Tell Me About It: His family and current partner speak badly of me to the children too
I am a mother of four children in the middle of a messy divorce.
My ex-husband was verbally abusive throughout our marriage, and we were in counselling for most of it. I asked for a separation after an incident of physical abuse after contact with Women’s Aid, lots of reading on the subject and the realisation that the chances of him changing were slim.
The next few years were incredibly tough, but I am lucky to be surrounded by great family and friends. I also work full time so life is pretty hectic. I’ve always held the belief that it would be best for the children if I never spoke ill of their father, and that they would grow up knowing the difference between right and wrong, and what loving words sound like.
Lately I’m struggling with messages they are getting from both sides. Access has been an issue lately. For the first few years of our separation he decided what dates he wanted the boys, and unless I had something on I was fine with this. We are both now in relationships, however, so this year I changed access to a stable pattern more typical of these kinds of arrangements.
Because this move was initiated by me, he had issues. He didn’t come at set times and refused to make any changes to the schedule but would tell the boys I had made the changes and I was a liar.
I’ve always known he speaks badly of me, but now his family and current partner speak badly of me to the children too. So it leaves me with a dilemma: should I continue to say nothing or correct their lies?
The two youngest are struggling at the moment. I would welcome any thoughts on how best to deal with this.
Congratulations on being someone who is capable of putting the needs of others first. You have behaved in a mature manner in that you have not denigrated your ex-husband so that your children would not suffer.
This is a situation that unfortunately is not uncommon and the ongoing changing of the access goalposts can go on for years after the relationship has been dissolved. It seems that your ex-husband is still emotionally involved with you in that his current reaction seems to be in response to your new, stable relationship and this has invoked an old response pattern in him.
When you were together, he was abusive and tried to exercise power over you. This current situation seems like another version of this, and I wonder if you need to look at your past pattern and learn from your history. In the past, you suffered for a long time before accepting that you had to take action, no matter how difficult and upsetting it was. Now, you may again have to take action that is challenging and unsavoury. It is particularly difficult because of your huge desire to protect your children.
Your children are hearing a very one-sided story, and it is hard for them to differentiate this from the truth. While they might not yet need to hear of the violence in your relationship, they need to know some of the history so that they can operate from a more informed position.
Your older children seem to be in a better place to the younger two. Would it be possible for you to initiate a family meeting where you all discuss what is important?
This might allow the older two to name the issues, and the younger two could take some guidance from this. I’ve no doubt that your love and integrity will shine through, but you may need some extra help at this time. The children may find it easier to talk and hear the truth if there is a professional present; you could consider a family therapy session (familytherapyireland.com).
Relationships Ireland, based in Dublin, has a service called Teen Between for children of separating parents, where separation issues can be spoken about in an accessible manner. It seems that all of you need to have your troubling experience validated, and this is a time in the family – as both parents are in new relationships – when intervention and support might offset future suffering and trauma.
Silence was your gift to your children, but it also contributed to your position as an abused partner. Now is the time to reconsider this as a strategy. You may need help to sort it out in your own mind before speaking to your children. Legal advice might be needed, too, as you might have to go to court to have access validated.