Dealing with the Crazy ex-Spouse

For those who will be dealing with ex’s and Oh Craps! this holiday season, a little help.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Run from the anger alien!

Question: My husband’s ex-wife is making our lives miserable.  She calls my husband’s cell phone at all hours screaming at him.  She keeps taking this whole mess back to court, saying that we’re attempting to alienate her children and we’re abusive.  What makes me nuts about this is how she tells everyone I caused everything. She left him for another man!  I’m sick of defending myself.  Yes, I started dating my husband before the divorce was final, but how does that make me a homewrecker?  She was living with a guy and avoiding her children ’till I came along.  Now it’s like she’s in some weird competition with me.  How can I stop the craziness?

Answer: Some people connect better through anger.  Your husband’s ex-wife WANTS everyone to be angry.    If you hate her,  you’re thinking about her all the time.  She has your undivided attention and she’s not likely to give it up.

You don’t understand this.  You have a normal life where you get the attention you need from people actually liking you.  I’m betting that your husband’s ex-wife has few friends and unrealistic expectations of people.  She probably didn’t think her marriage was over just because she walked out.  That might have been her way of getting her husband to pay more attention to her  and be more intense with how he expressed his feelings.

She can’t feel at a normal level and she attempts to have people dial up the heat until they are out of fuel.  When she figures out that all resources have been consumed, she will move on like a conquering alien army looking for the next planet to eat.  You interupted this process.  Don’t feel bad.  You’re presence in this family has re-energized your husband and made him more attractive to his ex-wife.  It might not have happened had she moved on to a new victim, sorry, partner.  You got there too early for that scenario since she was still prodding your husband to do something combustible.

You must cut off the fuel.  And the cut-off has to come from the both of you.

  1. Get an alarm clock.  Your phones will no longer be by your bedside at night unless they are turned off.  If you must, get a second phone that is for emergency or job situations.  Guard the number with your life.  Phone calls are taken during decent hours only.  If you answer the phone tired you are most likely to become angry and fuel the anger sucking alien.
  2. Get a good lawyer who is willing to do the worrying for you or, make court prep a regularly scheduled weekly activity that has a time limit.  Do not spend more than 2hours per week on this mess.  These cases will tend to go back to the same judge time after time.  Keep a log of; phone calls, problems, refusals to exchange, and any negative statements the children repeat to you.  Do NOT cross examine children, ask them what their mother said, etc.  If they tell you, say “Oh, really?”  and go write it down.  When she takes you back to court, bring the log.  Judges don’t get elected for being stupid and they are rarely able to suffer fools gladly.  The ex-wife will be wearing out her welcome with the judge, let her.
  3. Who’s everyone?  And why do you care?  If the lady who lives under the overpass and throws old donuts at cars starts talking about you, is that going to be a problem?  You are making this situation worse by defending yourself against her accusations.  Learn to roll your eyes.  Do it often.  You already think she’s crazy, what does that make you if you’re taking her seriously? When you defend yourself to someone, you have made them a judge of your life.  This woman has no right to that much power over you.  Smile and act vague.  At the very least it will irritate the crap out of her.
  4. Figure out who you are actually angry at.  My best guess in these situations is your husband.  Write down what you want him to do about this situation and take it to someone who’s dealt with an ex.  Let them tell you which of these expectations are realistic.  Take the realistic ones back to your husband and start a conversation.  He’s been running and ducking this for years.  He’s tired and wishes it would go away, so phrase the opening of this conversation to appeal to those two needs.
  5. If people are that easy to predict, use it.  What do her children wish she would do with them?  Tell them you’re planning to do it and wait.  She’ll get to it first and you can go ahead with the things you really want to do.  Surprise is key here.  The kids will tell their mother everything and that needs to be OK!  You’re plans will have to be surprises or last minute.  Learn to act faintly ditzy so that last minute plans don’t seem like a stretch.
  6. No matter what she does, you and your husband need to respond as though you are smoking weed and have no motivation.  Vague, benign, faintly, slightly bored, yawning, disinterested.  Whether you are telling her that Monday is striped socks day for little Johnny, or you’ll call the police if she comes on your property again, use the same tone of voice and the same body language.  Practice acting stoned with each other.  It will be something you both get a laugh out of, and you could use that right now.


Reach out for help.  You’ll need a place to vent and some accountability on your actions so you don’t accidentally fuel this anymore.  Once you’ve cut off the fuel, expect it will take a while to get her to cut the behaviors.  Your family has been a regular feeding ground and aliens don’t give those up and move off without a fight.  She’ll fight, you’ll smile benignly and she will eventually get frustrated and move on.  Keep that stoned smile plastered on your face and reclaim your planet for peace!

Spring Cleaning out your life.

Spring is coming (here in the north we’re expecting it in less than 4 months) and it’s time to clean out your house.   And for every action in your house or apartment, there’s even more important work to do on your heart and soul.

We call the eyes windows to the soul, a place we see out, and others have a chance to see in.  But have you looked at your windows lately?  If you haven’t cleaned them in a while, you’re not seeing the world clearly and people may have a distorted view of you.

A few items we clean off the windows.

  1. Bugs.  These poor guys are just flying along minding their own business and run into your house.  In the emotional world these are the natural, daily, events that hit us and we don’t even think about them.  Snow and rain on the day you wanted to wear your new spring shoes or play a pick-up game in the park. Sudden changes in your day, too much traffic, and the annoying mosquito person at work, can all build up without any of us really noticing.
  2. Bird Crap!  They really don’t do it to you.  It’s not personal and they’re not aiming at your windows more than your neighbors.  It just seems that way.  Bad stuff happens in your life.  Things that can seem pointed, and like the universe really is out to get you, can leave long smears of frustration and disappointment .
  3. Rain drops & sprinklers.  The things that should clean, but may leave residue in the smallest most persistent ways, can also fog your vision.  Think of these as memories of good times, old habits that don’t seem that bad, and expectations that used to fit you.
  4. Eggs, doggie bombs, & paint balls.  Yep, sometimes it is personal and someone is out to get you.  This is the long standing feud at work or home, the 16 year old  who screams at you every time you ask where the homework is, and the driver who flipped you off after cutting into your lane without a turn signal.  People aren’t always nice.  Heck, some of them aren’t ever nice.  If one of those has made you the target of their unjustified wrath, you have some nasty to clean off your windows.
  5. Pollution.  We live in a world that is filled with too many choices, too many noises, too many people, and too many stresses.  It’s all around us.  Just being here in this day and age is a stress that we overlook and underplay.  It leaves a residue that can be hard to focus through but builds up so gradually you may not even realize it’s there.


If you clean all of this and have nothing clouding your vision, what could happen?  You could give yourself a chance to see clearly for the first time in years.  Maybe you’re not the bad things you’ve been labeling yourself as.  Maybe you’re a stronger person who needs to finally appreciate yourself.  Get out of the shadows and stop letting bad people and bad experiences influence the rest of your life.  Yah, we’ve all had stupid days and done shameful things.  Clean that off the windows and stop letting it color your world.  Give yourself the ability to focus beyond where you are and look out to where you want to be.  Clean the inconsequential bugs and residue off your eyes and see a better future for yourself.  What you can see, believe and plan for, you can achieve.  First you have to see.

How to get those windows clean!

  1. Vinegar.  It smells.  It cuts through bird crap and wipes away residue.  It is the sometimes painful experience of questioning all your assumptions and expectations.  Sit down and write out what you expect from life, what are so mad about?  Are your expectations realistic?  Are they part of the problem?  Do you assume you’ll always loose and aren’t worth winning?  Be strong enough to face your old world view head on.  Then give the reasons it’s not right anymore.  Write those on sticky notes and book marks, have them as your screen saver on your phone and computer.  Remind yourself daily that you are a new person.
  2. Get help.  Windows by yourself are overwhelming.  My mother would make all of us kids do this together for a great bonding experience of whining and accusing her of having brought us into this world for slave labor.  But at least we weren’t alone.  Ask people how they see you and really listen.  Look especially hard for the positives you’re missing and the negatives that are holding you back.  When you find a friend or mentor you can trust with these questions, leave the door open for more information from them.  Friends that will tell you the truth without judging you, are worth their weight in gold.  Keep them close no matter how uncomfortable it can seem.
  3. Put a sheet over the windows.  There are days when you know the proverbial crap is hitting the fan.  It’s really ok to take a break.  Close your eyes and let the breeze feel good.  You need enough rest to feel rested or you won’t have the energy to do more than exist.  This can also mean an information fast.  Turn off the news.  Don’t read the paper.  Give yourself a week long break from incoming information so you can have some time to process what’s already banging around in your head.
  4. Put up some protection.  If you build in overhangs, put up sun coverings, or just redirect the sprinklers, you are narrowing what will get splattered on your windows.  In life, you may need to narrow your choices down to a manageable number.  Give yourself 15 minutes in the grocery story and stick to the list.  Only look at the items that are already in your price range.  Our brains get overloaded by too many choices and it begins to affect our view of the world and ourselves.  People are more depressed these days partially because they believe they could be happier and should be.  Everything is out there, why can’t I find it?  Well, because it’s now hidden in a mountain of other options that are visually overwhelming and emotionally draining to sift through.
  5. Clean something.  The act of cleaning up a section of your house, the top of your desk, even your windows, will help you see a physical difference that you made happen.  When you clean, you physically enact what you’re trying to do mentally.  It allows your mind-body feedback loops to work in your favor.  And we all tend to think better in a visually calming environment.  Take one small area and make it calm enough to look at and feel good.  You’ll see more options for yourself and open up a space for new thoughts about yourself.


I hope this spring brings good things to your life, light to your eyes, and new beginnings you can be excited about.

Responsibility will set you free.


Responsibility is a big word with life long effects.  If your child can learn this one word and all the things it means, you will have given them freedom. Or maybe you need some freedom for yourself.

The cages people live in aren’t usually acknowledged or seen.  If the bars are visible, the prisoner usually tells everyone, “oh, I stopped trying to break out, there’s nothing I can do about it.”  There are plenty of people in this world that have to be overweight, poor, beaten down, & imprisoned.  There are far more prisoners of self-victimization.  The latter folks refuse to see a way out because they are scared of being guilty, afraid of failure, or addicted to pity.  Responsibility is the anti-dote to all of this.

When I’m responsible for my actions I can change them, learn from them, ditch them, keep them, or apologize for them.  I don’t have to be at the mercy of people who would remind me of the past.  I own my past mistakes proudly because I’ve used them to move forward.  I don’t have to feel ashamed because I already made apologies and amends.  Since I’m responsible for my emotions, I don’t have to react if someone else holds a grudge or expects me to continuously feel guilty.  I’m free to go as far as I can persist and work and dream towards.

If you know what responsibility is, you have already accepted that you are 100% responsible for everything that happens to you.  If you’re totally pissed off by that statement, you’re still confusing responsibility with fault.  You are never 100% at fault, you are always 100% responsible.


  • Fault is about the past
  • It looks for who is guilty
  • It blames and shames
  • It “solves” the problem by finding a culprit and demanding restitution
  • Fault feels like a weight while you wait for someone else to make you feel better
  • No one will ever find enough fault to change their current situation
  • Fault finds and creates victims



  • Responsibility is about the future you want
  • It looks for what can change
  • It asks for help and forms partnerships
  • It solves the problem by learning, change, hard work, and courage
  • Responsibility feels like a work out and it makes you a stronger, more confident person
  • Anyone can change what they are willing to take responsibility for
  • Responsibility is found by survivors who go on to become winners


Now that you want this, let’s learn how to do it.  Responsibility is a three part approach to your own bad behavior, the trash your neighbor put in your yard, your weight problem, your bad marriage, etc.  When you’re teaching children about it, start with their bad behavior first and then move on to situations that someone else caused or triggered.

  1. Accept/Admit.  “I did that.”  “I broke that window.”  “I’m going to die if I keep eating like this.”  “I hate my job and I feel trapped.”  “I haven’t spoken to my spouse with love in years.”  “I’m stuck in an abusive relationship.” This is the point where you allow yourself to see the situation clearly.  It can be painful so take it in small steps if you need to.  If you’re teaching a child, have them repeat a simple phrase after you and then compliment them.
  2. Amend/Apologize.  “I’ve taken over for the old boss and I’d like to make things right with your department.”  “I didn’t cause this problem, but I have the power to make it right.”  “I realize what I did hurt you and I won’t do that again.”  “I won’t allow another person to treat me that badly in the future.”  “I’m sorry.”  The person you may have to make amends to can also be you.  We allow some serious crap in our lives when we don’t realize our own value.  Apologize to yourself and then allow some forgiveness.  You did the best you could at the time and now you know better.  When you’re teaching children, ask them who was hurt by what they did.  You may have to help them by asking, “How would you feel?”  Be prepared to go slowly and repeat often.
  3. Adapt/Advance. “I can aim the ball away from the house next time.”  “I promise myself that I will eat a vegetable with each meal.”  “I learned from what happened and here’s what I’m doing differently now.”  “I will make small goals out of this big goal until everything is done.”  “I will deal with the issues that have been holding me back.”  This is where your future gets a turbo-charge.  You look forward and plan a new attack using the information you’ve gathered from the first two steps.  If you’re teaching children, ask them what they would do differently, or what would let everyone feel like a winner.  If you’re learning to do this for yourself, fill in this blank;  Today, I can ______________ to make tomorrow better.  You might find yourself filling that in with one word or several paragraphs and either way works.  Just make sure that you are acting on it as soon as possible and right now would be even better.


One more note.  If you make an apology, don’t get caught up in thinking that’s always about admitting you’re at fault.  Apologies do three things. They state wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness (the one everyone thinks of when they hear the words, “I’m sorry”).

Apologies are a treaty that states you understand the pain/trouble/ aggravation caused by an action and agree not to do it again.  You don’t admit you’re a horrible person who meant to harm the other person, just that you see their point of view enough to change your behavior.

And sometimes sorry just means you really feel the other person’s pain and want to express solidarity with them.  Know what you mean by your words and make the apology that’s needed for the situation.  If someone misunderstands you, explain what you can but remember you’re only responsible for your own emotions and behavior.

How to Grieve When You’re Still Angry

Or hurt, disgusted, confused, maybe even scared.  People die.  The relationships they created go on past death to strengthen or haunt those left behind.

You will grieve the person that should have been there, and the one you had instead.

You’ll grieve what you didn’t get from them.

You’ll grieve for the other people they hurt, and maybe feel confused about the people who are missing someone you don’t really recognize.

If you had good memories too, you’ll probably be torn.  You may want to categorize the good times as lies, or manipulation.  It’s alright to enjoy good memories.  You don’t have to know all the motives behind the good times.  You’re not weak to accept that everyone wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut when they were little.  Nobody wanted to be an abuser, a cheater, a liar, a disappointment, an addict, nobody was born seeing only the negative.  Seeing a few positives is a way to salvage a little bit of the person the deceased wanted to be, when they were still young enough to hope.

There is no right way to feel.  Someone died and you still had negative emotions about them.  Even if you had logically realized you would never get closure from them or make changes to your relationship, your emotions may only catch up now.  So many clients over the years have been stunned by how death & funerals bring issues careening back with a bang.  Even if you had gained peace and forgiven the deceased, it’s normal to remember old hurts and disappointments like they were new.  Our brains can work like filing cabinets.  You open up the cabinet to file and new pain, it makes sense to file it with all the other painful memories.  It doesn’t mean your peace wasn’t real or your forgiveness wasn’t truly meant.  The file cabinet is open.  It will take some time to close it.

Think of grieving as the way you turn your sadness and loss into a part of your story you can understand and use later.  And for everyone who’s going to tell me that they hated that so-and-so, there wasn’t any loss there; you lost what you think you should have had.  Grief is not a logical process and what we’ve lost may just be our hope or illusions.  Doesn’t matter.   We’ve lost them and it hurts.  Now you sift through that hurt and putt the pieces together into a new pattern that helps you make sense of your own story.  The sifting is all about the questions you ask yourself and the other people who’ve known about your relationship with the deceased.  The questions don’t start out pretty. Don’t try and make them pretty.  If you had a negative experience with the person, bad things happened.  Understanding can’t come if you don’t ask the ugly questions. Why me?  Why did he hurt me?  Why weren’t you there?  Did you ever love me?  And you’ll need to acknowledge some rough emotions too.  I hate her.  I never forgave you and I wish you could hurt more.  Why did you ruin everything?  He always loved my sister better and I was so jealous I hated her.

Each of these questions and statements are OK.  They are normal parts of sifting through the pain you felt from the bad things that happened and the good that didn’t happen.  Write down the answers you come up with and accept your emotions.  You might know how to reject yourself if you’ve had some good examples of that.  You don’t have to do it anymore.  You can accept the good, bad, ugly, crazy and awesome about yourself.  None of your emotions define you, they’re a part of you.  No matter how angry or sad you are, that’s not ALL you are.  Think of each emotion, each answer to a tough question, as a piece of tile you’re making a mosaic out of.  Your story will be the whole picture you make.  You wouldn’t want every tile piece to be pearly white perfection.  No one wants to look at a boring picture.  You need dark spots and bright moments to tell a story.  Don’t try and edit your life into bland.

When you’ve accepted that negative feelings don’t make you a bad person, you can move on.  You can ask yourself the questions that really can define who you are.  What did I learn?  How am I stronger?  What will I pass on to someone else?  These are the questions that accept you have survived and you’re strong.  Not perfect.  Not saintly or martyred.  Strong.  You survived to tell your version of events and you can do that without feeling defensive or scared.


Picture: Jennanana Flickr photo stream

Controlling People, really care about their own feelings.

But you don’t have to.

You’ve probably been convinced that you should.  You spend lots of time and energy apologizing for holding someone accountable because they say, “I didn’t mean too!  You act like I wanted to hurt you!”  You enter the conversation wanting an apology and leave it apologizing to the person who hurt your feelings in the first place.

Now how does that happen?!

Simple.  You’ve been trained to care about other people’s feelings.  And whoever did the training didn’t differentiate between empathy (I understand you have feelings too) and agreement (your emotions are so important that I’ll do what you want).

You’ve also gotten shafted on motives because you don’t see the difference between an explanation and an excuse.  The ice on the road may explain why my car runs into yours, but it won’t be an excuse for driving too fast in icy conditions.  I’ll still have to pay your deductible and my insurance will go up.

Here are the ways understanding these differences helps you.

  • Valid explanations of motive and emotion no longer mean an excuse to use/ abuse/ ignore you.  Emotions just are.  They are not white-out for mistakes made against you and neither are motives.  Thank people for their pure motives towards you and then continue to stand up for yourself.  Whether or not people love you, they still need to treat you with respect.  If they’re not, how do you know it’s love?
  • You can empathize and understand feelings because you no longer think it means you must agree.
  • You can relax when other people start yelling about their feelings because that doesn’t mean you need to be guilty for holding them accountable.  Part of the usual anxiety is thinking about how you need to apologize later.  Guess what?  If you are calmly stating the facts without sarcasm or degradation, you do not need to apologize.
  • Accountability is totally behavior based. If you agree to let someone off the hook because of motives or emotions, you are showing mercy.
  • Mercy is for special occasions and unusual circumstances. It cannot be demanded.  Controllers think they deserve mercy and you must give it to them.  They cry, scream, and call you names when you don’t immediately let them off the hook.  You no longer have to let them escape accountability and call it mercy.


Understanding these will help you avoid being manipulated by controlling people, spouses trying to win a fight, co-workers & bosses, basically anybody who is willing to use their own emotions to excuse their behavior.  It also will help with the people who believe they cannot be held accountable when, “It was an accident!”  Accidents are a sign of poor planning.  They will continue to happen as long as you do not hold people accountable for their actions.

Emotions are valid, they just aren’t a valid excuse.

Motives will be judged by God, the rest of us have to go on behaviors.

I will empathize knowing I do not have to agree.

I will be understanding while I hold others accountable and insist on being treated respectfully.


photo by y3rdua flickr stream

People are trying to Control you

And they have so many ways to do this.  You might think that controllers only yell and directly order you around, but they can be so much sneakier than that.  You may not even know where someone else is taking over your life.  So before we can talk about how to deal, we need to learn how to recognize.

  1. “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine”  Sure they are.  Because they are sucking you dry for everything they need with guilt, recriminations, and their own omnipresent NEED.  Any need you have gets compared to theirs, which is worse, so much worse.  You should feel guilty, and that’s how you usually wind up; Guilty and giving in.
  2. “God hates sinners”  This one is about how some people misinterpret religion as a method of control.  Yes, God did set out some rules and asked that we follow them.  He did not, however, set up your boss, sister, mother, grandmother, boyfriend, etc. as His personal representative looking out for your spiritual well-being.  When you start hearing about what God wants in your life, think seriously about whether or not He would actually use that person as a messenger.  And remember, Jesus really didn’t like Pharisees.  So if your messenger is stuck on their own rightness, has no humility and is awfully concerned with the speck in your eye, that’s not the Spirit speaking to you.  It’s just some control freak who happened to read the Bible.
  3. “I just want what’s best for you.”  Funny how that always manages to be what the other person wants and not what you had planned.   These are the same people who keep telling you to “Think!”, “Why can’t you think for yourself?” & “I won’t be here for you forever.”  If you’re a 15yr old high school student, these statements might actually be OK for an adult to say to you.  Once you’ve gotten old enough to live your own life, those are attempts to control you and they need to be seen as such.
  4. “Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of all of it.”  Yes they will, and you will be selling your independence to them every step of the way.  It’s always tempting to let someone else take care of things, we all want to be rescued.  But a rescue can turn into a lifetime of childlike dependence and associated depression.  If you don’t know anything you’re specifically responsible for, something is wrong.  We need responsibility.  We need to know that we are capable and competent adults, able to withstand failure and deal with success.  If someone takes that from us, no matter how well meaning they are, we will resent them deeply, no matter how dependent we are.
  5. “I’m in charge because I’m right!”  These people are filled with a sense of their own righteous direction and have left no room for doubt.  You cannot have a discussion with them about an issue.  It will immediately become an argument that they treat as warfare.  They will measure your maturity on a scale of how close your beliefs are to their standard.  They have no shame in telling you, often, that you will believe like them when you; grow up, gain spiritual wisdom, see the truth, gain more experience, &/or get a real job.  These folks will roll over the top of you and anyone else in their way, and they will think they are doing you a favor!  These are the same zealots that have “converted” pagans by the sword, starvation, and abuse.  And then they celebrated themselves.

These are some of the main types, but they can combo into endless variations of you not being in charge of your life.  And you WANT to be in charge of your life.  The alternatives are not pretty.

Look for next week’s post on how to be in control of yourself, so these controllers can’t touch you.  Good Luck and God Bless.


Photo by Thomas Hawk, flickr stream

Identify and Deal with Passive Aggressive Behavior

Last week I answered a question from a woman talking about divorce.  You may have noticed that I didn’t deal directly with her questions about her husband’s behavior, but wrote about divorce, ultimatums, and asking yourself tough questions instead.  That’s prioritizing.  Deal with the hurting angry person in front of you before you move on to the hurting, angry behavior of the crazy person somewhere else.  Deal with your own pain before you attempt to deal with someone else’s.

But then you still have to deal with that other person at some point.  So let’s identify passive aggression and how it may exist in your life, then we can talk about how to effectively short circuit that behavior.

Ways to identify Passive Agression

1) The tone of voice is nasty but the words are fine.  Sometimes, the words are exactly what you’ve been wanting to hear.  Just never in that tone.

2) The person speaking looks either sainted, or martyred and on their way to sainthood.

3) Lots of victim statements.  “I never get what I want anyway.”  “You only say negatives to me.”  “I’m done.  I can’t live like this anymore.”

4) Extremes!  You can hear these coming from the words; always, never, & every. 

5) You get cast as the bad guy, wet blanket, person who says no, etc.  This is done with lots of sighing and very few direct statements to you.

6) Sulking, pouting, and hiding out in bedrooms or bathrooms.  Let’s face it.  Nobody needs THAT much time in the bathroom.

7) Excuses, lots of excuses for job performance, chores that aren’t done, responsibilities they accepted and won’t complete, etc.

8) Their “help” usually slows the process down or stops it completely.  This is then your fault and you never let them help you anyway, so why should they try? (Say that last bit in a hurt tone to get the real effect here).

9) Ambiguous statements about their intentions so you can’t hold them accountable later.

10) Blaming whatever happens on someone else, or on the flip side of this, “It’s all my fault.  It’s always all my fault!”

11) When you try to confront on any of the above behaviors, the other person will act hurt, ask you to give them examples and deny everything.  They will also try and guilt trip you about how you never appreciate them and always have to bring up the negatives.

If you recognize these behaviors in people you have to deal with at home or work, God Bless you.  You’re dealing with a passive aggressive.  These behaviors may be part of a larger problem of self-centeredness, repressed anger, or lack of empathy.  They can also be a sign that the person you’re dealing with has gotten away with this brattiness for years and expects it to work on you too!  Let’s stop’em cold.

Think of cold water in your face.  It’s a shock.  It’s not what you expected. It’s uncomfortable.  Passive Aggression works because people respond in usual ways that the perpetrator of this behavior expects and plans for.  You need to do the verbal equivalent of cold water in their face.

Shock – Say something bizarre, off topic, or innapropriate to the time and setting.  Once you’ve thrown them off guard, go back to the original conversation and act like you never said anything.  The Passive Aggressive says, “You never say anything good about me.”  You say, “I think about farting in my bosses office every time I’m in there.”

Unexpected – What have you typically said back to this person?  Spend some time figuring that out so you don’t do it again.  They’ve said, “I’m done. I can’t live like this anymore.”  and you’ve typically told the  m to calm down, everyone wants you to stay.  Switch it up.  “Can you describe exactly what you’re done with and how long this will last?”  “There’s the door, I’d appreciate it if you locked that behind you.”  “I think you should be more mad.  Why don’t you go knock on the bosses door and tell this to him.”

Uncomfortable – Passive aggression is all about three things; getting reassurance without having to responsibly ask for it, getting your way without having to reciprocate, and being controlling while having all the benefits assigned to victims.  Stop giving this person any of the payoffs. 

This will sound mean at first and it will be met with resistance.  “You don’t really love me!” expects the response, “Of course I do!”  Instead, “If you need reassurance there is a nicer way to approach me for that.”  “Somedays you are harder to love than others.”  “I’m sorry you feel that way.”  Do not give reassurance when it is asked in a negative or combatative manner.  Let the other person know you are willing to reassure, when you are asked appropriately.

Passive aggressive behavior is about wanting other people to help you without the responsiblity of helping them back.  You scratch my back, and I’ll whine about how you don’t scratch it like you used to and accuse you of being “tit for tat” when you want anything in return.  The expected response to “(deep heavy sigh) Oh, ok, I guess I’ll have to spend my only day off on cleaning up the back yard.” is something about how you don’t want them to loose their only free time.  Stop giving in, it only encourages all the bad behavior.  The new uncomfortable response is, “It’s your choice what you do with your day.  The back yard needs to be cleaned.  If you’re not willing to do that, I do not want to hear your opinion of how I did it.”  Or, “I’m glad that you’ve given up your day off to get that done, I’ll make sure everyone stays out of your way.”  They may not clean up, but they will never again skate out with permission from you to enjoy their day while they leave you holding the bag.

It’s aggression.  Passive or not, it’s still about wanting to control the situation and using bad behavior to get there.  This person is not a victim and they do not need any more excuses.  Statements that are all about poor-dear-me-my-life-is-so-bad, are designed to ellicit your helpful response.  Stop helping.  If your spouse looks at you and states, “I never get anything I want” in the defeated tone of voice designed to make you feel guilty, look right back at them and say, “Well I get a number of things I want.”  Smile and walk away.  If your co-worker says, “That’s ok, we can go to McDonalds.  I can’t eat anything there, but I need to loose weight anyway”  look right at her and happily say, “Thank you!” 

You do not need to give in to people who won’t ask directly for what they want.  You don’t have to scream at them and you don’t need to fight with them either.  Imagine you’re throwing cold water and be prepared to shock, do the unexpected, and make the behavior uncomfortable.  It will take time, but you can teach people which behaviors you will actually put up with and which ones will get doused.

Picture by Eole, Flickr Creative Commons

When and how to give an ultimatum


Question: My husband will rage at me, refuse to talk for hours or even days, and then act like nothing happened.  When I try to ask him what happened, or tell him that I don’t like this behavior, he makes statements about how bad his day, his job, even his life is and won’t address what I’m saying.  I’m sick of the melodrama and the constant sense that my feelings don’t matter as much as his.  Should I be thinking about divorce?  We have children and I don’t want to hurt them.  What can I do?

Answer: Any good counselor faced with the divorce question is going to start by investigating further.  How would it hurt the children?  Are they being hurt right now by the exposure to your fights?  Why are you thinking of divorce?  What have you already tried?  Does your husband know what you’re thinking or would he be surprised if you walked out?  Find a friend you can answer these questions in front of and get feedback from, or get out a pen and paper and start writing.

Most women that I have seen in my practice who go through with a seperation or divorce have been thinking about it for 1-3 years before they actually go through with it.  Their husbands have been aware of the severity of the issues for less than half that time.  Women don’t tend to like confrontation and they are trained to smooth the waters.  This can really backfire on them in a marriage.  A relationship this intimate will generate some disagreement and require you to be adamant about your boundaries.  Men are NOT trained to smooth the waters and avoid conflict in this culture.  They’re trained to avoid failure and loss. 

Women in my office are often at wit’s end because their husbands will fight endlessly and refuse to communicate.  Your husband seems to feel that he can “win” the fight by pointing out his greater victimization and probably accusing you of being hard, lacking empathy, not caring, etc.  My guess would be that he also pouts when he can’t convince you to leave issues alone.  If this were his only set of behaviors, you would have already left him.  You will need to evaluate both the good and bad in this man to properly evaluate whether or not the relationship can be saved.  At this point, it may be difficult to remember good things.  Get some mutual friend to remind you of his good points.

If you are getting out of this marriage, do it with class.  Give him the warning you would want to have and the behavior changes you would like to see.  If you’re worried about this being an ultimatum, it is.  Every time your husband walks into a store and looks at his favorite stuff, he’s facing an ultimatum.  The store refuses to let people just walk out with that good stuff.  If he truly wants the latest gadget, he has to pay the price or have the cops called on him.  It is an ultimatum and he does just fine with it.  He pays or he walks. 

The reason most women don’t give ultimatums is the fear that he’ll walk.  It doesn’t work better to hang in there resenting the crap out of him until you up and leave without warning one day.  That’s unfair.  Give the man a choice, realizing you are taking a risk.  Get support from friends, don’t tell family members too much if you think there’s ANY chance the marriage will survive, and find some time for yourself.  If he’s willing to pay the price of keeping this realtionship, get help!  This will be a huge change for both of you and a good counselor, mentoring couple, or pastor can be sanity saving.

If he decides to walk, let him go.  He may be attempting further manipulation and just making a threat.  He may be totally serious and it’s better to get this done now before you hate him so desperately that your children suffer the backlash of it.  Kids can come out of divorce just fine.  They will be eaten up and spit out by constant parental fighting and divided loyalties.

Be strong and calm in what you say.  Be consistent in how you act.  Be willing to take risks.

Photo Attribution: The Italian Voice by Creative Commons License, Flickr

Avoiding Fights


I get asked quite often how to avoid getting sucked into fights.  People are usually frustrated and worn out when they ask this.  There have been too many times where a simple request or observation morphed into the mother of all show downs.  So I understand the frustration, and I still see the need to back up and talk about the difference between a fight and a discussion/confrontation. 

Lots of people ask me about stopping the fighting and what they actually want is to get what they need without ever having to confront another human being again.  Nice try.  Won’t happen.  You will have to tell people that you disagree with them.  You will need to stand up for your needs and beliefs.  That doesn’t mean you have to fight about it. 

So as a starter to this topic, here’s the top five differences between a fight and a discussion. 

1)Discussions are about facts.  Fights are about feelings.

2)Discussions meet anger with a blank space and redirection.  Fights meet anger with escalating anger.

3)Discussions have changes in voice tone, emotion and reaction time.  Fights have volume that only goes louder and one emotion; ANGER.

4)Discussions stick to one point or keep coming back to that point.  Fights bring up multiple issues,and go off on tangents.

5)Discussions are about the future and what will happen next.  Fights are about the past and who is at fault for it.

If you’re finding most of your interactions at work or home veering towards a fight, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck forever.  Just being aware of this short list can help you start changing.  Once you see where it gets ugly, you can start making choices about that process.

 I go in depth on these top five and some great ways to stop fighting in the newsletter that you can sign up for!

What To Do Around Insensitive People Who Just Don’t Learn

I tell people on a regular basis that if they walk outside while it’s raining, stop cursing God for getting wet.

If you know what will happen next and don’t deal with it, won’t prepare for it, refuse to face it; you will get wet.  Either take your umbrella, or deal with the cold walk to your car.

Screaming at the sky makes you look psychotic and keeps you uncomfortable for a longer period of time.

In real life the umbrella principle is about what we know to be inevitable from multiple past experiences.

If I get asked about my weight, my career plans and whether or not I’m aware of the ticking time bomb that is my biological clock, and I get asked that EVERY time I see my in-laws; hoping they suddenly get empathy, manners or common sense will not help.

Snarling at my husband will not help.
I need an umbrella.
In this case, a plan of action for when the questions come my way.  It can be anything from smile like I’ve suddenly gone deaf,  to get up and leave the house.  There are a multitude of responses possible and what counts is my willingness to stop being a victim of the rain.

Where do you need an umbrella?

Even if the expected events are really bad, you really know they’re coming.  Not planning for them equals wanting to have a bad day.  Hoping other people change in the meantime is just wishful thinking.

Think about a repetitively bad experience and then outline what happens.  Write it down!  Walk away from the writing for at least a day and then come back and read it again.  You’ll usually find that the space has allowed you to think of several new ways to deal with the problem.

I don’t care how wild or crazy those ideas sound, write them down.  Now get someone you trust to go over your problem and your ideas so far.  If you truly have no one in person, well you’re reading this on the web.  You can find web friends, you can look for other people who have the same issues,  you can post on this site!

Get some feedback and use it to make a solid plan, your umbrella, for the rain you know is coming.