Dear Readers,

In the Feb. 6, 2017 Ask Carolyn, I answered a question regarding negativity. The father in the question was flitting around from job to job. One reader commented that I should consider whether the father had mental illness that impacted his ability to stay with a job.

Many thanks to this reader for his valuable insight. Statistically, one in two of us have some level of mental illness at some point in our lives – even if it is the divorce crazies in this the divorce age. The three big culprits of job interruption are depression, anxiety and addiction (alcohol or drugs).

The stigma of mental illness and our healthcare system generally seem to prevent a person from getting or staying with the health care they need. I welcome further comments from other readers with insights or comments on this topic.



Dear Carolyn,

I have just recently separated. My ex is threatening this, that and the other as an emergency. “If you don’t do this, I’m going to file for a restraining order.” “If you don’t do xyz, I’ll file a motion.” “I can have you put in jail if I want.”

Most recently, he demanded I sign a private school enrollment agreement making me responsible for half the tuition. Our son has been at a private school since kindergarten and he is thriving there. Next year will be his junior year.

His father makes three times as much money as me. I want to keep our son in private school but I cannot really afford half. My ex said it would be my fault if our son has to go to public school. He can afford to pay all of the tuition. He made signing the tuition contract an emergency. I feel abused. How could I have handled this situation better?


Carolyn Answers …

Your ex is showing signs of being a manipulator, and, yes, this manipulation could happen again if you are not informed. I am not going to address in this answer the family law issue of how the courts look at private school costs, but rather I am going to deal with this situation from the manipulation angle as that is what you seem to be asking about.

I will note that your ex set this up as a situation for manipulating you. (1) He created urgency or an emergency, which is something manipulators are good at creating. The emergency over something that is near and dear to your heart – your son – sets the stage for manipulation and unfair advantage. (2) You are hooked emotionally. He put your son’s future success at his school in jeopardy. (3) Placing your son’s future success on your shoulders was your ex’s attempt to place a guilt trip on you, and guilt trips are another tactic of manipulators.

Manipulation is a form of undue influence through distortion. Signing a private school contract for a school a child has been enrolled in for 11 years is not likely an emergency. Schools will give you time to respond and seek legal advice. Manipulation is a very complicated social/psychological topic. I strongly recommend that you get the book How to Successfully Handle Manipulative People by Preston Ni. The big first step you need to take next time is to take your time regarding a response to your ex. Do not respond immediately. Discuss the situation with your lawyer first, not after you have signed. You have the human right to say “no” without guilt.



Dear Carolyn,

I am married, but I’ve got to get out. I am a well-educated woman with a nice job, but my husband is constantly accusing me of being crazy. He calls me names. He says, “You’re childish.” “Here you go again with your craziness. Everybody knows your crazy.” “So you lost your car keys again?” The car keys comment is a red flag. I always put my car keys in the same place and I am sure. Yet when I am rushing out to work in the morning, more and more frequently the keys have been moved. He denies moving the keys but I am sure he is doing it. We had a whirlwind romance, got married quickly and now this. I’ve lost my girlfriends as he dominates all my free time. I feel isolated. Am I going crazy or do I just need to get out?


Carolyn Answers …

In a word, get out and don’t look back. Your scenario is much like the movie Gaslight. Gaslight is a 1944 movie starring Ingrid Bergman that positioned her to win three Oscars. These were her first three Oscars, after she was overlooked in Casablanca. Bergman plays Paula, an opera singer who was studying in Italy. After a whirlwind romance, she married Gregory in short order. Gregory persuaded Paula to leave her career and all her friends to move with him to London, where she knows no one. She is isolated.

Then strange things started to happen. Her brooch mysteriously disappears. Next, a picture disappears. Then the gaslights in the attic seem to dim and then come back on. Gregory begins to accuse Paula of kleptomania and craziness. Finally there was an outing into public. Gregory pulled out his watch chain and the watch was missing. The watch was found in Paula’s purse, and Paula was publically accused by Gregory of theft and madness.

Thus, the term gaslighting enters our vocabulary. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which the victim is gradually manipulated into doubting his or her own sanity. It is a dangerous form of emotional abuse.



Send questions on family law and divorce to, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro 27427 or at Ask Carolyn’s comment section at

Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.