A woman recently reached out desperate for help. She described her situation in great detail. Her husband threatens her with a ‘war’ if they divorce. He tells her that she’ll traumatize the children and make up lies about her. Her children are starting to feel the effects of her husband’s aggression and act out among other things. He refuses to let her leave. At the end of the note she states “He is a great father (when he is not aggressive)…” I don’t know the actual situation however, is sounded to me like this man is definitely not a good father, he is also an abusive husband.
I was at a talk where a woman who had been married to an abusive husband for 10 years told her story. How her ex-husband had preyed on her when she was young, single and alone. Slowly, over time, his behavior became more and more extreme and through Gaslighting, she came to believe herself crazy. When she finally went to an attorney (before no-fault divorce in New York State), he told her to “come back when there are bruises.”
Sadly, her story is not unique. Time and again, I hear tragic stories of domestic abuse that affects not just the abused partner, but the entire family. The collateral damage to the children and the generations that follow is substantial. Long term chronic health problems for the victims such as PTSD and a multitude of physical ailments persist into adulthood. A recent study found that emotional abuse can have a worse effect on children long term than physical abuse.
The court system in the United States is not set up to identify cases of emotional abuse. While many of these divorces end up at trial, the judge only sees a tiny snippet of the couple’s behavior. One of the tactics that abusers use in divorce is to trigger their spouses so that they reacts in a way that appears to the judge that she/he is the crazy one. With limited information, the resolution is rarely good.
If you are experiencing emotional abuse in the form of any of the following (although not limited to):
· Constant yelling and bullying
· Name-calling, insults
· Putting you down, ridiculing you
· Gaslighting-making you question your own sanity
· Controlling behaviors such as checking your phone and constantly keeping tabs on you
· Punishing behavior like unexplained silence for long periods of time
· Isolating you from family and friends
It’s NOT OK! The first and most important thing is to seek help (some resources are listed below). If you’re in the process of divorcing an abusive spouse, you may feel that your situation is hopeless, it’s not! You do have much greater challenges through your process and will need extra support.
1. Seek therapy from a therapist that is experienced working with abuse victims. Work on tuning out the triggers that cause you to react irrationally.
2. Make sure your attorney has a lot of experience with divorces where there was emotional and/or physical abuse.
3. Ask for a Forensic Psychologist to evaluate your family. This process is extremely harrowing but critical in very high-conflict situations.
5. Communicate with your ex through your attorney or one of the apps. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO NEGOTIATE ALONE.
6. Hire a Divorce Coach who can help you create a practical, realistic plan.
7. Practice self-care.
You will need a lot of strength and support to get through your divorce. YOU WILL GET THROUGH IT! You know the woman I mentioned earlier who was married to an abusive man? She is happily married again, her children are adjusted and she is thriving in a new business.
IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF DOMESTIC ABUSE: