Unfortunately, divorce happens. A lot. I’m always happy when I see couples that split and are able to effectively co-parent. Sometimes people set aside their differences to seek a mutual desire to raise happy and healthy children. But when custody battles go badly, they can get really ugly. In the worst case scenarios, I have seen custody battles go on for more than a decade and I believe that most of the time these battles wage for this long because one of the parents involved qualifies for personality disorder, most frequently narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD). They view the custody battle as a power struggle; something that they need to win. In cases like this, child welfare starts to tumble down the list of priorities and it’s really quite tragic to see kids get caught in the middle. They don’t have a choice in the matter, for the most part they are just along for the ride. Some of the work that I do involves helping to address issues and be a child advocate of sorts during the process, my goal is to help the kids to end up okay even though mom and dad are going to war in the courtroom. That’s a different article altogether and for now, I want to share some helpful information. Rules to follow if you’re in a custody battle with a high conflict individual or more specifically, a narcissistic type. There are some subtle and yet very important differences between having a narcissistic ex versus a borderline one. So you may be asking, what’s the difference, how do I know the difference? I am hoping that the three rules I have outlined here will help you make that determination. Let’s get into it:
Rule number one: Only communicate with your ex through texting or email. Granted, this rule actually does apply to both narcissism and borderline and the reasons for doing so are the same. There are two reasons why you must follow this rule:
- You have documentation of what they have said. One of the quickest and easiest indicators of a high conflict individual is that they constantly change what they say or deny what they have said. You undoubtedly already know this so make a rule that you never talk to them on the phone, you communicate through texting and email only.
- You can plan out what you want to say with more effectiveness. When you talk on the phone, they know how to catch you off guard with attacks, accusations and such and in a moment of being flustered, get you to say something that you don’t want to say or mean to say.
Rule number two: Don’t explain or defend yourself. I understand that for a lot of people, doing this is almost second nature. This was likely the culture of your relationship, especially if your ex was a narcissist. They expect and even demand explanations; they tell people that they need to explain their choices and their decisions. But you’re not accountable to them even though they talk as though they are. When you explain or defend yourself, you’re opening the floodgates for manipulation. Plus in their minds, defending yourself or explaining your decisions is basically an admittance of guilt. When they ask you why you did certain things, you can either sidestep it and ignore it or you can inform them that you’re not going to explain yourself to them. As a side note, watch for them to treat other is the custody battle in the same way. Narcissists are notorious for pulling this same dirty trick on lawyers, judges, police, therapists and even the custody evaluator. On the surface it may seem fairly harmless, asking people to explain their actions but this is truly where they learn to work their black magic.
Rule number three: Document everything. Go out and by a journal or a notebook and a binder and document everything. Print the emails, print text messages, and write everything down in your notebook. Date each entry and you’re going to want to document everything when there is a problem or a potential problem. A narcissist will attempt to warp what was said or done to make themselves look good and make you look bad. They are also notorious for trampling all over court orders and decrees. If the decree says that you get the kids every weekend, they will just disappear when it’s time to trade off. They will test your boundaries and I would encourage you to document all of it. If you ever involve the police for any reason, ask the police for a copy of their records. If your ex shows up at your home, start recording video. I often recommend to my clients that they get a cheap camera that records video so they can use their cell phone to make calls if they need to. You may need to check local laws on recording things first, but as far as I know, it’s always legal to record on your own premises.
I’m a firm believer that high conflict types will respect boundaries when the boundaries are set properly and effectively and remain firm though it can be quite a difficult process.
*Since writing this article I have added two more rules to this list and I offer expert advice and guidance with these issues. It’s difficult to find expert advice in this area. Getting advice about BPD or NPD from an attorney is a seriously bad idea. I offer consultations on high conflict divorce, you can get more information here.