The follow is an excerpt from the new book “How to Co-Parent with An Abusive Ex and Keep Your Sanity.” (By, Julie Boyd Cole, Amazon, release date: Dec. 20, 2015). It’s the result of one victim’s journey with a violent husband and the research I conducted through it.
“How to co-parent with an abusive ex and stay sane _ is that even possible?
What’s next, “How to lose weight without dieting or exercising?” Sure, whatever. If I overeat and sit around all day, I’m not going to lose weight.
How does anyone co-parent with an abusive ex and stay sane? Simple, don’t co-parent with an abusive ex.
Frankly, if you have that choice, take it. It’s the best option.
Abusers abuse and divorce doesn’t stop their need. If you share children together, you will always be an easy target.
However, most of us don’t have that choice. Since the mid-1990s, family courts believe abusers have the right to parent their children, and children have a right to be parented by abusers _ because the abuser is a parent.
To make matters worse, most family courts don’t want hear too many details about the abuser’s actions. Nor do parenting coordinators or attorneys. Even family and friends don’t want to know. And maybe even your children don’t want to know.
I didn’t either and I was the victim.
Abuse is painful and hard to look at, especially when we are invested in the abuser. No one wants to see the ugliness of domestic abuse. Why would we? Abusers look normal enough that we may marry them. We start to build a life with them. Trust them. Love them. Then at some point, they pull the rug out from under us.
They show their true colors and rip us apart. Who wants to see that.
The day I married my abuser, we stood together on a sunny beach before our family to recite our vows. I had such stage fright that I gave my vows to the Justice of the Peace to read. My abuser, dressed so beautifully in a fresh pressed suit, not only read his, but read to me one of the most lovely paragraphs anyone has ever said to me. He wrote it himself. I was moved and felt appreciated and loved.
Less than a year later, he had his hands around my neck squeezing tight and I struggled for my life.
Why would I want to face that.
Denial feels so much better. That is what kept me with my abuser for 15 years. I wasn’t in a complete fog. I knew his violence had to stop for us to be happy.
In those 15 years, I worked hard trying to find the cure that would stop my ex from physically hurting me, psychology damaging me and messing with my head. I wanted to stay with him. Yep, that sounds crazy. But, a lot of the time, he didn’t beat me up. In fact, the majority of the time I wasn’t getting beat up. There were even pieces of my life with an abuser that I loved. I loved being married, having children, being a stay-at-home mother. I loved the lifestyle. I loved having a companion. I loved sharing my children with their father. I loved holidays and spending time with our friends. I loved a lot about my life with my abuser.
I hated the abuse. I was scared and so confused.
In the 15 years I was with my abuser as his girlfriend, fiancee and wife, I saw seven different therapists, read at least a dozen relationship books, had hundreds of hours of “come to Jesus” conversations with my abuser, all in an effort to stop the abuse and live a happy life.
I worked so hard at trying to solve this problem so that we could once and for all put an end to the violence and get busy raising our children together.
Time and time again, I applied the methods of pop psychology or a Sunday sermon or advice from Oprah. I listened intently to anything that came my way that seemed like it might help.
But, he kept hitting me.
Over the years, the few therapists I told that there was domestic violence in our home, told me the only way to stop the violence was to call the police or leave.
Call the police? Really? How was that going to help, I thought. Sure, he would stop hitting me that moment, but our relationship would be blown up, too. I didn’t want that. I wanted my happy home.
Society was also telling me to call the police and get away with my kids. “Leave as fast as you can with nothing but the clothes on your back.” The conventional wisdom at the time: Get to a domestic abuse shelter. Ok, say I did that, then what? You want an unemployed housewife to choose homelessness for me and my kids? Wow, what a great option.
I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted him to stop hitting me. I didn’t want my kids to be homeless. I didn’t want my kids to be without a father. I didn’t want a divorce. I wanted the man on the beach who stood next to me promising his eternal love.
But, abusers abuse and no matter how they dress up, there is ugliness inside.
So, I finally took the only action that made him stop hitting me. I left. I gave up all the good things that I loved about being married to the father of my children because if I didn’t pull myself out of denial and get out, I would have died or gone truly crazy. I chose life and sanity.
At first, I was applauded for leaving by those who knew about the abuse. I was told I made the right decision to get away from an abuser and save my kids. I was applauded, at first.
But, life after I left didn’t solve everything for everyone.
Old habits die hard.
Where I couldn’t create a happy marriage with my abuser, I tried to create a friendly divorce. He found new ways to abuse that didn’t require being in the same home with me. I tried to figure that out, too. More therapy, books and advice from others. More long conversations. More denial.
When our divorce escalated to obvious abuser/victim dynamic all over again, I blamed myself again, got therapy and tried to build boundaries between us and keep my distance. I was already divorced, but we were parenting together. I tried to instill over and over distance and rules to keep him away from me.
But this time, no applause by the onlookers.
This time I was told by lawyers, a mediator, a parent coordinator and even some friends and family to ignore the abuse and just try to find a way to get along with him for the kids sake.
“What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do for 15 years,” I thought. “Do you think that I don’t know I would have been better off if I could have found a way to just get along? Do you think I wanted to be beaten, strangled, lied to, abandoned, blamed, harassed, spit on, insulted, manipulated, divorced, financial strapped and sued for custody of my children?”
I read every book and spent thousands on mental health’s finest. Tried all the advice and even tried to come up with my own ideas.
“Tell me, please, what have I missed?” I thought whenever someone tried to give me well meaning advice. “What exactly do you want me to do, because if you have the magic pill that will help me to ‘just get along’ then for God’s sake, give it to me. I’ll take it. Will that make the abuse stop?”
First, I was judged for staying, now I’m judged for trying to get away from it.
However, I know those judging folks didn’t understand what 15 years of trying to “just get along” with an abuser does to a person. I have a lot of anger, sadness and pain for what my abuser stole from me.
But, too many people confidently served up that advice and held back their compassion. Because after all, despite all the “You are not to blame” campaigning, apparently, I was to blame.
It’s enough to make a person insane.
Being in the same orbit with them, means that you are in danger of being abused.
Most abusers only abuse their intimate partners _ not their co-workers, friends or even strangers on the bus _ because they can get away with abusing their loved one. If my abuser did what he has done to me to his co-worker, he’d be fired. If he did it to a stranger on the bus, he’d be arrested and jailed.
But, because he did it to me _ his wife, then ex-wife _ well, that’s different. Society doesn’t like dealing with that scenario so much. Families should handle those cases. We don’t like dirty laundry between two consenting adults. None of our business.
It’s no wonder our society wants victims to figure out a way to get along with their abuser and co-parent. As if it were that easy.
I have not found a single mental health expert who will say that co-parenting with a domestic abuser is good for children, the family or even society. Children raised as witnesses to abuse grow up with higher rates of all sorts of psychological damage and sociological issues.
I have not found a single mental health expert in domestic abuse who says that an abuser can stop abusing without having had years of therapy and intervention programs. Even then, the odds are against it.
I have not found a single study that shows that co-parenting is the ideal choice when one parent is a domestic abuser.
If you have, send it to me. I would love to see it.
However, there is plenty out there that says domestic abusers should not be co-parenting.
For example, in the family law statute in Florida, domestic abuse is listed as one reason of just a handful, when a judge can rule that one parent be aware sole custody.
One domestic abuse advocate said it best with this post. To sum it up, abusers have shown by their choice to abuse their partner that they cannot be trusted to put the best interest of the children above their needs.
Dr. Rick Nauert, who has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare, wrote an article for PsychCentral about this topic and said family courts that force co-parenting between abuser and victim are forcing victims into dangerous situations.
The University of Illinois studied child custody after domestic abuse and found a lot of mental turmoil as a result of the continued contact victims have with their abuser.
“Joint custody can be quite beneficial to the children of these non-violent, low-conflict couples, but not in cases of battering,” reported the National Online Research Center for the Violence Against Women organization.
In this study, they found that children living with one parent who abuses struggle in many ways, no matter whether the parents are divorced or not.
And there is this study conducted in 2002 with findings on how abusive men parents. In a nutshell, not very well.
So, with so much evidence building that says abusers should not be co-parenting with anyone, why are so many victims forced to do so?
According to a national survey I conducted in 2015 of victims of abuse who share children with their abuser, 97 percent are co-parenting with their abuser and the large majority of them are continuing to be abused post-divorce.
Abusers abuse. We know that. It has been proven. Abuse is a life choice by the perpetrator, not driven by the circumstance except in this one way, give an abuser the opportunity to abuse when he needs to feel the power of abuse, and he will abuse.
How can you co-parent with that?
You shouldn’t have to.”
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.
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 to. Julie speaks to church groups, men in prison and women made homeless by abuse.
She can be contacted at [email protected]