My heart is broken! My divorce was long and litigious. My ex did everything in his power to gain full custody of our two children. We eventually had to go through a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and it was determined that he suffers from a personality disorder that keeps him from being able to think of anyone’s interest but his own. Due to this he was given limited visitation with the children but that hasn’t kept him from trying to do harm to me.
My son, our eldest, is 14, and thinks his dad walks on water. The problem is, lately my son has no problem openly expressing contempt and hatred for me. I’m getting the same treatment from my son that I used to get from his father during the marriage. I feel as if I’ve jumped out of the frying pan, into the fire. And I’m highly concerned for my son’s mental health. I don’t want him to become the man his father is. Do you have any suggestions for how I can help my son and get our relationship back on track?
Although this may seem counterintuitive, the problem is really between your son and your ex-husband. You have been triangulated – pulled into their conflict – so that they can deflect their anger onto you instead of each other. Your concern for your son’s mental health is completely understandable, but the best thing you can do for him is to get yourself out of the triangle.
In tact or divorced, a family is a system that maintains a particular homeostasis, or balance. The homeostasis remains the same when each person acts in the way he or she is used to acting. For your ex, and your son, this means hurling contempt, anger, and blame your way.
You need to figure out your contribution to the homeostasis. Are you defensive? Passive? Do you try to reason with two people who are incapable of being reasonable? Do they see you becoming upset? What are they doing to pull you into the conflict and, more important, what are you doing to stay there?
Once you pinpoint your default responses, try to change them. This is the best strategy to shake up the status quo. You can’t get your ex and your son to change, but you can change what you do.
Does your ex phone, e-mail and text you multiple times a day demanding you do certain things for your son? If so, take yourself out of the line of communication by telling him to direct questions to your son.
Do you take the conventional wisdom “high road” by refusing to address lies your ex is feeding your son about you? If so, it may be time to sit your son down and calmly tell him your side of the story. Explain to him that if he has concerns about your intentions or actions, he needs to come to you, and not his dad, in order to work things out. Try to do this calmly, without an emotional charge in your voice or body language; this will show your son that speaking your truth does not involve slamming his dad.
The more you can keep yourself from being targeted by your ex and son, the more likely it is that the two of them will have to deal with the issues between them. Once your son begins to realize that his dad is using him as a pawn to get back at you, he may realize you’re not so bad after all and he – and your relationship – will start to heal.