The ridiculous thing is I thought I’d chosen someone who could and would be decent if we split up. Obviously I hoped we wouldn’t but no relationship is perfect and having been raised, since the age of 3, by divorced parents I knew this could be a possibility.
None of us know how abusive people can be. After all if they walked around with a big sign saying ‘potential abuser’ none of us would go near them. Also abusers can be very charming, that’s how it all begins. The problem is, coming from an abusive childhood means I’m not good at spotting signs of abuse. Many hours with counsellors has determined that I have a tendency to view abusive behaviour as normal behaviour and I now have to work really hard to recognise when behaviour isn’t right and calling my ex out on it is not ‘making a fuss’.
Two and a half years ago I split up with my ex. The journey into abuse was a long one… starting with long periods of sulking as a way to get me to comply with what he wanted; this steadily declined into emotional, sexual and domestic abuse. Getting out of the marriage was a relatively quick process; one day something snapped in me and I knew I couldn’t live this life any longer. I told my ex, we had many, many conversations about it and seven weeks after I first spoke about it, he moved out.
I cannot describe the extent of my relief once he’d left. Having the autonomy to live my life. Parent how I wanted to and the feeling of oppression that had settled on our home had finally gone. I naively thought we would be able to coparent well whilst we both went on to build better lives for us and our children.
We’d agreed that we’d put the interests and needs of the kids first. That we wouldn’t slag each other off to the kids and that we’d make the separation a much easier experience for our children that our parents’ divorces had been for us. On the surface, for a time this is what happened. We worked together cohesively so the kids could free flow between our houses, spending the majority of their time at mine with the option to go to their Dad’s for a night in the week and every weekend. We never said anything but good things about the other parent and the kids adjusted pretty well. So far, so good.
The changes happened with the same insidious nature as the abuse when it first started in our relationship. There was him telling the children that I’d sent their father away because I didn’t love him anymore. The insinuation that I would maybe stop loving the kids one day and for no fathomable reason. Dropping the kids at a moment’s notice, deciding he wouldn’t spend the time with them after all, leaving me to explain to upset, whinging children that Daddy was busy. The stubborn refusal to have the children for a moment more than the time agreed and not covering any of the school holidays so I could work. At the same time he would tell the kids I couldn’t provide for them financially whilst paying below the minimum rate of maintenance himself.
This just became a way of life for us, happy, confident children at home in the run up to seeing him followed by anxious, angry, upset children after seeing him. The children adored him so we struggled on. All the while his abusive behaviour continued. He insisted on having the kids for their birthdays and Christmas so I didn’t get to spend more than an hour or two with them on special occasions. If I asked him to have them for a day during the school holidays he’d scream at me ‘you wanted this divorce, you look after your own children’ and hang up.
He quickly found a girlfriend who also had a child. He became a ‘Disneyland Dad’ when she was around, playing with the kids, planning trips and holidays. Entertaining and joyful when she was around then would pretty much ignore the kids when she wasn’t.
All in all the seamless, positive co-parenting experience we had hoped for the kids was crumbling. My ex and I had no relationship beyond text messaging about arrangements for the kids. Every time I tried to talk to him about bigger issues it had to be done over email and I’d always get a vile stream of abuse back from him until I gave up and stopped emailing.
Things went from bad to worse. My ex, who usually couldn’t look me in the eye, came to the house and cornered me. Shouting, being abusive, traumatising the children. Social Services and the School Counsellors got involved and I was to no longer be alone with him. The emails from him became worse. He also regularly told me he was stalking me online, taking screenshots of everything I posted on Social Media, blogs and my work website. My confidence crumbled and I didn’t know what to do with this information. Social Services said to report it to the police. Like in our marriage, I didn’t want to do anything that would anger my ex and make the abusive behaviour worse.
We carried on like this for another 2 years. I met someone, who kinda understood what I was going through. He kept his head down, didn’t engage with my ex who, despite still being with his girlfriend, was jealous as hell and raging about me having a boyfriend. After 14 months my partner moved in with us and things started to settle down. Whilst things were never going to be easy between me and my ex, we had fallen into some sort of groove and whilst my ex wouldn’t look me in the eye, communicate anything other than arrangements for the kids over text, life felt ok.
Then my ex found out I was pregnant. A planned baby which we’d just broken the news of to our kids. All of a sudden, life was not ok. We had 3 very excited kids and my ex who was working to make everything difficult. He refused to come to the house to collect or drop of the kids, stating he wouldn’t see them if I didn’t do the running around. He sent abusive emails accusing me of all sorts of difficult behaviour and eventually, after two and a half years enough was enough. I blocked him.
Feeling sad was a small price to pay to not have to go through the daily abuse and character assassination by him. To have him relentlessly belittle me, my work, my decisions and dictate when he would and wouldn’t have our children and not give me a say in any of it. It was strange. The first time in 10 years that we didn’t have any contact with each other. It took a while to get used to and whilst it’s not ideal having to arrange stuff to do with the kids via his Mum or not be able to quickly check something with him, the small amount of peace makes it worth it.
When we first split up and he was still living here, a friend messaged me and said ‘I know you guys want to be friends for the sake of the kids but right now he’s not your friend. You need to work everything else out before you get to that stage’. It was great advice. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to be friends. Too much hurt and too much stubborn-ness. I never thought this was how my life would be but it is and the kids and I are making the best of it in the best way we know how.