After ten years of marriage, my first husband and I got our divorce decree in March of 2006. We separated in May of 2004, which is when I started considering myself free. Our marriage was filled with abuse. I was the poster girl for “He Doesn’t Mean It” for far too long. Once I was finally free of his clutches, I couldn’t wait to enjoy my new found lease on life.
What I failed to take into account was that I wasn’t free and wouldn’t be for another 14 years.
When I read about other women’s journeys away from abusive people in their lives, I always cheer. Nothing feels as good as freedom. Knowing that you don’t have to fall asleep in fear, walk on eggshells, measure every breath and word.
However, when you and your abuser are parents to a child, that freedom starts to feel short lived. You realize that even though you’re no longer together, you still must deal with them on a regular basis. My ex husband wasn’t abusive to anyone in our family, other than me. There was never a reason to keep him from our son’s life, much as my petty inner voice said we should.
What I did have to learn, was how to be civil to someone whose guts I hated.
Apparently, he didn’t get that memo. The mental abuse was ongoing, possibly even worse than it had been in our relationship. I presume that’s because he could no longer put his hands on me. Every decision I made as a mother was questioned. My life choices were put on display and ridiculed.
Suddenly, it didn’t feel much different than when we were together.
My psyche didn’t have time to begin healing from one kind of abusive relationship with him, before it was thrust in another. For years, this caused me more self-esteem issues than I already had in place. I questioned my abilities as a mother and a partner. I thought because one man, one person I had a relationship with, said such horrible things about me, it must be true.
This is where our inner dialogue has to change.
Though my preferred method would have been to never have to deal with my abuser again, that wasn’t possible. So, I had to come up with ways around it. I tried speaking to him like an adult, explaining that his constant commentary wasn’t necessary for our co-parenting relationship. This was met with rousing laughter. I had to try. What became important for me was responding in the most civil and proper way possible.
It had the added bonus of infuriating him.
He couldn’t stand that I stopped engaging him. No matter how nasty he became, I responded with kindness, civility, and proper English. I didn’t swear at him (where anyone could hear, anyway), I didn’t resort to name calling, I didn’t disparage his parenting skills. If I didn’t agree with the way he was doing something with our child, I expressed that and moved on.
I also made sure I stopped meeting him to pick-up and drop-off, alone.
That one change made a huge difference. Gone was the time he had to speak to me like I didn’t matter, without an audience. He always made sure our son was in the car before he spoke, I’ll give him that. But otherwise, all bets were off. Once I started bringing someone else with me to these meetings, it stopped. He couldn’t have someone witness his behavior.
It took time, but eventually, he stopped all together. He wasn’t getting the reactions he wanted. Control over my life was gone, so it wasn’t worth it to him any longer. Unfortunately, that also translated into our son not being worth his time any longer.
After 14 years of being separated and divorced, the day my son turned 18, I was finally free from my abuser. He had not interacted with me or our son in quite some time, but the ability to do so was always there, hanging over my head. Once our son turned 18, I could breathe. I changed my phone number, right after I sent him a final text, letting him know his son’s number, should he choose to contact him.