Even though my ex’s abusive behavior hasn’t changed since we divorced, I now feel peace in my life.
Unfortunately, divorce didn’t stop the problems with my emotionally abusive ex-husband. Because I have children with him, I was still exposed to blame and false accusations by the man who had destroyed my life with the chaos of porn use, infidelity, and emotional abuse. Instead of taking accountability for his actions and repairing the damage, he just kept racking up more and more.
For women who are divorced due to their husband’s sex addiction and subsequent emotional and/or physical abuse, the first step to healing is being able to overcome the betrayal trauma. For those of us in this situation, simple emails about the visitation schedule will be responded to in an abusive manner. He may respond with emotional abuse and re-trigger trauma we’ve already experienced.
Recovering from the trauma experienced from lies, porn use, infidelity, emotional abuse, gaslighting, narcissistic traits of an ex takes time.
After my ex’s arrest for domestic violence in 2015, I sought help from trusted sources about how to establish peace in my life.
Here’s what I learned about finding peace after my abusive marriage:
1. You need to establish a support team
Round up a support team. Unfortunately, many of us can’t be free from traumatic events caused by our abusive ex because we share children. Having a professional safety coach, like a coach from Betrayal Trauma Recovery (BTR), walk you through your options and support you is key to healing. I feel peace in my life now because of a professional coach, my support group, and my supportive parents. Rallying a support team around me was important for my success.
2. Contact domestic violence shelter for assistance
Contact your local domestic violence shelter to see if you can get a protective order. Even if you don’t feel like you can get one, talk to a victim advocate. Tell the victim advocate what is going on, and ask their advice about your options. If your situation warrants a protective order, it won’t stop your ex from harassing you. But if you have one and your ex breaks it, the police will be more helpful than if you don’t have one. If you can’t get a protective order, you still have many options, and keeping your victim advocate on speed dial will help you work through issues as they arise.
3. Third-party communication is key
Use a third party for communication about the kids. When I sent my dad an email thread between my ex and me, he was shocked. Right then, my father sat down and typed out an email. He said, “I won’t allow you to harass my daughter anymore. I have instructed her to block your phone and emails. You will now communicate only through me.” I did as my dad told me, and blocked his phone and emails. I no longer felt constant dread in the pit of my stomach that he’d send an angry text about me forgetting the diapers or not sending the shorts he wanted.
If you don’t have a supportive dad, ask a friend, neighbor, friend’s husband, or another supportive man to help you. Another option is to invent an imaginary man and do it yourself from this imaginary man’s email – although having a real man do it is best. When my ex emails, my dad, my mom and I all consult together about the best way to respond to his rants. We have a joke, “How many sane people does it take to respond to an abuser?” It takes three rational people to figure out how to respond to his chaos! I never see the emails, as my parents just tell me the details and protect me from the trauma of his accusations and anger.
4. Don’t play into their emotional abuse
When responding to emails and texts, use the gray rock method. The theory behind the gray rock method is that narcissists and other abusive people feed off of two things: praise and drama. If you’re not praising them, they create drama. If they can’t get praise or drama, they can’t see you. The gray rock method suggests that you become a gray rock, a thing no one notices – show no emotion. Never thank them, never praise them, never get angry.
For me, the gray rock method would be impossible without my parents intercepting his emails. When they respond, they only respond with very short, business-like sentences and yes or no answers. For example, my ex wrote a five paragraph rant about my son’s tennis lessons, and my dad wrote back, “The tennis instructor is named Tina. Her number is 000-000-0000. She can answer your questions.”
5. Don’t take responsibility for anything during his parenting time
Stop sending clothes or supplies during his parent time. This one was very hard for me, as I didn’t want my kids to suffer. But as I’ve been recovering from his abuse, I’ve realized that taking responsibility for him only causes me more trauma. Of course, I don’t want my kids to suffer when they’re with him. However, he is their dad, and his parent time is his. I’ve learned to surrender to God what I cannot control, and spend time nourishing my soul when my kids are away. That way I can be a better, more present mom when they’re with me.
6. Call DCFS if there is any neglect or abuse
Call the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) if your children report any neglect or abuse. My ex has left my children home alone twice since his arrest. Both times, I called DCFS. Of course, my ex was angry. But here are the facts. I have no control over his actions and no authority in his life. My children’s safety is my number one priority. So when they report neglect or abuse, the appropriate way to respond to it is not to talk to my ex about his inappropriate behavior. I already did that for seven years, and it never changed anything. So I now report the neglect/abuse to someone who has the authority to take action. If you’re not sure, call DCFS and ask them. They’ll tell you if the behaviors you’re describing are enough to warrant a DCFS investigation.
7. Educate yourself about abuse
Educate yourself about abuse. Just because you’re not married to your ex anymore, doesn’t mean he can’t keep abusing you. After my ex was arrested, and I was no longer in contact with him, I read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. This book helped me understand to a very deep level the type of abuse my ex had used to attempt to control my perceptions of him through lies and manipulation. Learning more about my situation helped give me the confidence to take action and be free from the guilt and shame I felt. It helped me learn how to step out of victimhood into the life of a survivor and thriver.
Even though my ex’s abusive behavior hasn’t changed, I now feel peace in my life. I have a protective bubble of support and boundaries which enables me to live a peaceful life – despite my ex’s continued chaos. When I feel safe and peaceful, I’m more likely to be the sort of mom my kids deserve, and the type of mom I want to be.