After more than three years, more than $300,000 in expenses, countless hours of wasted time, and untold emotional anguish, my divorce finally (finally!) became official on September 11th, 2017.
Only eleven days later, I was served papers; my narcissist ex-wife had filed for a change in our custody arrangement.
More often than not, such is life when you get out of a marriage to a high-conflict partner.
Lisa and I have been working on Been There, Got Out for several months, and we’re in the process of writing blog articles to get some good content up on the site covering some of the core issues that people in high-conflict relationships can face.
But when I was served with this summons, it was a cold reminder that I’m not now in some new phase where peace has replaced conflict and I can simply get on with my life.
I’ve learned a lot about high-conflict people over the past three-plus years, and this is textbook. They are known for driving up legal costs, scuttling agreements at the last minute, and restarting legal battles over and over.
Why do they do this? It’s about power and control.. Over our three-year legal fight, my ex slowly saw her power erode, and she lost her ability to control me (though she still frequently tries.)
Over time, I have learned how to enforce personal boundaries, despite her constant attempts to probe my defenses) My boys and I have a great life in our modified family, and they get along very well with Lisa and her kids.
But, here I find myself, about to plunge back into the legal system over nonsense. No real surprise.
This strikes me as a completely apropos topic for BTGO’s first-ever blog post, because it really speaks to the core of who we are. We’ve Been There, and we Got Out. Our clients know that we’ve been through (and are still going through) the same things they’re likely to face. In short, we get it.
Lisa and I often encounter people who are freaking out over a watershed event in their relationship with their high-conflict partner; something that made them, essentially, “hit bottom.” Our first conversation with almost everyone consists of:
- “Calm down”
- “We understand”
- “You’re going to be OK”
I clearly remember my first freak-out back in July of 2014. At that time, I was facing the end of my marriage (a blessing in disguise) and a nasty custody battle.
One of my first calls back then was to my college friend Carol, who’s a family law attorney in Virginia. She started by talking me off the ledge. My first attorney – who I met with later that week – gave me the talk, too.
I have two sons, currently thirteen and ten. I love them to pieces. I’m a very committed father. And the biggest fear I had early on was that my ex would destroy my relationship with them. She tried, but she failed in the end.
Now, she’s trying again, but she has nowhere near the ammunition she had back then. Truth be told, her biggest weapon was always fear. She had abused me emotionally with such skill that I became convinced that the world – specifically, the powers-that-be in the legal system – would see her as a great mom, and me as a flawed father.
I know better now. Still, when I saw the papers and realized I’m going back to war, the knot in my stomach returned… the fear returned.
So I needed the talk again, and I got it.
I have an attorney now who understands how these monsters operate and how to shut them down. I’m ready to go on the offensive. I have to, because my eyes have opened to the fact that she is abusing my sons as well. Narcissists are inherently abusive – they abuse everyone they bet close to.
If you’re early in your own battle, you have my sincere empathy. Believe me, I know how hard it is. I’d be happy to talk with you and help any way I can. I think, for Lisa and I, working with others who are embarking on their own battle is analogous to how sponsors in AA draw energy from their work.
People are going to say, “It gets better,” to you. You’re not going to believe them, and you’re not going to believe me now, but… it really does.