What Happens After You Divorce Your Abusive Husband?

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I’ve often rued the fact that there is no official step-by-step guidebook for divorcing your abusive husband, that you just do it with every ounce and muster of courage and drop of support you can find. I was lucky to have a strong support network, full of therapy and attorney friends, and including my official therapist and official attorney, along with my extended friends and family.

First of all, it’s hard enough to admit that these terrible things have happened. These are things that you’ve hidden from the world, things that no one would ever suspect because he is so kind, so sweet, so intelligent, soft-spoken in the real world. That’s the part any sane person would hold onto, out of love-- love for the children, love for your commitment and marriage vows, love of being “a family.” Then the day comes when there is just one explosion too many, or the realization that begin sworn and screamed at for not boiling the spaghetti, that you know it will never get better, and that after the death threats and the ‘bullet through your head,” and the choking of the family dog and breaking of the children’s toys and kicking your daughter in her stomach, it is only getting worse.


Image: Jaro Larno via Flickr

So after all the pain and heartache and terrible accusations that you are the "crazy" person, who is unfit to care for the children, and having it all played out in court for two years, the actual truth prevailed, you are safe, your children no longer have to live with Mr. Hyde, you can move on and build a safer, more positive life in your house.

Except, now you have to co-parent with your abusive ex. It requires a completely different step-by-step guidebook, but of course there isn’t one, and likely, it’s because every situation has different nuances and complications, every family variation a complex algebraic equation, for lack of a better phrase. Divorce Poison is a great resource, and while dispensing sage advice, there is no one-size fits all. (Which is why I’ve taken to anonymous blogging and reading about others’ personal experiences).

When co-parenting with an ex who continues to emotionally manipulate your children, accuse you of being unsafe and of stealing their items, demand to know if you allow your new husband to bathe your children naked (gasp, how else would you bathe the children?), it is a mistake to think that once the ‘divorce’ is over, you have truly ‘escaped’ and are ‘finished.’ Yes, there’s a huge improvement over living with a mean-spirited, mercurial bully in the house, however, said bully is still joined closely to your world.

There is the social aspect of entering your new life as a single parent. Likely, many people have taken sides, regardless of your truth. There may be a skeptical preschool teacher, who he subpoenaed, because of course she wouldn’t see anything concerning in the classroom at pick ups or drop-offs. Or others who pretend everything is just fine and what’s the big deal? Or still others who can’t handle it, because the subject is so clearly depressing, and that’s okay, because by now, after many years, you’ve figured out who you can really trust vs. who you can casually trust. Actually, now that there’s been lots of time under the bridge, you know how to navigate the divorce conversation landscape in civil situations however they end up (meeting your kids' friends' parents, at a birthday party, or when drinking a glass of wine with your fellow divorcee friends, or with your trusted people).

You grow a thick skin, so that your ex’s barbs don’t sting (as much), and are not as affected by other people’s assumptions. Because while it’s true it shouldn’t matter what other people think, sometimes it can hurt, still hurt even after all this time, when you know people in the world may be making judgments about you—that’s human to feel that way. You have a heart.

There is the fact that even though you divorced your abuser, he will be in your life. I almost envy my fellow friends who left their abusers, when said abusers disappear in shame or wrongfully laid pride and never come back. I feel guilty for that and know either way it’s heartbreakingly difficult because I know my ex can be on ‘good’ behavior, and I know the girls adore him, like any child adores their parent, regardless of the flaws. So I know it’s in their best interests to be around him, as long as he’s not hurting them (but that’s a whole other post--he is capable of acting decent, it’s the subtle manipulation and neediness that has me continually worried).


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