December 30, 1999
It seems hard to believe that it's
been almost six months since I first emailed you (July 14, I've had enough). A lot has happened in
that time period, some of it very painful, but I know that I'll never be
subjected to abuse again. I'll know notice the red flags that I
overlooked when I was dating my ex-husband. In fact, I've noticed
that I'm now very sensitive to remarks that are disrespectful or a little
bit strange in some way.
Once I made the decision to get a divorce (around Halloween), things moved
fairly fast. Six weeks later, in early December, the divorce was
finalized. It's been a wonderful period for me - I'm not nearly so
drained, I feel better about myself, and I'm doing things again that I
didn't have time to attend to when I was dealing with my ex and his need
for constant attention.
What's been a surprise for me is how hard it was to get rid of my ex!
I had to set very firm boundaries i.e., you are not to call me at work;
no, I will not discuss my personal life with you; talk to your lawyer if
you have questions about the separation agreement that you signed; no, I
do not want to remain friends or go ballroom dancing with you in the
future; no, you cannot stay overnight at my house when you drive out to
pick up your stuff, and on and on. Those boundaries helped me
tremendously - the less I interacted with him, the better I've felt.
It gave me the distance I needed to begin to see how manipulative his
And I was able to laugh the other day when a friend told me that my ex had
called her up and chatted for 1.5 hours (he's called several of my friends
and family members to let them know his side of the story). He told
her that he'd remarry me in a minute, if I'd let HIM make more of the
decisions. There's no way! It may have taken me a while, but I
learned that he believed that EVERYTHING should be a joint decision, even minutiae
like choosing what color to paint my study, and that joint decision-making
really meant "do it my way or I'm going to make your life miserable
until you do what I want (or I find another issue to complain
And his distortions! The best one, by far, was the one he came
up with on the day he moved his stuff out of my garage. He told me
he'd talked to my first husband recently (they worked together in the
early 80s), and he heard that I had been flirting with my ex, and that we
were thinking of getting back together again. I just laughed at that
one. S knows what our interactions are like - a few emails, and brief
phone conversations to set up a visitation schedule or keep him posted on
her progress - I don't know of anyone else who would consider that a
flirtation or the rekindling of a romance.
When my first husband called a few days later to talk to our daughter, I
decided to check out S's story (I knew who was the most likely source of
that story). He was a bit wary when I told him that I understood
he'd been talking to S recently, but was rendered absolutely speechless (a
rare condition for him) when I told him that I'd heard from S that we were
talking of getting back together again. The look on his face must
have been priceless!
But I've been surprised at some of my reactions - I had anticipated the
sense of freedom and relief that I experienced after my divorce from my
daughter's father. There's been a sense of sadness-and the
realization that my dream of a happy second marriage was only that, a
dream. Even though it was a very short marriage, I'm realizing that
it had a tremendous effect on me. As memories surface, I amazed at
how much crap I put up with for three years. I'm angry at him for treating
me that way and angry at myself for allowing his inappropriate behavior.
I'm not beating myself up over my lack of assertiveness, however. I
now understand why I fell for him, why it took me so long to recognize
what was wrong, and why it was hard for me to assert myself-his criticism,
constant advice-giving, labeling and character assassination , and
intolerance of any independence on my part, were things I'd grown up with.
When I left home, I vowed no one would ever hit me again (and no one has)
and that I wouldn't hit my kids, if I ever had any (and I've kept that
promise). Within the past month or two, though, I've realized that
my parents were verbally and emotionally abusive.
Ah you say, repeating patterns. They're definitely there - even as a
teenager, I knew something was wrong with the way my family interacted
(but figured the problems were due to my father's psychiatric problems).
But as I learned more in college, his depression alone couldn't explain
some of the behavior patterns in our family. My parents are still
abusive - it's not nearly as severe as when I was a child, but it's still
painful to deal with. They may not like it, but I'm going to start
calling their attention to behaviors that upset me (and telling them when
I appreciate something they've done). I can't change their behavior,
but I can change mine. And I suspect I'll feel better about myself,
just as I did when I started asserting myself with my ex.
Fortunately, my daughter's exposure to abusive behavior was very brief. I
hope she won't be harmed. I've tried to support her and validate her
feelings. When she told me last spring that she didn't want to be
left alone with her stepfather (because she was afraid of his temper), I
honored her request and took her along with me if I needed to run errands.
I've been amazed at her insight - she noticed things I didn't see i.e.,
"he gets mad at me if I lose my temper, but he has worse temper
tantrums than I do and he's a grown up." She also told me that
when my parents visited last fall, they cornered her one afternoon and
told her that she was a spoiled brat, and that if she had mouthed off to
them, like she had to me, they would have hit her with a green (bamboo)
stick just like they hit me. Needless to say, the next time they
visit, they will not be labeling her a spoiled brat or frightening her by
telling her that she deserves a "spanking."
Your site, and the support I've received from Yeouchhh
and my counselor, have made a tremendous difference for me this fall.
I've got a lot of healing to do, but I suspect if I ever get involved in
another relationship, it won't be with an abuser! And it will be
much healthier relationship, because I'll be much healthier person!
Thanks for your
update! The more you learn about yourself and the more conscious you
become, the more power and control you have over your life. Neat stuff,
My very best
wishes to you and yours in the approaching new millennium. (Sounds like
you've got a running start!) Dr. Irene
See Janet's June 2000 Update.