Tell Me About It: I can’t cope with my ex-husband’s harassment
He is constantly telling the kids lies about me. I’m not sure I can be in the same room as him
Q I have been divorced for the past five years and in general am happy with my life, but one difficulty is the continuing interference of my ex-husband. Originally he was the one seeking separation as he felt he was not getting enough attention and love from me and, even though I did not want to separate (we have four children), I eventually saw that it was hopeless and agreed to it. The divorce was tough and I thought that when we finally signed the document I would be free of all the antagonism but it has continued.
Neither of us is in other relationships and in a way I wish he would find someone else to focus on. He is constantly telling the kids lies about me, changing our childcare arrangements, delaying or not paying maintenance and putting up snide remarks on Facebook. I know we will always be co-parents and we will have to attend our children’s many events together but right now I feel such antipathy towards him, I’m not sure I can be in the same room.
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A This is a very common story and a very difficult one. When people separate, it can take many years for the intense feelings to subside, and often the opportunity to cause continuous hurt can be very hard to stop.
The aim is often to let the other person feel the same as you do: to have them suffer so that they know the hurt they have caused and pay the price.
This seems strange in your situation, as your ex-husband was the one seeking separation, and yet this is often the case. The desire for justice is often what leads to these actions.
Your ex-husband is seeking acknowledgement from your children and others that you have contributed to the demise of the relationship, and that he is in the right, and he needs to see that you are punished.
As this need is unlikely to be satisfied, he will continue to seek your attention and get support for his position as the wronged person.
I know it is very hard not to take offence at all that is being directed at you, but if you do not manage your own emotions it is likely that your avoidance or anger will actually fuel his behaviour.
You say that you can hardly be in the same room as him, yet for your children’s sake you will have to manage this. Your children need to have access to both parents, and, while you clearly feel that your good name as a parent is being disparaged by your ex-husband, you must not succumb to that same behaviour yourself.
This is not easy, but it will demonstrate a stable model of adulthood to your children.
The only thing you can control is how you respond to his behaviour. Always be reasonable and principled, and do not fall into the trap of getting hooked into believing that he is making you feel something.
It is sad for him that he continues to be so focused on your life, but you are not the person to correct this for him.
You may need to address his behaviour if your children are being brought into the mix, and the way to do this will depend on your situation. If it is serious, it is a good idea to speak to someone with whom he has a good relationship so that he might listen to reason.
If this does not work, you may be able to ask the school to discuss the children’s needs with you both, or perhaps try mediation as an option for discussion. Always remember that you will have a continuous relationship with him as co- parents so there is no easy solution that will bring everything to an end.
You say that you hope he finds another relationship so that the focus of his attention moves off you. However, the only person you have influence and control over is you. Perhaps you are the one who should be considering a new relationship; this would demonstrate your complete exit from the marriage and may bring things to a head.
Sometimes a crisis is not a bad thing, in that behaviours that have become normal come under the spotlight and are challenged. It seems that your marriage is still occupying large parts of your time and attention, and this needs to change.
It is a risk to enter into the world of dating, but your children also need to know they have a mother who finds herself attractive and has hope for connection and intimacy.
Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist. For advice, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into