Contact with my ex-husband pegs my anxiety super high. There are a lot of good reasons for this - too many to go into here, so I'll just say he has a history of anger issues and verbal and emotional abuse. With the help of my amazing therapist, I've put up some good, healthy boundaries and avoid contact with him unless it's absolutely necessary. I rarely speak to him on the phone, usually trying to limit contact to text or email. If he could speak to me calmly and respectfully I would have no problem, but conversation quickly devolves into insults, usually followed by threats of legal action, so...nope. I think his actions often border on harassment, but that's just me.

He messaged me the other day, asking me to do something that deviated from our parenting plan. I have learned the hard way that deviating is a bad idea, so I kindly but firmly said no. This enraged him, and he started sending me angry, insulting text messages. I put my phone away and ignored them, but I was on the verge of a panic attack. I said to a co-worker, "I'm going to pay for this. He's going to find a way to make me pay for this." Because he always does. It is better now that the divorce is final and I have the parenting plan and mediation agreement to work from, but he still finds ways.

Tonight there was another incident, after I dropped the kids off with him. Before I left he was throwing around some passive-aggressive comments about how I parent the kids. Later, he was mad that I didn't make our daughter read enough while she was with me. I was able to ignore the messages, but again found my chest was tight and my heart rate was up. Just from a few text messages. My therapist says that, instead of getting anxious, I need to look at these occasions as opportunities to teach him how to treat me, which sounds like a great idea, but I'm having a hard time doing so.

I know that I cannot control what he will say or do, I can only control my reaction to it. So how do I control my reaction to it? How do I stop giving a fuck, stop being scared of his inevitable retribution for standing up for myself? I feel like the underpants gnomes. Like I'm missing some key step in the process...

My steps:

  • Step 1: Ex sends shitty, insulting text message or email (or catches me off guard and starts talking shit over the phone)
  • Step 2: ??????????????
  • Step 3: I give zero fucks, and don't have a panic attack or live in fear of what he'll do next

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I'm missing something important between 1 and 3.

I cannot engage him, because often that is what he is looking for. He tries to use me as something of a whipping post - he once said to me, "I can't yell at (daughter) or (girlfriend), but I can yell at you." My standard response for his inflammatory bullshit is "I'm not going to discuss this with you now, you are clearly very upset. I'll get back with you on this in (an hour, after lunch, after work, tomorrow morning), and hopefully you can be more calm and rational. I will not allow you to (insult me, call me names, whatever)."

But even then, I'm still a wreck afterwards. And I obsess and worry over what he's going to say or do next. I'm afraid of him, of what he might do. I don't know what I'm so afraid of - I don't think he would ever be physically violent with me - but he has spent the last two years actively fucking with me, always coming up with some new, seemingly inane issue that he turns into a huge deal. I'm exhausted and weary and frankly scared, and I don't know how to not be that way.

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What's step 2? Anyone have any ideas?