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Tactics to deal with a Water Torturer please

(100 Posts)

I know my ex is a water torturer, as defined by Lundy Bancroft.

I'm struggling to deal with him and I'd appreciate any tactics you lot have developed to deal with him?

It's hard to get someone who hasn't been through it to understand (I've an AIBU going at the moment that proves it) and I'd like to have the benefit of the wisdom and experience of you wise MNetters.

FriedaRoam Mon 13-Jun-11 09:39:23

wtf is a water tortuerer?

The Water Torturer (the title and extract are taken from 'Why Does He do That?' by Lundy Bancroft, in my opinion this description suits best). The text is written about his/her partner as that was the purpose of the book, however, it is any human that he/she choses as their victim.

The Water Torturer’s style proves that anger doesn’t cause abuse. He can assault his partner psychologically without even raising his voice. He tends to stay calm in arguments, using his own evenness as a weapon to push her over the edge. He often has a superior or contemptuous grin on his face, smug and self-assured. He uses a repertoire of aggressive conversational tactics at low volume, including sarcasm, derision – such as openly laughing at her – mimicking her voice, and cruel, cutting remarks. Like Mr. Right, he tends to take things she has said and twist them beyond recognition to make her appear absurd, perhaps especially in front of other people. He gets to his partner through a slow but steady stream of low-level emotional assaults, and perhaps occasional shoves or other “minor” acts of violence that don’t generally cause visible injury but may do great psychological harm. He is relentless in his quiet derision and meanness.

The impact on a woman of all these subtle tactics is that either her blood temperature rises to a boil or she feels stupid and inferior, or some combination of the two. In an argument, she may end up yelling in frustration, leaving the room crying, or sinking into silence. The Water Torturer then says, “See, you’re the abusive one, not me. You’re the one who’s yelling and refusing to talk things out rationally. I wasn’t even raising my voice. It’s impossible to reason with you.”

The psychological effects of living with the Water Torturer can be severe. His tactics can be difficult to identify, so they sink in deeply. Women can find it difficult not to blame themselves for their reactions to what their partner does if they don’t even know what to call it. When someone slaps you in the face, you know you’ve been slapped. But when a woman feels psychologically assaulted, with .little idea why, after an argument with The Water Torturer, she may turn her frustration inward. How do you seek support from a friend, for example, when you don’t know how to describe what is going wrong?

The Water Torturer tends to genuinely believe that there is nothing unusual about his behaviour. When his partner starts to confront him with his abusiveness – which she usually does sooner or later – he looks at her as if she were crazy and say, “What the hell are you talking about? I’ve never done anything to you.” Friends and relatives who have witnessed the couple’s interactions may back him up. They shake their heads and say to each other, “I don’t know what goes on with her. She just explodes at him sometimes, and he’s so low-key.” Their children can develop the impression that Mom “blows up over nothing.” She herself may start to wonder if there is something psychologically wrong with her.

The Water Torturer is payback-oriented like most abusive men, but he may hide it better. If he is physically abusive, his violence may take the form of cold-hearted slaps “for your own good” or “to get you to wake up” rather than explosive rage. His moves appear carefully thought out, and he rarely makes obvious mistakes – such as letting his abusiveness show in public – that could turn other people against him or get him in legal trouble.

If you are involved with a Water Torturer, you may struggle for years trying to figure out what is happening. You may feel that you overreact to his behaviour and that he isn’t really so bad. But the effects of his control and contempt have crept up on you over the years. If you finally leave him, you may experience intense periods of delayed rage, as you become conscious of how quietly but deathly oppressive he was.

This style of man rarely lasts long in an abuser program unless he has a court order. He is so accustomed to having complete success with his tactics that he can’t tolerate an environment where the counsellors recognize and name his manoeuvres and don’t let him get away with them. He tends to rapidly decide that his group leaders are as crazy as his partner and heads for the door.

The central attitudes driving the Water Torturer are:
You are crazy. You fly off the handle over nothing.
I can easily convince other people that you’re the one who is messed up
As long as I’m calm, you can’t call anything I do abusive, no matter how cruel
I know exactly how to get under your skin.
If you would just accept that I know what’s right, our relationship would go much better. Your own life would go better, too.
When you disagree with me about something, no matter how respectfully or meekly, that’s mistreatment of me.
If I put you down for long enough, some day you’ll see.

Sorry - x-posts - I realised people might not know what I was talking about blush

cestlavielife Mon 13-Jun-11 09:52:11

why do you need to deal with him?
is it about the DC?
what arrangements do you need to make with him?

i think the advice would be to cut all contact as far as possible, make arrangements via email only or third party etc.

stay calm, cool and polite in any communication with him. beat him at his own game - dont rise to it

(easier said than done - but you can work on it. see a therapist if it helps)

AnyFucker Mon 13-Jun-11 09:54:33

The water torturer’s style proves that anger doesn’t cause abuse. He can assault his partner psychologically without even raising his voice He tends to stay calm in arguments, using his own evenness as a weapon to push her over the edge. He often has a superior or contemptuous grin on his face, smug and self-assured. He uses a repertoire of aggressive conversational tactics at low volume, including sarcasm, derision, such as openly laughing at her – mimicking her voice, and cruel cutting remarks. …he tends to take things she has said and twist them beyond recognition to make her appear absurd, perhaps especially in front of other people. He gets to his partner through a slow but steady stream of low-level emotional assaults…He is relentless in his quiet derision and meanness.

The above is for the benefit of those who are (thankfully) uneducated in this common abuser's tactic.

You might find this thread useful

I sympathise, I really do. I also read your other recent thread and shared your frustration that many on there were just not "getting it" which totally reflects the abuse you have undergone in RL. People outside of the situation think he is a good guy, and that you are the unreasonable one because of the face he shows everyone else but you.

The only way I can see to deal with someone like this is to just not rise to it in every subtle and unsubtle way that you can. So, so difficult though, if he is still able to push your buttons by pissing about with child access arrangements.

Playing him at his own game though, and being ultra reasonable may help. For example, if you tell him you need to know when he is dropping kids off, and he pisses about, don't be in (assuming he will not just leave them on the doorstep)

Say no to last minute changes/unscheduled visits. Stick to a rigid timetable, and make sure if he doesn't, that it inconveniences him not you

Make sure at all times, that things suit you and dc alone. If something doesn't work for you it doesn't happen. Forget trying to keep him on side by giving's never going to work, is it ?

Stand your ground whilst staying coldly reasonable, calm and polite. Accept no accusations of being difficult. Stop worrying what other people think.

Yes there are DC's involved.

I've had advice on another thread not to email/text and to telephone him but that goes tits up every time.

I have seen a therapist, and read innumerable books but every time I think I've worked out a way of dealing with him he pulls some other new stunt that just takes the whole flipping packet of biscuit

sad just feeling down at the thought of at least another 9 or 10 years of this.

QueenofDreams Mon 13-Jun-11 09:55:10

That sounds a lot like my DP sad

AnyFucker Mon 13-Jun-11 09:55:50

oops, sorry to cross post the definition of a WT, hope it doesn't put people off reading blush

AF - blush

On that thread you linked to there's description of a family going out for the day and the man doing irrelevant crap and causing a row, then being mr nice guy at the party? I could have written that - happened time after time.

Queen - sad

I'm sitting here in tears. I can't do this anymore. I just want to take my kids and run far far far away (I won't, but I wish I could)

Suncottage Mon 13-Jun-11 10:19:56

My XH was similar to this but not to the extreme but many points resonate.
I would find myself almost rabid with anger, frustration and then burst into tears as he calmly listed 'what I had done wrong' because there was no reasoning with him in anyway shape or form.

When we separated/divorced I discovered what I should have discovered years before. Your reaction is their reward.

I learnt that standing and looking at him with raised eyebrows and a quizzical expression as he started to 'go into one' turned the situation round. Saying nothing and not reacting produced a mind blowing turn around with my 'iceman'. He just couldn't handle it at all.

Eventually I just referred eveything to my solicitor which really drove him mad. He is someone elses problem now thank god but I really do pity any woman having to live in that situation.

The problem is that because we have DC's we have to have a level of interaction around them. And no matter what I do to try to put strategies in place (like the pick up and drop off at school to avoid me being made to wait around for hours) he subverts them. He is an exceptionally intelligent man and I can't best him intellectually.

This week, for example, on his school pick up day, DD won't be finishing at her normal time as after school club isn't on. He should KNOW this as the school send home a newsletter every week. I will donate to the charity of MN choice if he actually turns up on time to collect her and I don't get a phone call from the school to say "We can't get DD dad can you come and collect her"

And if I text him to remind him, then I'm controlling.

Anniegetyourgun Mon 13-Jun-11 10:30:09

I can see where people were coming from with the advice to talk to him (so you know he's heard you whereas there's no proof he received your text), but understand why it wouldn't work for you. Some people you just can't talk to because they are on Planet Zog, where words and body language have completely different meanings, and where what goes on in their heads is the only reality there is. If he meant to say something to you then he did say it, and you are the peculiar one for not hearing it. If an arrangement doesn't suit him then it wasn't arranged. Thus you have to have it in writing. Fortunately if you don't live together he can't accuse you of hacking into his phone or email to change the text. Bonus is you don't have to hear his bloody voice more often than strictly necessary.

After 25 years of trying to communicate reasonably with XH I finally realised that he is not open to reasonable communication. It grieves me to think of how much hot air I wasted. But at least he hates confrontation; so do I, but I don't have the same dread of it, and can do a fair impression of being totally unhinged if the circumstances call for it, which they have a couple of times. He runs off like a scalded cat, then rings me up and calls me a maniac and a half-wit and I say yeah, so? If that's all you've got to say, bye bye. He can't threaten me any more to get Social Services to take DS4 away (as he used to do when I actually wasn't being unhinged at all) because they've already taken his 50% of residence away from XH, and given it to me as the parent residing nearest to Planet Earth. And after that he behaves quite well for ages.

Suncottage Mon 13-Jun-11 10:33:34


Yep my XH was a very intelligent man. I called it 'warped' intelligence because he misused it.

How old are the DC's? Are they old enough to have a mobile to contact Dad directly?

Sun - DD's are 12 and almost 10. DD1 has mobile, DD2 getting one shortly.

Warped intelligence is a good way to describe it.

Annie - that is exactly what he's like. If it isn't what he wants to hear, he just doesn't hear it. Which is why I had moved to texts or email so that there was a definitive record and I could say but you said xyz in your text.

But God Above it is DRAINING

Anniegetyourgun Mon 13-Jun-11 10:39:10

And as you found out the other day, Rosie, if you don't text him to remind him, that's wrong too!

Oh btw Suncottage, I do agree that amused indifference is usually the best response. The fishwife act is only for very special occasions when he's overstepped the boundaries big-time. I hold it in reserve because it takes a lot out of me and the boys don't like it.

Oh yes Annie - I'm supposed to text him to remind him the time he has agreed to pick the stuff up. That's what I am trying to get across on the other thread, that I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't.

I am looking forward to DP moving here and us having a place together at least partly so that he can be here to take some of the shit blush and I know that sounds terrible.

sugartongue Mon 13-Jun-11 10:46:16

OP from my own dealings with my own personal water torturer, my best advice would be to fix a concrete contact arrangment. if you can do this via a solicitor/the courts, so much the better. Stick rigidly to the plan. You make the kids available for contact as per the arrangement (or order preferably) and he either picks them up or he does not see them. Keep a complete list of all interaction you have with him, and how all contact arrangments take place - a good idea is to buy an appointments diary specifically for this purpose. Keeping such a diary means you have a catalogue of his behaviour should you need it for legal proceedings and to back up what you say about his behaviour.

Do not communicate by telephone or text. Insist that all communication is by email and keep every one. He is less likely to behave badly if you can keep all the evidence of it. Do not have direct contact with him - ensure all exchange of DC happens via school/third party. If he contacts you by telephone or text do not respond. Do not engage with any communication that does not relate to contact or the care of the children.

Once he has lost all power to bully you, he'll find someone else

PrinceHumperdink Mon 13-Jun-11 10:46:40

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MindyMacready Mon 13-Jun-11 10:47:12

Surely the text you describe as a "water torturer" could apply to both sexes. Shouldn't the word he/man be substituted with person or similar?

Suncottage Mon 13-Jun-11 10:47:34

He knows your weakness. The DC's. No mother is going to leave her child standing outside a school alone for hours and he knows this.

So he is in a win/win situation and your place is in the wrong.

Keep texts brief and consice.

EG. DD 5pm pick up from school. See you later.

and if you can afford it get DD a mobile as soon as you can. I am not suggesting that the DC's take responsiblity for him but he has no reason to contact you if he can talk to DD directly.

Yep DRAINING is the right word.

sugartongue Mon 13-Jun-11 10:49:15

Oh and with regards to texting to remind him, simply don't do it! It is his contact and you are only legally obliged to make the children available for it - you do not have to remind him of the arrangements and no court would make you. If you correspond only by email, he will have no excuse not to be able to check arrangements himself.

Mindy - apologies if I have offended you. I am talking about MY situation, and in MY situation it my ex who is a water torturer, but yes indeed the description can apply equally to either sex.

PrinceHumperdink Mon 13-Jun-11 10:52:08

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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