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.
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.