Divorce is rarely the end of a relationship, but more the start of the beginning to the end.
Even though I left my marriage because my husband was abusive, I still assumed that we would continue to communicate post break-up. We shared two children and 15 years of accumulated friend, things and memories. I had hoped that divorce would end the violence because I believed, falsely, that my husband was abusive because of the pressures of our middle-class, suburban life and his wife, me.
His freedom and our distance would surely release the fight in him and we would be able to achieve a friendly divorce, or so I hoped.
Unfortunately, abuse doesn't work that way. Most people assume that it does. I was one of them. For years, I tried to maintain a level of communication with my ex. Partly for the children's sake and partly because I was accustom to the connection.
However, staying connected to an unsafe man is like having a tiger for a house pet. It may seem tame and harmless, but you never know when it will revert back to its natural instincts and strike. Why take the chance? Get a dog.
In the 10 years since my divorce, I have had many perfectly normal conversations with my ex. I have also had many conversations, emails and texts in which he has accused me of all sorts of false conspiracies, unfounded attacks and injustices against him. He has lashed out, sometimes violently, and overreacted using emotional, financial and legal abuse dozens of times to even the most innocuous of situations throughout our divorced relationship.
In the beginning of our divorce, I fell back into our relationship dynamic that was similar to our marriage. In other words, I didn't immediately end the relationship. I tried to talk it out. After a few years of the cycle of ups and downs, he sued me unsuccessfully for custody of our then teenagers. That did it for me. I was so hurt and shocked that I was happy to end all connection to him. However, during the protracted court action, I was then required to maintain a level of connection with the father of our children because of the custody laws in my state.
But, a tiger is a tiger and abusers are abusers, no matter their marital status. Staying connected to an abusive ex is an exercise in crazy.
Eventually, and as my children aged beyond family court rule, I stopped almost all contact with my ex, despite his attempts to draw me back into his orbit. Going "No Contact" as the psychologist term it, has finally brought me the peace I was looking for when I first divorced my husband 10 years ago.
"No Contact" means I don't speak to him, email him or text him unless I absolutely have to. True "No Contact" means never, ever having any contact, but because I have a court order that requires me to share information with my ex until my youngest child is 18, I am forced to send an email or text from time to time.
I find that the more I stay away from my ex, the better I feel. I wish I could say it is easy to have distance from my ex, but it can be difficult and the family court just made it harder. In the beginning of our divorced years, I did want some contact when my children were young. He is an abuser and I wanted to know if my children were in danger when they were with him.
Also, I did want to move on from the pain of an abusive relationship and I thought forgiving and forgetting was the way to go. I was wrong. Acceptance is the path to peace. Now, I accept that my ex is an abuser and therefore can't be trusted.
I ignore all "advice" and social norms that suggest that creating a "healthy" relationship with my ex is the best for our family. I agree that a healthy relationship is the ideal, but is not in my control. It takes two, willing people to have a healthy relationship and only one to have an unhealthy one.
I have cut all cords to my ex. It takes discipline. As well as sharing children, he lives just a few miles away from me. He shows up at many of the same functions that I do. His wife is an employee at my neighborhood grocery store. For years, he emailed me almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day. He has shown up at places I never expected him to be, like my church.
Despite all the ways our lives were intertwined, I began to cut the cords one by one. Here are a few things I did that might help you:
- I changed my email address for all the people I care about and left him and spammers use my old address.
- I took that email address off my phone, so I no longer get push notices when he emails me. I check my old address about once a week now.
- I changed his name in my cellphone address book to "Forgiveness" so his name doesn't pop up when he calls or text.
- I don't answer his phone calls unless my children are with him. If he leaves a voicemail, I listen when I want.
- I don't answer his emails or text unless there is some issue that must be address with the kids, like what time he is picking up or dropping off.
- I don't engage anymore, ever, with any kind of argument. I don't care what he thinks of me or if he has the facts wrong. That is his problem, not mine.
- I don't ask for information about him. I don't ask my children or any mutual friends about my ex.
- I don't seek information about him. I don't Google him, look at his Facebook or other social media accounts. In fact, I've blocked him from mine.
The less I know about him, the better. The odds are good that an abuser's life is filled with unnecessary drama. They often create it in order to medicate their broken souls. I don't want to get sucked into it. Not again. It is too costly.
By going "No Contact," I've noticed also that he has stopped trying to stay in contact. It didn't happen right way. Abusers generally want control, so any action that they don't feel is their own usually instigates reaction or overreaction. But don't respond. My abuser eventually stopped attempting to re-engage with me when time and time again his action toward me got no reaction from me.
I admire those who have true friendships after divorce. I am happy for them. Just as I am happy for the couples who have excellent marriages. I know, too, that in my divorce, I have to live with a different set of rules. Abuse changes the dynamic so much that it is critical to learn the playing field quickly. A lot is at stake.
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 email@example.com