If you’re leaving an abusive relationship you’re likely feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next, so we asked one single parent, Sophia*, to share the things she wished she’d known at the time.
If you are reading this, chances are you are finally at your wits end, fed up of pretending, even lying about your abusive relationship. Fed up of crumbs of kindness and affection, fed up of everything always being your fault. Fed up of questioning your own reality and decisions, fed up of being lonely despite being in a relationship. You may have been living in fear for some time, walking on eggshells, never knowing what would set off the rage you’d grown accustomed too.
Have you been dreading the weekends, or even worse, suffering tremendously through lockdown 1, 2 and 3? Feeling stuck like there’s no escape?
When I was married, I was convinced something was seriously wrong with my husband. Gone was the charming, attentive, loving man who’d chased me. In his place, cold as ice, he would barely flinch when I poured my heart out to him, detailing how he had once again hurt me.
It wasn’t until I caved and booked some time with a counsellor a few weeks after finally leaving him that, having sobbed wretchedly for an hour, she calmly told me he was a narcissist. The same counsellor would go on to tell me that during her supervisory sessions, her own therapist had told her it was the worst case of emotional abuse she had ever heard. When this information was relayed to me I was horrified, embarrassed, ashamed, and I would continue to hide what had happened for the pursuant years.
Sadly, I then went on to make a number of mistakes as I attempted to navigate life as a single parent, mostly due to years of abusive, manipulative behaviour – I still thought everything was my fault. I was still too easily manipulated by my abuser, leaving them hadn’t been enough.
Here are some of the things I wish I’d known:
Firstly, and most importantly things will get better.
The happiest days of your life are about to begin. For me there were elements of my life that improved dramatically immediately. You will certainly feel calmer and safer straight away, friends will rally round, people will open up to you, you won’t be afraid any more. You’re more valuable than you’ll ever know. You are important. You are a person too.
I suspect you’ve really sacrificed your own happiness over the years, you may feel you don’t even know yourself any more. Chances are you’ve lost contact with a lot of friends, maybe even family. I expect they will welcome you back with open arms, now your abuser has gone. Remember that the way your abuser behaves is their problem not yours. Healthy people don’t set out to destroy others.
You must instruct a good solicitor.
And you must get everything stamped and sealed by the court. This will give you some protection, at a cost of course. Your ex may suggest they don’t need representation, that perhaps only liars need legal representation. Ignore and lawyer up. Straight away. I naively thought we didn’t need an access agreement and I am paying for that mistake now. He’s also claiming the children live with him despite extensive evidence to the contrary. He’s of course doing this to lessen the amount he pays. Get an agreement in place and stick to it. Your ex will undoubtedly suggest working things out yourselves to ‘avoid expensive legal fees,’ do not take any notice, protect yourself and take the advice of your solicitor.
And I mean everything he /she says, suggests, does, doesn’t do – you may very well need this in court. They will probably be too arrogant and feel too important to keep records, so you will be able to calmly prove what they are saying is fantasy. If possible, only communicate by email, at a push text.
They will lie and they will discredit you.
What they suggest will amaze you, horrify you and even make you laugh out loud. They will do anything to improve their own self-image, even if it means tarnishing yours. Don’t take any of this personally, this is their problem not yours.
Work out a way that you can support yourself financially outside of your abusive relationship.
If you rely on their money, they will use this to control you further. Consent orders are great but do not assume they will follow it. Do not assume it will stay in place for the term agreed. Expect great difficulty when asking them to disclose anything to back up their claims of poverty. Have a back-up plan yourself.
They will move on super quickly.
I spent a lot of wasted time resenting this. This is down to their insecurity, they need new supply. This is not a reflection of you and your failings as a partner. Use the time you are single wisely, get mentally fit, love yourself, appreciate your time away from the children to refresh and refuel. Think what you would like from a partner, write it down, stick to it. Don’t ignore red flags.
Use the grey rock method.
Do not rush to reply to their message no matter how inflammatory it is. This is precisely what they want from you. Wait, calm down, consider your response, or even better, if it’s not absolutely necessary don’t reply at all.
Don’t assume they will do the right thing. Don’t assume they think how you or I think – they don’t. They will only do something willingly if it benefits them. Set boundaries that work for you and stick to them. The right people will respect you more, the wrong people don’t deserve your time.
Arrange drop off and collection at school if possible.
Do you really need to see them? No. I hadn’t realised how anxious I felt when he was hammering on my door until I stopped him doing so with a solicitor’s letter. Protect yourself. I know, I know it is lockdown, but things will return to normal.
Things may start off civil.
In a separation from a normal, healthy individual they may well remain civil. Expect the worst from your bully ex. Be the parent that sets the example for your wonderful children. Expect them to deny promises made, to go back on agreements and to lie then lie some more. They’ll exaggerate any involvement they’ve had with the children and double costs of things they’ve paid for. Expect things to get messy. They rely on you remaining their victim.
You are nobody’s victim.
If you need support with an abusive relationship you can all the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk (access live chat Mon-Fri 3-10pm).