Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond from a Vindictive Ex

Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond from a Vindictive Ex

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by Richard A. Warshak

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Your ex-spouse is bad-mouthing you to your children, perhaps even trying to turn them against you. If you handle the situation ineffectively, you could lose your children's respect, their affections—even, in extreme cases, lose contact with them.

The conventional advice is to do nothing, for fear that any response would be fighting fire with fire and result

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Your ex-spouse is bad-mouthing you to your children, perhaps even trying to turn them against you. If you handle the situation ineffectively, you could lose your children's respect, their affections—even, in extreme cases, lose contact with them.

The conventional advice is to do nothing, for fear that any response would be fighting fire with fire and result in greater injury to the children. But in his more than twenty-five years of research on divorcing families, Dr. Richard Warshak has become convinced that a passive approach does nothing but leave parents feeling helpless. And the damage to children is considerable, particularly when warring parents enlist children as allies in the battle. The problems range from tainted parent-child relationships, in which children are disrespectful or reluctant to show their affection, to a disturbance in which children virtually disown one of their parents and all the relatives on that side of the family.

Divorce Poison is the first book that offers specific advice to protect children from the results of their parents' animosity. In it, you will learn how to:

  • respond when your children join forces with your ex
  • react if your children refuse to see you
  • answer rude and hateful behavior
  • insulate children from the harmful effects of bad-mouthing
  • identify and correct your own contributions to parent-child conflicts
  • defend against false accusations of brainwashing
  • choose the best therapist and lawyer
  • reconcile with children after years of estrangement

Dr. Warshak reveals the typical behaviors of alienated children, how and why parents manipulate their children, seven rules for responding effectively to bad-mouthing without succumbing to the impulse to retaliate in kind, and how the controversial diagnosis parental alienation syndrome is used in court to take children away from parents or to regain contact with alienated children.

This pathbreaking work gives parents powerful strategies to preserve and rebuild loving relationships with their children -- and provides legal and mental health professionals practical advice to help their clients and safeguard the welfare of children. Whether they are perpetrators of divorce poison, victims of it, or both, parents who heed Dr. Warshak's advice will enable their children to maintain love and respect for two parents who no longer love, and may not respect, each other.

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Editorial Reviews

Henry Biller
A great book for both parents and professionals on a previously neglected topic by an outstanding clinician/researcher.
Publishers Weekly
In Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond from a Vindictive Ex, Richard A. Warshak (The Custody Revolution) offers guidance to parents whose exes portray them to their children in a negative light, whether it's mild, off-the-cuff badmouthing or systematic character assassination. Common psychological wisdom, besides recommending that parents avoid fighting fire with fire, suggests doing nothing. But Warshak has witnessed the feelings of powerlessness and the increasing difficulties that come from doing nothing. So he provides "a blueprint for an effective response grounded in a solid understanding of the techniques and dynamics of parents who poison their children's relationships with loved ones." After describing numerous nuances of inter-parental malignment (brainwashing, false abuse accusations, revisionist history, etc.), Warshak moves on to "Poison Control," both independently and with the help of professional counselors. This book will seem a godsend to the many divorcees who are bashed by their ex-spouses. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Informati

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.05(d)

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Chapter One

The Delicate Balance

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.
--George Washington

Fred slammed down the phone after his ex threatened to take him to court if he did not pay his child support on time. He turned to five-year-old Marty and said, �We can't go fishing this weekend. I have to work because your selfish mom is spending too much money.�

Fred regretted his words almost as soon as they left his lips. The divorce was hard enough on the boy; hearing such criticisms of his mother only added to his stress. The hurt look on Marty's face confirmed that Fred had, in that moment, failed his son. The father resolved to do better in the future. The divorce was not Fred's idea and he was still bitter about it. Every now and then he would burden his son with some barb directed at the boy's mother, often blaming her for �leaving us.� Each time he did this he was sorry afterward. But he never spoke with Marty about the harsh words. Marty's mom, who knew Fred spoke ill of her, never said anything to Marty about it. The little boy was left on his own to deal with the bad-mouthing. Meryl hated Doug, the father of her twin eight-year-old boys, and took every opportunity to let them know it. Doug refused to marry her after she became pregnant. Ever since then she wished he would just disappear from her life. But he didn't. He was actively involved with his boys and he paid his child support regularly.

Meryl's anger did not dissipate over time. She constantly malignedDoug in front of his sons. When Doug was a few minutes late to pick up the children, Meryl told them he was irresponsible. She belittled the gifts he bought. She told the boys their dad was a loser because he was a high school band teacher and could not afford to take them on expensive vacations. When Doug had to lead the band at Friday-night football games, he asked his sister to pick up the boys and bring them to the stadium. Even though the boys enjoyed the games and liked watching their father at work, Meryl complained. She told them that it was too bad they didn't have a father who could pay more attention to them. She even went back to court to ask the judge to eliminate the Friday-night contacts if Doug would not personally pick up his children. (She was unsuccessful.) When the boys told their mother that their dad was proud about winning the all-state band competition, she told them that he bragged too much. When Doug did nice things for the children that she could not think of how to criticize, she dismissed these by saying, �He's just trying to make himself look good.�

When Meryl became engaged to be married, Doug hoped that this would help her get past her anger and stop bashing him. Instead, she became worse. She started pressuring her sons to call her fianc� Dad. At the same time she began referring to Doug by first name when talking to the boys. �Doug's on the phone,� she would say. �Do you want to speak to him or should I tell him you're too busy?� �Doug's probably going to be late again.� �Don't tell Doug where Dad and I are going on our honeymoon.� Meryl returned to court, this time hoping to reduce the boys' time with Doug so that they could spend more time with �their own family,� by which Meryl meant herself, her fianc�, and his son from a previous marriage. Despite the twins' strong attachment to their father, she did not want them to regard him as part of their family. Hoping to please their mother, the boys began telling her that they really didn't have such a good time with Doug. She exploited this by telling them about the fun things that she and her fianc� and his son would be doing while the boys were with Doug.

Doug worried when the boys began calling him Doug instead of Dad and asking to return home earlier than scheduled. He was not sure how to respond. His attorney advised him not to say anything that could be construed as criticizing Meryl because it might make him look bad in court. So Doug said nothing. The boys were given no help in coping with their mother's bashing of their father.

Richie and his new wife, Janice, were determined to move out of state with Richie's twelve-year-old daughter, Meadow, but first they had to win custody away from Giselle. Richie had always denigrated Giselle in front of their daughter, but now he intensified his campaign of hatred. He hoped that Meadow would share his hatred of her mother and ask to live with him.

One day Richie asked Meadow if she remembered the time her mother beat her with a belt. Meadow didn't remember. This was no surprise because the event never occurred. Richie brought up the event-that-never-was several times during the next few weeks. It was beginning to seem real to Meadow, although she wasn't sure if she actually remembered it or if she just remembered her father's account of it. Richie began casually referring to Giselle's violent temper. Although Meadow had never before thought of her mom in those terms, the more her dad and Janice talked about it, the more it seemed it must be true.

When Meadow complained that her mom wouldn't let her watch television until she completed her homework, Richie sympathized with her and told her that Giselle treated her too much like a kid. He continued to undermine Meadow's respect for her mother by referring to Giselle either as �the boss�...

Divorce Poison. Copyright © by Dr. Richard Warshak. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are saying about this

Susan Jeffers
...offers valuable advice...helps you understand and heal your own hurts without hurting the children you love.
Charles M. Winnicki II
Divorce Poison has provided me several things: a better understanding, avenues to reverse the negative effects, self analysis in order to avoid causing further harm to our children on my part, and ability to detect certain behaviors or patterns in others as well as my own. My review & advice to any parent interested in helping their children, married or not, A MUST READ when divorce or separation involves children.
Mark Pendergrast
In this balanced, compassionate book, Warshak offers vital advice to those caught in the emotional maelstrom of a bitter divorce.
—Mark Pendergrast, author of Victims of Memory
Warren Farrell
A breakthrough book. . . . Well-written, balanced, and filled with insights, perfect for any parent who has been the victim of bad-mouthing.
—Warren Farrell, Ph.D., author of Father and Child Reunion and Why Men Are the Way They Are

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