Parenting with a covertly toxic partner

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  • #593
    Renee Swanson

    When you aren’t sure about whether your partner is abusive or not, it can be incredibly difficult to see the pain they are causing your children. I had no idea the extent of damage that was being done by my husband. It took me a long time to see the abuse for what it was. He was the epitome of covert passive aggressive abuse.

    Early into therapy, my therapist told me to look for signs in me and our kids. Here are some of the signs to look for:
    As an entire family, you work to not upset that parent.
    When that parent is in a bad mood, everyone pays the price.
    The kids constantly disappear when that parent is around.
    No one feels safe having open conversation around that parent.
    The kids don’t feel comfortable inviting friends over.
    That parent’s thoughts and opinions matter more than anyone else’s.
    Everyone keeps their opinions to themselves around that parent.

    In essence the family starts using the grey rock method instinctively, for the purpose of survival and self-protection. Grey rock is where you become non-reactive to the abuser. You become boring to them in an attempt to not gain their attention. You try to become non-existent in their world.

    My boys and I were doing that long before I ever heard the phrase grey rock. It was how we were living on a daily basis.

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  • #190385

    I realize this is an old thread, hopefully someone is still here. I’ve been co-parenting (parallel parenting) my tween kids for 2 years since leaving their dad. We’ve been locked in endless trial the entire time with little to no hope of resolving financial or custody issues before they become adults. Ever since leaving, the kids have been obsessed with their dad. He only does fun, high adrenaline activities with them. Never homework, but often things that are questionably age appropriate. He applauds them for being so mature and responsible.

    Recently, one of the kids told me that they would like to spend more time with Dad when they are bored or I’m doing something with the other child they would prefer to do something fun with Dad. In fact, there are text messages on my child’s phone with cryptic messages to Dad saying things like, “She said no” with a reply from him of, “I’m sorry”. Both kids see therapists, but don’t open up about the way their dad controls them. They cover for him constantly. I’m forever being asked by attorneys and medical providers to “prove” that alienation exists. Anything that my kids say to me is hearsay in legal terms and not usable as evidence.

    How do you document or provide evidence of covert abuse in the form of parental alienation?

    Renee Swanson

    Hey Rubymae,

    I am so sorry for what you are going through. These situations, especially with kids, are absolute nightmares!

    My first recommendation is to start journaling everything. Don’t try to organize it, just get it on paper or computer. Anything and everything you can remember. Events, things said, things done, etc. Things from when you were still together and now. As you write, you will probably remember more things that aren’t conscious to you right now. Add those. This doesn’t need to be in any sort of order or structure. Just get it down. Even if you aren’t sure if it applies, that doesn’t matter. Write it anyways.

    As you do this, your own thoughts will become more clear. Some evidence specific to your situation is bound to surface. I don’t know what kind of evidence you may or may not have, but this is a good place to start.

    You said your boys don’t open up to the therapist about the way their dad controls them. Do they even see it for themselves yet? Are they actually aware of it? I have 2 boys too. When they were young, they didn’t see it. They both thought that everything that was wrong in the family was their fault. So they tried hard to be perfect and to win his approval. It wasn’t really until their mid to late teens that they really started to understand what was going on. I couldn’t show them sooner. They had to see it for themselves. Until then, I just supported them and loved them. I tried to stay out of the way of their relationship with their father and focused instead on just building a secure relationship with them myself. My relationship with them has been built on complete trust. They could talk to me about anything, and I would not judge them. Even when they talked about their dad.

    I know it isn’t easy, but you have to let them see it for themselves. If they aren’t ready to see it yet, they won’t. No matter what you say to them. There are no right words to fix this, so don’t try to find them. You will only wear yourself out. If you try to take them from their dad before they see it, they may turn on you. Of course, every situation is different. Just a thought to consider.

    I hope this helps! Stay strong! This journey isn’t easy, but I am here to tell you that if I can do it, so can you! You are stronger than you think!


    We have seven children together and this all just started This past November. I need so much help. The kids are all handling it differently. My husband is blocking therapy but my lawyer will go next week to court to obtain it. I feel so bad that my children have to go through this and be in a divorced home. Renee – You are right though – my oldest daughter, 17, sees what is happening and has been in therapy for four months. It is the next two – ages 14 and 9 – that I am mostly worried about right now. My husband has glopped onto our 14 year old daughter as if she were me. She doesn’t believe me most of the time. All I can do is pray, stay strong and peaceful and get them into therapy!

    Renee Swanson

    Country27 – I hate what you are going through. And I hate it for your kids. Good for you for getting them into therapy. It truly takes time for the kids to see reality, to be strong enough to face it, and to start their own path of healing.

    Don’t push too hard on the ones that don’t see it yet. Just focus on your own relationship with them and let them talk as they are ready. I wish you all the best!!

    Remember, you are stronger than you know!


    I’m currently in a marriage that is u healthy I am laying here in bed woth tears going back and forth in my head How bad leaving with affect the kids I’m terrified to make the move or sign the papers because I can’t turn back and I’m scared for the kids and the next 20 years of hell their father will put me and them though . I have a son that has a generic medical condition this also plays a big role in my fear for my move . I wish someone could just save me but I know I have to save myself . Thanks commode Listening I needed to vent


    My soon to be ex husband and his family are continuously gifting my daughter clothes 2-4x bigger than what she wears. Some of the clothes are more “boy-ish.” His sisters are not girly and identify as “they” or have serious mental issues. Enough said. I feel like I am being set up with this gifted clothes- like he is waiting for me to ask why they are too big or not girl clothes.

    How or do I approach this clothing situation?

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