The post-breakup fight is spilling into new territory, what to do?
July 23, 2012 11:25 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend - How do you deal with a recent ex who's really not taking it well, and going out of her way to drag everyone else into the breakup too?

The whole story's long and so very drama-filled. My friend John (26) broke up with Mary (38) 2 months ago. She was incredibly needy and insecure, and incapable of learning conflict resolution skills, even from counselling. Their fights were nuclear, he says. So he finally had enough and broke up with her, moved out. She's taking it very hard, and doing all she can to make it hard on him too. They were common-law, which is as good as married in their province, and she's living in their house he pays for. So it's not as simple as no-contact, while they work towards dividing the assets. We've told him to lawyer up, but he says he wants to avoid that as long as possible.

Mary's been sending all kinds of emails to John, doing her best to guilt him into further hashing-it-out sessions for closure, ranting at him and all of that. And calling him. And showing up where she knows he'll be, either looking to start a fight or being as sweet and charming as possible. These aren't unexpected, I've told him to forgive her because it's understandable she'll be a little crazy for a long time. I told him to ignore her as much as possible. But she's dragging friends and family into the mess too, and he's getting very upset by this.

She's been making a very public show of it all. Often she's posting stuff on FB and emailing friends with a very martyr-like tone, chastising herself and praising him, which he finds bizarre and grandstanding. Before the breakup was public, she was sending out emails to friends to ask them to like her post to surprise John with everyone's overwhelming support of having made it to 6 years together. He was very upset at that. I told him to simply ask her to take it down and not abuse their friends like that, and she eventually complied. I told him to remove her from FB and I think he has.

She's been working on befriending the new girl John's dating along with other girls in their large social group. Apparently Mary hung out with her exclusively this weekend and said something to her that made this girl reluctant to talk to John today. And Mary sends an email back to John about how nice it was to visit with that girl and everything's great. She also sent John's parents some bizarre email that ruined their whole day on Sunday, and he's very upset with her for it.

So what's the advice for handling an ex who is making a public exhibition of the breakup? How did you handle it? How about what NOT to do? Thanks for your advice, mefites.
posted by lizbunny to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"We've told him to lawyer up, but he says he wants to avoid that as long as possible."

I can't disagree with him more. I did not need to read past this point in your question (although I did!)
posted by jbenben at 11:29 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

So they were together for several years, and now he's dating someone else, and she knows this and is pursuing a friendship with the new woman? Oy. He definitely needs more space from her -- she doesn't need to know that he's never, and never mind who she is.

I think he needs to work really hard and take the high road. With her, be firm and slightly cold.

And, yeah, get a lawyer. He needs to try harder to limit contact.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:41 PM on July 23, 2012

She's been working on befriending the new girl John's dating along with other girls in their large social group. Apparently Mary hung out with her exclusively this weekend and said something to her that made this girl reluctant to talk to John today.

And John is okay with this "befriending?" He seems very trusting.

Generally, one good rule in life is to never introduce somebody you're dating to somebody else who's desperately in love with you. I just can't see that ever working well.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:46 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just wrote a long post that was lost in the re-edit; but the gist is -

It's possible to block all calls and texts to smartphones with certain apps. You can also block/reroute emails to a certain folder so you can be the one to choose when you want to view communication from the person in question. I've done this before with after break-up when my ex was being manipulative/destructive, and I told my ex I was doing it.
posted by victory_laser at 12:20 AM on July 24, 2012

My follow-up also got erased.

I wanted to point out that your friend should strongly consider dropping the new GF along with the EX. A weekend long hang-out session?? Any new person that would spend that much time with their new partner's ex is ONLY trolling for drama and trouble. Especially considering the circumstances that the ex-couple are considered common law and are still unraveling financial and emotional issues. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Your friend needs to grok boundaries!

Lawyer. Lawyer.

I don't know of any other responsible way he can protect himself and bring this drama to an end.

posted by jbenben at 12:31 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am usually the person arguing that exes can still be friends, and that there's no reason why current partners and past partners can't be friends.

This is not that situation.

That said: I actually looked closely at the ages and time of being together, and this started to make a lot more sense. So, this couple is 26m/38f, and they've been together for 6 years, which means this relationship started when your friend was 20, and she was 32. That's a bad combination. 12 years of an age difference is already severe, but that is a really bad one to start from. I imagine that there may have been a lot of insecurities that let her start a relationship with someone so much younger in the first place. She probably also faced down a lot of naysayers at the start of a relationship who told her your friend was too young and it wouldn't work out.

Then it seemed to be working out for her. Your friend either was paying on or bought a house together with her, and they've been living together for several years. She's now past the age of safe childbearing - having kids after 38 strongly risks Downs syndrome. Maybe that was something she was okay with, specifically because she thought the relationship was worth it.

And now he broke up with her. Even though it's for good reasons, those aren't the reasons she's going to see. She's going to see: what does she have that I don't? And so his ex is going to want to figure it out by looking at the new girlfriend to see: is she younger than me? Prettier? More educated?

I think it's likely that she's going to try to want to hang on, because at this point, she literally has nothing left to lose. Your friend is already offering her what she wants, she doesn't have to earn it.

I'd think about possibly having your friend grant her more concessions in the finances in exchange for more space or less contact, perhaps. She's feeling like a wronged wife - let her get the reassurances that come with being one.
posted by corb at 12:48 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

So if I'm doing the math right / understanding the question correctly, John has been involved with this woman since he was 20. No offense intended to younger wise souls, but someone older, maybe you, needs to clearly communicate to him that limiting contact is the only sensible option and dealing through lawyers the only way to wrap this up because he doesn't have the life experience to know otherwise.

It sounds like he's holding off taking more drastic action because he wants to maintain a relationship with Mary, which makes sense because he's been involved with her over a quarter of his life. But if a civilfavor post-breakup relationshio is ever going to happen (and it is possible even if Mary's actions make it seem unlikely), they need to make a cleaner break than is happening now.

He may think he's doing her and the memory of their relationship a favor by keeping her in his circle this way, but he's not and if change doesn't happen, things will get much worse, making any future civil relationship impossible.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:16 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your advice that he lawyer up so that he can disentangle himself properly and avoid contact during the process is really the way to go. As it is, she gets free housing and continued attention from him, so she has all sorts of incentives to drag this out indefinitely. Continued direct interactions, even negative ones, only reinforce her bad behavior; asking her to stop won't work, because she likes being asked.
posted by jon1270 at 1:33 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've told him to forgive her because it's understandable she'll be a little crazy for a long time

From this point on, fuck this ^. And if her friends are any good they will actively discourage her from this behavior.
posted by victory_laser at 2:10 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your friend needs to lawyer up and stop advertising his private life.

If she's showing up where she knows he'll be and trying to be friends with the girl he's dating, he is putting too much of his life out there for her to view.

He should stop posting and lock down his profiles. In Person - he should tell his friends and family to stop posting about his or his whereabouts. He and his parents need to set up their mail so every thing from her gets marked as read and goes into a specific folder that will be ignored. (Don't just delete it - it may be needed later by his lawyer)

As for the date - he should sit her down and explain that his ex is going a little crazy right now and he'd prefer if Date didn't post about their relationship or discuss it with Ex or anyone else who knows Ex for the time being.

If he is "as good as married" where he lives, maybe he should cool off on dating until he's totally free. (yeah, it's not fair for him but it's also not fair of him to drag someone into this crazy right now)
posted by jaimystery at 4:31 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

He needs to shut down his facebook account and get a lawyer, point.
posted by mhoye at 5:07 AM on July 24, 2012

Response by poster: I'd like someone to please explain why getting a lawyer is the main solution to his problems here. I have my thoughts on why, but his persisting resistance to the idea means I'm going to need a better argument for it than what I can currently offer.
posted by lizbunny at 5:17 AM on July 24, 2012

Because of the legalities involved in untangling their lives, a lawyer will be able to help him navigate those waters most effectively without opening him up to any more liability. If he says something to her off-handedly like "You can live there forever for all I care!" in anger, then that could be construed as a verbal contract and she's got him on the hook for more than he owes her now.

The sooner all of this is dealt with, the sooner he can just ignore her completely. In the meantime, let all communication from him to her be through his lawyer.
posted by inturnaround at 5:29 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

The reasons for getting a lawyer seem pretty obvious, and have already been explained. I suspect that what you really need is to counter whatever reasons he has for *not* getting a lawyer. If he thinks lawyers are expensive, point out how much is at stake. If he thinks hiring a lawyer is mean, point out that the peaceful, cooperative breakup he's hoping to preserve exists only in his imagination.
posted by jon1270 at 5:43 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: He needs a lawyer to help him dispassionately disentangle his assets from hers. Once he's got that, once they've disposed of the house however they agree to dispose of it, and once they are settled again as individuals and not as an entangled unit, he is then free to establish whatever boundaries are appropriate to him on a personal level. Prior to that point, he's not actually free of her.

And he needs a good lawyer because she is not acting in good faith. She is continuing to try to drag him back into drama. She has no incentive to help him make a clean break, and every incentive to try to drag this out as long as possible, interfering with his relationships the whole time. If, instead of having to deal with him, she has to deal with a stranger who is a professional, her incentives shift. She stops getting his attention, which is what she wants, in favor of the attention of a stranger.
posted by gauche at 6:15 AM on July 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Why did the new girl agree to hang out with Mary?

Also, why are you involved?

The thing is, while Mary needs to accept his, it sounds like all of the mutual friends she had don't like her. She doesn't seem to have any support, and her ex's friends are bad mouthing her, so she's having a mental struggle, flailing wildly about without any support or friends, when friends are probably what could help her.

But it sounds like she has none and it sounds like John is badmouthing her. It sounds like you've all sided with him. So all her sadness is morphing into crazy.

Now, obviously it's not healthy or okay, but obviously you people, as his friends, need to get out of his business. And he needs to stop talking to her and to all of you all about how crazy she is and you people, as friends who have decided to support John, need to stop gossiping because it's increasing the likelihood of her acting out in worse ways.

She's not suddenly going to wise up and act graceful and poised sensing that John is talking crap about her. You guys aren't helping the situation, either.
posted by discopolo at 6:37 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: He needs a lawyer because the lawyer can act as the Bad Guy in the relationship and take the brunt of her crazy for him. That's what lawyers do. We do the dirty work for people trying to get themselves out of nasty situations. It's not just about disentangling his assets (which is a big part), it's giving her someone who is neutral to go after who can dispassionately deal with her crazy.

Also, hiring a lawyer tells her that your friend is (finally) serious about his desire to break up and move on.
posted by Leezie at 6:50 AM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

The lawyer will also indicate the irrevocable nature of the split. By placing the end of their relationship into legal hands, the personal will be a waste of her energy. She'll even understand that eventually - the lawyer is not some new girlfriend who hasn't seen this weirdness before. Her games won't work.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:20 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

He needs a lawyer to be an intermediary, a wall of sorts, between him and his ex, to provide distance between them. He needs a lawyer to protect him, his finances and his rights from her. He NEEDS a lawyer, right this minute.

He also needs to block her on facebook, on email and everywhere else; I would suggest his parents do the same. (At the very least, send all her emails/texts/phonecalls to folders he never opens, simply to have them in case they're needed to get a restraining order against her.) He also needs to stop worrying about what she's saying or doing; so what if she's acting like some sort of over-the-top drama queen? Either she'll alienate all of their mutual friends, and they'll pull back from her; or they'll believe what she says about him, which makes it unlikely they were ever really good friends to him anyway.
posted by easily confused at 8:13 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've told him to forgive her because it's understandable she'll be a little crazy for a long time.

I'm sorry, but this just doesn't apply in this case. We've all been "a little crazy" after a hard breakup, but that means bursting into tears in the grocery store when a sappy song comes on the muzak, NOT sending bizarre letters to someone's parents and attempting to befriend the ex's new love interests in order to sabotage the relationship. Mary is starting to get into stalker territory with this sort of behavior, which is just one of the reasons John needs a lawyer, pronto.

This is an increasingly serious situation -- and most certainly not a typical "oh, breakups can be really hard on everyone" situation -- that will only escalate by trying to reason with her or trying to ignore her. John needs to protect himself financially and personally, and the only way he's going to be able to do that is by getting a lawyer.
posted by scody at 8:35 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

John needs to get off all social media for a while. Getting a new phone number is also worth doing. The new girlfriend who agreed to hang out with Mary, she needs to go. Who does that? It's beyond CREEPY and stupid.

So, John's been handling it without a lawyer up until now. How's that working?

He needs to hire someone to run interference for him, someone to deal with the insanity that is a 38 year-old woman who is not dealing well with a break up. He needs to protect his assets and his future income.

John is young and he's being incredibly naive. He may feel guilt, he needs to get over it. Mary has already shown that she's inappropriate, drama-prone and stalking.

John needs to stop fueling that fire. This situation can spiral out of control very quickly. The sooner he cuts off contact and protects himself legally, the better off he'll be.

By being friendly and accomodating, John is indicating to Mary that he may be won back.

When Mary tries to drag you into something. Shut it down. Don't respond to Facebook postings, texts or emails that mention John, ask about John or indicate that she's on the prowl for John.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:46 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

It seems to me John should get a lawyer and from then on communicate with Mary only through the lawyer. He should block Mary's email address or route all her emails to his lawyer, block Mary's number on his phone, block Mary on Facebook and leave any groups she's a part of. He should tell his friends and family and the girl he's dating that Mary is trying to involve them in order to keep a hold on him and ask them to please not involve themselves. He should ask that if they want to continue their friendships with Mary, but to please not tell him about it, and that if Mary is troubling them to forward any communications she sends them to his lawyer.

This may seem extreme and expensive, but Mary's not going to let go unless she has to, unless she gets absolutely no satisfaction from trying to contact him and unless there are consequences for trying to continue what she's doing.
posted by orange swan at 8:50 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys, he's looking for a lawyer now. He finally decided that he needs to start protecting his mental well-being and doesn't want to deal with her anymore. He finally thinks that peace is worth the cost of having someone else deal with the split. He's going to work on cutting her off entirely. And he and the girl are taking a break, already decided as of yesterday.
posted by lizbunny at 9:21 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Further to discopolo, he got all the friends, and also she's living in the house he pays for? She's on the verge of being homeless and friendless (to some degree, at least), of course she's going to try to make connections. I imagine she feels pretty desperate about her general situation, seemingly rightly. Further to that, perhaps her insecurity in the relationship was based on a sane appraisal of his actions. They were together for six years and he dumps her because he's 'had enough?' That doesn't portray him having much of an investment in the relationship.

And not to put too fine a point on shared responsibility, but the fact that all of this drama is transpiring tells me that perhaps "conflict resolution" skills are weak on both sides, especially seeing how he's dealing with this by circling the social wagons.
posted by rhizome at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

They were together for six years and he dumps her because he's 'had enough?' That doesn't portray him having much of an investment in the relationship.

Had enough of their fights, even after they went to counseling. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

He's got the house, the friends, and the breakup impulse...I'm gonna go out on a limb and surmise that it was his idea to stop going to counseling.
posted by rhizome at 11:28 AM on July 25, 2012

« Older Not quite backpacking, more like laptop- and...   |   Owl pellet diorama art in mid-90's Pasadena? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.