Tips for Surviving a Malignant Divorce
Divorces are never easy; lives are torn asunder, feelings are trampled and insecurities raised, and both parties are left with a great sense of loss and often failure. Some divorces turn ugly, with both partners lashing out at each other, trying desperately to hold onto the children, home, or things from the marriage. Yet others hide a quiet malignancy, one partner using manipulative tactics to attempt to undermine and discredit the other. This is the divorce with which I am familiar. (How it Began)
If you are facing a malignant divorce from a spouse who seems to feel no empathy and will seemingly stop at nothing to transfer blame, you will not have an easy road ahead. You will find that those around you mostly likely believe that it takes two to make a marriage fail, and they will be all too quick to accept your ex’s explanations as to your part in the demise of the union, even if they are complete fabrications. The truth is that many people do not know how to recognize these pathological narcissists, so they try to fit the divorce into the only mental model they have. All of this can leave you feeling even more alone and scared as you set out to defend yourself against the one you vowed to cherish.
These are some tips if you find yourself in the position of facing off against a malignant ex that will help you maintain your sanity and limit the damage done through the process.
Understand the System
The system is not designed to deal with this type of dishonesty, nor is it designed to protect marital victims. This was my hardest and most painful lesson. I expected there to be more accountability for him, but the reality is that someone, especially a gifted liar, can skate through relatively unscathed. Not fair, but true. In my case, the decree ordered that he make all kinds of restitution and work to absolve my name. Not. One. Thing. Happened. And there was nothing I could do other than waste time and money on another civil action. It sucks. It’s not fair. But that is the way it is. Let go of wanting your ex to face appropriate legal sanctions, as it may never happen. You need to find a way to be okay regardless.
This is critical when your ex will spin outrageous lies; you need to have anything and everything at your disposal to be able to refute his or her claims. My ex took all of the financial and computer records with him, so I had to stretch to find any evidence. Those little scraps of data were enough to have him arrested for bigamy, however. Collect everything, even if think you do not need it. This evidence can be used to back up your story and also build your credibility. The officer that arrested my ex was treated to some believable stories by my ex (my favorite- he and I divorced in 2006 and I was remarried to a chiropractor named Mark (Marc?) Mercer and living in the next community over), but he very quickly came to trust my side as I emailed and faxed him one document after another. I felt utter relief as the first non-family member saw through the lies.
Find something, some place, or someone that is your anchor to reality. The world of the pathological liar is a crazy one and you have been brought along for the ride. There will be times when you begin to doubt yourself, begin to feel as though nothing is as it seems. This is when you need to turn to your anchor to remind yourself of what is real and what is smoke and mirrors. My anchor was his mug shot and an associated newspaper article from when he was arrested for felony bigamy. I carried that picture in my purse for almost a year. Every time I would open another claim from his attorney or have to face someone in an official position, I would pull out that crinkled print-out and find my sanity again.
Choose Your Battles
It can be so hard to listen to your ex’s inflated claims and not try to defend each one. You will find that it is not even possible; he/she is adept at turning up the speed of the malicious game, distracting you with one lie while volleying two more. Choose your battles. Select the lies to tackle based on the impact they will have in the divorce. Let the little ones go. Some of the lies that made me the angriest were regarding the intimacy in our marriage. I could have tried to refute those, but it would have been wasted energy and a difficult truth to prove. I had to learn to believe in the truth, even when he was spewing lies.
Make no mistake; you are in a war. It is critical that you take breaks between the battles to rest and care for yourself. Spend time with friends that you know believe you and believe in you. Go for a massage, tender comforting touch can help the soul heal. Make sure to exercise, it can be a great tool for alleviating anxiety or reducing anger. Try meditation when you are able. You will need to stay healthy; don’t give your ex the power to take that away from you.
In many divorces, the partners spend hours discussing the end of the relationship, its repercussions, and plans for the future. With a manipulative ex, there is nothing to be gained from contact, as they cannot be trusted. See if you can get a no-contact clause in your separation. Also, you may need to consider your physical safety. My ex had never struck me, but I found myself physically afraid of this man who had become a stranger, set to destroy me. I was unable to obtain a protective order due to a lack of history of abuse, but I did notify the police of the situation and they were able to do regular drive-bys. Remove yourself from your ex. He/she is not what you thought and contact will only serve to delay that realization. If you have children together, you will obviously have to have some communication but you can limit the type and frequency.
Focus on Your Future
It is important throughout that you remember what is really important: you and your future. You will not win all the battles, especially when your ex doesn’t play by the rules. But, if you remember that your ultimate goal is to get out and get on, you will be okay.