The day Joanna met her husband’s ex-wife she had just baked cookies and was sending the kids home with a huge bag of home-baked goodness. His ex-wife walked in the house to pick up the kids, and as she was leaving dropped the bag of cookies on the floor, stepped on them and told Joanna she would have to clean up the mess. Not only did she ruin the cookies (which was bad enough), she was dressed in skin-tight jeans, a fake fur vest, high heel boots, lots of makeup, gaudy jewelry and let’s just say her hair took up a lot of space around her head. Joanna should’ve known that this woman was going to be trouble but lived in a different world and didn’t have a clue what was in store for her. She envisioned a relationship with her whereby they would work together on getting the kids to doctor appointments, share recipes, casually talk about their lives, communicate concerns about the kids, and possibly spend certain holidays together as a blended family. Boy, was she ever wrong!
Joanna was beginning to think she was crazy when her counselor (yes, she saw a counselor due to this ex-wife) finally introduced her to the fact that his ex-wife might have a personality disorder. Personality disorders have a tendency to completely throw everyone for a loop, especially if you haven’t dealt with how to recognize the symptoms and behaviors.
Joanna started to suspect a disorder in the Cluster B family where they are characterized by impulsive, dramatic, highly emotional and erratic behaviors. Cluster B personality disorders consist of antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. Only antisocial, histrionic and borderline types will be discussed here, as these mainly affect women. Many people don’t fit perfectly into just one disorder but cross over to two or more of them.
Here’s a brief description of the three below:
- Manipulate rights of others
- Lack concern
- Lack regret
- Behave irresponsibly and show no regret for social behavior
- Lack guilt
- Break the law
- Is uncomfortable in situations in which she is not the center of attention
- Interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
- Displays rapidly shifting and shallow expressions of emotions
- Consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to themselves
- Has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
- Show self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion
- Is highly suggestible, i.e., easily influenced by others or circumstances
- Considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships
- Identity disturbance
- Recurrent suicidal behavior
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, intense anger
- Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts
As Joanna researched more about these disorders, she seriously suspected her husband’s ex-wife crossed between antisocial and histrionic personality disorders, as the unexpected became the expected. Some of the behaviors Joanna witnessed included the following:
- Christmas gifts being thrown across parking lots due to the ex not liking the gift from the child;
- Verbal assaults and threats at pick-ups and drop-offs from the ex;
- Kids being randomly dropped off for holidays and weekends outside of the visitation schedule to accommodate the ex’s social life (Joanna spent more holidays with her step-kids than the mother);
- Lies being told by the ex constantly to gain either positive or negative attention;
- Accusations by the ex of being physically abused, bullied and intimidated by Joanna and her husband where the ex was always the victim;
- Constant relationship failures between the ex and a parade of men;
- Surprise visits made by the ex while Joanna and her husband had the children and were at work where she would trespass in their home and go through personal belongings;
- Instances where the ex would flirt with her husband and still think and imply to others they had an intimate relationship;
- Behavior which would start out angry, move to crying and then to confessing love within minutes;
- Being constantly late for pick-ups and drop-offs due to shopping, packing her bags for a weekend trip etc.
Dealing with an ex exhibiting signs of a personality disorder is going to be constant hard work. It will affect you, your marriage, step-kids and biological kids. Be prepared for the ex to be consistently inconsistent all the time and understand it really doesn’t have anything to do with you but the other individual. Here are some helpful tips on how to maintain your sanity:
- Make and keep firm boundaries to isolate bad behaviors. The key is to keep the boundaries, as a person exhibiting signs of these behaviors will continue to abuse you until you put a stop to it. For example, if the ex is constantly assaulting you in any form or fashion take yourself out of their reach. Refrain from sitting next to them at events, getting out of cars at pick-ups and drop-offs and putting yourself alone with that person.
- Set rules for being prompt for pick-ups and drop-offs. For example, use the 15-minute rule. If the ex is more than 15 minutes late, you leave. It’s that simple. Joanna found weekends were very important to the ex and she started to show up on time once this rule was enforced.
- No entrance to either residence unless the parent which lives at that home is available and gives permission. Unfortunately, you will have to talk with the kids about these house rules, and how it isn’t appropriate for a parent to be in the other parents’ home.
- Holding firm to the visitation schedule on weekends/time you need with just your spouse and also understanding that the step-kids might just need you to take them for extra visitations as life with their mother might be hectic and dysfunctional.
- Verbally tell the ex about their bad behaviors and what you will not tolerate. Put this in writing to them for documentation purposes. It might not make a difference with the ex but you will feel better.
- Provide a stable and loving environment for your step-kids. If their mother truly suffers from a personality disorder, they will live in a world of turmoil but actually, yearn for structure.
- Take care of yourself. Know you cannot change his ex; you can only change boundaries and how you react to this person.
*Names have been changed*
Linda is a mom, stepmom, grandma, ex-wife and most importantly, a new wife residing in a coastal town in Oregon. She understands being a stepmom might be the most challenging role you’ve ever played. Linda enjoys sharing her stories of dealing with his ex, her step kids and new husband and loves to hear how they relate to your situations. Linda wants to encourage other stepmoms to never give up their new life role and to always look for the joy!