Dear Melissa, How do you deal with an ex-wife of your husband’s who likes to manipulate him through their children?
Dear Someone Sweet,
I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this. I know this is putting a lot of stress on your husband and your family.
While I don’t have a lot of details on what specifically is going on and what his ex is doing to manipulate him through the kids, this sounds like this is a form of “parental alienation.”
By definition: Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members.
It is a distinctive form of psychological abuse (to both the child and the affected parent/family member).
Here are some common forms of parental alienation (shared from the goodmenproject.com):
- Bad-mouthing of a parent in front of a child
- Using guilt to make a child feel bad about loving or wanting to see the other parent
- Making a child feel as though he needs to take sides, spy, or defend one parent over the other
- Refusing attempts at contact (and then often telling the child that the parent doesn’t care or want to see them)
- Acting to turn the child against the other parent
It’s heartbreaking and is a form of child abuse, yet very difficult to prove in court, especially if you don’t have an attorney who is educated about PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome).
There are things you and your husband can do to help combat this behavior from his ex, including:
Document the behavior in the children. In other words, document what the children doing and saying that leads you to believe that they are being psychologically manipulated. Documentation will go a long way toward proving your point if you end up needing to go to court.
He can talk to his ex about it if they are on speaking terms.
Continue to be a loving and supportive stepmom and dad to the kids. This is the MOST important part of combating the toxicity of his ex’s manipulation. Being loving and supportive to the kids helps combat and counter the lies and negativity being spread by his ex.
Take every opportunity to remind your children of how much you love them and want to be with them.
Release your children from the pressure to choose and remind them that they’re free to love who they love and like who they like, and support their right to do so.
As much as you and your husband have the right to be angry at his ex for alienating him, take the high road and be sure to be civil and peaceful, especially in front of the kids. Let his ex own the role of being bitter and vindictive.
Don’t participate in her toxic campaign. Some people crave drama and controversy. There’s not much you can do to prevent her from acting out because she is mentally unbalanced. But your husband can do his best to ensure that his child has one mentally and emotionally stable parent.
If his ex is portraying your husband as a liar or a deadbeat, your husband can prove her allegations wrong by being honest and responsible. Kids are very intuitive and they will eventually notice incongruencies.
And lastly, seek court intervention if you feel it is necessary. Parental alienation is a form of abuse. So if it’s becoming unmanageable on your own, get help.
There is a lot of info and resources on the web that might be helpful to you and your husband about parental alienation and what you can do.
Don’t give up. Combating this type of abuse and cruelty is hard and emotionally taxing, but love will eventually win.
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This is exactly what my boyfriend and I are experiencing. He’s been in the process of divorce for our entire relationship (almost 3 years). His ex was a stay at home mom and she raised 3 co-depend daughters that are absolutely convinced that their world revolves around their mother.
She was the one that left the relationship, yet the children are told it’s their father’s fault. Reading the sign of PAS, I 100% believe she’s guilty. She spreads lies about him and routinely picks fights with him (with the kids present) She won’t discuss anything without all three of her girls listening in. This makes it very hard to resolve issues because she’s always instigating a fight. And as you said, it’s better of we take the high road.
They have been taught that the only family that matters, is their mother’s and they always come up with excuses to not see their father and grandma.
I also feel the heartache. I’m the enemy in his ex’s eyes, so his girls don’t like me.
I struggle because I truly love this man and I see a future with him. I am scared that there will never be peace and his girls will drift further away from their dad because of the lies and manipulation.
Melissa Josue says
Hi Kim, Wow, I’m so sorry you and your family are experiencing this. I know it is heartbreaking and very difficult.
You’re doing the right thing by taking the high road and not engaging her in hostility or toxicity.
And I hear you that you’re scared there will never be peace and worried that the girls will drift farther away. It will be a difficult road for sure.
However, even under ideal circumstances (no drama, everybody gets along, adults act like adults), it still typically takes a long time to establish bonds with stepchildren. The average, according to research, is 7 years. Children are already bonded with their first family (for better or for worse)…because they have years of history and thousands and thousands of emotional connections made over those years.
In their stepfamily, there are fewer connections…but over time, those connections will increase and, like a friendship that evolves, the relationship will ideally deepen organically.
When PAS is in the picture, any connections that are made….someone is working to actively inhibit or destroy them. So the more you can counter the Ex’s toxicity with love toward the girls, the better. And just because the Ex is working to destroy those connections, doesn’t mean that connections aren’t being made or that there will never be a peaceful or loving relationship with you and the girls and your boyfriend and girls. It just means it could take a lot longer.
I don’t know how old the girls are. But if they are young, as they get older, they’ll have more capacity and context to think independently. The Ex, on the other hand, might always be a high-conflict Ex. So even if she is always toxic, that doesn’t mean her vitriol needs to affect your family. There are ways you and your family can protect yourself against a high-conflict Ex and minimize the stress, like have boundaries around communication and minimize contact.
I hope this helps provide some guidance. And wishing you and your family peace and healing.
How do you stand by as the new wife when your husband is being manipulated by his ex wife and kids are also put against him.
He can’t and won’t say no!
He outright admits the manipulation and doesn’t want to change his behavior!