Small miseries, like small debts, hit us in so many places, and meet us at so many turns and corners, that what they want in weight, they make up in number, and render it less hazardous to stand the fire of one cannon ball, than a volley composed of such a shower of bullets. – Rudyard Kipling
Such is life with an ex-husband who likely has borderline personality disorder and definitely acts in a passive-aggressive way.
Passive Aggressive behavior is the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive way (such as through procrastination and stubbornness). It’s a mechanism to express anger without openly admitting you are angry or confronting the source of your anger directly. It is common for a person to express passive-aggressive behavior when they are in a position of low influence or control over a person with whom they are angry. People who feel powerless, inferior or afraid of a person with whom they are angry will frequently resort to a passive-aggressive style.
My X’s passive-aggressive style reveals itself in the most trivial of ways. Often, it involves our children.
- Puts a movie on for my daughter right before she is to make her nightly phone call to me. She is always distracted and afraid she’ll miss her limited tv time. Each time I point it out to him, it happens the very next night. I don’t comment on it any more.
- Arrives for pick-up/drop-off early or late without notification or explanation. This is always immediately after we have an argument and never happens any other time.
- If he asks for something, like a schedule change and I can’t accommodate him, he’ll automatically refuse the next request I make and subsequent requests. Even if I go out of my way to change a schedule around 99% of the time, it’s the 1% he remembers.
- Referring to me by my full name, which he never called me in our eight years together unless he was very angry with me.
- He will make up things that other people say about me. He’ll claim that our Guardian Ad Litem or one of the many psychologists we’ve seen (the same ones who advised me that he is either a Narcissist or Borderline) have made disparaging comments about me.
- Involves his mistress/girlfriend inappropriately – like putting her on the phone to talk to my daughter. Then he complains his phone calls are not long enough.
- When I would see him during the separation, he would give me the “psycho death stare.”
- He dragged out the divorce for months. He frequently changed his mind about our agreement, delayed in getting back to my side, refused to offer terms for a settlement then refused everything that was offered to him.
It’s not like we separated and all of a sudden he became passive-aggressive. I knew this was coming…
While married, he would easily go along with things I wanted to do. He had no interest in our household finances or day-to-day family decisions. I would ask his opinion and his classic response was, “I don’t care.” I think I had convinced myself that his easy-going attitude was a sign of how well we got along. I eventually found out that his outward expression masked a very deep anger and resentment. I also discovered that his avoidance of major decisions gave him cover—if things went wrong, it was always my fault and never his.
A few years into our marriage, I had the opportunity to adopt a dog, adding to the two dogs I already had before our marriage. I checked with him and he agreed we could adopt him. After the dog was with us a few months, I began to see him act cruelly toward all of my dogs. I am horrified to admit this but I saw him either purposely step on or shove my dogs. I also saw him squeeze my dog’s muzzle so hard he cried. Each time I remarked on it, my X vehemently denied he did anything wrong.
While his behavior bothered me, and I would have repudiated any other person for hurting an animal, I justified it. I told myself, “he wasn’t raised in a loving home like me,” or “he didn’t mean to hurt them,” or “I’m blowing it out of proportion.” I told myself whatever I had to avoid a confrontation of epic proportions. I learned to cope by avoiding conflict at almost any cost.
If I ever criticised him, there was always some type of punishment. A few years ago, he started going to the grocery store. He did few chores at the house and this was one he did not mind doing. I would always ask him to check the refrigerator for what we needed. He regularly came home with 20 boxes of macaroni & cheese but no butter. After a few months of this, I finally said something. In response, he continued going to the grocery store but stopped buying anything for me at all. We had to make separate trips to the store.
These days, if his anger does come out more overtly, it is usually in an email. Through email, he’s become quite an artist in the medium of insults and name calling. Here are some his favorite accusations: vindictive, controlling, mean-spirited, jealous, bitter, nasty, selfish and a liar.
I actually think this is an upgrade because when we were married he regularly said I was acting like a “c*nt” or a “b*tch.” When I told him how disrespectful it was to call me names like that, he responded, “I’m not calling you that. You’re just acting like one.” Pretty chicken sh*t.
On rare occasions, he yells at me in public, always in front of my family or friends. I think he chooses settings in front of people only I know for two reasons—he can get the additional satisfaction of humiliating me and he knows I won’t escalate the situation.
Although dealing with my X can be draining at times, I have learned how to better handle him. I have made many mistakes but this is what works for me:
- I try to get everything in writing and to get specific answers.
- I don’t ask for many schedule changes or anything that is not spelled out in our agreement.
- I don’t bother responding to or defending myself against his attacks.
- I am business-like in my correspondence.
- If he is doing something that I cannot live with, I politely ask him to change. Usually, it does not change and I accept that.
- I control what happens at my house, influence what happens to my children when they are at school/daycare or with friends and have absolutely no input in what happens at my X’s house. I try to be the best Mom I can be at my house when I am with my children.
- When I get frustrated, I work out. I do not involve my kids or try to let them see or hear my frustration.