My ex treats me like crap... Help me get over it.
November 18, 2010 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I am no longer with the father of my child and he treats me like crap. In person, over email, on the phone. We've got a long way to go here - our kid isn't even three yet. I'm trying to not take it personally and to let it go, but I am struggling...

He runs the gamut from ignoring me to responding to my questions with contempt - every interchange is a exercise in conflict and nastiness. I can see his disgust for me on his FACE! He has no respect for me, period. And I treat him well. I am tolerant and kind, and I respect him ( I KNOW. Give me a medal or something). I mean - he's my kids' DAD! That's important to me.

I don't need to say I in no way deserve to be treated like this, do I?

This is nothing new, and is one of the (many) reasons we are no longer together. Our time in therapy did nothing to unearth the root of this behavior - I can only speculate it's a combination of the dysthymia he's struggled with since he was a teen and the unhappiness he has inside. He doesn't have many friends, and is a pretty heavy introvert.

I've brought his behavior up numerous times to him - especially since I don't want our child to witness it and think it's an appropriate way for a man to treat a woman. He gets better for a week, then he's back at it again.

Fortunately, I realize the way he treats me has nothing to do with me - it's all on him and I am glad to be at a point in my life and mature enough not to take it personally. But that is HARD. One side of me knows I need to let it GO already - just ignore him and his unfortunate behavior - but the other side is all righteous and saying "You deserve better! Do unto OTHERS, dammit!" Maybe even some finger wagging.

So I need to figure out how to move forward. Accept this and move on. He's a twit, he's always been a twit, he's always going to be a twit and that's the end of it. It's not going to change.

But it doesn't seem to be that easy...
posted by voneil to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, can you two go to co-parenting classes/counseling and figure out how you can parent with each other?
posted by k8t at 11:28 AM on November 18, 2010

How old is he? The answer changes if he is 18 or if he is 40. The circumstances differ.

But basically, you have to call him on it every time he does it. People treat us the way we teach them to treat us. If you demand his respect, he will give it to you. This may mean that you are mothering him a lot, constantly reprimanding him for his bad attitude.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:29 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Some people are just assholes. You're not required to martyr yourself to preserve availability to the child- father or not, you'll display good coping behaviour to your wee one by setting hard limits. And if he continues to emotionally abuse you, the gain of a father is not worth the loss of a mother with self respect.

You cannot make him into a good parent. I advise to focus on the positive (Yaye, cool new child! Amazing what you can grow with compost!), keep the vindictive feelings for your friends/therapists and not the kid and admit it's okay to be pissed that someone's not capable of meeting life's minimum standards.
posted by Phalene at 11:38 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine found this book useful: Joint Custody with a Jerk.
posted by jasper411 at 11:45 AM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Can I just give you a virtual high five for respecting yourself and for wanting to teach your kid how to do better by example? I mean seriously. Rock on.

The dude sounds like he's got a serious inferiority complex, especially when it comes to you, 'cause clearly you're awesome. Nthing the suggestion to be as firm and as strict with him as possible. If necessary, head back to therapy to get other tools in your toolbox, and consider cutting him out of the kid's life for a while (as harsh as that is) until he learns how to behave. Love your kid, send blessings and good thoughts to your ex, and keep trucking forward.
posted by patronuscharms at 11:47 AM on November 18, 2010

I am the Walrus - he's 38.
posted by voneil at 11:59 AM on November 18, 2010

I agree with the posters saying be firm about it, but what about also limiting your contacts with him?
Just guessing at what some of that contact might be:
Custody visits: Can you find one of those child-custody-drop-off sites and use it? Or make arrangements with friends/relatives?
Emails: Can you figure out what you are emailing him for and figure out if you can consolidate those items into 1 per month?
Are asking him to collaborate on child-raising decisions? Can you just move forward based on your own judgment in those issues?

Whatever it is, see what you can do to consciously make it fewer, then be firm for the remainder.

And kudos to you for taking the high road. We need parents like that in this world.
posted by CathyG at 12:37 PM on November 18, 2010

How does he act toward his child? Does he act like a jerk to everyone or just you?

It sounds like he isn't into changing his behavior. If you are no longer in a relationship with him, then the best you can do is limit your interaction with him to the bare minimum. If he really wants to interact with you, then it has to be on your terms with the understanding that the minute he lapses back into nastiness, you and your child are out of there.

You don't deserve to put yourself in that kind of situation.
posted by mlo at 12:44 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

mlo - He is a good Dad and loves her madly, although work is his #1 priority and that is what limits his time with her. He is with her about 1/5 of the time - and about 50% of it is spent at my house because he gets home too late to take her back to his house. Therefore half of his unfortunate behavior happens at my house.

And he's nicest with strangers and people whom he works with. Most of my friends and some of his family are also objects of his contempt, but he reserves his extra special nastiness for me.

AND YA'LL ARE GREAT. This makes me so happy.
posted by voneil at 1:05 PM on November 18, 2010

Everytime he talks to you like an ass, you need to talk to him like a child until he stops doing it.

If he doesn't you have the satisfaction of knowing that you need to address him like a child.

Yes, he is a child. Savour that, and think of your kid before doing anything that may impact the kid's relationship with the father (no matter how badly he speaks to you).

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:07 PM on November 18, 2010

You've gotten great advice above re: limiting contact, consolidating e-mails, and taking him to task when he does this crap.

When you do have to interact with him, just keep telling yourself: You only have to deal with his awfulness a few times a month. He has to be around himself 24-7-365, and that's gotta be so much worse.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

He has no respect for me, period.

To be fair, that feeling seems mutual.

Part of the problem seems to be that you're engaging him in this behavior, and might even be acting to instigate it. If he's abusive to you on the phone, tell him so, and hang up. If he's being abusive in front of your child, stand up, and leave. Don't argue with idiots -- they will only drag you down to their own level, and beat you with experience.

Fortunately, I realize the way he treats me has nothing to do with me

I'm glad you're trying to take the high road here, but we have no way of knowing whether or not this is actually true. Based upon your post, we can either conclude that your husband is indeed the scum of the earth, or that you may be contributing to the problem. I try to take what I read on AskMe in good faith, but the tone of your post is making that difficult for me to do in this case -- we really need to hear his side of the story.

Unfortunately we cannot do that. Fortunately, therapists exist to do exactly that. If the two of you are serious about raising your child in a friendly environment (and it seems like you are -- good for you!), you owe it to your child to "shop around" until you find a therapist that clicks.

(Oh, and you are taking this personally. Very much so.)
posted by schmod at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I know you have some obligations to ensure a good relationship between your daughter and ex, but this is happening in your own home!? If it were me, he would have to earn the privilege to spend time in my home with decency and respect.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 1:18 PM on November 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

Wow, the thing about "he doesn't adjust his schedule so that he can do his visitation in his own home but instead comes into my house and acts like a jerk to me in front of our kid" adds a whole other layer of creepsauce to the situation.

Please get some kind of third party involved in this, preferably a marriage and family therapist. This is not good for your child. It is not something you should have to put up with.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:20 PM on November 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Part of the problem seems to be that you're engaging him in this behavior, and might even be acting to instigate it.

I literally have no idea where you are getting this from the information given. I agree that in this--as in every AskMe except some of the weird trainwrecks--we only get one party's side, but I don't think the answer is to do the whole "devil's advocate" thing.

That said, I think it is helpful for everyone who's negotiating with jerks to look at strategies for doing that better, so maybe the OP might want to do a little coaching with a family therapist on her own.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:23 PM on November 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Some people are just assholes.

Truer words have never been spoken.

My parents were divorced when I was 3, and I've never seen them speak. My mother never said anything bad about my father, and always protected me from whatever arguments they had (and I know they had some -- my father tried to get custody and increased visitation repeatedly).

My father, on the other hand, spent every second of my childhood that he was present for telling me what a fucking bitch my mom is.

30+ years later, I have a great relationship with my mother. My father might as well be dead, AFAIAC -- haven't seen the guy in many years.

My advice: Whatever you do and however you decide to handle your ex, keep it away from the kid.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:39 PM on November 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

voneil : "Therefore half of his unfortunate behavior happens at my house. "

The 80s stereotypical ethnic female sidekick in me is yelling "oh girl, NO HE DIDN'T!".

Yeah, you have to put your foot down there. If he can't behave at your house, then you might consider taking that option away from him, and clearly explaining why.

on preview: coolguymichael's advice is very good
posted by I am the Walrus at 1:43 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I disagree that calling him on it is the right reaction. The more you react, the more you reinforce the behavior. What you want to give him is the 'Least Reinforcing Scenario' as described here and here.
posted by bq at 1:58 PM on November 18, 2010

Someone wise above wrote that you train people how to treat you, which is true. In your case here is where the rubber meets the road:

"He is with her about 1/5 of the time - and about 50% of it is spent at my house because he gets home too late to take her back to his house."
(Emphasis mine.)

I'm sure you know now that training this person to believe it is acceptable to treat you badly in your own home (and teaching this by example to your child) is not healthy. But even worse, you are also teaching this man that he can see his child at his convenience - and this won't go well in the future for your child when he is remarried and has other children. You are accidentally supporting a dynamic whereby your kid gets the short end of the stick because you are accommodating that his "#1 priority" is other than his child.

Hey! I know you don't mean to do this. I know you think if you facilitate the relationship between your child and your co-parent that it is in the best interest of your child. I'm just pointing out that since the co-parent is no prince to begin with, what I think you may actually be doing here is setting up expectations in your child's mind (heart?) that this man will not fulfill in the future.

Bottom Line: Come up with and enforce new boundaries that fit the reality of the situation as it is. The new boundaries should enforce your values and they should be sustainable into the future no matter what your ex's work or personal life obligations are or become.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 2:18 PM on November 18, 2010 [11 favorites]

If he's willing to act better for a week, maybe he just forgets his head. Maybe you two can come up with a secret word or gesture you can use when he's being an ass. Y'know, for the good of the kid. Not that the kid won't detect the hostility in other ways, but at least you get the "outward contempt" complication out of the equation.
posted by rhizome at 2:43 PM on November 18, 2010

I would stop accepting his behavior. If he's nice to your kid but a dick to you, stop allowing him to have his visitation at your house and with you there. If he's a dick on the phone, tell him you aren't going to talk to him when he's being like that and hang up.

I respect him ( I KNOW. Give me a medal or something)

What do you mean by respect? It doesn't sound like you respect him... nor should you, necessarily. You should try to be civil for the kid, but respect is earned and deserved - or not.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:01 PM on November 18, 2010

you have to call him on it every time he does it is terrible advice. Just stop engaging; it takes two to fight. Move cheerfully forward with building your happy, stable, sane, respect-filled single-parent household.

Nth that you don't have any respect for him. This is a lousy situation, but part of the problem is that this is dripping with teh dramaz. If you don't like the outcome of contact with him, step down the contact. Of course you need to be in touch regularly for your child's sake, but. I'm guessing these inquiries he's repeatedly ignoring are not about particularly urgent situations involving the tot's welfare.

Get over it -- get wholly over him -- clearly you already know you need to do this. If he was interested in changing, he would have already.

The most pleasant thing for the three of you will be to behave as though you are an elderly lady. Wayyyy too old and dignified to engage in little spats -- gently trying to encourage good behaviour by modeling it -- you, embodiment of etiquette -- a little sigh when things are really over the top and a smiling 'We'll try again on Friday, okay? Drive safely' when the evening is ending on a lousy note.

You want to take the same tack you probably already take with your small child, albeit making sure you are free of condescension. Lots of leeway for bad behaviour (because you are a toddler/because you are a jerk); lots of patience; lots of 'Okay, let's cheer up with cookies and milk' efficient restoration of pleasant mood. Watch "Mary Poppins" if you need a refresher on brisk good cheer; run your home along those lines.

Most if not all of your problems can be sorted with some soul-searching for the honest answer to "What is in my child's best interests?" The answer to that will not involve, as has been suggested, increasing drama by nagging Dad, or by limiting access. I live this; we are a two-home family with all the visiting (lots) at my house, and "What is in my child's best interests?" is always the ticket out of stress. Pro tip: do not confront him about anything in front of the kid. Vow to sit on irritations for twenty-four hours; you will be surprised at how much vanishes in that time -- eventually you will learn to discard many irritations with him as the petty nonsense they are -- and some things will remain and need to be addressed, and after the waiting period you will be able to address them much more calmly and thus much more usefully.

You mention that he's a good Dad, and clearly at one point you thought highly enough of him to ball him, so -- drop "he's a twit, he's always been a twit." Poormouthing him just reflects badly on you, and will eventually make its way back to your child. Try to focus on what you used to like about him, and on what your kid likes about him, when you need a way to be a little less ticked off with him. There's nothing in here about drugs or violence or anything; be wary of following advice applicable to people dealing with scumbags. You have nothing to lose by always taking the high road here.
posted by kmennie at 5:32 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

You definitely need to switch up your parenting schedule -- having to spend time with your ex is not doing either of you favors. Seeing dad for half an hour before bed when the tension is palpable is probably not doing your kiddo any good either.

In any case, you need to reduce the amount you engage with him -- if he's in your house, you are in a different room. If he follows you to engage with you, he is no longer allowed to be in your house. Dad is entitled to time with his daughter, but he is not entitled to harass you, and if he has less time with her as a result of his harassment, too bad. Definitely reduce emails. Perhaps cut out phone calls altogether.
posted by freshwater at 5:46 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know a guy who used to see his daughter at his ex's house during the week - make her dinner there and put her to bed - rather than truck a little kid back and forth across the city. The ex would go out to a movie while he was there, or would go upstairs and watch tv, or otherwise keep out of their way and let them have their time together. (Mind you these two had a civil relationship.) Could you do this? Your daughter is three years old. How long is he there?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:12 PM on November 18, 2010

I can't help but suspect that a guy who treats mommy like crap, ESPECIALLY in front of the kid, all the time, is NOT a "good dad." I also suspect this is gonna come out like coolguymichael's dad someday.

I think for the most part, you're going to have to accept that this guy is gonna be an asshole and take the high road. If he doesn't want to moderate his behavior, there is only so much you can do. I would say to also do the bare minimum for this guy with regards to co-parenting, and NOT to bend over backwards for him. And if possible, give him the boot when he's doing his daddy time at your house, while being nasty to your face.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:38 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would hang up on someone being rude and nasty on the phone; I would not respond to rude emails... I don't care if it's 98% these-are-the-plans-for-this-week and 2% if-your-tiny-mind-can-grasp-all-this — no response. Therefore the only two-way communication that can happen will have to be when he cuts out the nasty behavior. I would stay in another room doing my own thing while he's in the house with the kid, and limit conversation to the absolute bare minimum. If he's nasty on exit, no discussion, no conversation, just "okay! Good night!" as he's ushered toward the door.

If he wants to discuss plans or share information about your child, he has maintain a modicum of respect. If he wants you to consult with him about issues related to your child, he has to maintain a modicum of respect. This is the exchange. He doesn't treat you like shit, and he gains the benefit of communication. He treats you like shit, and his access to you (not time with your child) is shut down. However, he cannot make plans with you to arrange logistics, unless he does it with a modicum of respect. I think he can learn how that works pretty damn quickly.
posted by taz at 11:05 PM on November 18, 2010

I agree with kmennie. You remain your good self and try not to engage with him in front of the kid, and remind him that his arseholic nature is not welcome when he needs to be reminded of that at a time when your child is not present and in the most firm but detached way you can muster. You said that his behaviour changes when you've spoken to him about this in the past; maybe it's just something that has to be done to deal with him.

This is not the way it's going to be forever - the visits at home will stop when new relationships are formed and then you'll have to work out the best way for custody to work out for all of you.

It's something that I learned from my parents divorce and my subsequent upbringing - there's a really strong distinction between the parent's relationship with each other and the parent's relationship with their children.

If you're determined to avoid drama and conflict and the father can see the benefit in that, the best thing you can do is to continue reminding him when he's being offensive, even if it's just that, saying 'hey, that is really offensive', and continue to facilitate letting him be a part of his kids life.

Things will change. It's not always going to be the way it is now.
posted by h00py at 3:21 AM on November 19, 2010

I had a similar situation with my ex-husband. It's been ten years since we split up and while he's not as unpleasant as he used to be, he has his moments.

Things got more tolerable when I stopped trying to have a relationship with him other than to sort out the logistics of shared parenting. I do this as often as possible through texting. I don't invite him round or let him spend time in our home. There are no violence issues here, but he and his animosity towards me are not welcome in my life. And after years of trying to be friendly with him only to have it turned against me, well, who's got time for that?

Telling him that he's being offensive will work on occasion, but it may not (probably won't) bring any permanent or desired change.

You can treat him decently but you don't have to tolerate or respect him, and in fact why would you want to tolerate or respect a person who acts like that? That type of behaviour doesn't deserve it.

Once I realised that he's got problems that I can't change, I stopped trying. And that was very liberating. I created space between us, and things improved enough where it doesn't affect me anymore.

BTW, our son loves both of us dearly, equally and SEPARATELY.

Good luck.
posted by dawn_chorus at 9:24 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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