A united front for the children
Despite being the victim of quite hideous abuse from my former wife, I’ve been told several times recently that I need to show a united front for our children. For their sake, I have been urged to put aside my differences with her, yet my protestations that this is impossible have been repeatedly dismissed with the argument that I need to be ‘the bigger man’.
This has even led to the suggestion that I should have Christmas Dinner with her i.e. return to the home in which I was abused, to sit across from the person who cut off my beard with kitchen scissors, who I reported to the police for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, Assault, Extortion, Theft, Harassment and Stalking, and surrounded by the people who aided, abetted and endorsed her behaviour – to do what? Smile? Make happy small talk? Pretend that everything is fine and dandy, and that the past eighteen months haven’t been a nightmare of police investigations, court cases, false accusations, lies, gaslighting, and PTSD?
Apparently, yes. That is what I am told I should do, for the sake of my children.
When I say that I don’t want to put my head back into that noose – that I can’t – it is implied that I am somehow morally wrong, and that my inability to ‘get over’ myself is equally repugnant to the behaviour that caused it. “Well, I think that’s sad, and I feel sorry for your children.”
I’ve been told I should remain friends with my ex. I’ve been told that any man who criticises his ex, particularly if she is the mother of his children, is a scumbag. Always, always, it comes back to the same thing – no matter what she has done or continues to do, I must be ‘the bigger man’.
Pardon my French, but what the hell is this sexist, misandrist, rose-tinted, patronising bullshit?
I can’t imagine a woman being told she is weak, oversensitive or somehow equally in the wrong if she refuses to go into the house in which she was abused to sit across from the man who abused her and pretend that he never laid a finger on her, ‘for the sake of the children’. I can’t imagine she would be told that her physical and mental wellbeing is insignificant, and she must expose herself to the threat of further abuse and trauma, ‘for the sake of the children’.
Some say that, while we will probably never be friends, I should ‘try to get along with her’. What do they think I’ve been doing for the past decade? I tried that. I tried every day for years. Even after I left, I tried to get along with her for the sake of the children. I sat beside her at the school play in order to put on a united front for the children. She thanked me for it, and later texted to say she really appreciated it. A few weeks later, when she again wanted to hurt me, I received a letter from her solicitor telling me how ‘inappropriate’ it was that I had sat next to her at the school play, as I had made her feel uncomfortable. Bald-faced lies.
Anybody who suggests that I should just ‘try to get along with her’ has no idea the power that an abuser can hold over their victim. She is the spider and I am the fly. Should you really ‘try to get along’ with a person who has been actively trying to destroy you for a decade? Sitting across the table from her would threaten to undo all the positive work and healing I have done since leaving. It would give her the opportunity to gaslight, to manipulate, to use my attendance as ‘proof’ that she never abused me – because why would I come back if she had? It would be to make myself vulnerable again.
Others keep suggesting that, because we have children together, we must be able to communicate face-to-face in order to make decisions around the children. They are seriously proposing that I try to ‘co-parent’ with the person who threatened to abort my children to control me; who threatened to neglect them to make me obedient; who taught them to lie to me; who called them liars when they told me the truth; who said she would take them away from me to punish me if ever I left; and who treats every parenting decision as a battle that she has to win, no matter the consequences and who gets hurt.
Again, do they think I haven’t spent years trying to co-parent with her? You can’t co-parent with a person like that. There is a false assumption that persists in society at large and in the institutions that deal with parenting, that when there is high-conflict between two parents, they are both to blame and both in the wrong. But believe me – one person can create more than enough problems by themselves, and if you stand up for yourself, as by necessity you must, you come to be regarded as party to the madness, instead of the only rational one.
“Well, I’m sorry you can’t meet up for the sake of the children. She’s willing to.”
Of course she is! She’s the abuser! She knows that if we sit down in a room together, she can use all the tools at her disposal, all the ones she used so effectively for so many years, to bully, intimidate, browbeat, pressure and emotionally blackmail me into giving in to whatever she demands. She knows that if it is spoken, instead of written down in emails, she can claim that I said or did or agreed to whatever she wants to lie about next. I use the voice recorder on my phone in my pocket at every single childcare handover so that she can’t make stuff up about me. This is all for my protection. Yet people think that I’m the bad guy because I refuse to expose myself to further abuse. They can’t seem to understand that I am afraid of her, and I have good reason to be: I almost didn’t survive what she did to me.
In response to all these critics, who love to use that moralising phrase ‘for the sake of the children’ – as my ex does all the time, in order to attempt to justify whatever egregious, conniving, vindictive, threatening or unreasonable demand she’s going to make next – I have this response:
‘I always believed that you never walk away from a marriage: you stay and make it work. But I came to the realisation that if my children were in the marriage I was in, I would tell them to run; that some things can’t be fixed; and that there is no shame in walking away from something that is toxic, destructive and unhealthy. I decided that I could not tell them that and remain in my marriage. I would have to lead by example, no matter how hard and no matter how much it broke my heart. I left my marriage to show my children that there is a way out of the prison of abusive relationships.
‘You tell me that for their sake, I need to be friends with their mother and put on a united front. You believe that it would be good for my children to have both parents to Christmas dinner. Let me ask you this: would you tell your child that they have to socialise with a person who abused and continues to abuse them? Would you tell them that they have to pretend to like that person, pretend to be friends, pretend to be okay with that person? Would you tell them to expose themselves to further harm because it would make others feel better if we all pretend to like each other? What sort of lesson are you teaching?
‘I would argue that while in the short term, it would make your children feel good, in the long term, you are teaching them that adults are false. By lying to them throughout their childhood – and they will discover you were acting out a pretence the whole time – you will teach them that adult life is all about deception. You’re teaching them that we should pretend to like the people who harm us. That no matter how awful a person’s actions, we should cover them up and continue to make ourselves vulnerable to further abuse in order to keep other people happy. Is that really what you want for your children?
‘The reason I will not share Christmas dinner with my ex-partner, the reason I will not sit in a room with her, and the reason that we communicate by email instead of face-to-face, is the same reason I left the marriage: to show my children that you do not have to put up with abusive people. It is not right to put up with abusive people. It is not right to ask a survivor to pretend that the abuser did not abuse them. It is not right to lie to your children by pretending that you and their abusive mother are friends.
‘If this means I am not the ‘bigger man’, then so be it. I do not need to justify myself to you. I need to be able to look myself in the mirror every day knowing that I am doing everything I can to provide for the long term physical, emotional and psychological welfare of my children, and that is exactly what I am doing. I have never told them anything about what she did to me. I have never been impolite to her at handovers. I have never criticised her to them. But I do not need to pretend to be friends with her. There will come a day when they discover what really went on, and why I made the decisions that I made. And on that day, they will know that they do not have to tolerate the abusers in their lives. I will have led by example.’