Emotional Blackmail

alone child children close up
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Even though the children weren’t aware that we were in the process of a divorce, they were beginning to react to the dynamic in the house.  John continued to say things to them when I wasn’t around that confused them, upset them and alluded to the fact that there was something “bad” looming in the future.  I’m not sure if he was looking for comfort from them or if this was another way that he felt more power and control…. dealing with his feelings of losing control over me by attempting to gain control over them.  I never really knew what John was thinking… all I know is it took quite an emotional toll on our children.

One night James shared with me that his father was talking to him about how they might live in different houses.  He told me his father had talked with him about this on several occasions.  Of course, when I asked John about it, he denied it.  But there was no way James would have come up with that on his own.  I had also seen John, on multiple occasions, encouraging Quinn to get upset when she was not with him.  James started to act out more at school and when he was alone with his dad.  Quinn became extremely clingy and emotional.  Their teachers started reaching out to me to ask me if anything had changed and to discuss their concerns.

I knew there was nothing I could do to get John to admit what he was doing or to stop doing it… but I needed to do something to help my children cope with these mind games.  Due to James’ autism, he was already in counseling.  Quinn, however, was not.  After talking to her teachers and James’ counselor… as well as hearing at the court appointed parenting class that all children involved with divorce should get counseling…. I decided that it would be best to put Quinn in counseling as well.

I brought it up with John.  I honestly thought it would be a quick conversation in which he agreed that the kids would benefit from having someone to talk to.  After all… what harm could counseling possibly do?  How could anyone find fault in that?  Of course… I was wrong.  He became angry and started raising his voice.  He said he didn’t want either of the children in counseling.  He was threatening to not only deny Quinn counseling, but to pull James out as well.

Hearing this made me very nervous.  I had fought for years to get James the services he needed… and I had done it alone.  We were on a waiting list for over a year before I could get him in.  Now John was threatening to take that away.  I felt as if he was pushing our kids into emotional distress, and then he was refusing to allow me to get them help.

You might be asking yourself, why not just take them to counseling anyway?  He doesn’t have to agree.  But he DID have to agree.  The counselors wouldn’t even schedule a meeting for an intake unless both parents were in agreement.  My hands were tied unless John would agree… and he knew it.  He gained some control back and he was thriving on it.

For 6 months I fought this battle.  He couldn’t give me a real reason as to why he didn’t want Quinn to get counseling.  He claimed there wasn’t clear enough goal setting and progress monitoring… as if emotions were some kind of computer code that should have a clear beginning and ending… a switch to turn them off and on.  Quinn had no filter.  Was he afraid of what she would tell the counselors?  That they would learn of his emotional and physical abuse?  Or was this just one way that he could feel as if he had power over me again?

I tried to have one last conversation with him…. begging him to think of our daughter and her needs.  In this conversation he told me he would agree to counseling for Quinn as long as I agreed not to bring up the fact that he doesn’t attend the children’s appointments when we go back to family relations to negotiate the parenting schedule.  He was blackmailing me.  In order for me to get my daughter the emotional support that she was crying out for, I would need to keep quiet about his lack of involvement in the children’s lives (which he knew would weaken his claim that the children should be with him half of the time).

I didn’t know what to do.  I knew I needed to limit the time John was alone with the kids for their own physical and mental safety.  I also knew Quinn needed counseling.  I ended up telling him that the two issues were unrelated and should not be discussed together, but my heart sunk as I said it because I was so desperate to help her.  He continued to refuse the services.

It took six months.  Six months of him playing mind games with her all the while denying it.  Six months for me to get my baby girl the help she needed… and the entire time she was in distress.  Her teachers noticed it.  My family noticed it.  My heart was breaking for her.  Finally, through the Family Relations process, I was able to get him to agree to allow me to take her to counseling.

This is one more example of how the divorce process is broken.  An abusive spouse/parent is given the power to continue the abuse while the process drags on.  The child is denied help dealing with the effects of having an abusive parent because the abusive parent will not agree to the counseling.  How do we get this to change?  When will we stop giving these abusers the power to continue their reign?  I don’t know the answers… but I am hopeful that some day things will change.

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