The topic of the malignant divorce is as endless as the black hole it represents. Not only do these couples find themselves dealing with abuse of all sorts, but our system is simply inadequate to handle the ferocity of what is going on. People deteriorate under stress and become more dangerous as a consequence. After all, it takes only one seriously unhappy person to ruin it for everyone. And divorce can heighten the unhappiness of a husband with a history of domestic abuse.
Signs Your Ex is Malignant:
The Truly Crazy Ex:
If an ex spouse is frankly psychotic or a raging drug abuser, in many ways it can be easier. The courts like black and white problems, and who can blame them? A dangerously psychotic ex or an actively abusing addict poses an obvious threat to you and to the kids. The courts can take some measures here, which are sometimes effective, but not always. When an ex has a personality disorder or a term that I defined as a character trap, it all gets more murky and dangerous. Personality disorders by definition precede the divorce and are deeply maladaptive ways of functioning that can sometimes be identified and dealt with effectively by looking at a person's past history. A paranoid personality disorder or an antisocial personality disorder, for example, can be very dangerous in a divorce, but you (and sometimes the courts) can see it coming. Character traps are trickier.
The Character Trap:
This is a useful term because it describes a less obvious type of dysfunction in a divorce. Some of the more common character traps are: The Victim, The Narcissist, The Control Freak and The Avenger; all of whom can be a source of danger. Characteristics found in this unhappy situation include, deceitfulness, a wish for revenge, a belief in one's victimhood, a tendency for paranoid thinking, an urgent need for control, a chronic feeling of desperateness, and a powerful sense of self righteousness, among others.
A character trap may be generated by a divorce and remain active for years until the stress subsides and he or she returns, more or less, to normal. The Intelligent Divorce: Taking Care of Yourself lays out ten different character traps, and what you can do about them. This problem is dangerous in divorce, because you may not see it coming. Here is a comment to this effect from our last malignant divorce post on Psychology Today from Anonymous:
According to the Department of Justice, 14 percent of all homicides in the United States were perpetrated by an intimate partner. The total in 2007 was 2,340, including 1,640 women and 700 men. In another study, separated and divorced men and women represented the highest rates of homicide. This should pose little surprise because there's no question that the period of separation and divorce can be a powerful trigger to violence.
This article began as a response to a local event: the nightmarish Friedlander murder, suicide, and since then another tragic murder, suicide took place not far away. According to news reports, MaryAnn and Michael Boccardi had recently separated. MaryAnn was spared when Michael, allegedly, waited for her to return from a dinner with a male friend, and then shot this innocent man. Mr. Boccardi then turned the gun on himself, thankfully sparing his soon to be ex-wife. According to reports, the children are safe.
We started this post talking about the black hole of divorce. The Boccardi and Friedlander murders are too close to home but they could have happened anywhere.
Getting Help For a Malignant Ex:
What I am about to say is not meant to be sexist, just the truth. The fact is that men, as a generalization, really need support during a divorce. A recent study shows that men as a group grieve differently than women, focusing more on loss. Too many men have only a TV or some addiction to turn to. We need to acknowledge that there are critical times when violence is more likely to occur:
a) When someone is a man (women are capable of bad things, but are less violent as a whole).
b) If the potential perpetrator believes that he's losing control in a fundamental way.
I can only make inferences about the Boccardi case, and no more. Let these poor families grieve in peace. But I can raise the red flag that we must be aware of the emotional tinderbox that abandonment and loss of control can represent. Men need to protect themselves against their own tendency to regress in ways that can lead to violence and women must consciously know when danger may be upon them.
Domestic Abuse Hotline
1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224