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My boyfriends borderline ex-wife is making me borderline crazy!
December 27, 2012 9:56 AM   Subscribe

How should I address the fact that my boyfriend's unstable ex-wife continues to inappropriately contact him and his family?

Our background: We have been together almost 2 years. We are both 30 and have building family on our mind. We live together. We are very much in love and have discussed marriage and children. We communicate well, but when it comes to the subject of his ex-wife, it's obviously tricky. While he had some grief to deal with over his failed marriage, he is over the depression of picking the wrong person.

His background with her: They were together 8 years, married a little over a year. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder as a teen and has been hospitalized in the psychiatric ward for several suicide attempts as young girl. He claims she seemed to become completely stable when she met him. She ended all her treatment and stopped all meds.

But, in the end, she cheated on him multiple times, constantly belittled him, spent all of their wedding gift money and savings to go out partying, shopping, and probably on the men she was seeing. She also refused to have any sexual contact with him as the relationship went on. He says she was very good at pretending she was the perfect girl for him, and in the beginning, even when she acted out, he was always hopeful because she would have periods of acting sweet. It was a very emotionally abusive relationship, and anyone who has ever known someone with borderline personality disorder knows just how manipulative they can be if they never seek help.

The issue: We are waiting for the divorce to go through. It is uncontested, and thankfully they had no children. Something wasn't filed correctly initially(his fault for attempting to do this without a lawyer), so his paperwork got backed up in the courts. We hired a lawyer to fix the problem and the judgement should come through in the next few months.

He says he told her when they were breaking up that he wanted no contact from her ever again unless it has to deal with the divorce paperwork. Unfortunately, she has not listened.

Since we have been together, she has asked him to babysit their dogs-he explained to her that he has said his goodbyes to the dogs and she can have them. She contacted him to wish him a happy birthday, sent holiday cards to his family, sent sympathy cards to him and his family when his grandmother passed, invited him to come out to her birthday celebration, invited him to meet up with her and her sister when her sister was visiting town, texted to ask if his parents house on Long Island was affected by Hurricane Sandy, and just yesterday informed him via email that the dog they had together passed away. (Did I mention that even though she never legally changed her name to his, she uses an email address containing his last name against his wishes?)

All of these seem like harmless gestures, but when you've been traumatized by a person with borderline personality disorder in the midst of their sickness, it's not coming from a harmless thoughtful place. These constant reminders trigger unnecessary memories and it has become her way of staying connected to him and baiting him into conversation.

His way of dealing with this has been to ignore her and not respond because he feels if he engages her at all, that's giving her too much attention. Regardless of her motives, it's still frustrating to try and move forward in our life with her constantly popping up.

It's very sad that his dog passed, but is it wrong of me to feel like it wasn't necessary for her to tell him about it? He hasn't seen the dogs in 2 years, there's nothing he could do about it and it just made him feel terrible. I fear that with her selfish attitude, she will continue to update him on these matters for a very long time. Is he going to get an email about his other dog at some point? Will she let him know if something happens to a family member of hers or if something happens to her? I don't trust her not to.

I want this woman out of our lives so that he can leave his past where it belongs and not bring it into our budding future. I know he's fresh with grief over the dog, but how/when can I point out that this was just another inappropriate manipulation on her part. She felt terrible and needed him to feel terrible, too. It's enough.

I get that he needs to have some way of being able to contact her for emergency purposes related to legal matters, but I'm fed up. What do you suggest I do or say? Should I even do or say anything?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's very sad that his dog passed, but is it wrong of me to feel like it wasn't necessary for her to tell him about it?

It was his dog at one point. I think this is a time when contact was warranted.

As for the other contacts, while they're minor, I see why they would bother you. It seems your boyfriend is taking the right tack by making it clear he doesn't want to speak to her and not engaging her.

What can you say? It's really not your place to deal with this. He has moved on with his life. She hasn't. Treat her occasional pings as a minor annoyance, the buzzing of a fly that can have no impact on you whatsoever.
posted by inturnaround at 10:05 AM on December 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Is he going to get an email about his other dog at some point? Will she let him know if something happens to a family member of hers or if something happens to her? I don't trust her not to.

Once the divorce is finalized he can send all her email directly to the trash and not read it anymore. Or he could take that (somewhat drastic) step right now and insist that she only contact him through their mutual lawyers. He could also get a restraining order though I wouldn't suggest it.

I know it's hard. I have a partner with a BPD-seeming ex-girlfriend who is also the mother of their son. She behaves similarly inappropriately both to him and to the son. Last year my SO went for full custody of the son in part because of erratic and not-okay behavior of his mom and her boyfriend and this sparked up a flurry of weird but not that surprising abuse and bad behavior from her. While I sympathize that you want to reason your way out of this situation, it's actually maybe not the most useful way of managing this. Yes her behavior was and continues to be inappropriate; no, knowing that will not help you reason with her (or him) to get her to do anything different. If it helps you conceptualize it, think of her as sick only her illness manifests itself as inappropriate behaviors instead of physical ailments.

You say your boyfriend is not engaging which is really what everyone says is the way to handle this sort of thing. I'd add to this

- He has to process some of his "I was in a bad place and this interaction puts me back in a bad place" emotions on his own as well as with you. Therapy has been helpful for my SO as well as some of the standard AskMe suggestions like the Feeling Good Handbook and Codependent No More.
- You may need to put "moving forward" on a back burner just for a little bit and shift to a "live through this" mentality while lines of communication with her have to remain somewhat open. That said, it might be worth shifting to a "only contact me via my lawyer" mode only because that's also likely to make the divorce proceed more smoothly and not make your SO feel that there is something else he needs to be doing. Send her emails to the trash, postal mail likewise.
- You should not engage with her or her drama at all as much as possible. Just use flat language and descriptions "That was inappropriate, she is behaving badly" and not "Oh god I'm so frustrated WHEN WILL IT END??" because it may not end, you may need to end it within yourself.

She sucks and I'm sorry you're dealing with this. That said, the less time you spend mentally bothering yourself about it, the less of a footprint she will have in your lives together. You and your SO should outline some rules of engagement both with her and with how you bring her into your lives if at all and stick to them. If he's behaving well towards you, you can't really manage how other people behave towards him.
posted by jessamyn at 10:06 AM on December 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


Can he set up an email filter so that all of her emails go directly into a folder, or spam? A restraining order isn't hard to get, but I do think that getting one for non-threatening situations seems a waste of the court's time and yours. Block her phone numbers, change your own email addresses, get a PO box, and perhaps get your lawyer to include a stipulation that she cease all contact in the divorce papers?
posted by Ideefixe at 10:15 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


As you well know, none of these interactions and contacts are harmless or without ulterior motives. Is your boyfriend the "white knight" type? If so, be prepared for her to have at least one last "emergency" that only he can solve as a way for her to keep her claws into him. Know this: he is always hers in her mind. The divorce is a formality (even if she wanted it).

Talk to your boyfriend about going full no contact. Block her phone, junk her emails, call the cops if she shows at your house because she was "concerned that he wasn't returning her phone calls or emails." If the judgment should come through, the parts where they need to contact each other are done. Lawyers can handle the rest. If she's non cooperative, the judge will put her in contempt of court.

And, standard MeFi answer ahoy, maybe talk to him about therapy. Emotionally abusing relationships are hard, and with her constant trying to reopen the wound, having someone to talk to might benefit him.
posted by skittlekicks at 10:26 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


my boyfriend's unstable ex-wife

Soon-to-be ex-wife. Big difference.

His way of dealing with this has been to ignore her and not respond because he feels if he engages her at all, that's giving her too much attention.

Then he's probably doing pretty much all he should be. You can't control how much she tries to contact him.

She contacted him to wish him a happy birthday, sent holiday cards to his family [etc.]

She is trying to maintain the social structure that ties them together. Obviously you can't control the mails or her, but you can ask the rest of the family to respect your no-contact needs, if they aren't.

You should not engage with her or her drama at all as much as possible.

This is the part that YOU control -- whether you allow her actions to affect you. As long as you do, you are giving -- ceding -- her power over your life and emotions. The sooner you learn to let it wash off your back like so much water, the sooner she'll give up trying to create drama.

all the cops if she shows at your house

Indeed, except it appears this is a line she has not yet crossed. I don't think her motives are harmless, but her ability to carry through on harm is something your boyfriend needs to assess, having known her well. If you really want, you could also act on the inappropriate text messages. One last blunt warning, and then call the cops next time. Text messages can be so much more intrusive and emotionally manipulative because of the way they demand immediate attention. I'm not sure I would say she's crossed that line, yet, but the mail and phone calls are something I'd be able to ignore myself.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm borderline. Don't worry, I did DBT and am mostly human now. The weird thing about borderline people is that we attract "fixers," and we know it. She'll do what she wants to do and there's nothing you can do about it. The only thing you can manage is your reaction to her behavior. Fixers will be tortured by their "failure" and feel victimized by their interactions with this person. Co-dependents like these have their own maladaptive coping mechanisms that are just as destructive to their own well-being as the relationship with the borderline/drug addict/alcoholic is. Your boyfriend needs therapy so that he can identify and manage his own unhealthy reactions to people who need repair. You should examine your own reactions and ask yourself why you think you can control her or your boyfriend's reactions to her.

There are a few easy things you can do.

1. Your boyfriend needs therapy.
2. Family members who are contacted by this person should simply discard notes and cards, ignore phone calls, and not tell your boyfriend about the contact. What he doesn't know won't hurt him in this case.
3. All contact with the ex needs to be through the lawyers. Period.
4. Block her number, junk her email, and throw away cards and letters unopened.

My ex-fiance's wife sent me an email 10 years after my last contact with him to tell me that I'd ruined his life and their marriage because of my BPD. I've never even met her, and we don't even live in the same state. While I was sad to hear that he was miserable, I did not feel guilty about it. I did therapy, I took meds, I worked my program. He should have done the same thing and not spent a decade in misery over someone he doesn't even see anymore. I may have handed him the hot rock, but he's the one who never put it down. That's on him. (Ironically, he's the one who would still send me notices about pet deaths and other things, and I'm the one who has email from the two of them auto-junked.)
posted by xyzzy at 10:41 AM on December 27, 2012 [27 favorites]


His way of dealing with this has been to ignore her and not respond because he feels if he engages her at all, that's giving her too much attention.

I think he's got the right idea. After the divorce is final, you could suggest that he consider blocking her e-mail and phone number. Don't push him though, you don't want to make this woman a bigger issue in your relationship and he has already chosen the healthy approach of ignoring her.
posted by Area Man at 10:58 AM on December 27, 2012


Since he's been ignoring her and not responding it seems that it is your reactions which are keeping her in your lives. Sounds like he's quite capable of not allowing her to impact him and quite willing to do so. Now, do so yourself.
posted by uncaken at 11:28 AM on December 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


She was married to the guy for 8 years. If he's not hammering it to her that she's to stay away, why are you making it your personal crusade?

Honestly, you need to be honest with yourself. You find her an annoyance and ongoing threat. You have choices. Extricate yourself or learn to deal with it.
posted by discopolo at 12:07 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


His way of dealing with this has been to ignore her and not respond because he feels if he engages her at all, that's giving her too much attention.

This is the right answer.
posted by empath at 12:11 PM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine went through this. There is an online forum for people divorcing someone suffering from BPD. I believe it is BPDFamily.com, but that site is having an outage this afternoon, so I'm not certain.
posted by salvia at 12:48 PM on December 27, 2012


I suggest you join him in ignoring her, since that is what will ultimately get her out of your lives. If she escalates to anything threatening, you have a lawyer you can turn to.

Ignoring is counterintuitive but it works. I understand why this is getting under your skin and there's nothing wrong with having that feeling, but don't act on it, and try not to talk about her unless you have to.
posted by tel3path at 1:16 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did I mention that even though she never legally changed her name to his, she uses an email address containing his last name against his wishes?

This is...this is pretty silly stuff. I mean, I totally understand the frustration and why this would be an irritant, but he is doing exactly the right thing by ignoring her, you are doing the wrong thing by letting this bother you. She can call herself whatever she likes; it doesn't revive her relationship with your partner.

I want this woman out of our lives so that he can leave his past where it belongs and not bring it into our budding future may not be totally realistic, at least not just yet; this is part of him and, at least until the divorce goes through, part of his and your present. It's not unreasonable for somebody to tell an ex-partner of eight years that [close relative who was well known to your boyfriend, dog, etc] has [died, etc].

It's not clear if he is always ignoring -- yes? -- or if he is still 'baited into conversation' as you mentioned? If the latter some of your wrath is misdirected and it's him you have a problem with.

Above all else try to keep in mind that you want to be with a person who treats people from his past with decency. Do you really want some bum boyfriend who poormouths people he chose to be with, doesn't care at all about pets he once lived with? No. So. Try to see the lack of "Piss off you dreadful skank" here (and the drama that would come out of that) as a positive, a big 'green flag' for your relationship with your partner.
posted by kmennie at 1:36 PM on December 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


The issue: We are waiting for the divorce to go through. It is uncontested, and thankfully they had no children. Something wasn't filed correctly initially(his fault for attempting to do this without a lawyer), so his paperwork got backed up in the courts. We hired a lawyer to fix the problem and the judgement should come through in the next few months.

When the divorce is final, then he can start setting firmer boundaries. In the meantime, he can try, but she ultimately has a significant amount of leverage she can apply: she can turn it into a contested divorce. It behooves him to try and keep things as civil as possible, and if that means occasionally engaging in behavior that he -- and you -- find frustrating, try to let it roll off.

If it helps, consider it like a job that he's planning to quit: until his new job comes through, he's got to make every effort to keep the one he has, because it will be very painful (financially and otherwise) to get fired before the new job is ready. Right now, keeping the divorce as civil and on-track as possible is ultimately to his -- and your -- benefit.
posted by davejay at 1:46 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eyes on the prize. Divorce is the goal. Nothing good comes from delaying the divorce by making waves with her. You've got an uncontested divorce going - keep that moving. After the divorce is final he can set hard boundaries. (He can. Not you.)

For now, keep doing what you're doing. Ignore her. Get the divorce. Get on with your lives.

You're on the right path. It's a rocky path right now, but you're going in the right direction.
posted by 26.2 at 1:58 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


How should you address it? Pretty much you need to be patient.

Ending a marriage is a painful, ugly, petty, miserable, and otherwise lousy experience. That is why MOST people avoid dating anyone whose divorce is NOT finalized. But you elected to jump the gun to grab the quality guy...probably a good move for you, but now you've gotta pay the penality of suffering in silence while you watch him fumble his way out of a quagmire of rotten leftover dogshit. You volunteering to pressure wash everything will only give the dogshit a slick coating which makes it more precarious to navigate.

Honestly, it sounds like he's handling it way better than most. Good luck!
posted by 99percentfake at 2:13 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just wanted to say that I know this must be so hard for you. My current SO is also going through a similar situation (sans the annoying contact from his ex), but otherwise the details of the divorce are pretty much the same. I understand how difficult it is to date someone going through this, though, and with the added burden of her sociopathic tendencies, it cannot be fun. The hardest thing is to stand by and watch, but it is necessary, and being patient helps.

Many divorce documents now have a "Right to Live Separate and Apart" clause. Your SO may want to ask the divorce attorney if that's something that can be added to his divorce papers. It would ensure that she can't keep contacting him this way *after* the divorce is finalized.

Hang in there. It does take time, but it's worth the wait. In fact, my SO just got the news today that it's almost done! It does happen eventually, although it may feel like it's dragging on and on. Best of luck to you-
posted by chatelaine at 2:31 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


People get extra extra crazy while paperwork is going through. Just ride it out and keep repeating to yourself, "thank heaven they didn't have kids."
posted by selfmedicating at 3:02 PM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


His way of dealing with this has been to ignore her and not respond because he feels if he engages her at all, that's giving her too much attention.

This is exactly the right thing to do.

Regardless of her motives, it's still frustrating to try and move forward in our life with her constantly popping up.

And you can bet she knows it. Unfortunately, when dealing with untreated BPD people, minimum available drama and zero drama are never the same thing.

I want this woman out of our lives so that he can leave his past where it belongs and not bring it into our budding future.

Then I suggest you embrace the same non-response stance as his. It's not perfect, but it's your best available option.
posted by flabdablet at 7:19 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't poke the rabid dog with a stick at this critical junction. Show patience, keep quiet.

Revisit this issue AFTER the divorce is finalized.
posted by jbenben at 8:20 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


anonymous posted">> I want this woman out of our lives so that he can leave his past where it belongs and not bring it into our budding future. I know he's fresh with grief over the dog, but how/when can I point out that this was just another inappropriate manipulation on her part. She felt terrible and needed him to feel terrible, too. It's enough. I get that he needs to have some way of being able to contact her for emergency purposes related to legal matters, but I'm fed up. What do you suggest I do or say? Should I even do or say anything?

I totally get that it's frustrating for you to see him upset over the things she says to him, and that the impact that this woman indirectly has on your relationship is infuriating. But I have to say that you sound a little jealous, too. You said that he ignores her and doesn't respond or engage her at all, so he's doing exactly the right thing. That sounds to me like he knows very well that she's being manipulative. She's not important in your future lives...so don't YOU give her more attention than is warranted either.

Just focus on what he needs, let him vent, be supportive about him doing the right thing by ignoring her, and remind yourself to just be his partner. He's entitled to have complicated and sad feelings about the situation, but I think it's going to be a lot easier for you two to get on with your lives as a couple if you just focus your energies on being his partner.
posted by desuetude at 10:42 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


You cannot actually stop her from contacting you, him or members of his family and it is essential you understand that. The only thing he can do is control his own behaviour, by not responding to anything that isn't about the divorce. You need to not respond to anything at all. If he can also get his family to agree to respond to nothing at all, that's the best you guys can do.

If you are willing to pay for peace, he can send an email saying "I am sending all of your emails directly to trash and doing the same with any written correspondence that does not come from a law firm. If you need to contact me for any reason relating to the divorce, here are my lawyer's contact details. I will make no further requests for you to stop contacting me."

Then proceed with Step 1, above.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:40 AM on December 28, 2012


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