I’ve been warned my fiancé may have been violent towards his ex-wife
Tell Me About It: ‘He has always been gentle with me. But I can’t stop thinking about this’
‘I have invested my hopes in our future and all my savings in our house.’ Photograph: iStock
Question: I am in a really good place in my life, having just bought a new house with my fiancé and planning a summer wedding.
I have not always been so happy.
In my early twenties an engagement came to an end when, for no reason, the groom got cold feet in the weeks leading up to the wedding. Apart from the occasional few dates, I had not been in any sort of committed relationship for nearly 12 years. Whilst I enjoyed a carefree life I was often lonely and missed not having a regular sex life, a partner to share my life with and the opportunity to have children.
Two years ago I received a message on social media from a man that I was really infatuated with when I was 16 and he was 26 and newly married. He was my best friend’s older brother and he barely ever acknowledged me. So when he contacted me I was delighted if not a little flattered. I met him for dinner soon afterwards and he was as gorgeous as he had been 20 years earlier.
He turned out to be kind, generous and very interesting and we fell in love very quickly. He told me that he had gone through a difficult divorce, and whilst he felt he would always love his ex-wife there had been a breakdown in communication. He visits his children twice a month and they often come to stay with us. When we got engaged I was delighted when he said that he really wants to have a family with me. Even though we are getting married in a few months, we are now actively trying to get pregnant.
The only issue that I have is that I recently spent a weekend alone with my childhood friend who is to be my future sister-in-law. During a conversation she told me, or rather warned me, that she feared that my partner may have been physically violent towards his former wife. She did not have any evidence, but said that the family were concerned that his then wife often appeared to have bruising and scars and usually avoided family events. I do not doubt my friend’s sincerity, however coming from a medical background myself, I can think of a number of reasons why someone would regularly have bruising and scars. He has always been gentle and kind with me. But I can’t stop thinking about this.
I have invested my hopes and dreams in our future and all my savings in our house. I am worried about asking him about this, if my friend is wrong it may cause a rift in our relationship with his family and if she is right, it will most likely be the end of our relationship and I don’t know if I could go through another broken engagement.
Answer: This is indeed a troubling situation for you but not tackling it could result in consequences, not least setting up a pattern with your future partner that includes secrets and suspicion. That it is his sister who suggested that he could be violent suggests that this needs serious attention and I wonder if she, and the rest of the family, have broached this with him in the past as there was the possibility of children at risk.
Questions worth asking your friend is why she was reluctant to inquire more, did she feel (like you) that her brother would cut off all relationship with her or would his subsequent anger be too much to handle? You might also seek her permission to use the information she has given you. Whether you friend and his family are willing to confront your partner or not, you now have a suspicion that needs to be tackled and this needs to happen as soon as possible as you say that you are trying to get pregnant and you have a responsibility to your future child.
You were quick to offer alternative explanations for bruising on the ex-wife and this leads me to believe that you really want to see the best in your partner and this is natural as you are engaged. Your fear of invoking another experience of loss and grief is of course a barrier to you risking inquiring about his intimate past you now have to demonstrate your maturity and strength by taking this on. The earlier you do this the easier it will be for your partner to hear: he will not feel that many conversations have been had behind his back and he will feel the spontaneity and concern behind what you are saying. That you love him is clear so use this as a base for overcoming your fear.
Do not rehearse statements as this will come across as contrived but follow these suggestions: ask to meet somewhere private and safe (for you); tell him that you are worried that he will walk away from you or that you are afraid that you won’t speak honestly and only then begin the conversation. Ask him what he thinks might be the issues needing discussion and if he does not bring this up, you have to say what you have heard, clearly and simply.
Tell him that this conversation is a commitment to your future relationship and ask that he engage fully with you. Your partner may well be in receipt of sibling rivalry and this possibility has given full credibility. Take your time with this and do not rush to a conclusion.
How you both handle this situation could be a template for your future relationship and now is the time for you to practice courage and steadfastness.