Q. I’ve had 10 miserable years with my ex. We tried counseling, but my ex stopped when it got too tight. I am convinced that she is a narcissist. She checked all the boxes. Would that be reason enough to have sole custody of my children? What is good ex-etiquette?
A. I have to tell you, right now there seems to be an abundance of exes suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Maybe because this diagnosis has been in the news for a while. This type of layperson diagnosis seems to be coming in waves.
Some time ago most exes were “bipolar”. If an angry partner is acting irrationally, he must be mentally ill. You have a personality disorder or chemical imbalance. Something doesn’t have to be right with them.
The truth is, no one does their best during a breakup. We get moody, unpredictable, sometimes irrational, angry, arrogant, sad, and we need to reaffirm our own importance or act impulsively – all of these are some of the symptoms associated with narcissism and bipolar disorder. But if we look for a formal diagnosis, so are symptoms of other disorders, including depression, anxiety, and disconnections from the drum roll.
Breakups aren’t easy. What leads to them is not easy. You live in an uproar, you disagree, and the COVID-19 lockdown has put people in close proximity for a long time with no place to escape or socialize. Domestic violence has increased and I suspect the number of custody and divorce petitions will increase. Nobody was prepared for that.
That’s not to say your ex isn’t diagnosed, but she could also be incredibly stressed and unhappy, and that looks bad to anyone. But even if there is a formal diagnosis, it doesn’t mean sole custody of either of you is set in stone. Many people with mental illness share custody of their children. Unless your children are not safe with her – and you have evidence, not just your opinion or a revenge campaign – sole custody of either parent may not be in your children’s best interests. Knowing this, put down your guns and find ways to cooperate in truly taking care of your children.
I’ve said it many times before – a child has the right to spend time with both parents. With that in mind, you will most likely get joint custody and share your children’s time with the mother. It is your responsibility to find ways to do it well. If you need professional placement, try a co-parenting counselor to help improve your communication and problem-solving skills. Your kids deserve it. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of Ex-Parent Etiquette: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation and founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.