Last night I was on a panel of experts talking about toxic relationships. One of the experts identified 6 or 7 things people do in a toxic “ex” relationship. No one falls neatly into one category and people can and often do exhibit more than one of these toxic behaviors. The only problem I had with her presentation was that it was filled with psycho-babble-ease that left me stumped with the fancy terms. So I put it in terms that we can all understand and have a good chuckle!
The Big Buttinski
This person interferes with your new relationship. It feels like though they have moved on, they want you to stay miserable, unhappy and alone. Some of the things they do are undermining your new partner to your children and dropping kids off on a non-custodial night when you have a date. One time my He/She-Ex thought I was on a date and sent my 6-year-old son up the back steps through the bathroom door to catch me and my date in flagrante in my bedroom. My son caught me and my dog eating popcorn watching 27 Bridesmaids.
Stay one step ahead. Plan dates like a Navy Seal – on need-to-know basis. Some even go so far as to tell your kids that mom loves the new “friend more than you.” Once the kids get older, they tell the Big Buttinski to get a life.
Even though you are divorced and can be for a long time, they still snoop around with your family, your friends, your kids and ask questions like, “Where was mom this weekend?” Or the fake-concerned He/She-Ex query, “I’m so worried about Gloria because she hasn’t moved on… do you know if she is okay? Has she found anyone yet?” They can enlist the aid of the girlfriend or well-meaning friends who want to help smooth things over unwittingly telling him about your hot 20-something squeeze. Yeah, that was a big help.
This is the person who blames you for every miserable facet of their life to anyone willing to listen. If they and their new squeeze are not invited to local family picnics and baby showers, it’s not because she nailed the neighbor’s husband while married to her own– it’s your fault. If people don’t want them to coach sports or serve on the PTO, it’s not because they are rude to people and they don’t like you – it’s your fault. I always enjoy this one when it happens to me because I feel like I have been given super-powers to change the entire world’s vision about the He/She-Ex.
Joe or Jane A$$hole
This one to me is the worst because the He/She-Ex tries to turn your children against you by bad-mouthing you or setting you up for failure. They can send you to soccer games at the wrong field, not tell you about cancellations, and run you around town so the He/She-Ex can tell your children what an idiot/bad parent you are. This backfires because the kids read the text sent by the He/She-Ex cancelling practice or the game and they see you for who you are. Or they call their friends to check on what the He/She-Ex told you and the kids catch on very quickly that you are willing to hurt them to get at the mom or dad. Kids know who loves them – and that’s always more powerful than a parent who uses words or situations to hurt the other. Joe and Jane A$$hole might win a few battles over the years, but ultimately he loses because the kids lose respect for the He/She-Ex.
When you leave a long-term marriage or relationship, everyone takes a beating on their self-esteem. Captain Undermine is there to point out his or her predictions on your future failure in relationships, children, work or life in general. The He/She-Ex knows you so well it is easy for them to point out your flaws. That’s when you hum the song “All you are is mean” by Taylor Swift. This is manipulation and vengefulness at its finest… and a liar… and pathetic… and mean… and mean… la la la…
The Excuse Monger
This is one of my favorites because no one believes the Excuse Monger except…. the Excuse Monger and maybe the Excuse Monger’s girlfriend or mother. The Excuse Monger makes bad choice after bad choice (ignoring the kids, drinking too much, doing drugs, blowing up at sports, telling big fat whoppers, not showing up, and wearing the same stinky dirty sweatshirt, ball cap and sports pants that make your kids cringe.) The Excuse Monger relinquishes all responsibility in her or her life because The He/She-ex made me do it. You wronged them so the He/She-Ex made the wrong choice. This is another one that makes me giggle when I hear it or see it because I am so dang powerful… aren’t I???
Judge Judy or Joe
They will yank you into court for every little thing if they have the money or their parent’s money, then accuse you of playing games. They will use the court system to punish you, or to humiliate and embarrass you, or just to wear you out emotionally and financially. There is not much you can do with this because they will even contest the settlement agreement and custody of the goldfish. They do this to stay connected to you, feel powerful and get some sort of ghoulish satisfaction inflicting harm to someone they once loved. I found it helpful to meet people at the court house. Don’t laugh- I got dates with a cop, a single dad and a lawyer. Make lemonade my friends… make lemonade!
Bouncing with Style is all about learning and growing as you move through life and never forgetting to laugh and look at the bright side. Sure, you can be dragged through the hedge backwards, but no one said you have to look or act like a train-wreck while it happens. How you respond is entirely up to you when you can’t change what happens.