I have been juggling in one way or another my relationship with my abusive ex-husband for more than 20 years and of course, it hasn’t been easy and it’s why this post is so incredibly long!
I have navigated the terrain as best I can, sometimes listening to relationship gurus in an attempt to find a balance in my relationship with my abusive husband (now ex). Sometimes listening to my gut. Sometimes listening to lawyers, therapists and coordinators.
I’ve hidden the truth, asked for help, resented everyone in a happy union, envied others, felt empowered, felt diminished, sought therapy, worked on myself and tried meditation. You name the emotional pitstop or self-help fix, I’ve been there and tried it.
Just Stop Harassing Me
The common thread through the last two decades has always been simple _ I just wanted my abuser to stop hurting me. Whenever I realized that it wasn’t going to to happen, depression would kick in _ or at least that was the way it used to be.
Today, I think differently and that has affected how I feel. Currently, I don’t spend any time trying to figure out “how to get along” with my abusive ex. I accept that I married, procreated and divorced an abuser and that brings a certainly kind of problem in my life and the lives of my children.
Once I accepted and understood that my ex was abusive and I was a victim of all sorts of domestic violence, I could see that trying to get along with him was crazy and painful.
I had to change my goal to realize it.
I live now in a much happier world, with less stress, anxiety, and the hyper-vigilance that comes when you are united with an abuser’s emotions and thoughts and then haunted by them. I don’t walk on eggshells or wait for the other shoe to drop, or at least not much, any more. I pursue my life in the way that I want, based on my own values and desires without worrying about how my actions might cause an abusive reaction from my ex.
My life today isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, but compared to my past life of constantly worrying what my abuser would do if I did … well, whatever, it’s the closest thing.
No matter the twists and turns of your unhappy connection with an abuser, you can find peace, too. I wasn’t bestowed with some special luck or gift that enabled me to break free from an abuser. I was a stay-at-home mother of two elementary-age kids with only the uncertain income of a very, part-time real estate career and when I left my abusive husband. I didn’t have a big-time attorney or a family member who gave me money to sort it out.
I just did the work laid out before me by free therapy provided by my local domestic abuse center and like the discipline approach of any diet, or New Year’s Resolution, it takes education, practice, trial and error and a good hard look in the mirror.
Here are the steps I suggest if you are ready to once and for all change your life and get an abuser off your back. Is it time for you to draw a line in the sand and say “No More?” If you aren’t ready for this, don’t worry. It takes years of processing the trauma you faced. If you aren’t ready now, hang in there, you will be. Come back after you have met with a trauma counselor for awhile. This post will still be here!
Grieve the loss of the life you wanted to have with your ex, your co-parenter until you get to the stage of acceptance. Follow any blog about this, get therapy or pick up a book about mourning a death. It’s exactly the same thing. There are five stages and as you move through each, don’t judge yourself for the emotions your feel. That’s part of the process.
Identify the problem. Is your ex trying to control how you raise your kids? Does he send nasty emails? Bad-mouth you? Undermining your authority? Taking custody away from you? Is he calling you names, withholding money, hitting you? Is he threatening you? Do you fear for your life? Write it all down. All of it and without explanation. Your piece of paper should read like a grocery list: “He emails me every day with an accusation.” “He comes to my house without invitation,” and so on. You need to look at exactly what he is doing to you. Don’t try to understand it and don’t write down your defense. Just what he is doing to you. Remember abusers want to frame your issues for you, so they can put the responsibilities of their actions on you. This list is your list of facts, not his spin.
Let go of trying to make it right with your ex. It is never going to happen. You may never have that one conversation that clears the air and finally sets you on a path of cooperation. It doesn’t happen. A person willing to exploit their loved ones, by that act alone, shows that they are not capable of “closure.” Think about it, in order to give someone closure you have to 1. Give from your heart, 2. Be honest, 3. Maintain that honesty 4. Be in touch with our own feelings and stay in touch with them.
Ask yourself: “Is my ex capable of that?” I bet the answer is no. So let go of the idea that you will ever have that conversation that will finally set things right. You may have a conversation that looks like it, but the next day when you are thinking that everything is good, he will revert back to the abuser he’s been all along, as if you never shared that moment together.
It’s a enough to drive nuts. Don’t let it any more. Instead, grieve this too, just like the rest and you will move on. The good news, is that once you get to the other side of this acceptance process, and you realized he doesn’t believe he owes you closure, well then, you don’t owe it to him. So, don’t judge yourself if you change your mind either on all sorts of unspoken arrangements, or anything else you negotiated. You are free to completely move to the beat of your own drummer, as long as it doesn’t violate any court orders or the well-being of your children.
Do not tolerate abuse of any kind any more. We victims of abuse have tolerated our abusers actions for a variety of reasons. Maybe we didn’t think we deserved better. Maybe we just got used to it. Maybe we didn’t think anyone was on our side.
Whatever your reason, I bet that you tolerated abuse because first and foremost, you thought you had to. Well, you don’t. Not ever. When your ex is abusive to you, tell him “No” in every way you can think of. I know it sounds easy, when it’s so much more complicated, but it really is that easy. Abusers abuse because they 100% believe they can get away with it. Show him he won’t get away with it with you any longer.
So, how the heck do you do this? Especially from dangerous men. Thoughtfully.
If you are afraid of what will happen if you try to stop his abuse, then go back to Step 1 and restart your healing process. You will be ready to stop it when you are ready to accept that your chance for a life that includes a “better him” is not likely. As long as you give any energy to trying to calculate a way to bring out the best in him, or calm him down, or create a world that will cause him to act “right,” aren’t ready to accept the truth that your better life does not include him at all.
If you are ready to do what you can to stop the abuse, then you have to completely let go of caring what he thinks, feels, or will do it you do anything, then:
Hold him Accountable
So, consider these ideas if your ex begins his dance of abusive crap:
Nasty emails. No one is legally allowed to send you threatening, bullying emails loaded with false accusations in the US anymore. There are state and federal laws that make cyberstalking a crime. When you’re physically abusive ex sends you nasty emails, some laws consider this to be further, criminal abuse, because a person who committed acts of violence on you is basically threatening to do it again just my terrorizing you. When your ex tells lies about you and writes it down, unless he can prove those accusation are true, he has committed slander. That is a violation of civil law.
If he is doing this, you can’t respond to them in any way, no matter how justified or pushed to defend yourself you feel. You can’t respond in any emotional way at all. Instead, consider writing back, after a few days have passed, that you consider his email criminal harassment and unwanted. And if he continues, you will pursue all legal actions available. And then, if he continues, do not respond at all, ever. But, call a lawyer, your domestic abuse hotline or the police.
Physical threats or actual violence
If you fear for your safety in anyway, call 911 immediately. Do not hesitate to do this, even if you have never done it before. It is amazing how quickly an abuser will stop bullying you with threats of violence when they find a police officer at their door. They won’t admit to anything, of course, and may even blame you. Don’t worry. He gets the message.
Then call the domestic abuse hotline and let them know that you have called 911. They may not have anything more they can do, but you are documenting this with a phone log. This is very important to do.
Tell friends and family
There are a lot of reasons we victims stay silent about abuse. Please understand that I know. I stayed silent for more than a decade and it almost got me killed. I was scared to tell to come out for a lot of reasons. But, silence is an abusers best friend. It allows them to abuse. This is one thing you can do for your own safety, emotional or otherwise.
Yes, there are consequences when you open up. Some people will judge you harshly. He might get mad. But, silence is way more dangerous. He knows he has free rein to abuse you when he knows you won’t tell. And actually, your frenetic actions that is caused by PTSD and trauma of ongoing abuse is more confusing to those who love you when they don’t understand why you are acting that way. If you loose some people because of disclosure, they weren’t really your friends.
Let him know that you have no problem telling others what is happening, in truthful, honest ways. Don’t over dramatize events or add emotion if you can help it. Just state the facts. “My ex used to hit me when were were married,” for example. “My ex sued me for custody of our kids.”
Let him try to explain his actions. You don’t have to explain yours or try to understand his anymore.
Change everything that links him to you
Change addresses, phone numbers, email accounts, Facebook or Twitter, anything that gives him a way to intimate or abuse you. Since I co-parent with my abuser, I have to have limited contact with him, rather than the “No Contact” recommended by therapists when dealing with a narcissist. But, I have an old email account just for him and spam. I check it when I want to. I’ve changed my contacts so instead of his name popping up when he calls or text, the word “Forgiveness” flashing on my screen. This is a mental reminder that I am in control of how I feel when he calls.
Stay current on the laws about abuse
In the last year alone, a federal law was signed by President Obama called the Violence Against Woman Act that is pages and pages of protections for women faced with abuse, mostly for immigrants, but not exclusively. In my state, there are new bills coming through the pipeline related to abuse. The Ray Rice abuse situation brought this epidemic to the forefront of a lot of law-makers minds. If you know the law and educate at what is not allowed, you will feel less helpless about what he can get away with. Understanding is the first step to finding solutions.
Abusers, like children, respond to very firm boundaries. Laws help you set those boundaries. It doesn’t mean he won’t cry and wind about them or even get through a few brick walls. But, keep setting them. It’s true that narcissists often will stop trying to use you and move on to someone else.
All of this takes a shift in your thinking, meaning you need to move past any notion that you are going to stop him from abusing in general. The truth is that abusers abuse. Your thinking becomes: “I will no longer tolerate any abuse he pushes my way.”
When you set boundaries for abuser, they often give up on you completely. You essentially become dead to them, because they can’t get the supply of drama they seek at your doorstep. This can cause some victims to feel abandoned all over, which is a psychologically conditions that’s real, not based in logic and you shouldn’t judge yourself if you feel it. Instead, learn about it and then you will understand that it just a reaction, normal for victims, and it won’t last.
When you show him over and over that you will take action if he abuses, exploits you or tries to bully you in any way, then he will eventually leave you alone. Abusers are basically weak inside, no matter their bravado and they really don’t like to feel like they are loosing. They will move to targets they feel assured they can beat.
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. 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.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org