One in every four women in the United States will at some point in their life experience domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is happening in one out of every 10 homes.
Consider those statistics. It means you are bumping into domestic abuse victims all the time. Whenever you are in even a small crowd, there are victims and abusers among you. Yet, too often we kid ourselves that no one we know is suffering this or could be an abuser.
So first, bravo for making the first, very important decision to better your life.
According to the experts studying domestic abuse, leaving is the right decision. It will be hard, but worth it. In my circumstance, leaving after 15 years with an abuser was the best decision I've ever made, despite all sorts of new problems it created. If you stay with an abusive husband, your life isn't ever going to get better and you and your children will remain in substantial physical and emotional danger.
But, here is the very harsh reality: The consequences of making decisions at this step without fully understanding your circumstance can be severe. Too many women are suffering post-divorce because of understandable, but false assumptions. The more accurate look is that you can loose your children, your financial stability and your health by making intuitive decisions rather than educated ones.
According to domestic abuse researcher and expert Lundy Bancroft, the United States has one of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the world. But, women who are abused often don't realized they are victims of anything and falsely take much of the blame for the failures in an abusive relationship. They assume the volatility is a couple's dynamic issue that can be solved once and for all by splitting up.
Unfortunately, abuse doesn't always end after the break-up. If you are considering leaving your husband or intimate partner because of maltreatment, you need to understand fully what you are up against, especially if you have children.
Please consider the following before you take the next step:
- Learn the definition of domestic abuse. If you Google the term, you will find many sites with definitions, but at the U.S. Department of Justice you can find the definition used by law enforcement.
- Connect with a domestic abuse center. You will need help divorcing an abuser. In fact, leaving an abusive man can trigger very harsh treatment from your husband because abusers want control. When you leave, you are robbing him of this and he will often fight to get it back. This psychological dynamic is very complicated and beyond most people's everyday understanding. Don't try to do this alone in order to avoid the shame you likely feel. Traditional "shelters" have become much more like centers of services for victims. Don't let the name scare you off.
- Read the Legal Momentum tool kit for Domestic Violence and Child Custody. You can access it by clicking here. Legal Momentum is a national non-profit using the law to advance the rights of women. This will give you guidance on how to be your own advocated as you navigate the legal process of divorce and child custody.
- Read The American Bar Association's myth sheet about domestic abuse. This quickly points out what you will be up against as you enter the world of divorcing an abuser.
- Read the work of advocate Barry Goldstein, who has been working for years on the ways the legal system hurts victims of domestic abuse and enables abusers to continue to abuse post-divorce. Click here to access his website.
- Read the book "Why Does He Do That? Inside the Mind of Angry and Controlling Men," by Lundy Bancroft.
- Begin trauma treatment therapy with a trained social worker who has experience, lots of experience, with domestic abuse. If your therapists wants you to look within and figure out how you contributed to your failed marriage, you need to leave and find the right kind of therapy. That kind of self-reflection therapy can be valuable, but not now. You need to heal from the injury he caused you so that you can be in your best emotional shape to handle what may happen in the near future. Save the self-reflection for another time in your life. A domestic abuser shelter or center will likely be able to provide you with a list of names. My local shelter even had a program where I got the treatment for free.
- Find an excellent attorney who will bring into the divorce and child custody case domestic abuse. Do not agree to leaving domestic abuse out of the proceeding. This is far too common and not a good idea. Do not rely solely on a Google search for an attorney. Your local shelter may be able to refer you to an attorney trained to help victims of domestic abuse.
- Print out the information you find in number 3, 4 and 5 and take it to the first meeting with your attorney. Make sure that your attorney is willing to read the information. If your attorney will not, you need to find another attorney.
- Tell your family, friends, co-workers, school teachers, pediatrician, etc., that you are divorcing your husband because you have been the victim of domestic abuse. I know you don't want to do this. You want to keep the matter private. You want to protect your children from embarrassment. But, abusers capitalize on and are enabled by silence. You must find the strength to come out of the shadows and tell.
Only when you have taken these steps and you have worked out a temporary living arrangement that separates you and your children from your husband, do I recommend telling your husband you want a divorce. Abusers can react very badly when their partner tries to end the relationship. Preparation is your best defense against this.
Once you have let him know, then you need to be aware of personal safety, documenting everything that goes on between the two of you and helping your children through this emotional situation.
It may seem like divorcing an abusive man brings more trouble than its worth and that staying with an abuser is the better option. It may also seem that giving up custody of your children to your abuser is less stressful for the kids than fighting your husband in court. However, there is no science that supports either theory. Living in a home with domestic abuse is very difficult on everyone, except the abuser. Not only does it cause a host of life-long illnesses and emotional problems, it is unsafe. Millions of women and children are injured every year by such violence and thousands are killed.
In my experience, preparation and focus helped manage this uphill effort and bring about the best outcomes for you and your children. Unfortunately, you won't get anywhere close to the support you need from the legal system and in most cases, you will be shocked at how little judges, lawyers, parent coordinators, etc., understand.
Read some of my other articles to learn why that is the case. But, in the meantime, let me tell you that you can do this. It is for the best. And it's time to stop listening to your abuser. He is wrong. No one causes abuse. No one deserves to be abused. You didn't make him do it. No matter what.
Julie Boyd Cole is a mother of two sons, a journalist, writer and business woman. She has written for the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Yahoo.com among many publications around the country. She is the author of "How to Co-Parent with An Abusive Ex and Keep Your Sanity" available on Amazon.
Currently, she is the chief executive administrator of a non-profit in North Florida. And Julie is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, an NFL sportswriter, and today is an advocate helping other victims sort through the trauma of domestic abuse.
Julie also writes for bruisedwoman.com and @bruisedwoman on Twitter about the topic of domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser and the emotional damage caused by narcissists and personality disorders.
Surviving domestic violence wasn't easy or the PTSD that followed, but Julie has found a path through the trauma and now encourages all women that they can too. Julie leads YANA support, speaks to church groups, community groups and women made homeless by abuse. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org