by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program. 

  • Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
  • Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
  • Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
  • GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019) 

Backstory to this post:  I wrote this about 5 years ago after working hard with someone afraid to set boundaries with a threatening ex. I also tell this story on a podcast or two.

The story I recount here is one of the incidents that caused me to become hooked on relationship recovery. This convinced me there was another way. I didn’t know the way YET, but I was learning and going to places where the responses to crazy people were different than I had been coming up with. This situation gave me hope and a dedication to boundary-setting and pushing back on threatening lunatics. I hope it helps someone.  And, trust me, if I can do this…so can you!

Stepping Out of the Dance

When my ex and I first separated, he would take the kids for “visitation” and go to his grandmother’s and call me. Although he was supposed to be visiting with the children, he would call me almost the minute he got them back to his grandmother’s house.

He would tell me everything that was wrong with me and how horrible a wife and mother I was…how he abused me and cheated on me because it was my fault, I was so wretched. If I tried to argue or hangup he would tell me that if I did, I would never see the kids again.

Most of his harangue was to justify his cheating and his involvement with someone before we even separated. Had I been a better wife/mother/human being he wouldn’t have strayed. Three times. And I listened to this. For hours. Each week.

I would listen to his tirades and diatribes against me (complete with every name in the book, including ones I haven’t heard since leaving him). I would cry and beg him to stop.

I would be crying and crying until I couldn’t cry any more. Whenever I would say I had to go he would threaten to keep the kids.

This went on every week, sometimes twice a week.

I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t sleeping much at all, just for minutes at a time – 20 minutes here – 30 minutes there, where my hands were shaking all the time…where I would dread every visitation day. I wouldn’t sleep most of the night before visitation day and the closer it got to morning, if I managed an hour of sleep, I would then wake up with incredible anxiety attacks as if my heart was going to pound right out of my chest. Even if I didn’t sleep, the moment the sun rose I was a wreck.

Finally I started to think about sharing this with my support group. They had told me was that I was as sick as my secrets and these sick dances of ours were something I had kept secret for years. I couldn’t tell anyone but now, if I wanted to get well, I had to let it out. I told them, crying and trembling, the story. I begged them for help. They listened empathically and then no one spoke for a long time. Oh what did I do? Did I make them all think I’m a horrible human being? a terrible mother? a wretched wife? What did I do?

Finally one woman spoke up, “Tell him to keep them.”

Others nodded in agreement and murmured among themselves.

My eyes flew open.

I could not believe what I was hearing. I was floored…

Tell him…WHAT? He would keep them. They didn’t know him like I did. I would never see them again.

They assured me that would not happen. I didn’t believe it. So much for talking to these people. I actually almost left support/recovery groups at this point over this advice. These people were all nuts. So I went back to my secretive life whereby I was being brutalized  by an incessant, horrible, terrible narcissist who seemed out to destroy me. 

But after a particularly brutal episode that had lasted most of the day. I had been crying so hard all day that when I walked into my therapist’s office at 7 pm, my voice was still quivering and not working right. She asked me what was wrong and I broke down and told her. I had not let her in on this particular drill before (you ARE as sick as your secrets…NO DOUBT ABOUT IT!) As I recounted the brutal Tuesdays, I started crying once again. Even though I thought I had no more tears left. 

I cried and cried and couldn’t stop crying. I started hiccuping and gasping for air. I was a mess.

When I was on the verge of passing out, I looked up and asked her what to do and she said, “Tell him to keep them.” WHAT? Had the entire world gone nuts? Was there a book somewhere that said, “Tell him to keep them.” because that is what I was hearing. No. No. No. You don’t know him. He will! She shook her head. No. He won’t. I didn’t believe her.

I had been led around by the nose by him for years. He threatened all kinds of things all the time and I always believed him. Even when he was cheating and I knew it, he would say, “If you keep accusing me of cheating, I will do it.” Which is NOT the response. But, being as sick a I was I became quiet about it. How sick is that?

And despite everyone telling me to call his bluff about the kids, still, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I endured a few more weeks of agonizing phone calls.

On one occasion I was crying so hard that I would not be able to compose myself for the rest of the day…I would be drained with a quivering voice…I would not be able to hold it together. I thought, truly, that I was going insane.

And it was one of those weeks where he did it 2 days in a row. So on the second day, he called and started in on me. I couldn’t take it any more. I told him so. He said, “You hang up this phone and you’ll never see those kids again.” and, nervously said, “Fine keep them.”

and he was quiet for about a second…probably in bananahead shock (which is different than regular person shock). Then, after a looooong pause, he sputtered, “Oh sure, I lose no matter what…” I have no idea what else he was going to say. I just hung up the phone and fell back on the bed emotionally exhausted and miracles, upon miracles, I fell asleep for hours.

Later that night the kids came home.

We went on with our lives.

The phone calls were over.

I set a boundary. I SET A BOUNDARY. I stopped being a puppet on a string. Life itself changed that day. For the BETTER. I learned that boundaries are to protect me. I draw a line. If you try to step over it, you will be denied.

I learned that day how to step out of the dance. I learned that he was full of crap and I learned to stop being manipulated by him. Never ever ever let someone who has no right to castigate or insult you (and that means NO ONE) do this to you. Go NO CONTACT and the minute someone says something demeaning or insulting when you have to talk to him or her: END IT. NO MORE. ENOUGH. Those days are OVER!

We had done things the same way for years.
He would accuse, I would defend.
He would threaten, I would capitulate.
He would hold things over my head. I would apologize.

I broke out of the dance that day. I said no more. I said, I have had enough.

No, things were not perfect after that but it was a new beginning and it would never be as bad as it had been again.

I learned to set boundaries, standards and limits and to stop taking nonsense from nonsensical people.

I learned to not deal with the irrational and the stupid.

I learned there was another way to do things. And I did them. And things got better. Much much better.

I learned to dance by myself in a new and healthy way.

I learned to dance with only worthy partners…I learned that dancing by myself is the best stuff ever.

I broke the cycle of abuse in my family…mostly due to boundaries.

I always say that on that day it wasn’t that the doors of heaven opened and let me in, but the doors of hell opened and let me out.

Let yourself out and live your life. Be good to you! Oh yeah, and dance dance dance!!!

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