When Your Ex Won’t Go Away
Tips to Help when your Ex Harasses, Threatens or Simply Won’t Let You Go
You check your e-mail and there’s a message from your ex. You’ve been divorced for five years and haven’t heard from her in months– the last time she messaged you to find out whether the parakeet was still alive. “I hear you’re married now,” she writes. “I hope you’re better to her than you were to me.”
She goes on to talk about how she’s met someone and how she hopes you can be dignified enough to be friends again.The e-mail seems innocuous, but you know better. Her message is crystal clear: She can rear her head whenever she wants to make your life miserable again.The mere thought of your psycho ex– the person who lied, manipulated and ultimately left you– is enough to make your stomach turn, even if the contact is sporadic.
E-mails, phone calls, legal threats or other communication, whether occasional or continual, can trigger memories of the anger, bitterness and sorrow that ended your relationship in the first place. Such contact also can also make it difficult for exs to move on with their lives as they worry about what their former husbands or wives might do next to make life unbearable.
“By keeping the spouse on the defensive, he or she is unable to completely break away from the relationship,” says relationships expert Brenda Della Casa, author of “Cinderella Was a Liar.” “How can the person being harassed move on emotionally, mentally and even, sometimes, physically if they are always having to engage with their ex in some way? There might be a need for the offending party to ‘punish’ their ex in order to make them feel the pain they feel over the relationship or break-up.”
THE PSYCHO EX WIFE
Mister-M was scared but fed up.His eight-year marriage had ended and the divorce settlement outlined how he and his ex-wife would care for their two children. Still, she wouldn’t relent with her e-mails, text messages and phone calls, he says. She demanded that their children stay with her on holidays they were supposed to be with him. She insisted that they be dropped off at certain time, even though he was entitled to have them stay with him longer.
He has endured more than 30 court appearances in the past four years and has paid $80,000 to $100,000 in legal fees to contest her accusations of child abuse and violations of their divorce settlement. “As a person who suffered with these types of attacks on a regular basis over the course of more than 10 years, they tend to trigger anxiety and upset due to the horrible memories that we are unable to escape,” Mister-M says. “Each new e-mail and communication brings all of that history back into the present.”
So he turned to the Internet as an outlet for his frustration. He created the Web site, www.thepsychoexwife.com, where he writes about his issues with his ex-wife. Often, they’re protracted e-mails and text messages about everything from who is supposed to have the kids when to where the kids are supposed to be picked up. The exchanges over seemingly simple topics are rarely resolved easily.
LM (Mister-M): And? $25 won’t replace the $1?
PEW (Psycho ex-wife): i thought you [gave] me $30…..so you actually gave me $24. so i’ll put $20 in my tank and have $4 left. thanks. this is (expletive) unbelievable
LM: You said you needed gas money… and I was gonna grab the candy… isn’t that what we said yesterday? I thought you told me what you needed … gas & candy… I said I’d grab the candy.
PEW: i probably am going to bounce a check because I bought (their son) a costume
Other exchanges deal with more serious topics such as whether their son needs to be medicated and what behavior he should be taught and how he should be disciplined.
PEW: I don’t want to drug him…..
LM: (Their son) is bright, energetic, and intelligent.
PEW: I am very much against that
LM: He is FOUR He isn’t going to be “counseled” into doing things differently. He is going to be TAUGHT how to do things differently. And that will be accomplished by US.
PEW: I know he is and I resent you implying that I’m doing something OTHER than trying to help him
LM: He took forever to poop… and you were constantly saying that “something is wrong with him.” He is just 4. It sounds like a cop-out, but it isn’t. I am not implying any such thing.
PEW: well….like I said…..there is mental illness on both of our families
LM: He is not mentally ill. HE IS FOUR
PEW: and I want to do this the RIGHT way
LM: He is not mentally ill.
PEW: ok…..well my motherly instincts tell me that he needs some help…..I didn’t say he was mentally ill
Why does his ex-wife behave in such a way, even though they’ve been divorced for some time? “It’s all about control,” Mister-M says, adding that he believes his ex suffers from borderline personality disorder. “Their belief that they have been so horribly wronged by the ex-spouse tends to be so strong that this desire to stay involved or somehow control the ex exists, even if they have a new partner of their own. It doesn’t even matter if they’re the person who initiated the split.”
He worries what she’ll do next, so much so that the 30something Virginia resident only uses his moniker online for fear that she’ll discover the Web site. He asked that his name be withheld from this story.”Having my name openly tied to the Web site would very likely give her excuses to file for more court hearings,” he says. “God forbid she would share it with the children.”
OBSESSION, LOSS OF CONTROL
Many emotions and behaviors come into play with such people, says Mark Goulston, a California psychiatrist who’s written four books, including “The Six Secrets of a Lasting Relationship: How to Fall in Love Again … and Stay There.””You’re obviously dealing with an obsessive person who can’t let go,” he says.
People such as Mister-M’s ex have invested time, money and energy creating a picture of a certain type of future. When that picture doesn’t develop, they feel as if they’ve lost control– even if they’re the ones who initiated ending the relationship. “When that overtakes them because they’re rather immature, immature meaning they can’t let it rise and fall, they act on it,” Goulston says.
Goulston once had a patient turn the tables on her manipulative ex-husband, who harassed her continually. The patient told her ex in a calm voice to seek Goulston’s help because he’s a caring person who needs to move on with his life. The woman wouldn’t engage in further communication with her ex until he went to see Goulston. The man never did, and he left his ex-wife alone from then on, Goulston says.”What happens is that it changes the whole psychology of it,” he says. “It’s condescending but it’s laced with sweetness.”
Goulston also suggests not engaging in communication with the ex who rears her head every now and then. “Once you engage with them, it’s like trying to get chewing gum out of your hair.”
LEGAL, OTHER OPTIONS
What if the communication goes beyond the occasional e-mail or phone call that’s vaguely threatening? What if an ex crosses the line and begins harassing or stalking? Is there any recourse?
Stacy D. Phillips, a certified family law specialist, outlines three categories of threats: real, implied and imagined in her book “Divorce: It’s All About Control — How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars.” Real threats are oral or written. They promise to harm a person or property. In implied threats, a person infers that she may be hurt or harassed. Imagined threats are fantasies of what a person thinks his ex might do (the sporadic e-mails, for example).
Phillips tells her clients to take all threats seriously. Report them to a family law attorney or a therapist and ask what steps to take next, she says. In more serious cases, an ex-spouse may have no choice to but to seek a restraining order, she says. In instances in which the threat isn’t as blatant but has a pattern, a former spouse could petition a judge for a restraining order. Phillips cautions, though, that the evidence must be solid and the case well-prepared.
Mister-M, whose Web site includes an advice column, says he saved every documented piece of communication. “I can tell you from experience that it has served me well in the court arena,” he says.”Additionally, copy yourself on any communication you make to your ex-partner. The next court date seems to always be just around the corner, and this documentation is critical in avoiding false accusations or supporting claims which you may have against your ex-spouse.”
Maria Moya is an award-winning reporter who has more than 15 years of experience and has written for daily newspapers in the Southeast.