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“Are you sure you want a divorce?”
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“What about your family? What about the broken family guilt?”
“Don’t you want your kids to have their mother and father in the same house?”
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These were the words uttered to me by well intentioned women over the 3-4 months I was debating leaving my husband.
No, I didn’t have another man. No, I wasn’t some flight risk chasing a new high.
I had grown tired of the turmoil and violence that had consumed my marriage over the past year. I was scared to go home most days. Scared to make a decision on my own, about anything, ever. Scared.
Women who are in domestic violent relationships, will only ever give you a glimpse of their home life. When they speak about what is going on, they will never be able to paint you a clear picture because their story will be brimming with self doubt. Their tone of voice will make you question their recollection, and if they are in fact telling the truth, or simply painting the scenario to favor them.
Leaving a spouse is a very intimate and private decision.
I can guarantee that for most women who chose this route, they felt as if it was their only choice for happiness.
But what about that broken family guilt? What about the percieved sinful nature of Divorce? What about their children having to now have two christmases, and two birthdays, and two homes?
Don’t they think of their children?
Do they have Broken Family Guilt?
The answer may surprise you.
It’s not a matter of if women wanting to leave their spouse (due to abuse) think about the broken family guilt. They are painted with it. It’s a tactic many abusive men use to maintain control.
“You’re breaking up the family! How could you do that? You give up when it’s hard, you always have! You can’t finish anything!”
Pay no mind that the spouse spouting this nonsense is contributing greatly to the amount of the marital stress.
Stuck under the manipulative efforts of their spouse, they are confused. The riddle only gets further confused by trying to explain to their peers how they are feeling.
It’s extremely hard to understand how abusive relationships work. But I’m going to try to create an understandable analogy.
Imagine, a three-year-old is with their mother in a toy store.
They are there to buy their sister something, but of course the 3-year-old sees something he wants. A big blue bike! He must have it. After all, he’s three and doesn’t understand boundaries, rules, and finances. He screams “Bike!” and Momma says calmly “Not today son, we are buying something for sister!” But again, now with tears in his eyes, he pleads “Bike!”. The mother is now feeling a bit anxious in the store. In anticipation of the oncoming meltdown, she takes his hand to usher him away and politely says “No son. Not today.”
The child, angry now, smacks her in the face.
He’s three, so this is permissible, again he doesn’t quite understand boundaries or rules. Not yet anyway. He begins to scream! He must have the bike! The mother wrestles with him, trying to reason with him calmly so as to not make herself look foolish. Maintaining her composure, she picks him up and stands him to his feet and says “Enough! That’s enough! we are leaving! This behavior is unacceptable!” She speaks it in a tone that means business. She’s serious. The three-
The mother decides she’s going to ride this out with ignoring.
She won’t tolerate this behavior so she will ignore it until he calms. Instead of calming, he decides to add fire to the situation. Grabbing the bike, much larger than him and yanking it towards him. The handlebars smack the other bicycles and now what was a simple store aisle tantrum has now become a retail fiasco!
Reacting to the domino effect before her, she immediately grabs for her child and the bike handles trying to delay the inevitable.
She is at a loss! The bikes tumble, as does she. The crying from the 3-year-old ceases momentarily. Scared and now realizing his momma is still angry with him he clamors to her! So sorry for having caused such a mess and not entirely knowing what came over him. The mother, now feeling terrible for having said no and frightened because of the tantrum gives him solace. Perhaps she should’ve just given in? If she had simply agreed to purchase the bike, none of this would have happened, right? She’s questioning her decision now.
Passerbys stop to ask if they are ok.
She says “Yes, we are. Thank you.” resolving to not admit precisely what happened. The store manager comes over “Are you alright?!” Were you purchasing that bike? I’m so sorry this happened.” Pointing a finger the manager ushers toward the blue bike. The boy’s eyes light up! “Bike!” he runs over to it.
Laughing at all the fuss the mother chuckles, unbelieving that he is so enveloped in this bike that after all the mess, he still wants it. The manager says “I’ll give you 25% off for the trouble if you were planning to purchase.”
Guess who buys the bike? The momma.
Guess who loves the bike? The three-year-old.
Guess who will behave like an amazing child for the next few weeks until they decide they aren’t getting what they want, again?
If the scenario above made you say; “Omg that stupid woman! Why would you buy the bike!” Then you may never find yourself being manipulated by love.
If you read that story and thought:
“Ha, I’ve been there! Ridiculous and still can’t believe I bought the damn thing [whatever your bike may have been].” Then you know and understand how easily Love can be wielded as a weapon against your better judgment.
[If you still don’t completely understand it, reread it and change every Three Year Old or Boy to Husband, and Momma to Wife, and realize that when I say Boundaries and Rules I mean Respect.]
Now imagine those types of manipulative efforts but from an adult. Someone who can reason, and understand humans and how they tick. Who can calculate better than a three-year-old what will make you react? What will trigger your guilt?
It sounds like the stuff out of crime scene investigative shows. But at the core of abusive people, they are profilers. They can understand what hurts you and use it against you once you let them in.
Mother? You are a mother? Your worst fear would clearly be, hurting your children in some way.
So pay no mind to the impact my actions, words and violent tendencies have on this household. Pay no mind to me reaching for the bike regardless of what you say or suggest. No no, I’m going to make this about you!
You are leaving therefore, you are solely to blame.
But is she really solely to blame for the Broken Family Guilt?
But can she see it? Not really. And can anyone else see it? If they are only getting a small piece of the picture it’s very difficult for them to make out the rest.
So the Broken Family Guilt Syndrome takes over.
The only real way to combat broken family guilt is to understand the manipulation.
Like taking a mask off someones halloween costume, only then, even when they try to put the mask back on, can you still see the person underneath.
To remove the mask of the abuser, the woman will have to learn. Once she has done this, every statement made by her abuser will come into question. Once she begins to understand his motives, it will be increasingly more difficult for her to react to the mask. Likewise, more difficult for the abuser to continue to manipulate her.
How does she take his mask off?
By educating herself and I highly suggest she begin with Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That, Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
This one book, changed the course of my life and many others
lives for years to come.
Not only does Lundy Bancroft know what he’s talking about [because he’s spent more then 30 years working with controlling men] but he speaks it in a way that any person can understand.
He profiles each different subset of controlling men. Their tactics, what to look for and how they manipulate. This book teaches you what’s under the mask, and empowers you to never be susceptible to manipulative behavior ever again.
The book even goes more in depth and discusses warning signs, beginning red flags. Ways to spot controlling behavior from the very beginning of the relationship. I talk about some of these in my post on How to tell if he’s a good or bad guy by the second date, but Lundy tells it better.
I had the privilege of getting to meet Mr. Bancroft in person at a conference for the education of violence against women in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is humble and such a gold mine of information. Both me, and my very good friend got our pictures taken with him like the fangirls we were. To say his book changed the course of both of our lives is an understatement.
So what happens when it comes time to co-parent with your abusive ex-spouse?
I highly suggest you watch my 5 Simple Tips to Co-Parent with a Toxic
What if it doesn’t work?
From my own experience, you can come out the other side of your bad relationship. There may be things you will lose temporarily. Perhaps your financial stability will struggle a bit, or you may have to move in with family. But I can confidently say you can find middle ground. The broken family guilt won’t weigh you down because you will no longer doubt your decision.
If someone had video recorded mine and my ex-husbands household, no one would ever have thought we could find a way to co-parent or even attend events together for our children in the future.
We beat the odds, all the time.
Pick up and drop offs are drama free. We can even have small talk at sporting events and we haven’t gone to court in three years and plan to never again.
I believe, if both parties can find a way to create a new role for the other in their mind. They let go of the relationship, and the need to control the other person, middle ground is easy to find.
If you need help, feel free to message me personally on my facebook page! I will console you and understand you, and try to help you find resources for your specific situation.