I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with H and the patterns of non-existent boundaries. The only way this reflection is productive is to open my eyes to the fact that this problem has been residing with us since our beginning. These thoughts were prompted by H’s invitation to go with him to a music festival near where his daughter-in-law and son live. Of course, narcissist DIL (Bella) has already invited herself to the festivities. I can already see the potential for being roped into situations that could be deadly to any hope we have of reconciling and the reason is H cannot set or accept boundaries. The difference is that my research training has facilitated a pattern of behavior that has spanned more than 26 years. If that past behavior isn’t a solid predictor of future behavior then I don’t know what is.
From the beginning, here some high points only as there are a gazillion more examples of the same:
- The ex-wife, Satan, was allowed to harass me in a variety of ways because H was afraid he’d never see his kids. I became stuck in the middle and was consistently sacrificed because H had unresolved divorce issues and allowed Satan to control our lives for years and year, even though they were no longer married.
- My stepdaughter was permitted to do whatever she wanted because H was too afraid of her “mentally delicate” nature so she and her friends disrespected me in my own house. When I confronted SD about skipping school and signing my name to fake notes, SD flipped out, ran away to Satan, and mandated (at only 17) that she would not return to the house where she was living with us, unless I was gone. So guess what, H told me to leave “for a few nights”. I went to a hotel. I spent the longest night of my young life staring at a bottle of pills and looking in the mirror. It was only by the grace of God that I didn’t follow through. After I went back home, I was manipulated by H into signing a second mortgage for the SD’s car that we *had* to buy for her.
- During SD’s runaway phase, Satan called the house and I briefly talked with her (we didn’t have caller ID) and when I told H as he came in that Satan had – once again – hung up on me, H screamed in my face “WHAT DID YOU DO????” because obviously I had done something to prompt and deserve such poor treatment. [in my own house]
- Over the years, SD continued her heroin-poisoned campaign against me and blamed her choice to live on the streets, nearly die, and ultimately lead a complete f’up life, all because of me. Everybody loves a Wicked Stepmother, right? For more than 10 years we lived in an undercurrent of chaos due to everything that comes with having a heroin addicted child/young adult. Midnight calls, ruined holidays, jumping through hoops, wiring money…all of which were beyond the scope of boundaries, “because she was sick.” [enable much?]
- 17 years into our marriage, Satan still had power over our lives as she would call and leave nasty messages on our answering machine with lots of disparaging name-calling about me. (We’ve been married since 1991.) When I confronted H he shouted “What am I supposed to do? Call the police??” as if it were ridiculous. I told him it was his problem to solve but that he wouldn’t let anybody else treat his wife that way. I told him it was one thing when we were newly married (though it shouldn’t have been), but 17 years in? That’s just not OK. I got nothing.
- Later, H stood by as his WHOLE family shouted at me and humiliated me because they weren’t happy with my perceived “lack of support” for the marriage of my brother to his niece. During this period of time, H had lost his job and I was in the final stages of PhD exams all while raising 2 kids. What a pile-on. They sure cashed my generous wedding check quickly though. My children watched as I was minimized and unprotected. I was shattered. The ENTIRE family was present for that lynching 3.5 years ago and I have gone to zero family events since. Why…to pretend it’s all OK? It wasn’t and it isn’t. And no, I’m not your friend and I’m certainly not going to be your next meal either.
- Bella, DIL, then pulled this beautiful stunt as she came into my home a year ago and destroyed our lives as much as possible for 4 days while H stood by and watched. My stepson also stood by and watched. My children watched. This began a serious mental downward spiral that nearly destroyed me altogether. I wouldn’t answer Bella’s texts or phone calls but H kept being totally sweet to her because HE’S AFRAID he won’t be able to see his grandchildren.
Who had the power here? Everyone else but me. I tried to put up boundaries early on in my stepmother world, but H would throw a tantrum and refused to work with me on setting healthy boundaries. Early on, I got the message that I was at the very bottom on the importance scale. I came last. Everyone else came first. (H would distortedly argue this by saying I’m selfish and always have been. Wow, really?) The tipping point is always the fact that I had an affair. Those 4 years are the only ones that matter when conversations like this come up. The abuse I endured for those 26 years was based upon my thinking it all would be short-lived. However, it became the norm. I allowed so much of it under the guise of picking my battles and trying to be the best stepmom possible. The stepkids were my responsibility essentially. I was young and ill-equipped because everything my dysfunctional family of origin had taught me was geared toward survival and minimization of conflict. It was all in my lap and I didn’t know how I was allowing it or how this enabling would threaten my family years later.
So now we get to the point of where my oldest is graduating high school…H wants to have family come and stay. I told him we need to talk about boundaries and how that might work. He quickly disclaimed that he didn’t care whether or not Bella and stepson came in an effort to deflect the conversation. Guess what: this is a PATTERN. If we don’t talk about it then whatever happens happens and *I* will have to deal with it. I am the last consideration. H will likely tell me I am dwelling on what *could* happen and worrying about it too much.
UM, NO. Not any more.
I see things differently now. I believe this is how anybody would react, given the caustic nature of my boundaryless world and the effect it has had on my ability to live without fear. [C-ptsd anyone? Go figure.]
I have observed these patterns and have concluded the following:
- Although H tells me different, I feel I cannot depend upon him to protect me or set healthy boundaries where his family is concerned.
- I have to be vigilant and refrain from putting myself in situations where I or my children are at risk.
- I have to take care of ME; nobody else will.
- H has loads of unresolved issues from his previous marriage(s) – oh yes, he married Satan not once, but TWICE.
- His issues are his to face (or not) and only become important where those issues can adversely affect me or my sons.
- Bella will never be welcome in any house that I own. Ever. Period.
- H will never set boundaries with Bella and tell her she was way out of line and that she can never get away with such madness again.
- I should expect that H will not set boundaries and/or make sure I’m not subjected to Bella if I were to accompany him to the festival. “Don’t worry about Bella – let yourself have fun!” right. And then boom, there I am: back in Bella’s drama and it could have been prevented. No thanks.
- H will never apologize to me for his facilitation of my abuse by his family, unless it is solicited. The apology is always insincere too. He becomes angry and ashamed and shouts me down instead. Only he can change his thinking and behavior.
- The ways in which H stood by and left me to swing in the wind have sent the message to my sons that this kind of public shaming of their mother is OK. This tells my sons that I am weak and deserve to be abused. This also tells my sons that it’s ok to have weak or nonexistent boundaries where family is concerned. Further, this kind of enabling lets them know that it’s OK to shame someone and that they deserve what they get.
- These types of things will happen again and again (as suggested by the pattern) unless I disengage from the dysfunction and disallow it.
- Boundaries. I gotta have ’em.