Tuesday 16 January 2018

Dear Patricia: I'm failing as a man and a dad due to my bully of an ex-wife

Patricia Redlich

I am a 40-year-old separated man and in such a bad place at the moment.

Someone on the outside would have said that I had it all, a good career, three lovely kids, a good-looking wife, beautiful house and financial comfort.

Yet it was all a sham. And now I have lost it all. I live in a small rented home and am financially broke. I still have my job which keeps me going and the three lovely kids whom I adore and see regularly.

I met my ex-wife some years after I broke up with the love of my life. We had a very erratic relationship right from the beginning. She was always ending it and I always took her back, even when she broke it off two weeks before the wedding. It didn't help that her family created hell, constantly interfering.

We were married for 12 years and in the early days we went through the motions, and had the kids, but her erratic behaviour never changed. And we had no physical or emotional relationship for a large part of that time.

Having money and living the high life did help. But it came to the stage that I hated leaving work to go home, never knowing what to expect. Our home became a very unhappy place and the kids were caught in the middle.

When we agreed to separate it was as though a huge weight had been lifted off me at first. Since then she has made my life hell. We went through the whole legal process and she has vowed to ruin me. I've even had to get a barring order against her for constant abusive behaviour. Some of my friends have disowned me and my family keep their distance.

It's been nearly three years now and I am so lonely. I hate going home to an empty house. I met a nice girl, but she said I had too much baggage and never gave us a chance.

I feel I have failed as a man, and as a dad, and am trying hard to move on. It's like one step forward and two steps back.

Patricia replies:

The girlfriend was right. You are carrying too much baggage. That baggage, however, is not the nightmare of a bad marriage. It's the way you're taking it. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but you need to hear it.

You have a job you love, and most importantly of all, you get to see your kids regularly. On top of that you can afford to rent a house, meaning that you can create a real home to welcome them into. And perhaps, one day when they are a little older, it may even become their refuge of choice. How bad is that? How can you see yourself as a failure, either as a man or a dad?

Yes, of course you are sad. That's different than being a failure though. And it's possible to park sadness, somewhere to one side, and fill your home with warmth and comfort, making it an inviting place to be, for children, friends and family. It's one of the things we learn with time -- to park our sadness in a private place, I mean.

My guess is that you're failing to stand up for yourself on the family and friends front. Why are they keeping their distance, or disappearing entirely? Sure, some false friends invariably slip away when the going gets tough. But normally people rally round, provided you let them know you need them -- and provided you're tackling your own troubles, rather than letting those troubles take you down. It's probably not the issues -- such as ongoing harassment from your wife -- which make them back off, but how you handle it.

Challenge them, and then take a long look at your own behaviour.

Your wife is bullying you. And yes, because of the kids she holds a strong hand of cards. But countless captives die still trying to negotiate with their captors. The point is, you don't give up. Bullies can be powerful, yes. Yet their victims are not entirely helpless -- well adult ones anyway. Strategic acceptance of bad behaviour is entirely different to helpless capitulation. So you have to take a lot of s*** in order to smooth the way to seeing the children. That's negotiation, not defeat. That's about accepting reality. It may make you angry, but the bully wins if it makes you depressed. And you can't let the bully win. Victims, in short, have to become strategists.

Part of the plan involves giving the bully what they want -- a sort of pre-emptive strike approach. Your wife wants part of your pension scheme? Give it to her before she even asks. She wants the plasma screens and all the state of the art hi-fi systems? Offer them to her, or simply say "sure" when she demands them. Yes, I know you've been through the financial bit, but these are just examples. The point is, if you give, rather than surrender in the face of bullying, you rob the bully of power. She wants time to tell you how she feels? Arrange to meet her regularly and take the tirade -- in a place where you can have some privacy. Get it? What matters to you most, time with the children, a peaceful life, the prospect of happiness with someone else? So, everything else is up for grabs, or there to be given away.

Lose all sense of embarrassment. The adult bully's biggest weapon is the power to socially shame the victim. Stop caring. No, I don't mean you should stand there like a wally, taking the abuse. Just don't appease. Walk away if you have to, but don't give in. I mean, if she chooses to make a scene, then there's going to be a scene. Get tough, on the inside. Remember, her bad behaviour has everything to do with her and absolutely nothing to do with you. Which brings us back to the beginning. You are not a failed man. You just made unwise decisions every time you took her back. You're implying that this had something to do with the state of mind you were in when you met her -- still mourning the love of your life and stuff. Maybe. My guess is, you're not a good street-fighter. She treated you badly and you took it.

The good news is that you can learn. Yes, you are in a very tight corner. But that's when we learn fastest.

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