How can you twist things so badly?
I have recently been divorced by my abuser on the grounds of my unreasonable behaviour. It comes as no surprise, given that abusers will do anything to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, but it still hurts.
Abusers will always discredit their victims. Even if they don’t act like it, deep down they know that their behaviour does not conform to acceptable standards of human interaction, so they will do whatever they can to excuse, mitigate, downplay, deny and misrepresent reality to depict themselves as innocent and their victims as the aggressor. If they are guilty, they must make you look guilty in the eyes of society. And they’re very good at it. My divorce is a case in point.
The particulars of my ‘unreasonable behaviour’ were as follows:
- That I left the marital home without explanation.
- That since the separation, I failed to show my wife love, kindness and affection.
- That I had been distant and withdrawn for a number of months.
- That I focused on solitary pursuits.
- That I became very controlling and stubborn.
- That I criticised my wife on a public blog.
The reason she didn’t wait two years for the ‘no fault’ divorce was because she had to make me out to be the one at fault. None of these things really amount to ‘unreasonable behaviour’ – I mean, does anybody show ‘love, kindness and affection’ to their ex? – but certainly they create a story that is acceptable to friends and family: I was to blame. However, these particulars require closer unpacking to show just how easily an abuser can cast their victims as the guilty party. In particular, they are very adept at making your reasonable reactions to their behaviour appear unreasonable:
- I did not simply leave the marital home, nor was it without explanation. I was removed from the home to a place of safety for my own welfare as a result of ten years of abuse being perpetrated upon me by my wife. She was not allowed to know my location, but she was promptly informed by Social Services that I had left. Of course, this was not mentioned in the legal literature.
- It goes without saying that there is nothing unreasonable about failing to show love. kindness and affection towards a person that abused me for a decade and has restricted my access to my children as a means to punish me for leaving.
- The reason I had been distant and withdrawn for a number of months was because this is a natural response to being abused. I know exactly when I started to become distant and withdrawn – it was when she cut off my beard with kitchen scissors. Again, my reaction to her behaviour is depicted as the problem, not the behaviour itself.
- While it is true that I spent much of the final months of the relationship alone, that was because I was at home looking after a baby and a toddler while she went out with her friends, sometimes six nights out of seven.
- Towards the end, I started to stand up for myself, objected to her abuse of me, and tried to stop her repeatedly breaking the law. If this makes me ‘controlling and stubborn’, instead of ‘normal’, then we are all ‘controlling and stubborn’.
- And lastly, I did not criticise my wife on a public blog. I detailed the things she was doing to me, in hindsight as a cry for help. Somehow, the fact that my wife was hitting me, threatening me, threatening the children, throwing drinks over me, preventing me from sleep, emotionally blackmailing me, stealing money from me, pouring water on my side of the bed, reading my emails, and breaking the law, wasn’t the problem – the problem was me telling people that she was doing these things, albeit anonymously on the internet.
As you can see, abusers will break your spirit, push you to the edge, bring you to the point that you have to be rescued for your own safety, and then criticise you for not simply enduring their mistreatment of you.
While these things are rather academic – who cares what it says on the divorce paperwork? – they can have real world implications. The story that has been spread about is that I abandoned my family during the Covid lockdown. I simply walked out without telling anyone, and she doesn’t know why. She’s the poor, innocent, heartbroken single mother, and I am the mean, uncaring husband and father that left without a backward glance. This is why what were our friends have all turned their backs on me; why I am ostracised at the school gate when I pick up my children; why I have to endure the stares and muttered comments whenever I take my children to parties and playdates and extracurricular activities.
The truth, of course, is that I was abused for more than a decade; that I eventually couldn’t take anymore; that when I told everyone what was going on – Social Services, Children’s Services, my GP and the police – nobody helped; that I had my children taken from me and had to fight through the courts to get adequate access; and that since the separation, I have continued to be harassed, intimidated, manipulated, blackmailed and toyed with by my ex. But that’s not a story she’s likely to concede, is it?
While I can take all of this – the former friends who believed her lies, the acquaintances who have only heard one side of the story, the fact that people text her whenever they see me to let her know where I’m going and what I’m up to – what I can’t abide is the lies she tells my children.
When I was putting my four-year-old son to bed the other night, he said, ‘Daddy, you don’t live with us anymore because you just left. You just walked away.’
Not exactly the phraseology of a four-year-old.
I asked him why he would think such a thing, and he said, ‘Because mummy told me.’ Of course.
When you leave an abuser, they know that they’re in the wrong and that you have enough dirt on them to destroy their reputation. Therefore, the misinformation campaign begins early – even before you’ve left. After I left my wife, I discovered that for years she had been secretly emailing my friends and family, portraying me in a particularly unfavourable light. The stage was already set for me to play the villain in her little fantasy.
Abusers don’t just gaslight you – they gaslight the whole world. Every time you speak out about their actions and try to tell people the truth, they say, ‘See? Look how evil he is! He’s making up lies that I’m an abuser, just like I told you he would.’ People see you as a bitter ex-husband saying whatever he can to hurt his former wife. When you try to raise legitimate concerns with Children’s Services, they think you’re just trying to cause trouble. When you talk to the police, they think you’re doing it for revenge. The victim of abuse becomes invisible, his voice silenced.
But she has done me a favour. By divorcing me, she has cut the last thread that bound me to her and that toxic way of life. I can finally draw a line under it and move into the future. As painful as it is to be divorced, I am free.