How To Navigate Parenting With A No Contact Boundary
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne. We’re gonna talk about parallel parenting today. We’re going to also talk about no- contact, which is a boundary that some women would like to set with someone in separation, or sometime in divorce. This is a really safe boundary for someone who is dealing with a narcissist, or someone who is dealing with an abuser.
I myself hold a no-contact boundary. I’ve had lots of women ask me questions about this. “How do you do it with kids?” “How do you do it in these situations?” We’re going to do a series about parallel parenting and no-contact. This is the first one in our series.
Why Are Boundaries So Important In Separation and Divorce From An Addict?
Anne: I want to welcome a BTR Coach.
BTR Coach: Thank you, Anne, it’s great to be here.
Anne: We have a client, Kate. Welcome Kate.
Kate: Hi, Anne. Hi, BTR Coach.
BTR Coach: Hi.
Anne: Kate is a little nervous.
Kate: Very nervous.
Anne: We’re huddled around the microphone in my basement, so it’s going to be very fun. I want to let Kate start here by talking about her current situation with her ex-husband. What’s going on, the triggers she has, and then we’ll have a BTR Coach give some input.
No-contact is a very protective boundary needed for situations like abuse, or narcissism, that I experience, and that Kate also has experienced. I’m just going to have her start, and we’ll go from there.
How Do I Determine What Type Of Boundary Is Best?
Kate: I recently divorced—was final this last October. I was married for 35 years, 3 children. I have a 17-year-old daughter living at home with me still, and 2 adult married children. I get triggered when I get an email, or a text from my ex-husband. It feels like any healing that has happened in my life unravels the minute I see a text or read an email.
I really feel strongly that I need to have a no-contact boundary. He has not respected the boundaries that I have requested and implemented in my life, but I still need to be safe, and continue the healing process from my marriage, and the betrayal, and the narcissism, and the porn addiction that I lived with every day of my life, for 35 years.
Anne: You told me a story about an email he recently sent to you about how he wanted to “co-parent”, can you talk about that for a minute?
What Are Examples of Boundaries For Gaslighting?
Kate: One Sunday morning there was an email from him. It said something to the effect of, “Would you consider looking at this religious video, because I want to set a united front with our daughter, in her use of social media?” Well, there wasn’t any link that he provided, so I didn’t understand what he was talking about, but I knew exactly, the minute I read the email, what was going on.
This is what I call his “pretend parenting” that he’s done throughout our marriage. He comes up with a great idea we can implement in our family, and with our children to help them with whatever challenges we’re having as parents. I get on board and start to get excited about doing something as partners, together, to help our family.
When we start to present it to our children, he opts out. He goes quiet, he doesn’t talk. He starts doing something else, getting distracted, and our kids are looking at me and looking at him. Then he just starts to shrug his shoulders when they look at him like, “I don’t know what she’s talking about. She’s crazy,” and the new idea, whatever it is, is dead before it’s hit the ground running.
Can I Set Boundaries With A Narcissistic Ex?
Our children have always been conflicted when this happens, and so have I. I look like this person who’s on a quest all by herself to force our children to give up their phones before bedtime, or a new curfew. I knew this was another attempt at his pretend parenting. He does it to make himself feel good about being a parent. But then, he doesn’t want to do the hard work of implementing strategies that help our children grow and learn and have boundaries in their own life.
Even though I responded to it and said, “There’s no link,” that’s all I wrote, he never sent another email with a link, and it hasn’t been discussed ever since. As soon as I read the email and realized the dynamics that were going on, I could tell, “Okay, this is another trigger for me, because it sends me back to times when I would get excited about co-parenting with him, and then he would leave me hanging.”
Anne: I’m going to speak for Kate for a minute, if you don’t mind, since I know her quite well. Throughout my friendship with her, she’s told me several instances of emotional abuse, due to her ex.
What is a No-Contact Boundary?
Anne: Setting a no-contact boundary seems like it would be a good plan at this point. I want to tell you one of—an example from my parenting situation. When my ex says “co-parenting” I believe what he means is during his parenting time, he would like to be able to drop the kids off at my house at will, or he would like to be able to tell me what to do. Rather than being able to have a meaningful conversation where we come to an agreement, it ends up always being a power struggle because he acts like a narcissist. There’s no way to get around that.
Kate’s dealing with that same thing. I want to introduce the concept of parallel parenting, which a lot of people haven’t heard of. When I first started going through my divorce, co-parenting was always coming up, and no one ever said anything about parallel parenting. BTR Coach, can you just briefly tell our listeners what parallel parenting is?
Is Parallel Parenting A Boundary?
BTR Coach: I can. Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which, typically, divorced parents are able to parent by means of disengaging. That’s the important part there, the ability to disengage from each other in situations where they have demonstrated that they’re unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner, with that controlling behavior that you’re talking about, with what I would call the “good guy gaslighting” that I heard Kate just talk about. It allows for, basically, an arrangement to be made where one parent might make and assume that some decision-making responsibility in different domains. That way there’s very little actual interaction between the parents.
Anne: If I could just summarize that in layman’s terms it would be you do what you want with the kids when they’re with you, and I’m going to do what I think is best for the kids when they’re with me. We don’t need to talk about this unless someone’s going to die. If there’s some kind of crazy emergency, then we can go through a third party, or we can go through a mediator, or some type of third-party so that we can agree.
BTR Coach: Exactly.
Anne: Is that—
How Can A Parallel Parenting Boundary Work In A Situation With A Narcissist?
BTR Coach: Yeah. Usually what that means is that major decisions—and even sometimes this can be separated out like one parent might make school decisions, another one might make medical, then the day-to-day kind of things, unless there’s some big thing going on, you just do you when you’ve got the kids, and I’ll do me when I’ve got the kids, if you have shared custody.
One of my former clients had to go to court to get her ex to sign off on allowing their kid to have play therapy. The judge actually ordered that they use this specific email system that monitors the emailing. There are a number of different programs, or organizations or businesses—I don’t know what the right word is—that you can go to that that’s their job, right, is to be that third party in situations like this.
When Does A Parallel Parenting Boundary Not Work?
Anne: Kate, what are your thoughts about it?
Kate: As I’ve read about parallel parenting, it makes a lot of sense, and it sounds great. Yet, when I read about it, I think, “Well, my situation is different because this,” or “My situation, that won’t work for me, because I don’t have a third-party.” Really, my ex-husband doesn’t parent my daughter. I have sole custody. She’s with him occasionally, but she gets to decide when she’s with him. It’s not a regular basis, so he really doesn’t have a lot of say in decisions about her. I don’t know, what we need to combine on.
It just seems like he interjects himself into my life randomly. Really, for no reason that I can see. Like for instance, I’ve asked him to send the child support alimony check in the mail. Just the other night, he texted me and said, “I’m dropping off the check, I’ll leave it under the doormat on your front porch.”
I’ve asked him not to do that before, because it’s not secure. It’s not a safe option, and, yet, he doesn’t respect that request. He just doesn’t want to buy a stamp, basically, and he wants to interject himself into my life any way he can.
Can Boundaries Help Me Heal From Narcissistic Abuse?
BTR Coach: Mm-hmm. I love a number of things that have been said. How Kate was saying, “I think he just wants to interject himself into my life.” I agree. I hear someone who’s trying to hook you, trying to bait you. My ex is actually very much like this as well. I’m very familiar with dealing with these kinds of emails, and things like that. As far as the boundaries are concerned, I think part of what we have to do, first, is understand the gaslighting behavior that’s going on as well.
Yes, there’s boundaries, but, oftentimes, if we can’t see past the gaslighting, we’re just going to get confused about what’s actually going on, and why is this happening, then we get distracted. The thing that we need to understand about the gaslighting is, ultimately, the result is more important than how they gaslight us. What happens when we’re being gaslit? We get confused. We’re not sure like, “Do I need to respond to this email? Do I not need to respond to this email?” We just get in that powerless place again.
Kate: Those were the exact thoughts going through my mind. Like, “What do I do? Do I just ignore this?” Even though I didn’t see him come to my door to drop this check off, I felt myself triggered. I went down in my basement to just get away from possibly seeing him, or even hearing him at the door.
What About Boundaries When Dealing With Triggers?
BTR Coach: There’s a number of things that can be done. I have a number of people—and this is something that I highly recommend to women that are in a situation where they have an abusive person in their life that they’re trying to minimize contact with or no-contact.
Do you have safe people who you can say, “You know what, I just got another email from my ex. Will you please read it, and let me know if there’s anything I actually have to respond to? Is there anything important? Is there any money, or talk about the health of the kids, or anything that I actually have to respond to? Because, otherwise, I don’t need that. I don’t need that triggery feeling. I don’t need the re-traumatization of it.” If you have safe people, I think that’s one of the most brilliant things that we can do. It doesn’t hit them the same as it does us. That’s a fantastic boundary to put up.
Anne: Right. With that, I think even just seeing the email in the inbox is triggering. If we can block them on our email and block them in our phone and have them send the email to that safe person, and, say, just send it directly to that person, so that we don’t even have to see when it pops up in our email. I think that is the best-case scenario, because then that person’s not triggered by seeing an email.
How Do I Get Help To Set Boundaries With An Abusive Ex?
Because my dad wrote my ex and said, “I will not stand for this abuse anymore. I have instructed Anne to block you on her phone and on her email. From now on, you will only write to me.” I never even have to worry about seeing an email in my inbox. I know I’m never going to get a text, because I’ve blocked him.
I want to tell a funny story really fast. One day I received a text that said, “Watch out, I’m going to get you.” It was from an anonymous phone number. I immediately called the police, and they started tracking it, because I thought, “This is my ex, or something to do with my ex.” Well, the police called and said, “It’s coming from your neighborhood.” Like that “When a Stranger Calls”, like, “The call is coming from inside the house!”
It was like that, and I was like, “My neighborhood?” He’s like, “Yeah, it’s one of your neighbors.” I was like, “Oh, my word.” He’s like, “Do you think maybe he’s having an affair with one of your neighbors, or stuff like that?” I was like, “I don’t know.” I said, “Which neighbor?” The police officer wouldn’t tell me, so then he said, “Let me just go talk to your neighbor, and see what’s going on.”
What Can I Do To Protect Myself From My Abusive Husband?
He went and talked to my neighbor, and he called me and said, “You know, it’s [blank].” I won’t say her name. She’s one of my really good friends, and I had come around the corner in my car, and she had almost run into me with her car. She was totally just joking around, and I forgot to put her phone number in my phone. She just was like, “Watch out, I’m going to get you!” as a joke.
In that moment, I had to call the police, I had to do all these things. It was such a triggery time for me, so I don’t answer phone calls from anonymous numbers, because I don’t know if that anonymous number might be from him or not. I really try to put people that I trust, like my neighbor, who I love—she’s awesome—in my phone, so that I don’t have days like that where I’m like, “Oh my word, I have to call the police.”
Sending it somewhere else is really important, which might be one of these apps, for example, like Family Wizard, or something like that. Maybe you could set up the app, make him think you’re reading it, but then ask someone else to open that app up for you, and then block him on email on your phone.
How Does Gaslighting Harm Me?
BTR Coach: We have to back up a sec, in my opinion, because I want to go back to the gaslighting. We go back to that example that you used about the email, where he wanted to co-parent, or he wanted you to look at this video, because “We want to make sure our kids are doing well with the screen time, and duh, duh, duh.”
When a person is psychologically abusive, which is what gaslighting is, it’s emotional and psychological abuse, one of the most damaging ways that they can gaslight us is when they use our values against us. Right, so it’s this trying to hook us by hitting on our value of being a good mom, or our faith, or different things that they know are values to us that can cause us to engage with them, with, likely, no intention of actually following through.
They just want to be in control. They manipulate the situation so that they can get us to engage with them again. What we have to do in that moment is, first of all, recognize that that’s what’s going on, that our values are being used against us, and remind ourselves of what the actual truth is.
How Do I Break Free From Gaslighting?
The actual truth is I’m a good parent, right. I don’t need to watch this video. Me and my 17-year-old daughter, we’re doing great. We ground ourselves by reminding ourselves back of whatever the truth is. Then, even going further to what you were talking about, about just blocking. Right, just straight blocking so that you don’t even have to deal with that.
This is multiple layers here, right, because not everybody can go to straight blocking. Some people can. Those like Kate, like myself, that have full custody, we can do that. We don’t have to interact as much, or we can go completely no-contact, but not everybody can. When we’re looking at things like completely blocking the email, sometimes what a hurdle is for us is that goes against our own nature, our own values. Like, “That seems so mean,” like, “That’s so harsh.”
Just to completely cut somebody out of my life, especially when they’ll probably send emails like, “Why are you being so mean,” and, “You’re being unfair, cutting me out of my kids’ lives.” I don’t know if you guys have heard any of the stuff like that, but my ex will say stuff like that. Saying the things that sound good but are really empty. When our values are challenged, there’s a conflict. The conflict is between our safety or a traditional definition of what co-parenting is.
How Can I Value My Own Healing From Betrayal Trauma?
We have to really decide what’s our biggest value here, and my biggest value is I need to not go into an emotional tailspin and be re-traumatized every time I see his name pop up in my email account, or as a text. Because that has become the priority of my biggest value, then that empower us to make those kind of super-protective boundaries that might seem a little dramatic. They’re not, they’re completely necessary. Does that make sense?
Kate: It does. It always feels like, when one of these things come up, I have to choose between my own safety and what’s best for my daughter. It feels like my ex-husband almost has me convinced that me interacting with him is what’s best for my daughter. I know, intellectually, it’s not, because of past experience.
It feels like I have to put my safety on the backseat, and let him do the driving, because we have to co-parent our daughter. Like today, I had to be at a grandson’s birthday party, and he was there. I don’t know how to get around that situation, because I don’t want to force my adult children to have to have separate parties, or—I lived through that as a young mom with my parents who were divorced. They expected me to have separate parties for each set of grandparents, and that just didn’t work. It just feels like I have to put my safety needs, and my emotional security second.
What Are Creative Ways to Manage Boundaries?
BTR Coach: How creative can we get with your boundaries? Because, sometimes, especially when we’re in a place of trauma—I don’t know about you all, but my creativity goes kind of down the toilet. I am not creative. How creative can you get?
Kate: No ideas come up.
BTR Coach: Can it be—and then what we do is we start brainstorming. How many different options? How many different doors can we look behind to see what are the options for boundaries, so that you don’t have to completely give away your safety? Maybe you can’t have it quite as safe, which means he wouldn’t be there, but what are your other options?
Anything ranging from, “You know what, today, I can’t make this party, but I’m going to take him out on this special Grandma Day, or we celebrate his birthday.” Or, it might be, “I’m going to go in with the mindset that I’m going to see my ex, and I’m going to have an ‘escape plan’.” That’s my boundary is that I’m going to have outs, where, if I need to leave the house, I’ll go run an errand like, “Oh, I see you need some candles. I’ll go to the store and get some candles.”
What Can I Do About A Toxic Situation?
Just make up creative things, for reasons to get out of the situation if it becomes toxic, or if it becomes traumatizing to you, that you have already prepared and exit plan. Because then, again, you feel at least a little bit more in control. When you’re there, and you don’t have an exit plan, you feel trapped, you feel powerless. Boundaries are meant to make us feel safe and empowered. That’s what we’re looking for in situations like that is how creative can I get around my safety, and around the boundaries that I can implement.
Anne: The reason I wanted to do this in a series, and I wanted to do it with Kate, is sort of a test case, because I assume that many of our listeners have this same issue where they would like as little contact as possible with their abuser, or with the person who’s betrayed them, because they’re still not safe. They don’t feel safe, and they don’t know how to do it.
BTR Coach: If you’re not comfortable setting a protective boundary of absolutely zero email contact, or texting contact, or you don’t have the ability. Maybe you don’t have the safe people like Anne and I do, one of the thoughts, as well, is that you can just not respond. Just because he sends you an email or a text doesn’t mean you have to respond. I have found that to be a particularly potent response is a non-response, because part of what they’re trying to do is get us to engage. If we don’t engage, oftentimes, they can start backing up a little bit. If we don’t give them that reaction.
I Try To Co-Parent But My Ex Refuses
Kate: I have done that with texts that I know I don’t need to respond to. Like he would text me, “Have you seen my camera charger?” or, “Can you find this in our files?”
BTR Coach: Do you even need to get those texts?
Kate: I don’t. I don’t, because it’s just another way for him to assume that I need to take care of things he’s lost or be his mommy. The problem with my ex is he’s a narcissist, but he’s a covert narcissist. He portrays himself as this really easy-going person, who’s really friendly and carefree. But his response, if I were to block him, or if I don’t answer a text or an email, is he portrays me to other people that he’s the victim, that I’m the abuser, and that I’m not co-parenting with him, and—
Anne: That’s exactly how my ex is too. Before I implemented the no-contact, I was getting crazy texts like, “Why don’t I have diapers?” I’m like, “You can go to the store and get diapers,” or “Why don’t I have this, or that?” Just anything he could do to hook me in, but he seems like this such nice guy on the outside.
How Can I Overcome The Opinions of Others?
BTR Coach: Those that are in the arena are the ones whose opinions matter. Those who are getting dirty and bloody with you, fighting in the trenches. The spectators, those that he’s able to sway, those are the people that are the spectators, and their opinions, although they might not be fun, they’re not the ones that we have to let influence us.
We can choose to be like, “You know what, you’re just a spectator, you are not my people who are in the arena getting dirty and bloody with me. Those are the people whose words matter, and whose opinions matter. I know those people will allow me to speak my truth into this situation.”
Kate: I just finished a Rising Strong class with my therapist, who’s a Brene Brown trainer, and I was so disappointed, because I wasn’t—
How Can Disengaging With My Narcissistic Ex Help Me?
BTR Coach: Mm-hmm.
Kate: — at the end of the class, I didn’t feel like I had risen, strong enough.
BTR Coach: Know, it is a process.
Anne: Absolutely, it’s a long process.
BTR Coach: I know that we’re going to do this as a series. What Anne and I were hoping that we could have you do is have a goal of something that you would like to try with this parallel parenting idea of disengaging. Right, how can you disengage maybe just a little bit more than you have been.
It might be a little bit of a stretch, might be a little bit out of your comfort zone, initially, right, because potential pushback, but in the long run will increase your safety, will decrease your triggers, and help you build some of that resiliency. Talk about rising strong, how are you going to be able to build that resiliency, and rise fast, if you’re constantly being dinged and, basically, harassed.
How Can I Extend My Boundaries To Keep Myself Safe?
How can you implement something that’s going to, maybe, extend your boundaries just a little bit more? Push out the safety just a little bit more than you have, than right now. See how that goes, we can check in with you the next podcast and see how that went, what the successes were, how it might’ve helped you, any potential pushback, or fallout from that boundary, and then we can, hopefully, learn a little bit from your experience and some other ladies might get some insight. Does that sound good to you?
Kate: Great, I would definitely like to take the step of blocking his phone number and his email and maybe using this app to have some kind of third-party situation. I don’t have a trusted person that would be willing to do what Anne’s dad does.
Anne: At least right now you don’t.
Kate: At least right now.
My Ex Is Abusive To Me
Anne: I want women to know that it is possible. I think the number one thing that stops women from doing this, and getting to safety, is they don’t think it’s possible. Like what you said before, they don’t get creative about how to do it, because they just think, “It’s not possible, so I’m not going to try. If women think it is possible—this is possible, and with faith, I can accomplish this. Now, how do I do it is the key.
BTR Coach: It feels counterintuitive. It goes against most of our natures where we’re loving and we’re caring and we’re nurturing, and that feels really cold to just say, “I’m going to cut you out of my life, because you are dangerous. You are harmful.” We feel like we need to have somebody give us permission to do that. It’s not just that we feel like it’s not possible, we don’t feel like we have permission.
I think it’s important that we give ourselves permission to go ahead and do that, because it’s necessary. It’s not us being mean. It’s not us being cold. Those are the old lies of the gaslighting, those are not the truth. The truth is that you deserve to be safe, so you can give yourself permission to take this protective step. I think that’s really important.
How To Focus On My Own Healing From Betrayal Trauma?
Kate: That’s a good point. I think women, in general, but especially in my religious culture are trained, and expected, to be nice and to get along and do anything, even at all costs, for the family and for children especially. That’s really going against that expectation, that cultural training, that religious training, for me to cut someone out of my life, especially someone connected to my children and grandchildren.
I would like us all to get along and work cooperatively, but this is a person that cannot work as a team in any situation. It’s just not safe. I would really to not have those texts and emails coming to me by next time. I just think the idea of an app, or a third-party is a great idea. Some buffer zone between me and my ex, to keep those triggers from happening, and then blocking him on my phone.
BTR Coach: Yes.
Kate: It would be hard, but it would be good, especially because we have some financial issues that we still need to work out from the divorce decree, so that’s going to be extra challenging.
How To Build Resiliency With An Abusive Ex?
Anne: I’m not sure, but as you research that app, Family Wizard, or any other apps, I think some of them have the financial stuff too, that you can go through. If you’re listening, and you have the answers to this, will you please comment below, because this is new territory for so many people. If you’ve been using an app, like Family Wizard, or a third-party app, and you’re an expert at third-party technology to keep us safe, please comment on our site, and let other women learn from your experience.
BTR Coach: A really good start on some action steps to help make these goals become a reality for you, and create a little bit more safety for you, a little less trauma, and hopefully building some resiliency for you. I’m excited to see how these things go for you.
Kate: Thanks, BTR Coach. I appreciate your help.
Small Goals Can Help Bring Peace and Healing
Anne: We will check back in with Kate and BTR Coach in a little while and see how Kate did with her goals. Again, I want to restate her goals to block her ex on her phone and block her ex on her email and research an appropriate app to have contact with him about her financial things and about her daughter that still lives at home.
Those are the three goals that she has made for herself today, and I am really excited to see what happens. No judgement here, if nothing happens, because we’re all just progressing any way that we can, and, no matter what happens, we love you Kate.
How Can I Find Help?
When women are searching out there for, “Why is my marriage going bad?” or “What can I do?” I don’t want them to find, “The 10 Ways You Can be More Sexy,” or “How to Improve Communication.” I want them to find the truth, because those types of articles just keep them in that abuse cycle, and that porn user will just continue to abuse them and blame them, and the hurt will continue.
Our job here, at BTR, is to stop that hurt by educating women about what the truth is about their situation, that they are worthy of love, that they are beautiful, and that they deserve to be treated well.
One way we can help is by providing a safe place to share. With more than 15 sessions a week, it’s easier than ever to find a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group session that fits your schedule without having to leave your home. Each session is led by a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.