, and that was when the thread blessedly ended… the woman who took me to task eventually apologized in another thread.

knotheadusc’s husband here.

While I appreciate that it’s human nature to “armchair general” other people’s actions, knot and I are the only folks here who where there and know the entire story. It is not so cut and dried.

I reentered the Army toward the end of my ninth year of marriage to the ex. Even though our marriage had almost deteriorated past the point of no return and I was living in a toxic environment, I was still willing to save it (for the sake of the children, no less). I was offered (really ordered) to an assignment in a neighboring state, and I asked (really begged) her to pack everything up, get rid of the money-pit house that was falling down around us and go with me. She refused.

We were geographically separated for five months before she served me divorce papers. In that time, she succeeded in packing up and sending out all my things, removing pictures of me and my mother from the house and from photo albums, telling the kid’s teachers and other Ward members and Bishopric that I had just “left”. She tried to convince my family that I was a sick and abusive misogynist, and some of them bought it. I began to see that she was shaping an environment whereby I’d be isolated from family and friends, and the only way to break that isolation would be to comply with her demands, reenter the toxic environment, and “shut up and color”.

Read Orwell much?

Two months after serving me papers she packed up the kids, abandoned the house (oh yeah, I was paying the mortgage too) and moved to AZ. Why? Don’t know–neither of us have any family there. However, her move created a complex problem set to visitation. First, I just started a new job and people aren’t successful in their jobs if they are never there. Then there was distance–I couldn’t have my kids over every other weekend or go see them for that matter, just “on a whim”. Economics. Knot did mention that after paying the mortgage, alimony and child support I had about $600 left over, right? Still, I was able to see them five times during those first two years.

The I moved to VA and got married. 9/11 became an excuse for her to deny my requests to fly the kids to the East Coast. If I wanted to see them, then I had to come out there. She was the mom and “knew better”. Frankly, I didn’t have the money or the time to take her to court. And losing my job over it briefs well as a Lifetime Movie script, but it really would have been irresponsible.

So the Christmas idea was all hers, brought up while we were negotiating visitation. She played it off as a “win-win”–they’d get to see their parents, and knot and I could be there too (she never said that the kids wanted to see me or their stepmother). I didn’t want to do it at first. I’d known the ex at that time for over 18 years and understood what she intended to do. She was shaping my parent’s house as a “killing ground” of sorts. She was bringing her husband and the kids she had with him. So, if knot and I showed up, the ex would monopolize all my parent’s time, bring up the past (remember when we…), and do all she could to probe knot while pushing her to the periphery. Her husband was there to enforce loyalty binds and he did so, working his best to take my kids’ attention from me. Christmas was miserable, and later I told my parents that I would never do that again. But it was the only way to see my children.

This has all been a bunch of TL;DR, but life is about making choices and dealing with the risks involved. I made choices and accepted risk that other folks may disagree with.

But they weren’t there.

Incidentally, Bill recently sent his younger daughter– the one who wouldn’t speak to him during that Christmas visit– a box full of goodies. This morning, we got to see a video with her and her two kids. When we were in France last month, I found a block of gingerbread flavored chocolate, which came with a little wooden hammer that can be used to break the chocolate into pieces. The kids love it! And they were so adorable, saying hi, smiling, and waving. Bill is going to tell his daughter how to make a kugelhopf, since we sent her a form. She thought it was for making juice! You see? Sometimes, these stories have happy endings.

I really didn’t mean to write about this again today… but Exmo Lex’s video about red flags and the Reddit Ridiculous post really brought it all back to me. Conventional wisdom often turns out to be wrong in some situations. I know I was right not to give in to Ex’s manipulation tactics. I was right not to let her control me, or really, to allow her anywhere in my presence. She’s toxic; the red flags are there, and as I wrote in that post, someone has to stay out of the vortex… or on the side of the quick sand pit. I just wish we hadn’t been put in that situation in the first place. Sometimes, being “nice” and cooperative only leads to heartbreak. You often have to use your head to avoid hurting your heart. That’s my motto, and the moral of the story… and with that, I will close today’s post. If you made it to the end, thank you very much for reading.

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