By Sybil Cummin, MA, LPC, AC
You’ve got to be kidding me?!?!?!
My ex has won over and over again. No accountability. The smear campaigns and false allegations against me (even on the stand), and you are telling me to let him win?!?!
If you are thinking that we can’t be friends anymore, let me explain.
When you are going through a “high conflict” divorce with an abusive ex, I’m sorry to tell you that it is going to be a battle. A long one at that. And for most survivors of abuse, it feels like you are doing everything just to keep your head above water day in and day out. There is nothing fair about this situation. Nothing.
So, what can you do to get to shallow enough water to stand up for yourself and your children?
You need to look at winning the long game rather than each individual battle. And believe me, and I’m probably preaching to the choir when I say that there will be little battles every day. It is in your best interest and the interests of your children to see the bigger picture and find ways to align yourself with your values and goals along the way. There are many ways to pick and choose your battles and to set yourself up for success. This is one way that I have seen work out for many survivors, and it may help you in your battle too.
So what are you talking about when you say to let them have a win? I am talking about perceived wins, that may not be actual wins. Let me share an example.
A survivor is just starting out the divorce process with her narcissistic husband. She shared a possible situation that could be the ultimate end goal for her. Her partner would relocate and she would be the primary caregiver and decision maker for her children. Sounds too good to be true? Perhaps. So, what was standing in the way of this dream ending?
First, he is angry that she is finally leaving. His first concern…money. How much child support and alimony would he have to pay if he only had time over the winter and summer breaks with his kids. From talking with this survivor, it seemed like this would be a major deterrent that would keep him here. Not to be with his children, but because he would have to pay her.
One of her goals initially was to keep the family home. This was a hot button issue for her ex. The housing market is booming and he wants his. She cannot buy him out at what the house is currently worth.
So, I asked her about how much this ultimate end goal would mean in her life. Does this outweigh her desire to keep the house? Financially, would she be able to afford a place that would be good enough for now if they sold the house?
The end goal, where her children would be with her most of the year, was worth WAY more to her than the family home. And he would see it as a win: that she is being forced to sell the home, even though she had shared how much she would like to keep this consistency for her children. He, in turn, would get lots of money. This “win” for him will make it much more likely that he will not continue the fight to have more time with the children.
We discussed the other areas that she could stomach “losing” just to reach the prized end goal. Each of these things would create a safer place for her and her children, because when they feel like they are winning and they feel like they have more control, it is more likely they will be on better behavior.
So, is there something that you can stomach to “give in” so that they can have a perceived win? For them it is about harming you, whereas for you it is about finding freedom and safety for you and your children. And as I said before, will this work for every case…No. But it can give you something to think about. You know your ex better than anyone. What would a perceived win do for them? How powerful would they feel? And if you could get the overall win…how powerful would you feel?
Sybil Cummin, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse.