20 Things To Expect When Going Through A Divorce, as an Abuse Survivor
You spend years trying to make a marriage work, only to be beaten down and broken by the one who swore to love you. The decision to leave wasn’t an easy one, and you felt the pain of the separation of two lives. Leaving can be even scarier than staying though. After all, if you stay, at least you sort of have that life already figured out, but if you leave then nothing is certain.
There are a lot of unknowns when leaving an abusive relationship. Rather than listing everything that could come up, we will talk about the 20 things that can be the most unexpected and the most helpful.
Here are the points that will be discussed throughout this post.
- SAFETY FIRST!
- Questions from children
- He misses you
- Flying Monkeys
- All the familiarities changing
- Challenging the orders
- After the court hearing
- Part-time empty-nester-syndrome
- Longing for what was
- Abusive mentalities continue
- Life keeps moving along
- You will start to grow, become creative in parenting, your faith grows and you move on.
- Your children heal, grow, and are able to see the truth
- You realize you made it
- You find love again
- Who you are becoming is who you are
It can be scary when you find yourself in the court system. And because of the long and painful road that usually leads to divorcing an abusive spouse, it is common to be completely exhausted before anything really happens with the court. This post is designed to help you get a bigger picture of the court process and some of the other things that aren't related to court, but may be necessary around this time.
When I first stepped into a courtroom I was about 25 years old, and I was fighting desperately to protect my two small children. Though there were a ton of court interactions a few years prior, I had no idea what to expect in the courtroom. I remember walking up the steps that lead to the courthouse doors for the first time. I walked down a long hallway to the room our case would be heard in. I entered the courtroom and was instructed by my attorney at the time to sit at the table with him. We rose to our feet when the judge entered the room. I was so nervous I could have vomited, maybe it wouldn't have been so hard if I had known what to expect. So I am giving my wisdom to you, so you don't have to go without the way that I did.
That hearing was a whirlwind that left my head spinning. It was fast-paced and I had no idea what was coming next, or really what was happening at all. I had a ton of questions for my attorney afterward that I didn't understand the answers to because of my level of anxiety.
My goal is to make the unknown less scary and help to empower those leaving toxic relationships by educating them. Below I will address common questions and help address concerns and give practical ideas.
When there’s been abuse in the past, and the relationship comes to an end, there is no other time that safety is of greater concern for you or your children. A safety plan should always be used when leaving an abusive relationship. This helps you to get away safely without needing to go back and get extra items. Medications, clothing, birth certificates, and social security cards are all important items to take with you. Lesser-known items are cash and bank account information. Getting these things out of the house can be tricky, but here are a few ideas.
- Take a few items at a time to a nearby friend/ family’s house.
- Ask a friend/family to meet you at a grocery store and give them the items.
- Keep medication easily accessible, or in your purse (order new medication if necessary).
- Never go back, a friend or family member can get a police escort to claim items. Though this may be tricky since they are likely not going to be let in by your abuser and items may be destroyed.
Questions from Children
One of the difficult hurdles of leaving an abusive marriage is the hurdles that involve your children. They may be scared and confused, rightfully so. The ages of your children will determine, to some degree, what sort of issues will arise with them. Older children, who may side with their father, may blame you. They may be frustrated that their lives have changed. They may be homesick. Take some time to decide what you will say when your children ask you questions.
- Where is dad?
- When are we going home?
- Why are we here?
- Is dad mad?
- What are we going to do?
It is fine to be as honest with them as you can be as you feel comfortable and that is appropriate for their ages. They may feel comfort in knowing that you are scared and not sure what to expect. Honesty is key, and if you cannot tell them something, tell them why you cannot tell them. Do you not know yet, are you still trying to process everything and cannot discuss it yet? Kids have a great way of sensing what is going on.
He misses you
It causes so much confusion when you leave and then you get a message that says “I miss you!” He makes a few steps towards changing, but why now? Why not when you were with him? Yes, abusive men can change. Rarely, but they can. And the sweet texts and attempts to get better serve a purpose, and that purpose is to get you to go back under control.
Guilt Sets In
When there is space between you and your abuser, and the smoke blows over a little, feelings of guilt often set in. This is where women start to feel responsible for some of the problems in the marriage. While it is true that it takes two, you never deserve abuse! No one ever deserves to be hurt, controlled, lose the freedoms that people have, and have their identity taken away. You cannot control the way your husband treats you. You cannot control what he says and does. Help keep your guilt in check by asking yourself these questions.
- Do you blame yourself for the way your husband has acted?
- Do you think of all the horrible things that have happened to him in his life and cause him to treat you this way?
This term came from the book Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. In the story, Dorothy, a young girl trying to find her way back home to Kansas. On her journey, she runs into the Wicked Witch, very unpleasant encounters fro Dorothy. The Wicked Witch, in desperations for Dorothy’s slippers, tells the flying monkeys, “Bring me that girl and her dog. Do what you want with the rest of them, but l want that girl alive and unharmed. Now fly!” The monkeys clearly did the bidding of the witch.
Similarly, when you choose to leave an abusive husband, flying monkeys are sent. A person who is controlling and abusive will likely send anyone to get information about you. Or send messages to you. Often, they choose to come on their own pointing the blame at you. What do you do with all this? Well, for starters, don’t even read the messages. Save yourself the extra pain and have someone you trust to read the messages for you.
Loss of Familiar Surroundings
When there is a separation or divorce, life as you once knew it comes to an end. And even when this ending is welcomed it can still be a painful adjustment. Sometimes the place you live changes, the amount of time you have your children or the empty home that you are used to being filled with people. Truly, a shorter list would be the things that didn’t change. Let me encourage you here. The comfort of familiarity will come back as new things start to become familiar.
I remember it all too well, holding my cell phone in my hand waiting for my attorney to call me back. I had questions about everything. What needed to be filed, did we submit a response, when is court, what should we anticipate the outcome to be? My questions had no end, I was uneasy.
You will likely have an over-the-phone consultation, to begin with. Some attorneys charge for these and some do not. It is important to talk to a few attorneys, especially if this is your first time hiring one. When you decide to hire an attorney then you will pay a retainer. This will be used to pay the attorney for the work they are doing on your case. Sometimes you have to refill your retainer each month and others you refill it when it runs out.
Below are some good points and questions to ask during your consultation.
- Do you have experience with cases involving domestic violence and coercive control?
- After hearing my testimony what would you say would be the best way to go about this?
- Are there other professionals that could get involved with the case that would help your case?
A Day in Court
If your divorce goes to a hearing then there is no telling what will actually happen. You will arrive and wait in a hall until your case is called. You will tell your testimony under oath and be cross-examined by your soon-to-be ex’s attorney. The purpose of this is to clarify your testimony, or more accurately to try to discredit you. The first person on the stand is the person who filed for the divorce, there are some exceptions that allow you to go out of order, such as a witness’s time restraint. After you and your husband testify there will be a chance to call witnesses. The judge will most likely give his decision at the end of the hearing, and one of the attorneys will agree to type it up.
Court is where people go very hopeful of winning, but usually, only the attorneys do.
Mediation is another option if you want to try to stay out of the courtroom. This allows both you and your husband to go before a mediator and agree on decisions. The judge will review the order and sign off on it. This is the better option since it allows you to have more control. A judge will have decision-making in the case if it does to a hearing.
After the Court Hearing
Your hearing may not go the way you planned. Which means you will likely spend time questioning everything. Did you choose the right attorney? You forgot to say something important. Or could have said something better. You dwell on the things he said and are infuriated by the things his attorney says.
At some point, you have to stop the thoughts and trust that what happened is a part of God’s plan for you and your children. He loves you, He loves your children. He is not at all surprised at how the court went. He knew. He knew it would be this way, that this would be the outcome. HE knew the words that would be said, He knew the ways you’d feel. The way you are feeling. These journal prompts can help you to work through this.
- How do you feel knowing that God is in control of all things?
- Do you believe that God could not forget about you?
- If you love your children then imagine how much He loves them. He is LOVE!
- In what ways could you make your home a safe escape when they are with you?
- Ask God to help you through this.
- Ask him to help you to look forward to better days.
- Ask him to be your strength and comfort.
Challenging the Orders and your Position
The best advice I can give is to STICK TO THE ORDERS! You can make adjustments when there is an emergency. Honestly, everything will be made to seem like an emergency to an abusive and controlling ex-husband. Expect that he will be testing you to see how strong you are, if you really mean what you say, and if he can still manipulate you. He is going to act the same way as when you were married, the difference is that you are not married and you can stop responding to messages after you’ve addressed them. I recommend using a communication app like TalkingParents. A communication app helps maintain boundaries. He should not have complete and total access to you at any moment.
Part-time Empty Nester Syndrome
This is probably the hardest thing I had to work through. It’s likely it will be for you too. Everything has already changed so much. Your home, work, bills, and relationships are only some of the things that are affected. Not to mention every ounce of your body feels completely different. This new life, the one you thought you were brave enough to live, feels like it just might destroy what little hope you thought you had. The day comes that you must let your children go to their father’s house. Except for this time, you cannot pick them up and hug them when he hurts them. You cannot protect them because you are not there.
Be prepared for the thoughts you will have. You will likely think about the way he behaves and if he’s completely losing his cool over the kids refusing to eat the dinner he made or refusing to go to bed. Will he change bedding if the youngest has an accident in the middle of the night? Will he help them with homework?
These thoughts will bring you to your knees. Remembering these truths can help you through these negative thought patterns.
- God is LOVE! If He is a perfect God that is LOVE, then He loves your children more than is humanly possible.
- For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11. This means that He has a plan for your children’s lives.
- God is not surprised by anything. He knew this situation would come to pass long before the world was ever created, He knows how it all is going to end, and everything in between.
With all the fear and uncertainty, doubt is quick to take over. You begin to doubt your decision to leave. You doubt that getting a divorce was the right thing to do. You doubt that you can be a single parent. The doubt will come, acknowledge it, but don’t let it take over. Keep your doubt in check by answering these questions.
- What sort of message would you be sending to your children if you had stayed?
- Do you know that abuse gets worse over time not better? Unless there is drastic therapy involved, but even then it is very rare.
- Do you believe it is valuable to your children to have at least one safe home to return to, to heal, grow and sort through all the confusion
Longing for what was
The pain of what you are feeling can taint the way you remember your relationship with your husband (or ex-husband). During the difficulty of making ends meet it’s easy to start to remember how nice it was to have two incomes. On lonely nights you may remember how nice it was to not have to go to bed alone or be the only one up when the kids go to bed. It can be difficult to remember how dangerous things were when you are grieving the relationship. The best thing is to be honest with yourself.
Abusive mentalities continue
You can expect more of the same. The same control and manipulation he used when you were married are the same he will use when you are divorced. The difference is that you will be a free woman. You can stop responding to messages that are degrading and mean-spirited. You can go to sleep in your own bed without being woken up because he didn’t say that you could. Somethings that help are:
- Discuss only necessary subjects, and children are the only subject that should be discussed.
- No emotion! You don’t tell him how you feel anymore. Conversations are matter-of-fact and businesslike.
- Don’t talk in person, use a communication app like TalkingParentsKeep and records all messages.
Life keeps moving along
Some days it feels as if the days are no longer tainted by the tears and nightmare you used to call love. And others you long for some remnant of how things used to be or the familiarity of how things used to be. Life goes on though, kids still need to go to school, bills need to be paid, you make the commute from work to home just to do it all the next day. The new normal can be hard to adjust to.
And without any warning, one day it starts to feel fine. The new home feels like one, and you settle into single parenting. You begin to do life a new way, and less wobbly than you were in the beginning. Whether it makes sense or not, life goes on.
You will start to heal
As life keeps ongoing, I hope you choose to as well. Dr. Dian Langberg speaks of the first time she started counseling abused women and that they had the same symptoms as the men that were coming back from war. A lot, if not all, of women who have been in abusive marriages, have been diagnosed with PTSD. With or without a diagnosis, I hope that hearing that abusive marriages are enough to cause PTSD is proof that there is a significant amount of damage done. A trauma-informed counselor is a great place to seek help. While some churches to provide counseling, it is not usually with a licensed counselor, nor are they trauma-informed. Churches often lead victims back into the grip of their abusers. So cautioned needs to be used. Here are a few things you can do to help yourself either before, after, or during counseling:
- Start keeping a journal. This can help you to get your thoughts on paper where you can make more sense of them.
- Feel your feelings. As you more time away from your abuser you will start to come alive again. Your feelings may feel very strongly at first, don’t ignore them or push them away. You are waking up again to yourself, after a life of numbness.
Your children heal
The healing you do will set an example for your children. It teaches them that it’s valuable to prioritize your own healing. You do not have to get it right all the time, it will take practice. When your children are given a safe home they can begin to heal. There are a few other things you can do as well to help your children heal.
- Model forgiveness. Ask them for forgiveness when you mess up. And don’t be too hard on them when they mess up.
- Comments like “I’m curious what you think about that” when they ask questions, can help them to develop their own thoughts and opinions about things.
- Make time for fun. Even if it’s just a movie night at home or bubbles in a bath.
You can build a beautiful life
The most beautiful thing about starting over is that you get to have a new life. You don’t have to count on someone else to make better decisions to have peace in your home. There is so much beauty in being able to choose. You don’t have to do it all at once. It happens little by little, one decision at a time. You can start out small, buy yourself a new rug, or paint your bathroom a different color. Change your bedtime routine or wake up early to read. Decisions can feel overwhelming at first. By making little decisions you are proving to yourself you are capable. And not only that, but you are also developing your own preferences.
You realize you made it
You cannot change the things you have been through. Though I wish I could take them from you; they can be memories of what life once was instead of being a life that consumes you. If you do make that decision then one day you will look back and think of all the things you made it through, and over the life you built. No, it still won’t be a perfect life, and there may be some aspects that make it more difficult, but it will be yours. You will live a life that is yours, instead of being in constant fear of what will happen.
You find love again
When you least expect it, love finds you. Not what you used to think love was, what love actually is. It’s a surprise to be loved so gently by someone. All relationships have conflict, but the difference is that there is respect for your opinions even when they differ from his.
- You worry about going out and forgetting to tell him where you will be.
- You feel uneasy about voicing your strong opinions because you feel like he will be upset by them.
- You dwell on a disagreement and wonder if he is really angry at you.
- You wonder if he actually likes you because he is ok if you spend time apart.
Who you are becoming is who you are
I think who I am now is who I was all along. It just took time for those parts to be strengthened. At first, I didn’t recognize those parts as me, there were many times I didn’t even recognize myself. Now, as I look back I think they have been a part of me all along. I have been refined and strengthened in so many ways. And I think you will too. Those parts that seem weak, or missing, I think they’re there, waiting to be strengthened.
Made it all the way down here? Phew! That was long, I feel that it was important to talk about these though. Fear of the unexpected is what kept me in an abusive marriage for so long. I didn’t know what life would be like if I left, and so I stayed. If you do decide to leave, the important thing is that you do it safely! We could go on and on about what could happen, but keep in mind that not all of them are bad. I’m curious to hear about what you will choose.