The High-Conflict Ex-Wife

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crazy ex-wife**Join us for the Stepmom Sanctuary Retreat 2017! 

I talk a lot about dealing with difficult ex-wives, mainly because that’s often the #1 complaint of my clients and well, no one else is really addressing the issue. So, what exactly do I mean by difficult?

They’re the people who might claim they want peace, but then make it impossible to achieve that because they will blame you for everything. They only have one story; a story where they’re the victim and you’re the attacker. And their story only has one ending: them winning and you losing.  They’re not interested in a win-win.

Bill Eddy, author of It’s all your fault: 12 tips for managing people who blame others for everything, describes these people as HCPs (High-conflict personalities). He says they lack the skills for dealing with conflict and have no awareness how their behavior increases the conflict. He says “instead of sharing responsibility for solving problems, they repeatedly lose it and increase conflict by making it intensely personal and taking no responsibility.”

He goes on to explain “the hardest thing to get about HCPs is that they lack an awareness of how they contribute to their own problems. They honestly view others as causing the way they feel and the way they act… They feel they have to lie and manipulate because of unmanaged fears within themselves that they are not aware of.”

In my experience, they’ll always have an excuse or justification for their behavior, while attacking you for yours. They’re also skilled at projecting their own behaviors and beliefs onto you.

They don’t take personal responsibility for anything in their life. They will make you responsible for every single bad thing that has ever happened to them. They will blame you for every bad choice they’ve ever made and every bad consequence they’ve ever experienced. They will tell you their story of how it’s all your fault.

You can’t rationalize or reason with a high-conflict person. They’re not able to see their actual behavior. They’re not being mean or moody, but at this given time in their life, in these current circumstances, they’re not able to behave any differently. From what I’ve read, these people usually, but not always, have a mental disorder or at the very least, a personality disorder.

The good news is that it is possible to be the target of blame of a high-conflict person, and still remain happy and peaceful. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, because their words and actions don’t reflect the truth of you or the situation. It is simply the result of a belief they hold that’s meant to protect themselves from the painful truth about themselves. Keep reminding yourself of that. Also, it’s much easier to hold onto your sanity if you don’t allow them access to you, so protect yourself with firm boundaries and don’t let their attacks penetrate your spirit.

For excellent information and tips on how to deal with these difficult people, read:

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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21 thoughts on “The High-Conflict Ex-Wife

  1. Thank you for this post and for recommending the book “It’s All Your Fault.” It is an excellent guide for understanding what motivates and even triggers this difficult behavior. The book helped me realize it isn’t me causing the problems. I am merely the chosen target for another person’s deeply rooted issues that actually have nothing to do with me. Self-preservation is key.

  2. Hi Lady Byrd, I agree, that book is an incredible resource. It explains so clearly why we can’t fix the problem – because it has nothing to do with us! 🙂

  3. My stepdaughter is dealing with anorexia and guess what…the ex or biomom blamed me for her disorder. I found out through other step daughter. I believe this article is true and from what I’ve read, if the biological mom supports the role of the stepmom, then the kids will accept her, if she doesn’t then your life will be difficult at best when dealing with the step kids.

  4. Hi, I’ve also got a biomom like that…She moved to another town in December 2013 without notifying my husband. We have seen my step daughter only for an hour and a half last year. Biomom is a endless struggle my stepdaughter is not allowed to come to our house and when they are in our town biomom “forgets” to let us know and we only hear they were here weeks later. According to her I was the reason why SHE left my husband even though I didn’t even know him at the time…she keeps on telling my stepdaughter all theae lies about me and the more I tied to defend myself and try to explain to my stepdaughter who is six now that it is only grown up things and she will understand when she is older the worse it got… and last year with my stepdaughters visit she was so awfull to me I thought I’m going to break into tears infront of everyone.

  5. Ha! I read your posts to my sweetheart often. While they’re so validating for me, the information would sometimes really agitate him. The other day he said, “man, are all ex’s as horrible as mine?!” I said, “I think the people with horrible ex’s are seeking help and support- they’re looking for sanity.” I was nervous to read this article to him because it perfectly describes his ex. This time, I saw his shoulders relax and he said, “Wow, our couples therapist used to recommend a certain type of individual therapy for her. Now I understand, they were saying that she really needed help. I’ll never convince her of anything peaceful or cooperative, or even good because she just can’t do it.” He seemed totally relieved and you guessed it; validated. We get stronger together as he releases her and thanks to you, I can provide steadfast support that’s disconnected from the madness. Thank you, Jenna!

    • Thanks, Shannon. 🙂 There’s something very freeing about realizing you can’t affect change. Glad my articles are helping you and your partner! 🙂

  6. Wow I thought I was the only one dealing with this. This article really hit home. This is exactly how the bio mom is. I still stuggle to understand how reality can be so distorted. I have countless examples of the lack of responsibility even to the point where she blames her own kids. She once blamed the 6 year old for being tardy to school 10 times because he slept in. At 6, it’s the adult’s responsibility to get the child to school on time. Ok….end rant. Very refreshing to share experiences none the less!

    • You are not alone, Evan! I learned a long time ago to stop trying to understand certain people. It’s a waste of my time and energy, and there are so many other great things to be focused on. 🙂

    • OMG Evan! I totally agree with you and what you described about the “blame game” hit home HUGE. We too always feel as though we are the only ones dealing with this kind of insanity. Our BM is exactly how Jenna and you describe. My hubby seems to be able to put the drama to the side (however…he has 18 yrs of getting used to it!) but I too struggle to understand HOW she can possibly live and believe the fantasies she concocts. We too have had many times where she blamed her eldest son who was FIVE at the time for being late to his Saturday school, late 21 times to his mainstream school AND “making her late” to the mutual drop off in the mornings. She too stated that it was his fault for sleeping in. Like you mentioned, and what most sane people would agree to be the truth, at 5, it’s the adult’s responsibility to get the child up and ready to get to school or anywhere else on time. SHE slept in or SHE kept them up too late. They are called “dependents” for a reason! They are dependent on care and instruction and love from their parents/caretakers. UGGGG!! Who the heck blames their children for their own laziness or irresponsibility?? 🙁

  7. You hit the nail on the head. My husband and I have four children together (2/2). His ex-wife consistently blames me or her ex for every problem she experiences in life. She makes issues out of absolutely nothing, and sabotages my husband’s time with his kids, enticing them to do other activities, losing up sports, and generally wreaking havoc. I truly understand she has a personality disorder, along with alcoholism. I understand she will never change. Despite seeing reality for what it is, I cannot help but become upset when I see her behavior affect my husband and his kids. It also affects my kids, because they witness it themselves, which further aggravates me. No Contact is not an option with children. She can spin out of control, and send multiple emails throughout the evening hours when drinking alcohol (while the kids are in her care). We’ve talked to his lawyer about the effects her behavior, like visitation interference, ongoing drunkenness with kids, and the emotional impact it has on his kids—not enough proof and rated a “4” out of 10 (10 being the worst) if he were to scale its severity. It’s difficult for me to grasp her manipulation of others (called “proxy recruitment” in such a way she can convince others of her fabrications), and the fact she continues to act so negligently without consequences. Your article is right- she won’t change, and we must move forward, but it can be quite a challenge to turn her obnoxious noise off. I would appreciate some tips on how to do that successfully. Thank you.

    • Hi Anonymous, throughout my blog you’ll find various tips for dealing with this. Without knowing the details of your situation I can’t suggest the exact tools that would be helpful for you. If you’re interested in advice tailored for your specific situation, I’m happy to set up a coaching session. Just let me know. 🙂

    • Great article and this was the HCBM we had to deal with to a T–until my dh and I set boundaries. Set boundaries you will do and live by and follow through. You can’t control this person (in our case she has a diagnosed disorder as described above), but you can tell them what YOU will allow such as –I will communicate with you solely about the children, this will be done via professonal and business like emails only. When you receive other forms of contact do not reply. Send an email stating all bondaries. When you receive unkind and unprofessional emails (and you know you will) you reply business like–I will respond to all business like emails solely about the children. In our case we had to put that phrase on repeat but we didn’t give in to the drama. 2 years later we still have our boundaries and may always need ithem when dealing with a true mental issue of this level. Always take the high road but put a wall between you and the drama. If for some reason a loophole is found in your boundaries, don’t be afraid to add on more. You boundaries are how you protect yourself. There is a great book called Bboundaries by Cloud and Townsend. You can create your own peace.

  8. My husbands ex wife (divorced 9 years) has recently been showing my 11 year old SD videos of stepmoms punishing stepchildren in horrible ways. Husband and I have been together 4 years and married 3. I also have two children from a previous marriage. She keeps trying to find ways to create me into this evil monster of a person.

  9. What a wonderful article. My boyfriend and I are dealing with this behavior from his soon to be ex-wife. It amazes me that she blames everyone around her for all her problems. I hold on to the hope that maybe she will get some help someday and stop this constant mission to make everyone as miserable as she is. If she really looked inside she would see how unhappy she really is and it’s up to her to make a better life. In the meantime I just feel sorry for her and refuse to let her get to me or make me feel guilty that I have found a life with someone she choose to throw away like garbage only to realize to late she made a mistake. We are our choices and I choose to live the drama free life. If she chooses to blame everyone for her problems that’s her deal. She’ll probably end up alone and bitter. Me I plan on a happy life.

  10. Early on, I thought I should support my husband by running interference for him when his HCP ex attacked. Boy was I wrong! He was really beaten down by her attacks, so I foolishly got involved in communications with her. I soon found that I was the new target. It got really nasty and uncomfortable. It’s been 6 years now, and I’ve learned that it’s his job to manage his ex, and my job to manage my ex. Even though her HCP behaviors persist, I’ve been working on mustering as much self-control as possible and maintaining my focus on the things that matter to me: our blended family, my career, my friendships, etc.

  11. Good article! I only wish I had known how bad an ex can create chaos in one’s life BEFORE I married him. Quite honestly, I would have either not done it or waited until the kids were grown so there would not be contact with his ex. I met him long after the divorce she wanted was final, but to hear her tell it I’m a homewrecker. Sigh.
    Two of the kids are over 18 now, the youngest in a couple of years. In between screaming rants at us, the ex managed to alienate the kids toward their formerly beloved father. Two of the three won’t speak to him, yet can’t give my MIL a good reason. Her daring to ask why got her cut off too.
    My step kids lives changed little from the divorce. They didn’t have to move and their mother has a great job as well as a wimpy but seemingly decent live in boyfriend. Dad was just a mile up the bike path.
    As a mom myself with a lazy, not crazy ex, I can really appreciate lazy over crazy. We live too close to the crazy ex and I can’t wait till my kid graduates so we can move. Far away. Seeing her pick up my stepdaughter at school for activities is stressful. I fear she’ll go on another rampage when she sees our one year old (she doesn’t know, because her own kids are afraid to tell her!)

  12. Thank you. My self confidence was dying a slow death. Your article is wonderful. I feel so much better, understood and not alone.

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