Til Death Do Us Part

When you have a partner who is narcissistic or emotionally abusive and you make the choice to leave them, the advice that’s always given is to go “no contact” and cut them out of your life completely.

That would work beautifully as a solution to healing from the emotional trauma of being in a relationship with a narcissistic emotional abuser. Except…

What about when you can’t go “no contact”?

What about those of us who created beautiful children with terrible people? What about the women and men who have left an abusive partner but can’t fully escape them because of the children they share?

What about the people like me?


The single, most difficult thing about my life now is managing the co-parenting relationship I have with my daughters’ father. It feels like I continue to hold the vast majority of the parenting responsibility, as I always did, but am required to engage in a relationship with my children’s’ father, regardless of my history with him.

My struggle in this relationship is so bad that I’ve idealized the lives of other parents whose former partners have completely abandoned them and their children. I recognize (and empathize so much with) how incredibly difficult it must be for these parents, financially and otherwise. But I envy the freedom they have when it comes to making decisions for, and being caregivers of, their children.

I also envy my friends who got divorced BEFORE they had kids. In my mind, that type of divorce is akin to ending a middle-school relationship; you both move on and it never has to matter in your life again EVER. Again, I’m not saying it’s easy, just that it’s easier than divorcing when you have kids.

I don’t actually think of what my ex and I do as co-parenting. In fact, there’s a different term for the type of parenting we do: it’s called “parallel parenting.” “Parallel parenting” looks more like a business relationship than a typical parenting relationship. You detach from the other parent and operate separately, aside from making major decisions together. This article explains it much better than I can, but hopefully I’ve given you the gist.

Thinking about all this stuff makes me wonder, how do other parents manage when their partner is abusive? Whether that person is narcissistic, emotionally abusive, physically abusive, or just a shitty person…how do the non-abusive parents cope with an ongoing parenting relationship? Because it’s hard. It’s really, really, fucking hard. And it takes time to figure out ways of coping.

If you also need to continue engaging in a difficult relationship, I do have a few ways you can help minimize the effect it has on your day to day life. You can do things like…

  • Setting a specific ring- and text-tone for your former partner. This way, when calls or messages come in you know right away who it is and you can pause to prepare yourself before answering.
  • Bathing your children when they return home (or having them shower if they’re old enough) and washing the clothes they came home in. I find that scent is a HUGE trigger for me. If it’s a problem for you too, you can eliminate or reduce triggering smells by literally washing them away and the kids never have to be the wiser. All you need to say is “it’s bath night!” and that’s enough.
  • Doing all pick-ups and drop-offs outside your house or in a neutral location. Two choices here: either arrange to meet your ex and the kids somewhere close to home, but not AT your home, or move the pick-ups/drop-offs to your driveway. Again, this is about putting boundaries in your life (and your children’s lives) to keep you feeling safe and secure. Your home should be your sanctuary and if you feel threatened by your ex, inviting them in—or even just having them stand in your doorway—may be too much to ask of yourself. On top of that, and I may have some personal experience with this, opening the door to your ex may enable them to invade your space without permission. So do the drop-offs elsewhere and keep your space sacred (or at least douche-bag free).
  • A similar solution, if it’s possible with your kids, would be to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs around the school schedule so you don’t even need to face your ex at all. Yay!
  • Calling in the recruits! When you have to face your ex, having back-up in the form of another trusted person (a parent, new partner, or friend, for example) can help immensely. Not only is there strength in numbers (or at least that’s how it will look if there are two or more of you), having another person there holds both you and, more importantly, your ex accountable for what is said and done. (Soooo what I’m saying, really, is to make sure there are witnesses, because if your life starts to look more like a crime drama than an actual life, you may need them.)
  • Hiring a professional. If you have the funds, hire a parenting coach or counsellor and attend sessions separately (parallel parenting, remember?). Let the coach do the work of managing your ex’s outbursts, irrational behaviour, out-of-whack expectations, and all other forms of bullshit. If you do end up meeting as a group, you’ll have the counsellor or coach there to keep things on track and keep everyone feeling safe.

Telling abuse survivors who are parents to go no contact with our abusers is actually shitty advice We don’t get to go no contact—it turns out that when you have children with your abuser, “til death do us part” is a life sentence whether you stay married or not. Instead, we should be given tools and language that enable us to set up and, here’s the key part, maintain strong, healthy boundaries that protect us when we feel (or are literally) threatened. Life’s not as simple as just turning away from our problems and when you have kids, you always have to stare those issues straight in the face.  

xxJ


My home is my sanctuary. I feel safe here and my daughters feel at home. We can be secure in these walls no matter what else is going on.

Can We Talk About Loneliness?

“Hear that lonesome whipporwill, he sounds too blue to fly…”

Do you know how hard it is to be alone? Do you know how hard it is to feel alone?

Loneliness isn’t just longing for a friend. In unhealthy relationships, it manifests as the result of being neglected, isolated, or unable to count on your partner.

Do you know what it’s like to be ignored by your spouse? Is your safety or your sanity at risk when your significant other is around? Has your partner isolated you from you friends and family? Do you have to cultivate and maintain your own self-worth and sense of security because you don’t have a loving partner to support you? Have you left an abusive relationship and experienced the double-edged sensation of having been lonely within that relationship and then finding yourself alone after it’s ended?

When you have a healthy level of interaction with others, you generally don’t feel lonely. When you have a partner or a spouse who is present and attuned most of the time, you don’t feel alone. Even if, within that relationship, you have times when you are physically on your own, you still have the knowledge that someone is watching out for you and cares about what happens. Your partner is your baseline and you are theirs. You can feel secure and know that there is someone around to listen and give you feedback and share the load of getting through life.

I don’t know what that feels like.

But I do know what it feels like to be lonely. I know what it feels like to long for partnership and equal investment from that partner. I know what it takes to get through life without having someone there to shoot the shit at the end of the day and help me get the laundry done. I know what’s it like to be with a partner who doesn’t know me and doesn’t care to, or isn’t capable of knowing me.

Sometimes I suspect that I’ve idealized romantic partnerships in my mind (haven’t we all? Thanks, Hollywood!), but I forgive myself for that because there’s a difference between romance and partnership. Unfortunately, my romantic relationships haven’t been partnerships. They haven’t been reciprocal, or secure, or healthy. They’ve been the opposite, in fact.

I’m a 33-year-old single mother whose friends and family are all in committed, long-term relationships. I have to admit that it’s a struggle to be surrounded by couples who have grown together as they’ve moved forward in their lives. (I think that was the most polite way I could have said that…) I have friends and family who care about me, but I know that regardless of how much they love me, or how much they want to help me, their partner takes precedence. Always.

Let’s be clear: I don’t hold this against them. I just want it for myself.

I know that no relationship is perfect and that is not at all what I’m seeking—compromise is part of any relationship! Ohhhhh, but I envy my friends and family! I envy those of them who have real, authentic partnerships. I envy them for having someone to make dinner with. I envy them for having someone to miss them while they’re gone. I envy them for the arguments they have with their spouses that don’t come from a place of fear, but instead come from a place of security, because the baseline of love and trust is so firm that the conflict doesn’t rattle it.

#tbh The people who have solid relationships kind of annoy the shit out of me sometimes, but it’s because I want what they have!

I want it! I want it! I want it! *cue adorable pouty face/pathetic foot stomping/obnoxious whining/arms folded over chest

Fine, I’m being ridiculous and dramatic on purpose. But I’m also being honest. And the feelings I’m trying to convey here come from a place of deep disappointment and frustration. I was promised partnership…it was promised to me quite a few times. And I jumped into those promises with both feet. I was there. I was with them. I was invested.

And they weren’t.

I had the rug pulled out from under me every goddamn time. Point fingers at me if you want, because yes, it takes two to make a marriage or a partnership work. I accept my role in those relationships. but I also know that I put everything I had into them. I was honest and present and giving and affectionate and resilient and reliable… I made my partners feel secure, but they didn’t do the same for me.

I really want to shout a battle cry here—“I’m a strong and independent person and I don’t need anyone!”—or something like that. But you know what? It fucking sucks to be alone.

If you are alone, if you can relate to what I’ve been talking about, then what I really want to say is that I understand. I understand the feelings of sadness, anger, resentment and fear. I understand. And it fucking sucks, but it’s okay because you keep feeling those feelings, and I keep feeling them too, and yet we keep getting through the day. We keep facing the nights. We keep going. And every step builds resilience. Every moment brings independence. Every feeling teaches us something about ourselves.

There’s no magic way I can help you stop feeling lonely, but shared understanding brings some comfort, at least. I hope I’ve done that for you if you’re struggling with loneliness, and I hope you’ll do it for someone else if you’re not.

xxJ

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Climbing up or falling down, all I have is me. It might be lonely, but it makes me strong.

Let’s Get Physical

Some days, you just have to sweat it out.

I’m sore right now.

In fact my body is so sore that it’s hurting to type these words. This kind of pain is the best kind, though, because it comes with a deep sense of satisfaction. I’m sore because I worked hard today. I used my body today. I got a bunch of shit done that needed a bunch of muscle to do it.

Hell yeah!

Living on my own and being a single mom means that I’m the only adult around about 99% of the time, so when something breaks, I have to fix it. When someone gets hurt, I have to look after them. When something needs doing, I have to do it.

I don’t always like living this way, and sometimes I do have to recruit help, but overall I get things done and I take pride in what I accomplish as a single woman.

Today my kids are with their father. I haven’t seen them since last night at 7:00 pm and I won’t be with them again until two days from now at 4:00 pm. I can’t express how awful it is to be forcibly separated from them so often. I still struggle to reconcile myself to this new reality in which I am forced to be a part-time parent.

Please don’t give me those bullshit statements that people always seem to say when I’m sad about not having my kids with me:

“But now you have so much time to yourself; you can do the things that you want to!”

or,

“I wish I had that much time to myself! My kids are driving me crazy!”

Fuck that.

No, seriously, stop saying that shit to me! I am not a mother who wishes she wasn’t one. I’m not a parent who intended to have a rigid custody and access schedule and who wanted to be put in a situation where I had to choose between staying in an abusive relationship to be with my kids full time, or leaving that relationship and giving up the freedom and flexibility I had as a mother before my marriage ended.

I miss my kids like crazy when they aren’t here. In fact, I have a physical sense of hurt deep within me that never goes away now. I’m trying to find ways to dull that ache and one of the best coping strategies I’ve found is to get outside and, in the immortal words of Olivia Newton-John, get physical.

Today I spent the morning weed-whacking my front yard. I then cut the grass—all 1.3 acres of it—with my lawn tractor. I chopped wood for two hours. I then finished weed-whacking and trimmed up all the edges in the backyard that my tractor couldn’t reach. Then I ran around with the dog for awhile because I just couldn’t stop moving yet. I made sure that for the majority of my day I was outside, breathing fresh air, moving my body, and focusing on anything other than the fact that I am hurting so much on the inside.

I’m kind of proud of being sore tonight; it’s a testament to my physical strength. It felt so  damn good to swing that ax and watch as a pile of freshly hewn logs stacked up beside me. It felt fucking amazing to have the energy to spend so many hours doing physical labour, when chronic fatigue has been my constant companion for almost a decade.

I’m proud tonight, because my calluses, my blisters, and my aching muscles are also a testament to my emotional strength.

When you hold a hurt like I do, deep inside of yourself, every day and every night, it sometimes feels impossible to do anything else. When I’m able to get beyond those feelings and summon the motivation to DO SOMETHING, to take real action and to find something to feel positive about, I think I’ve earned the right to feel pretty fucking good about myself.

I may wake up tomorrow and find it hard to move. My joints may crack and my back may groan with stiffness, but those pains will be a reminder of what I accomplished today and they’ll help inspire me to try to move beyond my pain and do something else with my day. I know there will be times in the future where all I can manage is to keep breathing—I’ve accepted that relapse with my mental health problems is a part of my life from now on—but a day like today shows me that there will also be days when I can shut off the emotional pain by channeling my energy into productive things.

I will gladly take the bruises. I will happily sport blisters and calluses. I will willingly put my body to work so that I can ache all over again. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when I didn’t think I could keep going. On a daily basis I felt like I should give up on life. But here I am. Here I fucking am! And my sore fingers, typing on these keys, are well deserved. It took more than yard work to earn them today: it took guts, and it took grit and tonight I’ll sleep soundly and relish the ache in my muscles tomorrow, and hopefully hang on to the strength I feel right now until my babies get home.

xxJ

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Gettin’ physical, ridin’ dirty.