When people talk about a woman in an abusive relationship, they often say, "I don't know why she doesn't leave him." I've been privy to those conversations, and I never wanted people to say that about me. Lucky for me, my ex-husband was too smart to be caught abusing me. Or perhaps I enabled him by always playing the perfect wife and happy family in front of other people.
It was only after I spoke to a lawyer and a therapist that spoke out about the years of abuse. Even then, few people believed it, because he was always so loving towards me, kind of family, successful at work and soft-spoken towards children. He seemed like the perfect family man.
Leaving my abusive husband was difficult. I loved very much, and I wanted to keep my family together. I didn't want to seem like a weak woman who couldn't hold together a marriage. After every explosion, he was very sorry - I know he meant it. He'd be the most amazing husband for long stretches of time, but then he would come home and criticise me.
Every day, the intensity would increase, until it culminates in a huge blow-up - he would kick the furniture, the dogs and everything else that got in his way. I could handle the death threats, the beatings and the verbal abuse, but finally, the day arrived that I could no longer expose my children to it. They were in real danger: mentally and physically.
The court battle was intense and dragged on for nearly two years. At one point, I believed that I was in the wrong; that I was the unfit mother, the crazy person. Just when I thought I was going to go insane, there was a breakthrough, and I was safe. My kids would no longer live under his roof, and we could live a normal day-to-day existence.
Living without a bully or abusive ex is a great improvement on your day-to-day situation, but if you have kids, there is still a very real link that can never be completely broken.
Co-parenting with an abusive ex-means that you have to learn a whole new set of rules. There are many great resources available, but not one of them offers a complete solution - I guess that's because each situation comes with a unique set of people with their circumstances.
Here are some of the things I've learned from co-parenting with an abusive ex:
He can do or say what he wants, but unless it directly impacts on your children, you cannot do anything about it. How he lives his life when the kids are not with him, is no longer your concern.
You're bound to get mean and abusive emails and phone calls. You may even hear it through the grapevine, which hurts. Just like his personal life is no longer your concern, you don't have to answer to him about your personal life. You only need to engage on issues that involve co-parenting, such as education, healthcare, pick-ups and drop-offs. The rest is drama - don't indulge him.
He may turn into father-of-the-year when the kids visit, and that's great. Be positive and upbeat when the kids talk about the fun they have with him and don't say anything negative about him.
Your ex is bound to say stupid things to the kids about you. It is important to explain to the kids that he no longer has a say in your life, and just like you don't tell the kids what he should or shouldn't do, he is not the boss of you. Be sure to let the kids know that they should not worry about what he says and that they don't need to feel that they need to please him all the time.
If you are worried about anything he says or does, don't address it directly with him, as it will open the door to more abuse and defensiveness. Instead, take your concerns to neutral third parties or therapists who you trust.
Dealing with a constant barrage of vitriol and drama can be emotionally draining. While your ex won't change, you can change how you respond. Therapy can help release stress and help you find coping mechanisms to help you accept your feelings.
Dealing with an abusive ex is not easy, and you're bound to mess up on every item on this list at least once. Be easy on yourself while you build your strength.
Reach for support when you need it, and look forward to the good days. But in the meantime, find things that make you happy. You can't live in the past, and you can't worry about the future. You can only focus on right now, believing that better days are coming.