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LETTERS TO LOVEFRAUD: Leaving the abuser, then expected to co-parent

Editor’s note: Lovefraud received the following email from a reader whom we’ll call “Gloria.”

I have been divorced from my abusive husband (mental, physical, sexual against me but he NEVER LEFT A MARK ON ME.) for 11 years and we have 3 teenagers together. I have known him 20 years. For most of this time, I have been puzzled about why I could not “move on” after the divorce.

Yes, I left him. During the marriage I did not know the name “abusive,” so I just kept trying to be a good wife and mother, fulfill my marriage commitment, etc., but then I woke up just enough to know that it was “abusive” and I left. We had gone to about 8 couples counselors during the marriage, and I always ended up feeling much worse, and he never took any of the responsibility, just smirked and was derisively contemptuous.

I kept trying to get along with him following the divorce, to “co-parent” (we have joint custody) as the courts seem to require. I have a lot of good will and keep forgiving and trying, but I’m not a pushover! I’m an assertive person and I do assert myself with him constantly, respectfully. Though he is not respectful in return. I tried for all these years to say to the kids, as I was advised by mental health professionals, “your dad is a good man. I’m sure he doesn’t mean it. We just don’t love each other anymore, the way married people should… but I loved him when I married him, and he is your father, and I will always support and respect him.” I am so angry at the mental health professionals for steering me wrong! Seriously, I did all of this in such GOOD WILL, but ignorance. I only, always, wanted what was going to help my children.

After everything I tried, nothing seems to work and now we are barely speaking. I mean ”¦ he has been trying to control and shape how I am “allowed” to communicate with him. Basically, instructing me, I could email him, but only once a week, only one topic per email ”¦ and so I would, and then it would be something else ”¦ I mean, just impossible demands and hoops to jump through. I finally realized, there is no compromise with this man, unless I do all of it. He does none of it.

Scares the children

There are some interesting, colorful problems that go along with my story. One daughter cut her wrists a couple years ago (one time), she was frightened of her dad and refused to see him, and he blamed me (instead of coming together with me to help our daughter in crisis) for her refusal to see him, and threatened me with legal action (he threatens repeatedly).

He attacked her physically in her room, locking the door, menacingly advancing, pushing her to the floor, yelling at her. He has rage attacks frequently. He scares the children.

I should mention that he is very wealthy, a lawyer. Not a con-artist profile! He never bilked me of any money ”¦ but I am struggling financially due to having been focused on raising the kids all these years, and the kids have difficult personalities. He could, for example, take me repeatedly to court, just for the pleasure of impoverishing me further. He did this during the divorce his family has a lot of money. He is an upstanding citizen, good employee, no criminal record except that one time I called 911 and he was arrested and charged with DV

Prized possessions

I have tried to lay low with him. I have tried to “appease” him just to get off his radar. We have joint custody and the kids go back and forth. We have tried a few times to go to counselors to help with “parent coordination,” but the counselors always fall for his lies OR they look at both of us puzzled and say stuff like, “with the two of you, it is hard to know where the credibility lies ”¦”

He is more interested in them as prized possessions than in them personally. This follows the pattern of how he treated me (as an object) during our marriage. It is a very cold thing.

Now not only do we have the one daughter refusing to see her dad, our son is also refusing to see him. He will not say why, “I just don’t feel like it.” This, I should say, is an adamant refusal there is nothing I can do to force it. My ex-husband blames me and has accused me of “parental alienation.” He does his own alienating he needs no help from me!

I have been advised by these counselors, “The conflict between you and your ex-husband is very bad for the children. You need to stop.” And I am so hopeless, hearing things like that. I am not the one doing it. I am not the one attacking, or ignoring, or being rude and disrespectful. Though I do sometimes assert myself to him (not defend, not counterattack, not withdraw). I say, “You are lying.” He smiles and says, “No I’m not, you do it too.” There is just no getting to integrity with this man. It is maddening.

My own parents have admonished me to try to give him the benefit of the doubt and get along with him for the sake of the children. 🙁

College money

My ex-husband is assigning “roles” to the daughters: the daughter who still sees him is the “good;” child and the one who refuses is the “bad” child (they are twins). He has offered $100,000 in college tuition to the “good” daughter, and he has told the other daughter that his $$ help for college is conditional upon her return to a “full relationship” with him. I assume he means that he comes back to live with her not that they have a real relationship based on love.

I should mention ”¦ he lies, lies, lies. He smiles like there is no problem, making me out to be the crazy one. He has been remarried for the past 5 years, and I think she is possibly more sociopathic/evil than he is. For a long time, I thought maybe he has BPD. Then I thought no, he lacks empathy, must be a narcissist. Then, now, I see the sociopathic connection. I see the fake display of emotions. I see the lack of remorse. Well ”¦ both he and his wife have the fakey-nice sing-songy way of talking to the kids, it sickens all of us, and I worry about my one daughter who still goes over there. I worry about my son who sometimes exhibits thoughtless behaviors.

Teenagers

Which brings us to today, where the story got very interesting all of a sudden. I recently got a full-time job, which requires my being gone from the house for the usual number of hours (instead of being home as flexibly as possible, which I tried to do all these years, working part-time or flexibly). The kids were having a rough adjustment to it, but I said, be patient, it’s a transition, we will get through it, but yes you have to help out more (teenagers). I have been a good mom. I have been there, I have done stuff with and for them. I am not perfect. I think I have been utterly normal and healthy. Despite the PTSD I’ve had to deal with.

So, the one daughter who refuses to see her dad, she reacted badly one day when I had a “lecture” to all three kids (it was a stern lecture about wanting them to help out more I have to be very careful and precise and honest in presenting this to you: My kids are not used to me being stern they are used to me being “nice” so this was new and different to them, but I assure you nothing abusive or out of the ordinary in what I think is pretty common and normal parenting especially with teenagers. I really am a very even keel person. So this daughter goes to her counselor the next day and rants about me, she is so upset, and the counselor reported me to CPS, which began an investigation, and I will cut to the chase:

Mandated therapy

We now have mandated family therapy: me, the 3 kids, the ex-husband and his wife! This is very interesting since I would really prefer “no contact,” and that would be much healthier and more appropriate for me. It is interesting and maybe useful for the kids now to see the way their dad really is during these sessions, which send chills down my back (especially the new wife and him together). The kids are getting very angry and fed up with him and his lies and his “impression management” at each session.

CPS “found” me “unsubstantiated neglect,” which is such a sad blow to me. Because I know it is unfounded. I know they did not do a fair and thorough investigation. And I know the investigator had her mind made up before she even came to see me. It was a hostile interrogation and she told me the allegation was that I “hate” my daughter and that I am “mentally unstable.” So this will be on my record (searchable database for prospective employers/volunteer agencies) for the next 5 years, until my youngest is 20 years old. I think this is insane. This is what the system is like ”¦ I think, why would the state expect a victim of domestic violence to be in weekly mandated counseling with her abuser? It makes no sense to me.

And this is where I am now ”¦ some things in the way society views sociopathy, domestic violence, etc. just do not make sense. My friends are even shaking their head and nervous ”¦ they say, “Gloria, if this can happen to you (CPS), this could happen to any of us. You are such a good mom!”

Why all the urging to women to leave our abusers, and THEN we are expected to co-parent with them? And the children are supposed to just be okay with all this?


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45 Comments on "LETTERS TO LOVEFRAUD: Leaving the abuser, then expected to co-parent"

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Gloria,

I did not realize this happened two years ago. (Maybe you wrote it and I missed it.) And that there there hasn’t been anything reported to you since.

And no, I wouldn’t press your daughter for information on it. You seem to have a good relationship. I’d assume that you’d hear or notice if something like this was wrong.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between symptoms of abuse and the normal “hormone poisoning” of adolescence. It’s normal for kids to be sulky, rebellious or secretive. But sexual abuse tends to have a certain constellation of symptoms that include several of these: Acting out. Depressed or withdrawn, self-identification as a loser or outsider. Self-destructive behavior, especially cutting. Loss or change of friends. Plummeting grades. Weight gain or other attempts to become unattractive. Precocious sexual awareness or promiscuity.

If you’re not seeing that, it sounds like your confrontation worked.

And I apologize for popping off. I am admittedly really sensitive about this.

Kathy

Thanks, Kathy,

For now, my gut is telling me that things are as OK as they can be, with everything else considered (sociopathic dad/stepmom, the crazymaking gaslighting stuff)… I think my daughter who goes over there is pretty aware and also is a lot tougher and more able to stand up to her dad than the other two children. I also think she would tell me, if anything crosses a line or even just makes her uncomfortable, especially if she is unable to handle it herself (if she speaks up, for example, and he denies or minimizes or shifts blame).

The other things which could be symptoms… I’m not seeing these (but would be on the lookout!). She seems pretty normal, has good friends, is on an athletic team, keeps up with studies, is attractive but not going in either direction (not too much makeup/promiscuous, nor wearing baggy clothing/weight gain).

I think it is always good to be vigilant, and I do not mind at all your pointing out any red flags you see, that I may be missing. Kids’ wellbeing and safety is at stake!

Kathy,
wow, the things you wrote to 20years are going to be helpful to other readers who might be going through that. The step-by-step instructions are invaluable.

Gloria,
I think your tough daughter is feeling out her power to manipulate. She has set the goal of getting her college paid for and she is working toward that goal by playing the game with her dad. Unfortunately, she doesn’t understand how much she is risking. Like all teens, she thinks she is smart enough to take care of herself. But even if her dad doesn’t molest her, playing emotional games with a spath is going to have emotional repercussions. She will lose some of her grounding in reality, some of her sense of self – even if she ultimately wins the carrot he is dangling.

I don’t believe there is anyway you will be able to talk her out of this game because she thinks she can win, she thinks she has him figured out. The best thing you can do is arm her with knowledge: books on psychopaths. And make sure she understands how important it is for her to stay grounded in reality because spaths play mind games. Teach her gray rock and how to change the typewriter keys around. She has decided to become supply so she should know how to do it without getting sucked dry.

I think that if she understands the purpose of this knowledge is to help her reach her goal, then she will absorb it avidly. But there will be a side-effect. As she absorbs it for the purpose of winning her goal, she will begin to understand the error in her thinking. She’ll “get” that there is no winning when you allow a vampire to feed on you. And hopefully she will find a way to detach it from her neck safely. Use tweezers and pull slowly straight back.

Dear 20 years,

I grew up in a family where my stepfather was allowed to do many of the things that your children’s father do. He walked around in his underwear, walked into our room when we were undressing, made sexual innuendos, and seemed to always be trying to push his boundaries with us. At the same time, he was beating us brutally with a thick belt till we had welts all over our bodies – for silly things, like leaving a light switch turned on when we left the room. I don’t have to tell you that a parent like this is also emotionally abusive. My mother was aware of this – it happened for 9 years until I left home at 15 or 16. My sister got the abuse for 11 years because she was younger. I begged my mother to leave him. Even though she had the means, she stayed with him till the day he died 20 years later.

I cannot express to you the abandonment and betrayal I felt and how it has affected me my entire life. Even when I was able to forgive my stepfather, I could never forgive my mother and now have no relationship with her (I am now 50).

I do not have the gift of words like Kathy Hawk has; she really described my life experiences so eloquently – especially the part about feeling like your parents don’t care if you live or die. I tried to commit suicide when I was 14 and was very disappointed when I didn’t succeed. My parents never knew. They knew I was very ill and vomiting, and I lived in abject FEAR that they would find out I took a bunch of my mom’s pills. I feared that my stepfather would kill me for making them spend their time and money to take me to the hospital if he knew.

So from personal experience, a suicide attempt in a child is something to be taken very seriously. Please, please, please do everything you can to protect them and let them know it is your intention to protect them from harm. It will make such a big difference in their lives – you have no idea.

Stargazer,

It just dawned on me that my posts about this have triggered some of you with these experiences of boundary (and other) violations which occurred when you were young. I’m sorry about that! I have my own triggers — thankfully, child abuse/sexual abuse is not one of them, but I do know the feeling, and so I want to apologize.

And also express great appreciation to you for writing, sharing what you’ve been through, and offering any thoughts you have about what is is like for a child to grow up in an abusive household where you are not safe… I do feel that there are no set formulas on how to handle this, very little support for the kids, very little understanding of the bind that many protective parents are in, pressure from all sides to “repair broken family relationships” regardless of the capacity of some of the individuals, and I also want to acknowledge that while I feel some very real barriers to 100% protecting my children, I realize some of those barriers may be psychological, of my own making, or not so insurmountable as they may seem.

This is a topic I think needs a lot more research and educating folks — how to identify sociopaths and truly protect all family members (spouse, children, parents) from them. What interventions WILL work, for the entire family? Which relationships can and should be strengthened, and which relationships are best cut off, with no contact for the sake of the mentally healthy (and vulnerable) family members?

I feel so stuck, sometimes. I would love nothing more than to just run away with my 3 children, but I know he would follow, he would take me to court, and he would win. He has a bottomless pit of money and enough family members like him (also with endless supply of money) that it would break me, which would hardly help the kids.

So instead, I’m in this kind of hypervigilant position, warily watching the kids for red flags, trying not to appear too crazy, since he effectively cons the experts and court system. And just trying to wait him out and be the best mom I can. Our son will be 18 in less than a year, and our daughters have about 3 years to go until he can no longer hold legal threats over me regarding the children (and removing them from my home through filing more reports to CPS).

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