Trapped in a high conflict divorce with an intrusive ex-spouse who thinks you can do nothing right? Are their attempts to manage the way you spend child support or parent the kids making you feel like you’re living in a dictatorship? Read on to learn more about controlling exes and what you can do to regain peace of mind.
High Conflict Divorce: The Personality Disordered Ex
Controlling exes often have personality disorders. Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder have rigid worldviews and ways of interacting with others. They lack boundaries and empathy and can go to extreme lengths to get what they want: control over you, what you do with money, how you raise the kids, and whether or not you ever have another moment of happiness. Personality-disordered individuals tend to generate high-conflict situations in the divorce, including custody battles, parental alienation, frequent litigation, and smear campaigns. Divorce tarnishes their image and skews their life narrative, so they set out to bolster themselves by disrupting and orchestrating your life – whatever it takes to regain a false sense of control.
The Difficult Ex
The Difficult Ex has features of NPD, BPD, or OCPD, but doesn’t meet full criteria for the diagnosis. They might be grandiose, or have obsessive tendencies, or have a penchant for stirring up drama. They agonize over the “unfairness” of divorce (not realizing that divorce is inherently unfair), the “incompetence” of their ex, and they create mountains where there are only molehills. They may stop short of the extreme maneuvers of more disordered exes but they share the same issues: they don’t see that there is more than one legitimate solution to a problem, especially if the solution isn’t theirs.
The Helicopter Co-Parent
These exes are more benign and well-meaning than the previous two types. They were Helicopter Parents before the divorce and have upped their game post-divorce because sharing custody gives them less control of, and time with, their children. They have a very specific vision of how to raise well-adjusted kids, or future CEO kids, and are convinced that their ex lacks sufficient parenting skills. They hyper-focus on anything the other parent does that is not necessarily a bad parenting choice – but simply a different one from their own. They seem to be on “high alert,” waiting for you to make a parenting gaffe. They overstep boundaries by telling you what to do in your home, or giving your kids the impression that you are incompetent. They are fond of sending frequent texts and emails to correct your parenting errors and give you “suggestions” that feel like orders.
How To Keep A Controlling Ex From Driving You Nuts
Controlling individuals tend to seek out people-pleasers who over-accommodate to avoid conflict. Is this you? This dynamic often intensifies after divorce, and if you don’t learn to assert yourself you will forever be reacting to your ex’s drama.
Set boundaries. Controlling exes can turn electronic communication into an instrument of torture. Do not give them 24/7 access to your psyche by responding to every text or email. Generally, once a day is enough. If your ex starts playing games with child support or visitation, remind them of the court orders and be prepared to take legal action to enforce them.
Communication strategies. Controllers love to keep you engaged by pushing your buttons. Resist the urge to counterattack or defend yourself. Whether communicating in person, by phone, or electronically, stick to the facts and assert your boundaries – not your opinions, which will just invite debate.
Manage your emotional reactivity. Continual intrusive behavior, whether it is merely condescending or downright hostile, can unbalance even the most even-keeled person. It’s natural to feel angry, but if you succumb to emotional outbursts, you will give your ex exactly what he wants: control over your feelings. Use your high stress coping skills to tolerate your discomfort in the present and, if possible, wait to respond until you’re calm.
Focus on controlling what you do in your house. This can be challenging if your children align with your ex to undermine your authority. Although it’s ideal to have consistency between households, it is often not possible. Inform your kids that you make the rules at your house, and your ex makes the rules at their house. If your ex tries to intercede, thank him for his input and assure him you’ve got things covered.
Enlist the aid of family law professionals. If your ex’s controlling behavior becomes so intrusive or hostile that life feels unmanageable, you will need professional help to solve problems and make decisions. Some couples have regular sessions with parenting coordinators or go to mediation to avoid a lengthy court battle. Some exes, however, are incapable of mediating; if you have one of these, you will have to let your attorney resolve the matter.
Are you dealing with a controlling ex in your divorce? Our attorneys have the experience and skills required to minimize conflict. Please contact us to schedule your attorney consultation.