By Baila Sebrow

I was in an abusive marriage for a long time. I stayed for the sake of my kids, and I was hoping that maybe things would get better or that I would leave after the kids got married. Well, one day, out of the blue, my husband told me he wanted to divorce me. I was shocked but also relieved. My ex remarried right away. I only started dating after a few years and a lot of therapy. It isn’t easy getting people to set me up. People think that since my husband left me, I must have been the bad one in the marriage. I endured years of torture, and in the end, I looked bad!

Slowly, I got into dating, and I thought I’d finally find some happiness. But even now it looks like happiness will never be my lot. I didn’t expect to have such pain inflicted by my teenage children. Every time I go to a singles’ gathering or on a date, they make me miserable. They embarrass me in front of my dates. They call me on the phone constantly while I’m on a date. When I come home from dates, they say very mean things to me. I don’t know what to do. Even though I’m very busy, I’m lonely. My kids just don’t get it.

Is this normal? What should I do? I don’t want to be lonely, but I also know that my kids will never accept it if I remarry. If I don’t remarry, people will believe all the lies my ex said about me. People are already talking about how I can’t get my life back in order.

Response

I am so sorry for what you are going through. You should know that not everyone is so foolish anymore as it relates to judging who the guilty party is in a dissolved marriage. Years ago, the person who wanted out of a marriage was considered the innocent party, but now much more is known about such situations. Quite often it is the abuser who leaves first, whether it is a marriage or a toxic relationship. And, as in your ex-husband’s case, it is used against the long-suffering spouse.

One of the reasons some people don’t understand the truth is because the victim remains in the relationship and so they think that since she is staying married, all is good. And even if they suspect or know of abuse, somehow, they may believe that the victim provokes the abuser. Victims don’t leave because they are scared. The fear might be about retaliation of any kind; physical, financial, and social reasons that involve isolation and shame. In frum circles, there are people who will stay in an abusive marriage, because they fear leaving will hurt their children’s chance for finding a shidduch; also, women are taught to be the akeres ha’bayis, so holding the family together is vital. A big part of staying in the relationship also has to do with the victim having low self-esteem and poor feelings of self-worth, thanks to the abuser making the victim feel that way. That is why today, with more frum people going for therapy, victims gain the confidence to leave an abusive relationship.

The reason abusers leave or abandon their victim is because they feel that they cannot control their victim in the same way as before, or because they become turned off by their victim’s pliability. The challenge is gone. They no longer feel the need for power and domination over their victim. The victim is easily discarded because the abuser sees her as a waste. They also have no problem moving on quickly, and of course the cycle of abuse continues. To the world, it appears that the abuser is really the victim, because he or she managed to remarry so quickly.

Sophisticated people know that everything I stated is accurate, and therefore just ignore the ignoramuses. There are enough good people you should associate with, and it sounds like you may already be doing that anyway.

Regarding your children, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. To make it easier for you to understand them and come to a resolution, let’s look at it from their perspective. Your children grew up in a home where they watched their mother being abused. That must have been so emotionally painful for them. They also know your personality; perhaps you emanate a subservient aura, and they are afraid that history will repeat itself. They could not help the family they were born into, but now they feel they can exert some form of authority that they feel you need. They might believe that you need to be protected from making a bad choice and getting abused again. Holding you back from the opportunity of finding a new relationship might be their desperate way of keeping you safe. My question is if your children received therapy after your divorce. Not only did they experience the divorce of their parents, but they watched and experienced havoc and toxicity in their home. They experienced their own share of trauma, and there is no way that they got away unscathed, even if it appears they did.

In general, even in less traumatic circumstances, the splitting of parents is agonizing for children. They will usually feel insecure, and the thought of another person entering the life of the parent they live with or have most to do with will cause them to feel hatred. So, what you are describing with regard to your children’s aggression and outbursts when you go on a date is very typical. Children don’t want to share their parent with a complete stranger.

There is no reason that you need to involve your children in your dating life. Why do your children need to know that you are going to a singles event or on a date? I am not telling you to lie to them, but there is no justification for you to be so forthcoming with them. I don’t know what sort of dynamics you have established with your children. If you are leaning on them for emotional support, that must stop immediately. If you are acting like their friend or sibling, that must not continue, as it leads to unhealthy boundaries. From what I am reading, based on how they treat you, your children have very little respect for you. I have no doubt that it came about from the chaos that went on in your home, and the way you all coped with the turmoil. They are undoubtedly dealing with plenty of emotional challenges.

You mentioned that you were in therapy. I would recommend that you continue to work out the issues you have with your children as you attempt to reestablish your life, and learn to make healthy choices. It is possible that your kids are sensing that you are not emotionally capable of doing that. Oftentimes people who have been in an abusive relationship end up choosing a new romantic partner that is like their previous one. People gravitate towards the familiar, even if the familiar is not good for them.

Recognizing the signs before you get emotionally invested is a good way to start. I will give you a few tips. If you meet a man who seems too good to be true, he is usually not as he presents. Impulsive behavior, such that he wants an immediate commitment, might seem to some that the man is marriage-minded, but it is really not normal behavior. Sure, there are stories with happy endings where the man proposed on the first date and everything worked out beautifully. But those tales are far and few between. Controlling and unnatural jealous behavior and obsessive criticisms where he wants to change you completely are clear signs to run as fast as you can from such a person. These are just a few examples; however, always listen to your subconscious alerts. If something does not feel right, or you have an uneasy feeling about the person, end it and never look back. Please review all that with your therapist. Keep your therapist in your life, at least while you are in the dating stages.

Please do not lose sight of the fact that you deserve to be happy, and you should certainly never have to succumb to a life of loneliness. If you do happen to meet someone with whom you want to get more involved, do not introduce him to your children until you are sure that you will move towards an engagement. There are people who will disagree with that concept, but they have no clue that doing otherwise will only cause damage. When kids do not want their parent to remarry, and they sense that the relationship is not rock-solid, they have the upper hand to mess things up. And besides, if things do not work out, in their minds it will just add another mark against you, besides for compounding their fears about your ability to make the right choice in a mate.

When you and a significant other make the decision to have a future together, have everyone meet in a neutral location, such as a restaurant, so that they can get to know one other. You and this man will have to reassure your children about any fears they may have about him, and that you have no expectations of them that they need to become best friends with him. All you should look forward to is pleasant acceptance. I will stress that you and your children need family therapy immediately. Even with all that, there is no guarantee that things will turn out to be wonderful and that everyone will love each other, but you will at least be able to date with less angst and a clearer head.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com, Israel News Talk Radio, WVIP 93.5 FM HD2, and talklinenetwork.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles here.

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