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 still 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 women. 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 highly recommend Say Goodbye To Crazy. Dr. T also has a YouTube channel that might be helpful.
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