real life

"I have reasons to be concerned about you." A letter to my ex-husband's new girlfriend.

Content warning: This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers.

To my ex-husband’s new girlfriend:

As tempting as it would be to enlighten you to the high likelihood you will never recieve oral sex ever again, I do acknowledge that there are more pressing concerns at hand.

Like the nearly two decades of emotional, verbal and financial abuse I experienced in my relationship with the man that you are now living with.

Even if I was lucky enough to get away, I can’t help feel concerned that the control, the subtle but constant put-downs, manipulation and criticism-disguised-as-a-joke have been passed on – like a baton in a relay – to you, a fresh new victim.

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My friends tell me not to worry about you, my ex-husband’s new girlfriend; you are not my problem. You are an adult; you can think for yourself.

But still, I’m an adult, I’m smart, and yet I stayed with an abusive man for a long time. As much as I don’t wish for any other woman to experience what I have experienced, I’m aware that in the role of the ex-wife, I’m not likely to be believed. In fact, I’m probably the last person you would believe. You might prefer to label me crazy or jealous. 

In line with the behaviour of other clever abusers, the physical violence perpetrated by my ex-husband was kept at a minimum. After all, it did figure, but in the big scheme of things, it was not the most damaging aspect, nor was it a trait that characterised our marriage.

Things started slowly. Each small action or comment was almost insignificant, but slowly a pattern was building up. Like his joking derogatory comment about a friend, then another, then about my family, followed by my country of origin, the suburb where I used to live, my ex-boyfriend.

The subtle criticism if I bought a new outfit. The fact that he never paid me a compliment, but that I was constantly put on display in various social situations, like a show pony.

As you know, my ex-husband worked in a caring profession. Outside of our home he would come across as sincere, softly spoken and charming. He had a special warm voice when he spoke to colleagues  and acquaintances. A voice that completely changed to become harsh, criticising and endlessly negative as soon as the door was closed behind him. 

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Then we had children. That’s when he stopped doing any housework whatsoever. Nil. I addressed it numerous times and he turned it back on me.

Still, he loved the image of being a family man.

With two children to care for and my subsequent return to work, I still did 99 per cent of the housework, school meetings and events, playdates, birthday parties, medical appointments, packing school lunches and so on. Not surprisingly, I was constantly exhausted.

He became even more irritable and the arguments got worse. I would walk on eggshells when his car pulled up outside; I’d learned to decipher what mood he was in from how he closed his car door. How he could ‘work’ a silence! He would walk in the door and say nothing, sit down in front of the computer. Seething. Savouring his displeasure.

What did I do wrong this time? 

Over the years, I suspect he had many affairs even though I never had any evidence. He had plenty of unusual boundary-lacking friendships and relationships throughout our marriage; with both men and women. This included him stepping outside the house for long daily phone calls with his latest friend, including a female manager.

Yet, I stayed. Even if I wasn’t happy, even if I knew that I had changed from being a bubbly and talkative person to being watchful and subdued. Besides the fact that I couldn’t access the money I needed to leave, I also had no family in the country and most of my friends would not have the space to house both me and the children.

It wasn’t until my ex-husband turned his aggression on one of our children, who by then was a teenager, that I decided I had to leave. In the height of my ex-husband’s hostility towards said child, he left him behind in a dark park without a phone (he confiscated it before driving off). It took me an hour in Sydney traffic to collect my bewildered child.

Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split discusses navigating separation. Post continues below.

I honestly believed things would be better after our separation. I was wrong. After we parted, he launched into a truly vindictive mode; it was as if he believed that the separation was a complete betrayal on my behalf. Even though, in the end, it was he who ended up moving out, leaving me with all the bills in a home I couldn’t afford.

He didn’t pay any child support for most of the first year and when he finally did, it was significantly below the minimal standard.

Despite everything, what hurt the most was his attempt to divide our two children. Child 1, who had been his ‘golden child’ during our marriage, was after our split subsequently labelled ‘profoundly disturbed’ and my ex-husband openly declared that he now would focus his energy on Child 2, who was treated to meals out and an expensive overseas holiday. 

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He kept this pattern up for just over two years, then Child 2 also didn’t live up to his expectations and was unceremoniously dropped as well.

It’s now over three years since our marriage ended and I believe the children and I have found our feet again; through therapy, good friends and pure perseverance. On the surface, I may appear to just have ‘got on with things’, however the honest truth is that in the aftermath of my marriage, I was hyper vigilant, had sleeping problems and panic attacks.

So, my ex-husband’s new girlfriend, I don’t know you but I do have reasons to be concerned for you.

On thing I do know is, since you moved in together in a house around the corner from our old family home, you’ve started to look different. 

You’ve lost weight, changed your hair colour and your sense of style.

You’ve started to look a lot like me.

But please, I am begging you, don’t turn out like me.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature image: Getty. 

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