Breaking up/co-parenting with a difficult person
July 7, 2014 6:53 AM   Subscribe

I've decided to end my relationship with my boyfriend/fiance of nearly 6 years. We have a 3 year old. I've realized I would rather be single/co-parenting than have my child see such an unhappy relationship. My boyfriend is regularly verbally/emotionally abusive to me in front of our child, and has a history of being emotionally withdrawn. For the purpose of this question please assume that we are definitely breaking up and that there is no other option for me.

I'm seeing a psychologist and they have suggested my boyfriend has some narcissistic traits and that breaking up/negotiating custody will likely be difficult because it will hurt his ego, and that I should try to give him the impression the break-up is his idea and not make my concerns clear at the beginning/let him lead the way (lest he use my desires/values to control and punish me). I am at a loss over how to do this because he has made it clear he doesn't want to break up, he's said we'll be ruining our child's life if we don't stay together. What strategic things can I do to prepare myself, our child, and my boyfriend for this break-up/physical separation, in light of his possibly narcissistic/selfish/controlling bent? I've considered telling him that I've signed a lease (after I actually have), and that we have 60 days to figure out how this will work between us, and that I promise not to tell his family/anyone who knows him/us about our relationship difficulties beyond that we're simply incompatible and sad things aren't working out, and let him decide when he wants to tell them and our greater circles of friends. More details after the jump re: my finances and desires for what the future might look like.

Before getting the advice to let my boyfriend lead this process I attempted to broach the topic of breaking up/living separately with him a few times in the last 6 months and he has made it clear he does not want to break up and is willing to put on a front to make sure we can get our child to and from his daytime caregivers and while we get our finances in order (I make a decent salary that is larger than his, we are still paying off some credit card debt but it's almost gone, all of our excess funds for the last year have gone to debt repayment and we have no savings). I make enough that I could cover the rent of our current apartment, or find a similar or slightly cheaper one on my own. I would be happy to stay where we're living currently (great location, great neighbours, great landlord) but we're both on the lease and I don't think my boyfriend will move out if I want to stay.

I'm comfortable with my boyfriend co-parenting and do not want to separate them, but would like primary physical custody or would like my child to be able to sleep in the same bed every night (this is my idealistic wish, not something I expect to get). Although I can't really stand my boyfriend at this point I would be fine with him say coming over after dinner most weeknights to hang out with our child, I don't want to make him disappear, I just don't want to be enmeshed with him/obligated to sleep with him anymore. I am doubtful my boyfriend would actually be willing to parent our child half the time on his own but if he wanted to I'm sure we'd all adjust, again I have no interest in separating my child from his father but I'm doubtful my boyfriend can hack it without moving back in with his parents (who babysit 3 days a week while we work). We have no major shared things of value other than a used car and are common-law in Ontario. I'm willing to leave nearly everything but my clothes and sign a lease on another apartment, but I don't know how to do this without blindsiding him.

Please hivemind, how can I do this properly?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Your absolute first step is to see a lawyer. Discuss the process of how you should end your relationship to best protect you and your child. You will also need a good lawyer to deal with custody issues and possible alimony.

You're in Ontario, which likely means you are officially in a Common Law marriage already, which has its own rights and regulations. Before you discuss anything further with your boyfriend, find a good family law lawyer in your jurisdiction.
posted by barnone at 7:04 AM on July 7, 2014 [31 favorites]

Because there is a child involved, you really need to see an attorney before you do the break-up, because he may try to keep the child as a weapon against you.

If you are afraid of him, make plans to leave. Under no circumstances should you have the break-up conversation with your child in the house -- get a sitter or family member to babysit.

It sounds like you are afraid of him. I am not sure if your psychologist is giving you the best advice, because catering to abusers nearly always makes them think they can abuse you further. You've already told him you want to break up and he has said no. You are not his slave and you are under zero obligation to stay with him. It is not your job to cater to his ego, you've done it enough already! You don't have to be nasty about it, but you also don't have to let him dictate your future.

Gather all your resources, have a bag of clothes ready in the trunk of your car, and start putting money aside in your own account, where he can't touch it. And please, see a lawyer about your custody rights.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:06 AM on July 7, 2014 [16 favorites]

Lawyer. Don't tell him you're seeing a lawyer, but see a lawyer. Hell, see a few lawyers.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:12 AM on July 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

You need a lawyer, but based on personal experience this man will never, ever come up with this idea on his own, nor will he be swayed into thinking it is his idea. He is abusive. That is not how this kind of situation works.

I think you need a new therapist as well. This therapist is telling you to be manipulative. That is no way to give yourself agency, which is what abuse is all about: taking away your agency. He will almost certainly just abuse you further. In fact, every day you stay with him is a day you dig a little deeper into the hole of staying.

It's not blindsiding. You've made your needs clear. If he is "blindsided," it is because he will be gobsmacked at the idea of you standing up for yourself and your child. That's not the same thing as being blindsided: he's being willfully ignorant of his awful behavior.

Staying allows him to abuse you more. This is not your fault, but all the same, you are the only one who can put a stop to it. Abuse sucks that way: it's not about you, but it affects you incredibly deeply, to your very core.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sockermom at 7:12 AM on July 7, 2014 [28 favorites]

And yeah, don't worry about blindsiding him! He knows you're unhappy, you've mentioned it multiple times. He shouldn't be surprised.

There is a commonly held "rule" that when you're ending a relationship you have to talk it over with the other person and give them lots of time and attention surrounding the breakup. Do not feel the need to do this. You have the right to break up with him. You can't never communicate, because of your shared child, but you don't have to communicate with him beyond what is necessary.

Your attorney can advise you about what contact you need to have with him. You really need a good, local attorney who is on your side ASAP.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:15 AM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you have a lawyer. You need a lawyer, ASAP. I don't understand your psychologist's advice to minimise your support network by covering for your ex and letting him control the dialogue (blaming you for the breakup). Giving controlling people MORE control generally does niether party any good. Leaving everything to him may have great symbolic significance to you but believe me, if he doesn't want you to leave and you think leaving the chesterfield is going to compensate.. I think you might not get the positive reaction you were hoping for. Maybe you should talk to a therapist from the local women's shelter; your psychologist may not be meeting your needs adequately.

You aren't blindsiding him. You have expressed dissatisfaction with your relationship in the past and want to move on. You are too invested in his feelings and reactions instead of your own and your child's. Considering the abusive history, I would rent an apartment, move inconspicuous things of yours over (or into a storage area), make an appointment with your therapist for both of you, tell him at that appointment, and while at the appointment have a friend use your key to remove the last items of yours from your joint apartment. Go to your new home after the appointment but have plans for him to see the child the next day. Do not start inviting him into your house (and not every night after dinner!) until you are no longer enmeshed with him and no longer continue to put his needs over your own.

But lawyer first, you want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row.
posted by saucysault at 7:19 AM on July 7, 2014 [19 favorites]

I don't understand your psychologist's advice to minimise your support network by covering for your ex and letting him control the dialogue (blaming you for the breakup).

Wow. Yeah. This.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:41 AM on July 7, 2014 [32 favorites]

I've been with a few narcissists..... kind of kidding, lots of people like to think of ex's as narcissists.... so I think the label is overused.

But I have been with ONE. Who had small children previous our relationship.

And his children were his children were his children.

He would tear that house apart and the mom apart and kill her before he would let them go easily.

So start getting support NOW. Lawyer, therapist, family. Everyone.
posted by misspony at 7:51 AM on July 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

A dear friend of mine is locked in what seems to be a neverending custody and support battle with a narcissistic, abusive ex. One would never have predicted that he was going to take this level of interest in parenting and retaining partial custody of the kid (which he does very, very badly), but once she left, that became the way he could continue being an abusive, controlling ass to her.

All of which is to say, do not assume he will go along with any of your preferred plans, or that he'll be as unwilling to parent as you think he will. You need to be lawyered up from the very beginning, and have as strong a network as possible, because once you leave, whatever self-control he is currently exercising over his worse impulses may go out the window, and you may need some good people around to help you separate truth from gaslighting.

Your therapist's recommendation makes no sense to me; you do not want to be trapped into a life-long set of lies with this dude about what he thinks happened vs. reality. Lawyer. New therapist. Go from there.
posted by Stacey at 7:59 AM on July 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

From an anonymous commenter:
Hi OP, I have been through this in Ontario. I mostly wanted to weigh in on "have plans for him to see the child the next day" -- IANAL but mine advised me to try to stealthily limit my abusive ex's access to our kid, on the grounds that courts like to preserve the existing status quo for the kid as much as is reasonable. Fortunately he didn't even ask to visit; your experience may be different, but if he doesn't ask, I wouldn't offer, because starting the family court process is a lot easier custody-wise if the other party, one who is not good at parenting, has been fine with minimal or no visitation. Do run this by your own attorney. (I recommend speaking to a few before hiring one; they come in many different flavours. It sounds like you don't want a 'collaborative,' 'mediation-oriented,' etc, but a total bulldog.)

In re. "I can't really stand my boyfriend at this point I would be fine with him say coming over after dinner most weeknights to hang out with our child" -- I did something like this for several years. It was probably in the kid's best interests at the time, but, given my ex's psychiatric (etc) issues, it was maybe not the best choice for the longer term. You will remain enmeshed, so to speak. Your ex may feel entitlements to you and your home that he wouldn't otherwise. And it is just plain difficult and lousy to have a person who has been cruel to you sitting around eating dinner etc in your space on a regular basis. And it will be you doing all the hard work of parenting, while he doesn't have to do any work at all there. That's good to have involved grandparents -- maybe some visitations could be there instead of at your place?

Best of luck -- it will be a very difficult transition but you will be much better for having made the choice to start the transition; kudos to you for going forward here.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:08 AM on July 7, 2014 [15 favorites]

Having just come out "on top" of a very difficult custody battle after a 20 yr marriage, Lawyer up now.....there are a million things you haven't thought of, then a million more that a lawyer will. Best and most important money you will ever spend. Start documenting EVERYTHING about his parenting now. Every little thing. Sounds petty and feels dumb but down the line, you will see patterns emerge, especially if they are harmful ones that you can use to build your case. Don't "offer" anything. Visits, dinners, etc. Make him ask for them. Use this to gauge his interest in actually parenting and to negotiate for parenting time later. And keep a diary of it all. And yes, get a new therapist....pronto. Best of luck!!
posted by pearlybob at 8:34 AM on July 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

I was going to say exactly what Stacey said. I too have a friend in this situation. Lawyer and strong network. And pearlybob makes a good point, but also document your own parenting. Taking child to doctor's, attending day care meetings, making meals, shopping for clothes, what have you. TINLA.
posted by girlpublisher at 8:39 AM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm confused.

Why would you let your ex slander you? How does that help your child?

My mom was personality disordered. Take it from me, the best thing you can give your son is a stable sense of reality.

Get a great lawyer. Fire your therapist and find a new one. Plan slowly and carefully for success in terms of separation and custody.

Drop your fantasy of co-parenting with your ex. It is not possible and/or it is not possible without continuing to allow your ex to abuse you in front of your son. I'm sure this is not the "Life Lesson" you want your kid to takeaway from your choices, that it is appropriate to give in to emotional violence, so do not model this for him.

Also. You are not being kind to your ex by giving in to his bullying. Allowing your ex to emotionally abuse and manipulate you hurts you, but in a very practical way, you'll be allowing your ex to hurt himself, too.

Drawing firm boundaries and learning techniques to disengage from drama when it starts to escalate is the way to go, here.

A good lawyer will get you the tools to implement these boundaries. A good therapist will give you the wisdom and skill to properly implement these boundaries.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 8:52 AM on July 7, 2014

Yes, get a new therapist and a family lawyer experienced with abuse - the women's shelter will be able to give you a recommendation. Do NOT pick a mediation-oriented lawyer as I did - you definitely want a bulldog in this situation and not a nice guy despite your reluctance to make your spouse mad. Start setting your plans in place - find a new place to live, get a bank account set up and start putting bits of $$ in it, let your family know, get copies of your birth certificates and other legal and medical documents secured somewhere outside your house, get beds or sleeping bags and some of your child's things moved into a new place or to a family member's if you can do so without alerting him, figure out the legal stuff with your lawyer. The women's shelter can help you do all these things. Consider getting a restraining order from the court to ensure that you can get police help once you leave if he follows or threatens you. Be emotionally and physically prepared for him to do things you never thought he'd do.

When the time comes to move, resist the temptation to give him a key or even tell him where you're living. Instead, have someone with you for protection and as a witness when you tell him you're leaving. After you've left, when he wants to see your child meet him somewhere for pickup and delivery. (And, BTW, choose a new home that is close enough to neighbors and the street that you're not trapped at the house when/if he shows up.)

Separating from an abusive, narcissistic spouse is neither quick or easy. You must be willing to ask for help, make plans, and stick it out long enough that they find an easier victim (or end up in prison). Even after that, you may hear from them when their life gets difficult: I recently got an abusive email from my ex accusing me (again) of ruining his life and "lying" about him nearly fifteen years after we divorced.

Blessings... stick with it, it's worth it. Life is brighter on the other side. You - and your child - deserve better.
posted by summerstorm at 8:54 AM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

The problem with "getting a good lawyer" is that you may not find out just how incompetent the lawyer is until they have made mistakes in your case.
A divorce coach could help. At least it's a 3rd party that has experience in the way things should go.

The book "Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally" is very worthwhile, a short read, and there are associated forums.

Bill Eddy has written some good books that are relevant; Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, High Conflict People in Legal Disputes, BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns, and Don't Alienate the Kids!: Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High Conflict Divorce
Richard Warshak's Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing

Parallel Parenting is probably a better option when dealing with an abusive ex.
posted by Sophont at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2014

The typical AskMeFi "lawyer up" advice can sometimes lead to a situation that is very expensive, combative, hostile, never-ending, exhausting, and not in the best interest of your child. I would suggest you first look into the possibility of using a mediator who specializes in separation/divorce, or possibly an attorney who specializes in collaborative approaches.

I would like my child to be able to sleep in the same bed every night (this is my idealistic wish, not something I expect to get).

Some people are able to work out a situation where the child does stay in the same house and it's the parents who alternate staying at that house. If the logistics of that are possible for you, consider it as an option.

If you are able to set a fundamental principle with your boyfriend that no matter what decisions and arrangements are made about your situation, the best interests of your child will always be the primary consideration, you should be able to reach agreement because when you are arguing a point, you can stop and say "What's in the best interest of our child?" and then resolve that point.
posted by Dansaman at 9:22 AM on July 7, 2014

I asked part of this question before, the part about blindsiding my abuser. I felt so guilty because he told me that he had no idea how unhappy I was. At this point I had left but I was considering going back to him because I felt so guilty for "blindsiding" him.

DingoMutt made an amazing comment that I want to just quote part of here:

For him to now claim that he was "blindsided" when you refused to stick around for more abuse would be laughable if it weren't so vile. If anything, he was probably blindsided that you stood up for yourself - he KNEW (or had every reason to know) his verbal abuse was unacceptable.

I've never forgotten that phrase: It would be laughable if it weren't so vile. Don't let his "surprise" fool you. Deep down, he knows exactly what he is doing, and his shock will come from the fact that you are acknowledging it and making it known to him that you know, and you're not going to take it anymore.
posted by sockermom at 9:22 AM on July 7, 2014 [12 favorites]

You do not want a mediator or a collaborative attorney for a case of emotional abuse where you want to limit custody.

You want to limit your contact with your ex as much as possible.

Dinners with the ex every night is not going to happen.

I don't even have a lawyer for my divorce (which is sort of dumb, TBH) and my ex comes over to my home 4 days a week to visit my child, in my home. This is possible because he does not emotionally abuse me in front of my child. That is a no-go on an amicable, collaborative divorce where you play happy family afterwards.

The thing about "collaborative" divorce and amicability? I have seen women get screwed, over and over, because we're socialized to be a billion times more amicable and thoughtful. It might be worth it anyway if the relationship is one where there is basic trust and consideration for each other. In a case where there is abuse, it is completely inappropriate.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:01 AM on July 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

Go see a lawyer. Change therapists. Call the local women's centre and ask them for help in putting together a safety plan and see if you qualify for their support worker, legal aide or counselling. Get a safety plan for your child. Get your child into counselling now before your ex blocks it.

I left a bad situation. I thought we could collaborate, swap out of the home nightly, co-parent, etc. It became rapidly apparent that it doesn't work when you're dealing with an abusive person. It messed up my kids and I would have been better to make a cleaner break. There is huge pressure to co-parent and it only works if both people are motivated to co-parent and not to control.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:04 AM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and the idea that being collaborative is in the best interest of the child is not necessarily the case, as Chausette and the Pussy Cats has so eloquently described. If you're broke, your child will suffer. If you're an emotional wreck because he still has regular access to you and your home, your child will suffer.

You are one of the most important resources and sources of stability your child has. Take care of you and you will be taking care of your child.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:08 AM on July 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes. And "What's in the best interest of our child?" does not work in all cases. It works between reasonable people who can have legitimately different opinions but who actually want what's best for the child. It does not work in the case of abusive, manipulative narcissists who care more about their self-image and about continuing to control their ex-lovers than about the actual human being they are responsible for. The stories are not mine to tell, but just one example that makes me furious is Jerkface Dad refusing to give his child doctor-prescribed medication for a diagnosed medical condition because he thinks the kid's immune system just needs to handle it, and just flat-out lying to the doctor and the courts about it, so it's hard to provide documentation to a court that might force him to do so.

I very much hope anon is not dealing with the worst end of this spectrum as my friend is, but we can't tell from the information provided, and it's a possibility she should be aware of and prepared for. It may be easier to start out lawyered-up and prepared for all contingencies and then relax if he steps up to the plate and turns out to be a good co-parent, than to start out from a place of collaboration and mediation and give a bunch of ground away that is impossible to get back later.
posted by Stacey at 10:12 AM on July 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

Abusive and narcissistic partners have a tendency to use child custody as a battleground, not because they necessarily care all that much about getting custody but because it's something they can "win" and something they can use to hold power over their ex.

Which is why you want a family lawyer as early in the process as possible. Mainly for the legal advice and to protect your rights, of course, but also for the added reason that your soon-to-be-ex may find it less personally satisfying to argue with your lawyer about custody than with you, so the lawyer might help keep the situation from escalating.
posted by jaguar at 10:48 AM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm seeing a psychologist and they have suggested my boyfriend has some narcissistic traits and that breaking up/negotiating custody will likely be difficult because it will hurt his ego, and that I should try to give him the impression the break-up is his idea and not make my concerns clear at the beginning/let him lead the way (lest he use my desires/values to control and punish me). I am at a loss over how to do this

If your psychologist wants you to fool your boyfriend and thinks it's a good idea, your psychologist needs to be the one giving you instructions on how to do that. The psychologist is the one who has all the information that's them to make their analysis of your boyfriend's personality, and if they don't believe that being honest and up front is the way to go then they're the one who should be advising you on specific tactics to use.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:46 AM on July 7, 2014

In other words, if you need advice on how to carry out your psychologist's instructions, you should make another appointment with your psychologist and ask them to clarify exactly what it is they think you should do, because that kind of thing could very easily backfire.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:48 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

When a friend left his wife, he let her keep weekday custody, but for 2-3 years, he still went over there every day after work and hung out until his daughter's bedtime. This made the transition very easy for the kid, because her life barely changed at all. I'm not saying this is a route you SHOULD take, because I can't guess how your breakup will go or whether you would find that amount of time with your ex in your house tolerable, but just wanted to let you know it can work well in the right circumstances.

Other friends moved to a duplex when they split so their kids could have both of their parents around most of the time, but the parents had their own space.
posted by metasarah at 11:52 AM on July 7, 2014

Since you have child care provided by the in-laws, make sure you have a contingency plan in place for the next few months in case they suddenly withdraw from helping you.

Seriously, I cannot think of even one divorce I know where the in-law provided child-care did not become leverage/a bargaining chip by the ex (using the in-laws), including many cases where the wife thought she had a better relationship with the in-laws than her ex. For some, blood is thicker than water and if he is dysfunctional there is a good chance he learned it from his parents. I've had multiple friends call me, in a panic, because they were late for work and the in-laws refused to answer the door at the usual time with absolutely no warning.
posted by saucysault at 12:20 PM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

My brother is a Narcissist. Who my SIL left over 18 months ago, she has moved on and found a new boyfriend, he is still trying to find new ways to punish her, this has now expanded to her new boyfriend and his family. Like you she tried to play nice and placate him early on, it blew up in her face.

Get a lawyer, do everything the lawyer says, cover your ass, and then cover your ass again. You will not get out of this and have him be happy. Write every thing down, keep a notebook and record everything. Make sure your finances are separate & secure before you leave, get a lawyer and follow their advice. Make sure the lawyer is used to handling these sorts of people, my SILs first lawyer fell for my brothers sociopath charm & actually started to believe his lies even though my SIL had evidence and my mother as a witness.

As for your child, be sure that contact with his father is in his best interest. My nephew would have panic attacks and hide in the bathroom shitting and puking when his father would come over for dinner and would hide when he came to take him out. My SIL is now desperately trying to get the courts to overturn visitation agreements etc to protect him, once in place they are hard to shift.
posted by wwax at 12:55 PM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm comfortable with my boyfriend co-parenting and do not want to separate them, but would like primary physical custody or would like my child to be able to sleep in the same bed every night (this is my idealistic wish, not something I expect to get). Although I can't really stand my boyfriend at this point I would be fine with him say coming over after dinner most weeknights to hang out with our child, I don't want to make him disappear, I just don't want to be enmeshed with him/obligated to sleep with him anymore. I am doubtful my boyfriend would actually be willing to parent our child half the time on his own but if he wanted to I'm sure we'd all adjust, again I have no interest in separating my child from his father but I'm doubtful my boyfriend can hack it without moving back in with his parents (who babysit 3 days a week while we work). We have no major shared things of value other than a used car and are common-law in Ontario. I'm willing to leave nearly everything but my clothes and sign a lease on another apartment, but I don't know how to do this without blindsiding him.

Anonymous, this paragraph really stands out to me as being written by someone currently in an abusive relationship. It's very focused on appeasing your abuser, avoiding his anger, making things easy, and giving up things to solve problems. I want tell you in the kindest way possible that you need to knock this off immediately. Your job is no longer to appease your abuser and smooth things over; that was a good strategy for coping with the abuse but the time has come to stop making that your focus. Your job now is to protect yourself and your child. You're thinking that you're comfortable with your boyfriend co-parenting? No, you do not leave a three year old alone with an abuser. You're thinking your boyfriend could come over for dinner every night? No, you don't have family dinners with someone who is abusive toward you. You don't lie for him. You don't protect him.

Yes, you should dump your therapist and find someone with experience with abusive relationships.

You need to maximize all your resources. You need a place to live. You need money. You might need a restraining order. You need to figure out child care for when your in-laws stop providing it. You need to get custody of your child. This is why you need a lawyer who has experience with abusive relationships right now. The answer to your question is a giant sign with 60-foot-high neon red flashing letters that say LAWYER!
posted by medusa at 2:25 PM on July 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

I am wholeheartedly in favor of your decision to leave. I doubt whether a person can be partially narcissistic or character-disordered. It sounds to me like you are acting from one script while your ex-partner is operating from another. Yours is not the one that is pathological.

Here's a good description of this dynamic.
posted by macinchik at 3:13 PM on July 7, 2014

From the OP:
Thank you for all of the comments. To clarify a few things:

I believe the psychologist I’m seeing does understand abuse, and when I bring up interactions with my boyfriend where he yells, name-calls, and uses intimidation she specifies what is happening and clearly tells me why it’s not acceptable (because I try to be fair and note how I aggravated his reaction). Before seeing her I saw my boyfriend as primarily passive-aggressive but she has helped me to see that he is actually being openly aggressive when we’re alone/in front of our child. I never thought of my boyfriend as narcissistic, but over time I’ve come to see him as somewhat self-absorbed, arrogant, irresponsible, and Jekyl and Hyde-like in how he is to family/friends and how he is to me/at home but I’ve tried so hard to make things work and all of the marriage self-help books say you should NOT label your partner and be compassionate and so on so I kept fighting my negative interpretations of his behaviour and kept trying to change myself until now I’ve reached a point where I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve only had two appointments with her and I feel like she’s helping me see things more clearly. I am probably interpreting what she said incorrectly about separating/breaking up and will clarify that with her at my next appointment. She did NOT advise me to minimize my support network and blame myself for the break-up, that is what I came up with as a possible way to make things easier for my boyfriend but I can see why that’s not a good idea.

It’s true that I’m clinging to the idea that we can co-parent amicably and without having to follow a super strict/specific parenting plan but these comments have convinced me I should be documenting everything and find a (tough) lawyer and reach out to my friends and family for support, which I am doing/will do. I appreciate the advice to not be combative/hostile but based on my prior discussions/fights with my boyfriend I’m not sure he’s going to consider what’s in our child’s best interests. He’s been unable to follow or even really understand basic fair-fighting rules like no yelling, name-calling, or swearing, I really don’t think he understands why those things are unproductive, and when I say to at least not do it in front of our child he defends it (he says it’s not bad for our child to see conflict being resolved, even though nothing ever gets “resolved” and our child gets upset by seeing us argue). I have already asked him if he would consider living in a duplex or being similarly close by to make things easy on everyone (several months back) and he said if we broke up he’d want to be far away from me and his main concern was how I would feel about him having a new girlfriend. He also to said I’d be ruining our child’s life by splitting up (I had a fairly traumatic/unstable upbringing and he said if we broke up our child would have the same experience) and that he was angry I hadn’t tried harder to make things work. He sees himself as highly loyal and regularly tells me that he gets “nothing” from our relationship but can’t answer why he wants to stay in the relationship if that’s the case (other than that he thinks divorce is life ruining for children).

And yes, I am a highly sensitive type of person (and an ENFJ), so the HSP/Empath - Narcissist dynamic is spot on with what is happening, I hadn’t come across that so thank you, it’s very helpful. I feel burnt out all the time and kept blaming it on parenting a baby/small child, work, financial stresses but over time as those things all change/get easier it’s becoming clearer that those things aren’t what’s draining me.

Thanks again for the comments, I will definitely work on internalizing the difference between appeasing an abuser and protecting myself/my child. It’s hard to think of someone I love abusing me and of myself as accepting the abuse and of the father of my child not having his best interests at heart but there it is.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:08 PM on July 8, 2014

He also to said I’d be ruining our child’s life by splitting up

My dad (who had a very unstable childhood with multiple foster parents/abusive mother etc) always said it was better to be from a broken home than to live in one.

You get a free 30 min consult with a lawyer so shop around for one that "clicks". Do not go for collaborative/mediation with the history of abuse; that is only appropriate if you are both civil and your current disagreements don't devolve into name-callng. Keep in mind your lawyer is not your therapist (and charges a lot more per hour!) so try to have unemotional, goal-focused meetings. I have dealt with Ingrid van Weert in Toronto and found her very good. Good luck to you.
posted by saucysault at 4:26 PM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

He says he's angry because you haven't tried hard enough to make this relationship work? When you've been reading relationship books, and visiting a therapist, and doing your best to somehow reframe his unacceptable behavior as understandable - while in the meantime he REFUSES to even do you the basic human courtesy of not calling you unacceptable names (or intimidating you, or yelling) - even in front of your CHILD? And he somehow thinks that growing up steeped in his hostile garbage is going to be less traumatic for your kid than being safely removed from it?

There needs to be a better word for bullshit.

Good luck to you, OP - what you're describing makes me so angry on your behalf. I hope it angers you as well, if that anger can be used as fuel for the work you should now be dedicating towards getting away from this thoughtless child.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:44 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

He also to said I’d be ruining our child’s life by splitting up

Now, we were a lot poorer and did without a lot of necessities after the divorce, because Dad didn't pay the child support he owed, but I can say without a moment's hesitation that life after he left was Paradise compared to life with him in the house. It was like we had been holding our breath for ten years and could finally let it out. I don;t feel I'm exaggerating by saying that my life stood a much greater chance of being "ruined" if he had stayed even five minutes longer than he did.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:09 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

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