I know that sounds petty, and it is... but it's also true. It is never "fun" to be the one taking the high road. So, why bother? Because it's right. Not a good enough reason? Fine. Because you'll always be the winner. I'll give the example of my friend's story. We'll call her Lisa.
Many years ago, Lisa went through a rather nasty divorce. Her soon-to-be ex was what we now call a narcissistic gaslighter: High-strung, emotionally manipulative, verbally abusive, condescending, domineering, and possessive. Back then, we just called him an asshole. Anyhow, Jim (not his real name, of course) was determined to make things as difficult as possible for Lisa. He would alternately beg for her to take him back - offering promises he'd change... and then threaten to take their two children (the ages of 7 and 11), her home, and her car away when she refused.
When Lisa spoke - in frustrated tears - to her lawyer about Jim's rollercoaster behavior, he gave her a suggestion: Whenever Jim spoke and behaved appropriately to her, he was allowed to continue to speak to her. When he stepped out of line, she was to calmly tell him that if he could not be civil/talk appropriately, he would have to go through her lawyer for communication. Lisa was skeptical, but tried it going forward. By the third time, Jim stopped his antics and behaved... or so it initially seemed.
As part of their separation agreement, Jim had the kids one day during the week and every other weekend. It was soon apparent Jim had found a new way to get to her. Through the kids; particularly, their oldest child. After each visit, without fail, the kids would come home wired and tense, defiant and emotional, and she would have to spend the night and next day de-escalating them. The oldest became especially sullen and combative. It was at bedtime one night when the barrier lowered and her 11 year old asked,
Why won't you let Daddy come back home? He says he still loves you and wants us to be a family, but you don't.
Lisa was furious. It was one thing for Jim to use such emotional manipulation on her, but on their child? He had broken the promise they'd made prior to sitting the children down to tell them about the separation, which ended with: even though things would be different, mommy and daddy loved them just the same and that they would always be taken care of. Period, end of story. No blame, no hostility. Jim's new goal was clear: turn the children against her as punishment for not only leaving him, but for taking away his ability to harass her.
Lisa explained to her eldest that sometimes grown ups can fall out of love with each other, and even though it's sad, it can be for the best for everyone. Her child pressed on, wanting to know the why of it, to which Lisa firmly explained that grown up problems weren't for her to worry about. She told me,
It was one thing for me to know Jim was an asshole. But to tell your kid, 'Hey your dad is a jerk and I hate him?' No. I wanted them to love him and see him as great. I wanted him to be a great dad, even if he was an awful husband. My kids deserve a great dad. Every kid does. So, I bit my tongue and took the high road. And let me tell you: it sucked.
But flash forward to these many years later, Lisa says her relationship with her now adult children has been consistently solid, and their relationship with their father is strained. To her, it's validation that her choice was right.
My gut said I had to let the kids come to their own conclusions based on their own experiences with him, and not on mine. And ever though I had people telling me I should tell the kids the truth about why I divorced him and defend myself against the crappy things he said, I just couldn't. Instead, I made sure to provide a steady, loving, and structured environment for them as contrast or maybe balance to their father's mercurial one.
Lisa confronted her ex about his behavior and even warned him his actions would hurt him in the long run and not her, and eventually he toned down - if not fully ever stopped - his antagonism and manipulations. For the sake of the kids, they eventually managed to maintain a civil relationship.
Lisa's insistence on taking the high road - despite seeing no immediate reward other than the personal satisfaction of doing the right thing - paid off many times over. Her kids were & are well-adjusted, respectful, and successful humans who are comfortable talking to her about anything. They know how to treat others and how to be treated by others. For Lisa, their well-being was the only reward that mattered.
So, long story short: Take the high road, even when it's hard, even when it's unfair or infuriating, even when it sucks. It's worth it.
About Elsa Kurt
Lifelong Patriot & longtime Police Wife, Elsa Kurt has channeled her fierce love and passion for defending the defenders as the creator, Executive Producer & Host of the Elsa Kurt Show , correspondent and media personality for Right America Media & Law Enforcement Today. Her book, Welcome to the Family (Life Behind the Thin Blue Line) has been called the “must have survival guide for new LEO spouses.”
The vocal LEOF advocate is also a multi-genre author who has penned over 25 books, including twelve contemporary women’s novels. Her fiction stories explore the complex and relatable experiences of everyday life – the love & laughter, the heartbreak & sorrow, and everything in between. She finds the extraordinary in ordinary lives and puts you in the front seat of every story. Elsa has also written several children’s books, all with themes of encouragement, empowerment & uplifting messaging.
In 2022, Elsa launched The Writer’s Tribe Talk Show, an audio & video podcast for authors & a line of author merchandise in her Writer’s Tribe Store with clothing and more for authors & aspiring authors. Elsa also created three lines of apparel, accessories, & home decor: EKS Store with show & first responder merchandise, iGoodhuman, and Very Sweary Stuff. In 2022, Elsa joined the Amazon Influencer program and built her Elsa Kurt Official Amazon store.