J. Peirano: The Secret Code of Love: My ex-husband acts like the big Zampano and bosses me around

Dear Ms.

J. Peirano: The Secret Code of Love: My ex-husband acts like the big Zampano and bosses me around

Dear Ms. Peirano,

I'm 48, divorced for eight years and happy with my new life again. We have a now grown son (20). The only fly in the ointment is my ex-husband. We had a lot of problems before the separation because, in my opinion, he had far too ambitious professional plans. He originally worked as an employee in a large electrical goods store.

His narcissistic mother told him that he could do much more and was living below his means. My ex-husband wanted to emulate his very successful father and probably also prove that he could be taken just as seriously as his two successful older brothers.

He was coached and then, on the coach's advice, became self-employed as a consultant for huge environmental projects. He actually has no idea; he is neither an engineer nor a business economist. He has had no income of his own for the last 12 years and still has no income of his own and I also earned money for him during the marriage. After two years I realized that he will never be successful. He didn't want to admit it and always talked about "my company", "my academy", "my customers" even though he didn't earn any money. We had major differences because of his denial and we broke up.

After that, I raised our son alone both financially and in terms of responsibility. My ex-husband built ever more pompous homepages on which some acquaintances were pictured as a team of advisors. Some of his father's business partners did this as a favor to his father.

My ex-husband only told our son and everyone he knew about his job, about important projects he was currently managing and presented himself as a successful businessman. Nobody believed him, it was downright embarrassing. The homepage, on which he described himself as a “world-renowned expert,” was gathering dust and full of spelling errors. I continued to distance myself from him even though I felt sorry for him.

“Unfortunately” we have had two holiday apartments on the Baltic Sea together for 20 years, which I manage and rent out. My ex-husband has never cared about it, other than taking half of the profits. For six months now he has suddenly been writing me emails in which he treats me like a maid. For the first time he demands insight into repair measures and contracts and comes around the corner with absurd questions and suggestions. He gave me the name of an electrician that I should now employ, even though I have been very happy with our electrician for years. He demanded that I offer his friends special conditions for a holiday on the Baltic Sea, even though the apartments were already rented at the time in question.

I recently wanted his (formal) approval for me to change tax advisors because the current one is very old and makes a lot of mistakes. He ordered me to stay with the previous tax advisor because he was "working very successfully" with him. The collaboration consists of ME doing the work and my ex-husband signing the completed declaration.

I don't want to be treated like a maid. What's the best thing I should do now?

The worst thing is that my ex-husband is so insistent on his own success story that no one is allowed to hint to him that he has had no income for years (other than income from rentals and consumption of an inheritance). Our son isn't allowed to know this either and my ex-husband has forbidden me from talking to him about it. Not with his parents anyway, so he made sure I had no contact with them anymore.

I find it difficult to build such a lie. Do you have any tips on how I can deal with him? I can't completely distance myself because we have the apartments together that we don't want to sell.

Kind regards, Denise T.

I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. During my doctorate, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.

Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.

Do you have questions, problems or heartache? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.

Dear Denise T.,

I found the expression “the fly in the ointment” very apt. Your life situation is actually good and you have achieved a lot. But the relationship with your ex-husband disturbs the peace as much as a hair disturbs the enjoyment of soup.

It sounds like your ex-husband's problems have gotten worse over the years. He may have always been under pressure, which can be plausibly explained by his family situation. He has a successful father, a narcissistic mother and two older brothers who are also successful. Narcissistic mothers have problems with reality and spin it the way they want. They often make one child a so-called "golden child" who can do no wrong, and another child a "black sheep." The reasons for this unequal treatment do not have to be understandable from the outside, but are found purely subjectively by the person themselves.

There are indications that your ex-husband felt from an early age that he did not meet the demands of his family. He wanted and should be special, and his secure position as an employee was not prestigious enough for his mother. He took the step into self-employment and obviously didn't manage to be successful. It might have been helpful if he had been advised not to put all his eggs in one basket. Maybe he didn't want to hear that, but had already started to deny reality back then.

So he built up a façade, that of a successful businessman, and tried to maintain it to the outside world. Pretending is lonely because you can't let anyone get close to you. And in your situation you won't get any corrective advice from people who mean well. Not even his own son is allowed to know how his father is really doing.

Hiding behind a facade creates a false self. Only certain parts can be shown externally or perhaps internally: the successful businessman (whose existence is based on a lie), the leader who tells everyone where to go. Your ex-husband must not allow any doubts to leak out, no self-criticism, no self-blame, no insecurities and he must not let his loneliness show.

This is a fatal situation.

However, the way he treats you is of course unacceptable. I suspect that he treats you condescendingly (like a maid) because he doesn't want to feel his feelings of inferiority towards you. You have built a new life for yourself, you have raised your son and you are taking responsibility for the apartments you share on the Baltic Sea. Her successes make him look small in comparison. And he compensates for that with his dominant demeanor. Your ex-husband does not take responsibility, but wants to appear as the big decision-maker and boss without corresponding performance, at your expense.

How about making it clear to him that ownership imposes an obligation and that you have only accepted this obligation by doing the work? Present him with the following decision: Either he continues to let you decide everything on your own, like you have done for the last 20 years, and stays out of it, or you both hand over the administration to an external service provider. Then you both pay for it and make less profit, and you have to talk to the manager together about every decision. Then your ex-husband would also have to think about it and show commitment. Don't let your ex-husband take care of the apartments himself, because he is obviously not capable of doing so.

This means that you show your ex-husband the limit, which means: this far and not a step further. Either we sort it out or we leave it alone. If you need clarification, it may also make sense to bring in a mediator, as the two of you will probably not make any progress due to the denial. By making these suggestions you will show that you are not a maid and do not dance to his tune.

If he doesn't position himself clearly, you could ask him at the next "official act" for the apartments how he made his decision and say, for example: I would have to show the apartment to new tenants straight away. I wouldn't do that if I didn't manage the apartment. Please tell me who is responsible. Should an administrator do that? He will notice how difficult it is to find an administrator and how much money he takes. This can be educational, a little excursion into reality, so to speak.

If it happens that a manager looks after the apartments, it would be good to agree on the following rules: Both of you are always the contact persons for all owner issues. This will be stressful for you, as you will have more to do with your ex-husband, but you will show him that you first have to get involved in order to make decisions. You can't just show up and play boss from above, you have to have insights, know the numbers, maintain contact with tradesmen, be able to deal with tenants, etc.

Only then can you make decisions, and you always have to do so amicably and on an equal footing. Whether or not this shows your ex-husband a bit of reality is questionable. But you show yourself and him that you won't let him lead you through the ring by your nose ring. And that's good for your self-esteem.

Herzlich GrüßeJulia Peirano