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Question: My husband is such a cunning man. He goes out of his way to portray me as a bad mom and that he's the one taking care of our kids by himself. He enjoys the sympathy of people even at my expense. He deliberately starts arguments or triggers me when there are people around so that I retaliate, and he acts innocent like I'm just randomly shouting at him.
How can I live with him without falling for his tricks and his traps? Please suggest strategies to keep me from retaliating and reacting to him.
Answer: I’m sorry for what you are going through. For now, it sounds like your desire is to stay married, but you’d like some better strategies to take care of yourself. From what you’ve described, I’m not sure it will be possible for you to live with him safely and sanely long-term. But I will give you some strategies. Try them and see what happens. If he escalates his destructive/abusive tactics when you try the things I share, then that’s your answer. It won’t be possible to stay long-term.
Before I give you these strategies, let me tell you why it’s important that you practice them. From what you tell me, your husband is intentionally creating a narrative in front of your children and others that he’s the good guy, you’re the crazy one. He’s the sacrificial, hard-working dad, and you are the reactive, sinful, or even crazy wife/mom.
You are cooperating with that narrative by reacting negatively to his tricks and traps, especially when you do so in front of the children or others.
Therefore, it’s crucial right now that you learn to stop. He is not going to stop provoking you, but you must stop reacting and retaliating when he does it or he will demonstrate exactly what he is trying to prove. The worst-case scenario is that you react and hit him, at which point he will call the police and accuse you of abuse. You will be arrested, and your children will think you are the dangerous one. Trust me, over the years, I have seen exactly this scenario happen and it’s tragic. Please don’t let that happen to you and your children. Plus when you act out in front of others, he now has witnesses to validate his narrative.
To stop reacting you must begin by taking full responsibility for you. Only you can manage your triggers, your emotions, your hands, your tongue, and your temper. Throughout your life, people can and will provoke you. Yet, you are still responsible for how you handle yourself when that happens. Here are a few ways to help yourself when it happens.
Observe versus absorb. Picture yourself like a Teflon shield when he’s flinging his cruel arrows toward you. Observe them coming at you, but the Teflon deflects them. Ping, ping, ping. They are not absorbed into your psyche. They bounce off. You see what he’s doing and you don’t react. Inside you even might chuckle a bit while noticing how he’s trying to create drama for you to react to. Take slow breaths. Use soothing self-talk such as, “I can see what he's doing. He’s trying to make me react. I’m not going to let him. I’m observing, not absorbing. I choose to ignore him.” Then, walk away.
Practice JADE. This requires that you learn to detach and disengage from trying to get him to do anything you ask. You no longer ask him to stop provoking you, to understand how you feel, to care about your needs or feelings, or to validate your reasons for something.
Here’s what JADE stands for. Stop justifying, stop arguing, stop defending, stop explaining. Each of these four things happens in normal conversations with people. But you’ve learned again and again that you do not have normal conversations with him. If you keep trying, it wears you thin and gets you to your breaking point where you react and explode in frustration. Don’t let that keep happening.
Instead, you are going to have to stay, at least to yourself, “I accept he won’t understand. I accept he doesn’t care. I accept he won’t stop and doesn’t listen to me.” I get it, it’s not right or fair that he doesn’t. And I’m not saying you have to like it, but you must accept it. The most important thing you need to do in these moments of utter frustration is to take care of yourself so that you do not react to his indifference and feed his destructive narrative of you with more concrete evidence.
Last, go outside and find a grey rock. Try provoking it. Argue with it. Demean it. Spit on it. Kick it. What does the grey rock do? Nothing. It does not respond or react. When your husband starts up, you go grey rock. Picture yourself like that grey rock. Do not give him any energy, any narcissistic supply, any ammo to use against you. This requires that you learn how to calm yourself down internally using deep cleansing breaths and calming self-talk.
One more thing. You have limited capacity for any of these things. These tools only work so long before you get exhausted and let them go. Therefore, you must have boundaries, both external and internal. Boundaries around what you will and will not listen to, what you will and won’t talk about, how much time you spend together, etc so that you don’t allow yourself to reach capacity and have a meltdown.
Living with this kind of person takes its toll on you in the long run. These tools are meant to give you a reprieve so that you don’t react sinfully in the moment, and not be a permanent way of life. I’d strongly encourage you to get support through a counselor or coach so that you can develop a safety plan for yourself and your children and a longer-term strategy if he escalates.
Friend, what strategies or tools have you used in order to stay calm when provoked or triggered?
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