September 7, 2005
Dear Dr. Irene
I was married to a man that was, I always though,
controlling and manipulative. I finally left him when my son was a year old
- only because he refused to end an affair of a couple years in length.
Good for you! Of course, that was my fault
but that is another story in and of itself. I'm sure
I will not make excuses for tolerating his behavior, and am trying to work
around it. I came from a sexually abusive family, and was raped at 18. I
was in the process of putting my life together when I met him. I know,
excuses. No, not "excuses." You were doing what we
all do: arranging your life according to what you knew; what was familiar.
This is your learning history and it shapes you about as much as your
My question, is not for myself but for my son, who is 7. I share custody
with my ex. For some reason, I believed that my ex's treatment of my would
not extend to my child. Yet now I am faced with statements he makes to my
child that make me cringe.
My son must do certain things to show his love for his father. That
includes an excited "Daddy!", whenever he sees him. (When he doesn't my ex
accuses him of not respecting, appreciating or loving him.
Ugh!) If my son
doesn't call him when he is with me, my ex tells him how sad he was. My ex
will tell my son that he was all alone and so sad that they weren't
together. He asks at the end of visits and at the beginning to insure that
frequent phone calls occur. Does your son have a law
guardian? This is very manipulative stuff, as I'm sure you know.
My ex will get mad at my son for "making him look like a bad father" when I
confront him on bad behavior. Most recently my ex was asking my son if he
really loved him. Ugh... I think you need to talk to
To my shame, everything echoes my relationship with my ex. Everything I had
to do to "prove" my love to him. And all of the things he said I did that
showed him that I didn't love him. I have avoided conflict with him,
because I could never win an argument. I could never get my point across
because you wanted him to "understand;" to see things as you saw them,
and in the end had everything always turn out to be my fault.
Of course. I have let myself struggle because
I did not want to fight with him over money. I let him win, basically.
Because it would be extremely stressful if you
Because of my childhood, I swore that I would never just roll over. I would
protect my own child should it become necessary. That is what haunts me
now. OK, so you have to learn to fight a little
better. Keep in mind though that you grew up with sexual abuse. That is, I
think, the worst kind of abuse a child can undergo. Your son is not in a
sexual abuse situation, and that is good news! Also, while you don't
know how to counter your ex-husband's antics yet, you do know what is going
on. Your job will be to help your child understand that what dad is doing
is not OK, and why, in a manner appropriate to his age, and in a manner which
does not bash his dad, but which also does not excuse him.
How do I confront someone that has always won in the past? My son loves his
father, and wants to share time with him. How do I foster a healthy
relationship between my son and his father? You can't
foster their relationship. You have no control over their relationship. But
you can help your son understand that some of what daddy is asking for is
not OK, and that it's not his responsibility to make his daddy happy, even though daddy thinks it is.
In the past I have made excuses for my ex. Don't do
this. My thought was that if I gave an explanation to my son, he
wouldn't feel rejection, or that there was something wrong with him.
Just be honest. You have to find an age-appropriate
way tell him that while both of you love him
very much, the reason you got divorced is because daddy has some problems:
daddy has certain expectations of others that are just impossible to
meet - and should in fact not be met! And while it is OK to love daddy, it
is also OK not to meet all of daddy's expectations. On the other
hand, I don't want to put my ex down There is a
difference between putting daddy down and stating the truth: that some of
daddy's expectations of us are not OK and not healthy., and have my
son not feel free to talk to me about things. I also don't want him to get
beaten over the head with what is said, when I am not around to protect
him. Please consider involving a law guardian - and
On the latest, do you love me comment, I had lost my ability to
rationalize, and just told my son that some people are insecure, that the
best thing my son could do was be himself, and answers his fathers
question. This is actually a pretty excellent answer!
It is the truth.
I am not concerned about physical violence. My ex only hit me once, and
that wasn't a black eye causing event. He does not want to be "the bad guy"
with my son, so I just don't foresee that as an issue.
I am forced to face the confrontation. A school counselor, told me once
that my son trusts everything I say implicitly, "Mommy said so, so it must
be true". I was warned that I needed to be more honest with him, so as not
to lose that trust, that I needed to stop protecting him.
Yes! I am simply at a loss on how to be
honest, encourage his self esteem, and help maintain a good relationship
with his father. Don't you see, you just did it in
your reply above. You told your kid that daddy's expectation of
him was BS, which is was, and that he should just be himself. You are not
blocking his relationship with his father. You are clarifying his
relationship with his father, and you are not lying about
who his father is.
Any advice, or direction I can take, would be much appreciated.
Dear Maya, Hehehe... Just be YourSelf!
The way you answered your
son was honest and to the point. You won't get too far with your son if you try to
justify your ex-husband's emotionally abusive interactive style. At some
point, he will no longer believe you. Be honest. You are
not putting daddy down if you simply call a spade a spade.
So maybe you're not too
good at standing up to him for yourself, but you sure did a great job with
that comment to your son!
In an age-appropriate manner (as you used
above) tell your son that you are glad he loves his
daddy and you want them to have a good relationship. Also tell your son
that you don't agree with daddy when what daddy wants hurts him.
Tell him that daddy does not want to hurt him on purpose, yet, that is
exactly what is happening - and that is not OK. That this is exactly why
you and daddy are not together anymore.
You told your son that daddy was
"insecure." This is very good, because it is the truth.
The older your boy gets, the more you can
explain. It would be very helpful if you could find a counselor to work
with. It is difficult for a child to understand that there is
something fundamentally wrong with one of their parents.
Meanwhile, do your best to deal with your
ex. Kids learn via "modeling," or by imitating their parents' behavior. The
better you model healthy behavior, the more likely your son is to learn it.
So, continue to work on learning to deal with your ex. Pick up a copy of
The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off
the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life
by Albert Ellis et al. and practice it, master it.
Think about what I've said and feel free
to post any questions or comments you have. I will be back in about a week
to answer your concerns.
Readers: Any comments for Maya? This is a
tough situation, yet it comes up too often. How have you handled these
My warmest regards to you Maya, Dr.
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