What should the future with my ex look like?
December 21, 2014 7:02 AM   Subscribe

My husband cheated on me and left me after nearly two decades of a wonderful, loving, respectful marriage. The betrayal came out of nowhere, and involved emotional and on occasion physical abuse. I can't just go no contact, because we've got a daughter, we're financially entangled, and we will be for years. I am having trouble forging a new, post-marriage relationship with him because I'm deeply hurt, raw, angry, sad, and disoriented. I also can't picture what that relationship even looks like. And he has asked to spend all day on Christmas here at the house ... I don't know if I can handle it.

tl/dr: What should my long-term post-marriage relationship with my ex-husband look like after he cheated on me and betrayed me deeply? I want to go no contact, but we need to co-parent our beautiful little girl. What do I need to do now to get to that future?


We were married in our early 30s, and had a wonderful, respectful, passionate, and loving marriage of equals. He was stable, reliable, steady, and my very best friend.

And then one day he fell for another woman, 20 years younger than him and with a history of sleeping with married people. It's a classic mid-life crisis, but it's not a cliche — it's a tragic loss of happiness for me, our daughter, our parents, our friends. He left me in October, after several months of cheating on me. And he's now living with the little home wrecker, a woman who knows that my beautiful daughter wrote a suicide letter because of their affair and who nonetheless was willing to break up our marriage and move in with him. I'm absolutely sick at the loss of this wonderful man, who is very clearly no longer that man.

Our breakup took several months, and involved a few episodes of domestic violence which left me bruised but not injured. He can be a bully, sometimes refusing to leave my house or my car. And he can be sweet and charming, generous and thoughtful, although these times usually come to an abrupt end through some thoughtless comment or withdrawn offer on his part. He can't keep any promises, doesn't even consider them binding. "I meant it when I said it, but I don't any more." He is often late picking our daughter up, and almost no direct question put to him ever gets a straight answer. Often he doesn't bother answering my questions at all. In other words, he's difficult to deal with.

We have a financial settlement that's decent, and I've got full custody. He has visitation rights he doesn't fully exercise, but he's often an asshole whenever he does try to exercise them. He's petty about money. He drags his feet about moving his things out of the house. He plays passive-aggressive games with me, head games. He tells me he's not sure if his new relationship will work out, and that he's not sure if he wants to keep the door open to reconciling with me. "Ask me in three months," he said. (Yeah, I doubt his new "love" knows he says things like that to me. And no, I'm not going to ask him in three months, or ever.)

Our marriage therapist said that for the first Christmas after the separation, it is best for our daughter that we have the full day together and do all the things we've always done. Our daughter spontaneously requested exactly this herself. I invited his parents and mine to fly in and stay with me, and they're here, and they're all entirely supportive of me and critical of my husband's cheating and departure. They all believe he is making a colossal mistake. I wanted them here so that my daughter and I would be surrounded by people who love us, by joyfulness and noise and activity. The thought of the three of us pretending to have a nice Christmas alone was dreadful, and I'm glad that they're here, as hard as it is hosting and entertaining at a time when curling up in a ball seems like a good idea.

But having him here on Christmas is filling me with dread. I'm on a roller coaster, and I had ten good days where I truly did not give a shit about him, but that came crashing down last Monday when he moved in with the other woman, and the finality of it all hit me. I'm in a terrible spot right now, and yet I have to get through this Season of Triggers in a way that supports my beautiful daughter and doesn't kill my parents and in-laws. He says he wants to spend the whole day at our home. I don't think I can handle that, and yet my daughter is adamant that this is exactly what she wants and that if I don't have him here and pretend that everything is fine all day long she will be devastated. She says that this is the last family Christmas, it's only one day, and it's her biggest Christmas wish.

I don't know what our relationship should look like in the future, and I don't know what it should look like now, in the short term. He wants me to "just get over it" and be civil and even friendly. He envisions a long, cooperative co-parenting arrangement, and doesn't acknowledge that he presses my every button and picks at any scab he can find. All the healing I'm able to manage comes during those long stretches when he doesn't see our daughter. When he shows up in my life again, I feel like I'm set back at square one. I've told him I want to go no contact for several months, but he refuses, saying he will not give up access to our daughter. He still hasn't moved his things out of our home (a constant source of irritation and hurt), so that's another reason it's not possible to go no contact. (The idea of having him in our home picking through our belongings is just too much for me, so I don't know how to get that to happen anyway. Not that he's in any hurry to move his things out; he is fundamentally lazy when it comes to things like this, and always has been.)

I'm not making a lot of sense, I know, but I think it's understandable given how recently and completely the rug was pulled out from under me. So I would appreciate any clarity and guidance you can offer. (I'm in therapy, but really, what can an hour a week possibly accomplish?) My main areas of confusion are:

What should my long-term relationship with him look like?
What do I need to do in the short-term to facilitate having that kind of relationship eventually?
How should we go about removing his things from the house, without him picking through our stuff, and without me feeling that it's just not fair that I have to do all the work of sorting and packing and moving his things?
What do I do about Christmas? How do I get through a full day of him being here, and the awful knowledge that he isn't the man I loved, and the beautiful marriage we had is over and can never exist again?
How can I manage the raw feelings that our parents have — the shame his parents feel at seeing their son cause so much devastation, and the inevitable blame that my parents will place on his parents for raising such a turncoat of a son?
What can I do for my sweet child, who is hurting and feeling betrayed herself, and yet is also providing support for me and being forced to grow up way too fast?
posted by Capri to Human Relations (61 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my gosh, I'm sorry. At this point I would just deal with Christmas now and worry about the other stuff later. I wish your therapist hadn't given you that advice, honestly. How can you even be sure he will show up and will spend the day, with the way he has been acting?

I think you should try to plan the day with activities so that if he does not show up or does not behave well, you won't just be sitting there thinking about it. Sadly, he may well disappoint your daughter, in fact he already has. Try to have some distractions and other support in place.
posted by BibiRose at 7:15 AM on December 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry you're in this awful position.

Fist and foremost, I know you want to deal with the practicalities of getting his things out of the house and contemplating what the future will look like, but that is not today's job. It's just not. Today's job, and your job for the next 5 days, is to get your daughter through Christmas.

The best thing you can do for your child is to invite your ex over on Christmas Day. You have two sets of allies with you, and that is the best possible setup for what will be X hours of zero fun for you.

-- You can lay down some parameters with your daughter, saying "Dad will be here for brunch and we'll wait to open presents with him. Then we'll have Christmas dinner in the afternoon, and he'll be off at 6."

-- You can put your MIL in charge of communicating with him about the schedule. When he's late and your daughter says "Where's dad?" you can say "I don't know; ask grandma."

-- You can lay down the law with your own parents and tell them that blaming your in laws DOES NOT HELP you or your daughter and that you need them to focus on the spirit of cooperation.

After you survive Christmas, you can pack up his things, put them in a storage unit you've paid for for 30 days, and give him the key and the invoice so he can get his stuff or carry on payments.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:19 AM on December 21, 2014 [50 favorites]

Best answer: This is a very complex and upsetting situation and I'm so sorry you're having to deal with all of this.

I will leave most of these issues to be addressed by mefites who have been through similar situations and know what they're talking about. But.

Regarding his possessions:

You are under no obligation to allow him to deal with his stuff at his leisure.

After the holidays are over, give him a very specific deadline. Tell him he has a week to remove his belongings from your house. Don't let him do this unsupervised, if he actually does do it. Try and have a friend of your own there if you can. Try and make sure your daughter is NOT there.

Assuming he blows this deadline off: give yourself a weekend to pack up all of his stuff. Again, ask a supportive friend to come over and help you, if possible. You don't have to do a tidy job, after all, it's not like you owe this jerk anything.

Once his stuff is packed up in boxes, put it in a storage space someplace nearby. Mail him a copy of the key, or give it to him when you see him. Tell him he has one month to get his stuff, or you will sell/give away/throw out everything.

Alternatively, ship the boxes to his parents' house and have them deal with it. Or hell, ship them directly to his place.

Either way: get it out of your house, on your terms. Don't let him stretch this out. It'll suck to have to do all this work that HE should be doing, but I think in the long run it'll be better for you to have it over and done with, instead of having it hang over your head for who-knows-how-long.

Again, I'm so, so sorry you're having to deal with all of this. Best of luck to you and your daughter.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:21 AM on December 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I'm just going to focus on Christmas Day itself. His and your parents are going to be your best allies in this. Sit them down and either show them what you posted or tell them the pertinent points and ask for their help. They can be the buffer between you and your ex and I'm sure they're looking for guidance about what exactly they can do for you on the day. Maybe give them shifts on Ex Watch to engage his attention away from you. Arrange a sign or code word with them that means 'I really need 15 or 20 minutes away from him and everyone else; I'm going upstairs (or wherever you can be alone and close the door), you guys keep him away.'

Have your daughter make place cards for the table (fun craft!) and then surreptitiously have your mother or father place them on the table so he is as far from you as is possible. Let everyone situate themselves on the couch and floor for present opening and then get yourself a spot away from him. Be cordial but nothing else. You do not have to cozy up to him in any way.

Oh, I think this time right now (the rest of today and Monday and Tuesday) could actually be a really good time for you to go through stuff to give to him. I know, it's painful and the last thing you want to think about is his crap. But you have four adults in your home right now who would likely be very eager to help you! You aren't alone! If I was his mother, I would help get his stuff together in a heartbeat. You can put it all in boxes and load up his parent's car and one of them can follow him to his place after Christmas is over. Then it's done and he won't have any other reason to come to your home except picking up and dropping off your daughter (and he doesn't even really need to do that: neutral locations can be arranged for that stuff).

I guess I'm not really solely focusing of Christmas Day after all. Just a little more. I know your feelings are so raw and fresh right now. But be careful in characterizing his girlfriend as a home wrecker. People cheat because they want to, it because they're seduced into it. He knew exactly what he was doing and chose to do it anyway. If. to with her, it likely would have happened with someone else when the opportunity arose. You can be as mad as hell at her; I would be. But she didn't break up your family: he did. Try to remove the rage you feel for him and her, and refocus it as positive energy for your daughter. This is going to be the hardest thing you've ever done, but you can do it.

Finally, I think your therapist gave you really shitty advice re: how to spend Christmas Day. I would be looking for a new one, ASAP.
posted by cooker girl at 7:28 AM on December 21, 2014 [51 favorites]

he was physically abusive, i don't think you should have to spend thee day with him. i am guessing your daughter is in her teens at least? i think that's old enough to understand that you are a person who also deserves a nice Christmas and to not have to pretend to enjoy spending time with her abusive ex.

even if you all spend the day together, there is no way this will be the family Christmas your daughter is picturing, why not just acknowledge that that is over, not possible.
posted by katieanne at 7:34 AM on December 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

I can help. First of all, bravo to you for being the bigger person in all of this. He sounds like a beast even if only 1/4 of the things you relate are true.

1. Pack up all of his belongings and take them to a storage locker. Do it beautifully, plastic boxes, well labeled, even itemized. I'd number the boxes and itemize everything in each box. This should be cathartic because it's a mindless task, but it's cleaning out his bad ju-ju from your home in the most productive way possible. Take photos of everything and of the process, keep them in case he decides to be an asshole about it later. Pay for the first month of storage and send him a key to the lock and a copy of the month-to-month agreement, letting him know he can either get his shit and move it to his new digs, or pay the bills going forward. Now it's HIS problem.

2. Plan to leave your house on Christmas day and leave him, daughter and family members alone to enjoy something together. Just for a couple of hours. Go to a movie, visit some friends, sit in a hotel lobby nursing a toddy. Knowing that you have a plan, and that you get to have control over it is absolute bliss. Hell, even if you just leave and go on a solitary walk, it's awesome.

3. Assert yourself as a free-agent, one that's not easily bullied. Don't go along with his program just because your daughter wants it. Your daughter wants her family back together the way it was. She's a child, she has no insight into the situation. While you can do Christmas day together it WON'T be like it used to be, it can't be. You no longer love and respect him, who knows what's going on in his head.

4. Make the home-wrecker a part of the family. This is the most passive-aggressive, annoying way to buck your ex-husband's program. Invite her to come to Christmas, if not the whole day, for present opening, or for egg nog and cookies, or for dinner. Be gracious, she's going to be step-parenting your child (work with me here, you and I both know this 'relationship' is DOOMED,) act as though knowing her and welcoming her to your family, for the sake of your daughter, isn't eating you up alive. Act as if it's no big deal to you. Your daughter is more important than your feelings for this excrescence. Enjoy the exquisite revenge when she dumps your ex, or he dumps her.

5. Decide how YOU want your relationship with him will be going forward and enforce it. If there's a custody arrangement, INSIST that he abide by it. If he's supposed to have her every other weekend, take her over there. You have plans, you have new relationships to form, you have a life, and he doesn't get to disrupt it.

6. Write down how you see your life moving forward, with and without him. How will he fit into your life now? I know you don't want to see him at all, so what is the bare minimum you can have, while parenting your child? How does your life unfold from here? Will you pursue further education, take on more responsibility at work, take up a new hobby, start dating again? The world is your oyster.

7. Purge. Get rid of artifacts of your marriage. If there's furniture you hate, books you don't like, clothing that doesn't suit you, dump it. Be ruthless.

8. You and your daughter should be in family therapy together. Kids have goofy ideas about change, divorce and what's actually possible. For example, if your ex and his paramour break up, she actually believes that you should welcome him back with open arms. This is not healthy. You need to articulate to her that he is forever lost to you, that one perfect Christmas won't make you a happy family again, no matter how hard she pretends. Also, between you, me and the hat rack, I think your marriage therapist is shit. Why should you put yourself through this fraud? Sure, spending time together amicably on a holiday is optimal, but putting on a stupid charade can't help anything and do you honestly believe that doing so will make your daughter happy? How is she going to feel when he leaves? It's going to be awful. It's going to be worse when you continue on being divorced, instead of reconciling like every TV Movie leads her to believe.

10. It's not for you to manage anyone else's feelings. If he parents feel shame, that's on them. If your parents are angry, that's for them to experience. You are not the smoother-over person. Just validate everyone's feelings and move on. Resign from the job of making this horrible situation palatable. You'll feel better.

It's perfectly okay to do things for yourself alone. Your daughter needs to learn to deal with the new normal and it will be horrible sometimes, you can't live her life for her, and you can't fix her life. You can't fix what your husband did. Let go of that idea.

Hang in there, and enjoy whatever movie you see on Christmas.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:35 AM on December 21, 2014 [63 favorites]

I think the focus right now should be yourself and your daughter. Don't worry about managing your parents' or his parents' feelings. His parents feel shame for how their son is behaving. So what? Their feelings are their feelings and you shouldn't feel responsible and try to make them feel better.

I would try to limit your contact with him as much as possible. Have his parents pack up his stuff and drive it over to him. I'm sure they would want to help. Don't engage in conversation with him when he's dropping off/picking up your daughter. Keep everything business-like.
posted by Lingasol at 7:46 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh! Just to confirm, you've changed the locks on your house right? He no longer has a right to just walk on in. Don't let the sun set on this task if he still has a key.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:49 AM on December 21, 2014 [32 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry you've all this going on. I was in a damned similar situation as you years ago; abusive ex who cheated and then moved in with another woman, him being an absolute asshole. I get where you're coming from.

For now, focus on Xmas day. Nothing else. Trust me when I say that the pieces will be put into place at some point, but DON'T pack up his things now or make any other plans. Just get through Xmas.


My advice: The therapist is wrong. Like, WTF are you thinking wrong.

I'm going to call NO EFFIN WAY ARE YOU INSANE on having your husband over for Xmas. No. No matter how nicely you play this and ulcer yourself to death and have gritted teeth that you smile through, at best, your house is going to be filled with tension that will suck beyond belief for everyone there. I say this with experience as I got through my son's birthday with my soon-to-be-ex husband and my entire family remembers it as the worst day ever. My son remembers the birthday as the worst day of his life.

What I should have done over 10 years ago was listen to my gut and tell my son who also wanted his dad for his family birthday party, "I know you want Dad here but Dad doesn't live here anymore, and I know you're sad about this, but it's important that you and Dad start fun new traditions together, and those will be special for you and dad. So he's taking you to the movies."

Your daughter says this is what she wants, but I can guarantee that the day will NOT be a perfect last family Xmas. No doubt she's using completely normal magical thinking and you and dad will be together and fuzzy hugs and yay. This will not happen.

You don't want this asshole in your home. You are allowed that much control. And from your story, you're going to be making some tough calls in the future.

Start here by telling him he cannot come over.

I strongly suggest the new tradition of Xmas movie with whoever wants to go. You will not want to go (I mean, you've got guests and you're emotionally exhausted; you're allowed a break, my friend.)

Her grandparents can take her to the movies with her dad.

You've got to trust me. Don't do ANYTHING else this season. Enjoy your visiting family. Have fun with your daughter. Do not engage with your ex. Don't pack his shit. Don't hatch passive-aggressive plans. Don't invite this other woman to your home. Don't trash talk her. Nothing. Hang with your family.


(And I'm assuming you've got a lawyer and you've changed the locks.)
posted by kinetic at 7:52 AM on December 21, 2014 [52 favorites]

You're receiving a lot of well-meaning advice, and you deserve support in what sounds like a horrible situation. I just wanted to chime in that you may want to talk to your attorney to make sure that all the removal of his stuff is being done in accordance with your divorce agreement. I doubt you want to open a new front in which you have to deal with him. The goals of the immediate future as I see it are to provide for your daughter's emotional needs, take care of yourself, and facilitate a future in which you have as little interaction with your ex as possible.
posted by itstheclamsname at 7:53 AM on December 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

How can I manage the raw feelings that our parents have — the shame his parents feel at seeing their son cause so much devastation, and the inevitable blame that my parents will place on his parents for raising such a turncoat of a son?

Their feelings are not your problem. Some tough love here but you want them to NOT TALK ABOUT IT in front of you. He is a cad, you are clearly all aware of that. Discussing it isn't going to help. So, you're going to have to tell them that you understand they're unhappy, but you REALLYREALLYREALLY don't want to be involved in those conversations. Please, they can't do this in front of you. Or your kid. And if they can't do that, they need to leave.

Not Xmas related, but this:

He wants me to "just get over it" and be civil and even friendly.

You can tell him to go fuck himself.
posted by kinetic at 8:02 AM on December 21, 2014 [31 favorites]

Other folks have chimed in with a lot of great advice for Christmas Day, but I wanted to add one thing. You say you have a marriage therapist? Is this your therapist or was this a therapist you engaged to work you and your partner on your marriage?

As many folks on the Green have mentioned before, marriage counselling is not a great idea once a relationship becomes abusive. A marriage therapist's job is to work with both parties as though they're equally at fault in an attempt to save the marriage. This is completely inappropriate in your case-- there is no marriage to save with a man who physically abused you. It might explain, though, why your marriage therapist gave you such shitty advice about Christmas (I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they did not know about the abuse because any therapist telling a person who has been abused they should spend a family holiday with their abuser to make it easier on everyone else needs to be smacked.)

Anyway, what I'm leading up to is that the time for marriage therapy has come and gone. Not your fault, but your ex has decided so that's how it is. Now it's time for you to get your own therapist, someone who's really actually in your corner, who can help you fight through this, figure out your own feelings, and give you coping strategies when the inevitable urges to have things as they were crop up, when he comes crawling back (and I'm 99% sure he will.) There's nothing wrong with what you're feeling and you sound like you're coping incredibly well, all things considered, but seriously-- get a professional on your side ASAP... before Christmas if you can manage it.

Also, please, please, please be careful about your physical safety. Your post makes it sound as though everything was great until something drastically changed, which is definitely what it feels like, but your ex has almost certainly been capable of these things for a long, long time. It's so hard, but it's time to stop thinking of him as the man who spent so many good years with you, and start thinking of him as a threat. He has demonstrated he is willing to physically abuse you. Please be very very very safe, make sure there are always other people around, and put your safety (whatever that means for you-- if you have to cancel Christmas, do it!) above other people's desires for harmony and peace (yes, even your daughter's.) Your daughter can get over one bad Christmas much more easily than she could get over you being seriously hurt.

I'm so glad there are supportive family members there to help you. This might be the worst Christmas ever, but you have many more great holidays ahead of you-- free of a man who was unfaithful, who hurt you, who was willing to throw your marriage away. You deserve better and, with time, you are going to make such a good new life for yourself and your daughter.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:03 AM on December 21, 2014 [19 favorites]

If you can't take his stuff out of the house, relegate it to a single room and close the door.
posted by juliplease at 8:03 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I disagree that you should tell him to go fuck himself. Instead, use his "civil and friendly" advice against him. Every single time he escalates, say as faux friendly as possible: "Let's be civil and friendly." It's your mantra going forward.

As for his things, there's good advice upthread to put everything of his in a separate room for now until you get legal advice about how to handle this. He needs to get the message that you have already separated yourself, via your own things, from him and his things--that no reconciliation is possible. If it were me, I would even rearrange furniture, cabinets, bathroom just to stick it to him that way. He should not for a second envision himself moving back in. It is not his beautiful house anymore.

Good luck. This is a heartbreak.
posted by Elsie at 8:14 AM on December 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

Your post makes it sound as though everything was great until something drastically changed, which is definitely what it feels like, but your ex has almost certainly been capable of these things for a long, long time.
This. As you heal, you'll likely see with more clarity all the ways that he was not a loving, supportive, equal partner in your marriage.

You don't say how old your daughter is, and I think that is an important detail. She seems very enmeshed in your feelings and experience of this situation. She shouldn't need to provide you emotional support. It is your job to make sure she doesn't feel like she needs to do that. As for growing up too fast - most people experience something traumatic or upsetting as a part of their childhoods, and that can either be character-building or destructive, depending on the support they get with dealing with it.

She should be encouraged to see her relationship with her father as separate and distinct from your relationship with him. You don't have to give a flying fuck about anyone else's feelings (your parents, his parents, his), but try to make sure you are giving your daughter the space and permission to develop her own feelings and responses to the situation, which may be different (and possibly even in opposition to) yours.

Keep in mind, too, that although she is no doubt genuinely hurting, you don't have to acquiesce to every request. You can say "no" to things you think are not in her or your best interest. She may feel bad, but feeling bad doesn't give her license to use those bad feelings as an emotional cudgel to get her way or spread her bad feelings around. Maybe she's not doing that, but older kids can be (even unintentionally) emotionally manipulative in divorce situations.
posted by jeoc at 8:20 AM on December 21, 2014 [15 favorites]

this is my two cents, a total stranger on the internet, but I think that he's salting your wounds by arranging this Christmas Day thing. I mean he seems to have engineered the getting together shortly after he moved in with the chick. If he really wanted you to be civil and mellow he wouldn't be supportive of the fucked-up ness of having him in your face Christmas day -- he would be giving you space.

So in other words I think this is more abusive shit, this 'last Christmas' thing.
posted by angrycat at 8:30 AM on December 21, 2014 [28 favorites]

I agree you should get a new therapist and possibly even report that therapist for some physically dangerous recommendations.

Don't have him at your house but agree to meet at a restaurant for Christmas lunch (and you sit far, far away) that he pays for. Your home has to be a safe place for you and your daughter with new memories supplanting the old.

Your daughter and you should be in counselling together; for her and your own mental health you should pull the mother card and tell her the imaginary Christmas she and her father have planned is not happening because you and her father are divorced and his behaviour is unacceptable in your home where you deserve to be safe. You need to model for her how to set healthy boundaries with bullies and abusive people.

N'thing that this whole plan is him acting in an abusive and controlling way (bullshit this was a "spontaneous request" from your daughter - I guarantee he got her to say that against her own wishes). You need to put her *true* needs first, not what he is making her parrot to you.
posted by saucysault at 8:43 AM on December 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

Your husband beat you. He left bruises on you. Did your daughter have any awareness of the abuse? Even if she was not there for the beatings, did she see your injuries and either know or guess where they came from?

I agree with other commenters that unless your husband had a brain injury, this relationship was never really loving and equal. This means your daughter has already lived her entire life with her foremost example of a romantic relationship being one that has always had the structure of an abusive relationship. And that means she is at grave risk for being abused in a relationship herself.

You need to show her you have worth, as part of teaching her that she has worth. Your worth as a human being means you do not have a man who beat you at your house ever again, let alone at Christmas.

I cannot stress enough how important it is that you show her you value yourself enough to say no to this bullshit. You are worth it.
posted by palliser at 8:49 AM on December 21, 2014 [42 favorites]

The last Christmas thing is an attempt to control you and an attempt to make himself not feel like the bad guy.

You don't have to agree with him. There is a difference between being civil & being a doormat. He has left you, you owe him nothing but what the law says. Having watched my niece & nephew stagger through a horribly abusive divorce because of my controlling looser of a brother. I suspect that she is hoping against hope that if you guys pretend hard enough it will be as if nothing changed, here's the thing doing that is lying to your daughter, you are giving her false hope. I may be projecting from my brother here, but don't be so sure that her father hasn't been whispering in her ear to get her to say these things. Playing with her mind to get what he wants "Tell your mum xyz then I'll be there & I'll buy you a shiney thing & it will be just like I never left, you want that right?" It puts him then in the position of being the good guy & you being the bad guy that doesn't want to do it.

Think what message you want to show your daughter in the long term. Do you want her to think that her feelings are invalid, that you have to just suck it up to make a man that hits you happy? If she is old enough explain to her how you feel, that you are sorry if it hurts her but you won't be doing Christmas that way. Show her how someone stands up for themselves. Maybe next year if when things don't hurt so much you can do things the way she wants, but this year you will be doing Christmas this way & give her a clear plan you have already organised.

Your parents & his are not your problem. This is a circle of caring situation, everyone takes care of themselves and the person in the inner rings. Their "job" is to look after you & your daughter not the other way around.

A compromise could be made of Christmas at some neutral location or at another relatives. Making sure you have your own transport so you and your daughter can leave at any time.

Your relationship going forward is you doing what is best for your daughter & yourself, your responsibilities to him & to make him happy have ended the second he decided that this other person was more important than you & your daughter. You find another therapist. You find your daughter a therapist. You get your legal ducks in a row so damn hard. You arrange pick ups and drop offs at a neutral location so he has no excuse to come to your house, & you get his belongings to him ASAP, checking with lawyers to make sure it is handled correctly.

I would keep him as much at arms length as possible until YOU are ready. He has to earn the right to civil behaviour & happy fun co-operative, parenting.
posted by wwax at 8:54 AM on December 21, 2014 [16 favorites]

Only putting in a few things that I haven't seen addressed here yet:

If he was physically abusive and you don't feel safe around him (and if I read this correctly, does he have access to your house to slowly reclaim his things?), then you could consider getting a restraining order. I would discuss this with a lawyer obviously to know the full ramifications, but it might help you feel safe in the place that you live in.

Nthing getting help and moving his stuff into a storage place, provided it is consistent with legal requirement. The rationale is to get all that stuff as a reminder of him out of your place as soon as possible.

I noticed a few suggestions for dropping your daughter off at his place, even if he hasn't agreed, etc. (but the visiting rights say so). Based on friends who grew up with one parent falling through ... don't do that to your daughter. Make her safe and always wanted. If her father doesn't show up or call or whatever, she will figure it out ...but driving somewhere and making her confront reluctant person, it is too much for an adult, let alone a child.
posted by Wolfster at 9:07 AM on December 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

You don't mention how old your daughter is, but if she's older than 5, I think it's time to consider telling her (if she doesn't already know) that her father has been physically abusive towards you and that having him in the house will hurt you and make you very, very unhappy and scared. Your daughter deserves to grow up knowing that her momma respects herself enough to enforce limits, and modeling that for your daughter may enable her to do the same for herself in the future if and when she explores romantic relationships. I know that's probably the last conversation you want to have with your kid right now, especially if she's suicidal over all of this (which I totally understand, bless her heart). It's just... If you want to be honest with your girl, this would be a time to do it. Don't sacrifice emotional, mental, or physical safety in the name of "harmony". That's not what harmony looks like. Your ex isn't contributing, he's detracting. You and your girl deserve better (but you know that already.) Sending you and your family lots of love. I'm sorry you're dealing with this right now. You're doing a great job though.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:35 AM on December 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

domestic violence which left me bruised but not injured. He can be a bully, sometimes refusing to leave my house or my car

He says he wants to spend the whole day at our home.

my daughter is adamant that this is exactly what she wants and that if I don't have him here and pretend that everything is fine all day long she will be devastated.

Oh dear god, no. So sorry. He should never be in your house again, full stop. I have this flavour of ex.

It will be much better for your daughter in the long run for you to throw down clear boundaries here.

As for...

What should my long-term relationship with him look like?

...something steered by attorneys and the family court system. Your relationship with him is over, and while I'm not suggesting 'go fuck yourself,' 'businesslike' is a good way to roll. He's a danger to you (and your kid, because a man who does not care about your safety and well-being is also a man who by rational extension does not care about your child's) and 'friendly' is not a useful thing to shoot for. Neither is antagonistic. Just: businesslike. Deal with the legal obligations and forget about him as a person.
posted by kmennie at 9:38 AM on December 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all. A few comments:

1. I'm not looking for answers that are based on what I owe him, or how mean I can justifiably be, or what games I can play with him. I have to live with him for the rest of my life, and I'm looking for advice on what that relationship should look like — to be functional for me, protective of my daughter, and respective of our mutual friends and family.

I also depend on him financially, and don't want to have to go to court over money. I want him to get along with us enough that there isn't a constant source of friction. I just don't know how to do that, what it looks like, how to get there.

2. I am not afraid of him. He is not dangerous. He has hit me, yes, but that's not something that I worry about anymore. He is out of the house, the locks have been changed, the agreement between us is final. What's left is working out the personal relationship that we absolutely cannot avoid. I described the abuse to show how bad things got. And yes, it was sudden and inexplicable. All his friends and family are as shocked as I am that he changed from being one of the steadiest most even-tempered man we knew to the man he is now. He honestly may have had a brain injury, and at the very least I am sure he is in crisis. This is not his normal personality. But it's his new personality, so the marriage is over. I need help working out what replaces that.

3. The marriage therapy ended when the marriage ended. The therapist didn't know about the abuse.

4. My daughter is not deluded into thinking our marriage will ever come back, and in fact she doesn't want it to. She witnessed the abuse and knows I didn't deserve it, or what he did. She is more accepting of our future without him than I am, and she is not being fed lines by him. She wants a family Christmas so that she can say good-bye to that part of her childhood. It's a sweet sentiment, and I support her wish for this. I just don't know how to give it to her.

5. My parents' and in-laws' feelings are most definitely my concern, because I love them. One of my biggest complaints about my husband's choice to leave the family is his lack of concern for the feelings of those most important to him. I am not like that. Their feelings are of paramount concern to me, as are my daughter's feelings.

All that said, I think I am getting some good clues in here about how to move forward. Thank you for reminding me that this is limited — I have only a few days until Christmas, and only a few hours that day to get through. With our parents' help, I can pack up his things between now and then, and put them in storage. Even though I resent having to do this, you're right that it's better for me to get it out of my space. (And no, I'm not packing it nicely with an inventory. I'm dumping it in a box, like I got dumped.)

I'm never engaging with that woman, and yes, I hold her responsible, too. She knew he was married, with a young daughter, and she still slept with him, sneaked around with him, moved in with him. Whether or not he was going to cheat anyway is anyone's guess, and in my opinion it was unlikely, but either way, she made it possible. They are both home wreckers, and I hold both of them responsible. But if I can help it, I'll never deal with her. Ever. I'm certainly not inviting her into my home; I don't trust her with anything meaningful to me.

I'm still looking for clues as to how to forge a future with this man — at our daughter's graduations and our parents' funerals, and also at common events in our small town. We can't avoid running into each other; we're tied to each other for life. I think this will be a long, hard evolution for me. While I appreciate the indignant anger you each are feeling on my behalf, I can't use that anger in my relationship with him. As Pema Chodron says, it mostly hurts me in the end.
posted by Capri at 9:44 AM on December 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

There is no "future" with this man - he's a stranger that you thought you knew, and have a broken past with.

From your description, it is absolutely unacceptable - and unhealthy - for anyone to expect you to spend an entire day with him. This is what visitation is for, preferably with hand-offs done by a third party.

Your - and your daughter need real help - not a "therapist" that will encourage you to accede to her demands at your own expense of mental and physical well-being.

The sooner you have little to no contact with him, the better - and in the long run, your daughter would be better off if he dropped off the face of the planet, then twisting her in his games.
posted by stormyteal at 9:54 AM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I also depend on him financially, and don't want to have to go to court over money.

I understand, and you are in a really tough spot. But he is using the money to control and abuse you still if your actions are not guided by what is best for you and your daughter, but instead hoping to appease him. As the therapist was unaware of the abuse you can completely disregard their advice (and I still strongly support cancelling this event for your daughter's sake, let alone your own). It doesn't sound like you are yet able to put your own needs above other's wants. I hope after this nightmare of a Christmas is over you will be able to focus on healing for yourself and forging a healthy life for you and your daughter away from your abusive ex. Next year, why don't you and your daughter plan to go away on vacation to start a new tradition? Maybe planning that now will distract you from this year's Christmas and you will be able to disassociate while he is in your home. Peace to you and your daughter, I hope you are both safe and you can help her past this trauma.
posted by saucysault at 10:10 AM on December 21, 2014 [15 favorites]

I don't think 'no contact' is an option, as you have a child in common. However, you can have managed contact, where you just make everything as business-like as possible. It may be hard to do initially, you'd have to practice this.

For instance, you have a non-legal agreement for support (it sounds like). It may be an idea to see if you can get the support arrangement formalized as a legal document. There may be other areas where you can do this. Once the framework for interaction is there, use the framework to help manage any interaction that does have to happen.

You also could find a therapist that you could explain these goals to (they're not unusual), and who would support you to explore how to accomplish these goals.
posted by carter at 10:14 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hey, I just read your update, and I'm wishing you the best, I really am. And I freely admit this is based on the experience of watching my mother leave a relationship where a lot of the emotional stuff sounds very similar, so I might be misreading here. I'm just a stranger on the internet and this is my best guess, so take it for what it's worth, but....

I want him to get along with us enough that there isn't a constant source of friction. I just don't know how to do that, what it looks like, how to get there.

What if there is no "enough"?

If this man is like the person you've described him to be to us, judging based on my experience with this type, there will never be "enough". You will never be polite enough, generous enough, acquiescent enough to his will. Every single thing you've described in your initial post-- the lateness, the broken promises, the irresponsibility, the blaming you for not being over it, the teasing you with thoughts of reconciliation-- ALL OF IT is classic manipulative behavior designed to keep you on the hook. And I suspect, I very strongly suspect, that he will keep pushing you. He will push and push and push in subtle ways, and someday you will turn around and realize you haven't gone a single step further from him, because he just keeps pulling you back in. You need to have a game plan in place for boundaries. Hopefully you'll never have to use it, but you cannot let him manipulate you because you are afraid of the social consequences or of the money.

What do you think happens if he comes asking for reconciliation and you say no? He's going to try to find a way to punish you. It may not be intentional on his part, but he. is. trying. to. control. you. Everything about this situation screams it.

This doesn't mean you can't find a way to live the rest of your life in the same town, or have a polite but frosty relationship with him. But you need to do that on your own terms, not his. Right now, you are doing things his way. You will keep doing things his way as long as he holds any power over you-- physical power, social power, financial power, internal power because you're used to it-- it doesn't matter. He will keep you dancing in your red-hot shoes like the fairytales. He's almost certainly not doing it on purpose-- he probably doesn't even know what he's doing, consciously-- but that doesn't matter a bit to you, because you still have to dance or get burned.

Please get a therapist for yourself. If you have trouble talking about it, just let them read what you've written here and your follow-up. Tell them what you want, what your ideal situation is like, tell them everything that's happened with your ex. Let someone with experience and a clear, neutral view guide you on setting boundaries. Maybe we're all wrong and you do need to be polite and make family Christmas happen. The point is, none of us are professionals, but there are professionals for this kind of thing, and if you have access to them, please use them.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:16 AM on December 21, 2014 [32 favorites]

You get to decide what's best for you. You don't have to adopt anyone else's characterisation of what they think the situation is or what they think is best for you.

While I acknowledge that the questions about the future beyond Christmas seem very pressing, I would also remind you that compared to 20 years of marriage, this is all very new and very raw. It's possible that it will smooth out into benign indifference, or frosty disregard, or tempestuous hatred or... who knows. But it's not all up to you: you can't control what he does, his attitude, or his actions.

So to a degree, time will tell. In between now and then, treat him like a polite stranger.

I think that how you'll get there is taking a deep breath in the new year and setting some boundaries for yourself for your own survival. Get the ex's stuff out, limit your contact with the help of an attorney while nurturing your daughter's, and see how it plays out.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:32 AM on December 21, 2014

Best answer: What an asshole.
Can you rent an affordable storage space and put his things in storage and give him a deadline to pick them up? As in, one month. That's plenty. Don't pay for more.
Your feelings matter. You can say "no" to spending all day with him. You don't have to pretend that everything is fine. I think if you talk to your daughter you can explain to her how you feel and why you can't have him there and she can cope with being disappointed. I'm sure when you're young it's easy to imagine that some kind of symbolic, beautiful, final, perfect day together as a family will help her say goodbye to that idea. It sounds like a movie. Like everyone will drink a toast and happily go their separate ways at the end. But it's not going to be a lovely, final, perfect day together, is it? He's going to show up and be an asshole and everyone else will have to be miserable pretending and tiptoeing around his rotten behavior. You don't have to put yourself through this if you don't want to. I'm not telling you what you should do but sometimes when I've been in a really stressful situation it helps to really look at all the options I have and that one of them is that I can, in fact, say "no."
posted by citron at 10:34 AM on December 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

Please keep in mind that pretending everything is ok in front of your daughter is a way of teaching her that people are not allowed to have hurt feelings and that women who are hurt by men should not set boundaries based on that hurtful behavior, which is a bad lesson to learn.

You certainly don't need to badmouth her father, or point out what he's doing wrong. But it's appropriate to let her know that you can't just ignore his behavior and that his choices have consequences, one of which is that it's too hard to have Christmas together in your home right now. And it's appropriate for her to be angry and hurt about that, so she's allowed to be angry and hurt about that, but that doesn't mean you have to pretend that nothing's wrong.

Kids get angry and hurt and make irrational requests, because they're kids. Adults can validate the anger and hurt without giving into the irrational request. Maybe you and she (and her grandparents) can brainstorm other ways of "saying goodbye" that would work better. (Even if only because from a practical perspective, having a "fake happy" Christmas with everyone being tense and angry and sad is unlikely to achieve her stated goal, anyway.)
posted by jaguar at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2014 [32 favorites]

Best answer: Anecdotal experience: My ex's parents did the "last Christmas" thing when they got divorced. He ended up not going because my father died unexpectedly on December 23; he saw his sister at New Year's and found out the Christmas had been something of a disaster. As in, he was somewhat relieved to have missed it in favor of his girlfriend's father's funeral. Your daughter may not get what she wants even if you're all in the same place for Christmas.

Good luck to you and yours and best wishes for peace during this difficult season.
posted by immlass at 10:54 AM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I also depend on him financially, and don't want to have to go to court over money.

As an anecdote- my mom divorced my abusive dad and Just. Got. Out. She didn't go after him for money because she didn't want the hassle and further abuse. I completely understand that, after years of being exhausted. But the end result was that we had to live with Dad if we wanted to eat. My mom did not have the money to support herself, let alone kids. Like- no food in the fridge.

So bear in mind that when you're fighting him for money, you're not doing it for yourself, you're doing it for your daughter.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:20 AM on December 21, 2014 [20 favorites]

My parents' and in-laws' feelings are most definitely my concern, because I love them. One of my biggest complaints about my husband's choice to leave the family is his lack of concern for the feelings of those most important to him. I am not like that. Their feelings are of paramount concern to me, as are my daughter's feelings.

Here's an important distinction for you: you can care about your parents' and inlaws' feelings and love them, but you still aren't responsible for how they feel.

Most importantly, you asked how you could MANAGE their feelings - you can't manage them. Feelings are what they are, one person cannot manage the feelings of another. You can't even manage your daughter's feelings. You can only manage your own feelings - how you will react when your parents, daughter, and/or in-laws express how they are feeling or act on their feelings. You can be kind and empathetic with your family without trying to change or manage how they feel - that isn't your responsibility, and it can't be.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:26 AM on December 21, 2014 [18 favorites]

I'm looking for advice on what that relationship should look like — to be functional for me, protective of my daughter, and respective of our mutual friends and family.

Okay. Then you will be polite. You will say hello and goodbye and everything else will go through lawyers.

But you should allow yourself to be angry. It's the holidays, your husband acted like an asshole and expects you to be nice, you're entertaining both your own and his parents, and it's the first Xmas without Dad around.

Bar him from the house on Xmas Day. I honestly cannot imagine what saying goodbye to part of her childhood looks like, but I can guarantee you that based on his behavior and the (understandably) horrified and angry feelings of your visitors, it is not going to be pretty. At best, it's going to be a day of pent-up fury. Honestly, are you going to sit around and ask him what's new?

I understand your concern for everyones' feelings, but you are not responsible for them. Your husband behaved atrociously and there's just no earthly good coming from their discussing it with you.

Can you be a good mom? Yes. You do that by being polite to this man, but you don't have to allow him into your home. You don't have to pretend to be friends.

I also depend on him financially, and don't want to have to go to court over money. I want him to get along with us enough that there isn't a constant source of friction.

Let me be the first to say this: you want to have a court order that protects you and your daughter, and you can't make him get along with you.

I know how hard this is, but you weren't able to get him to behave appropriately during your marriage and there's no way you can get him to get along with you now.

He may decide to stop supporting you. He may decide that he only wants to pay the state minimum in child support. He may decide to bail on or otherwise ignore his visitation.

You won't be able to control any of this. But what you can do, moving forward, is protect yourself as much as possible under the law.

I'm still looking for clues as to how to forge a future with this man — at our daughter's graduations and our parents' funerals, and also at common events in our small town.

I respectfully suggest that you don't worry about this right now. You have no idea what the future holds. He may decide to skip town in a year. In 2 years he may completely stop visitation. Don't project right now. Just protect yourself financially.

After my divorce, my ex (who swore to be the best non-custodial dad ever because our kids meant the WORLD to him) stayed in our town and I'd see him at our kids' events and in town for about 6 months after the separation. My ex was an utter prick. Every time I saw him I said, "Hi." That's all. And over the ensuing years, my ex disconnected from the kids and our town and I had also spent a lot of time thinking about our kids' graduations, weddings, etc. It was a waste of my mental energy because, "Hi" was plenty and he disappeared completely from our lives years ago.
posted by kinetic at 11:29 AM on December 21, 2014 [18 favorites]

I also want to say that although it seems that you equate not "managing" your family's feelings with what your husband did, there is really no comparison between doing actively hurtful and deceitful things and not trying to manage family members' feelings. It sounds like you feel that there is some way in which focusing on your own feelings and your well being makes your actions like your husband's - i.e., selfish. Absolutely not true. Every person does need to focus on and protect their own wellbeing. That's NOT what your husband was doing by lying, cheating, and otherwise treating you cruelly. Definitely don't fall into the thought process that you need to double down on altruism and self-sacrifice to make yourself as little like your husband as possible - this won't serve you or the people around you in the long run.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:32 AM on December 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'll add some thoughts:

1. Do Christmas however you like, but have plans b, c and d lined up. What if your husband bails? What if he brings Miss Hot Pants 2014 with him? What if he's horrible to everyone? What if he's exactly like he used to be-sweet and loving? Anticipate all the ways this can go tits up and have an escape planned. I might ask my in-laws to step in and haul him away with them should he get out of hand. Or not, you know them better than we do.

2. I cannot stress enough that you need to be away from the whole Christmas bullshit as much as possible. If you usually spend the holiday slaving in the kitchen, outsource the meal, Honeybaked Ham, grocery store sides. Set a beautiful table with paper plates and plastic flatware. Make this as easy as possible.

3. Plan a spa day for after Christmas, this is going to suck a haunch and getting a post-holiday facial, salt scrub, massage and mani-pedi may very well save your life.

4. As for your future relationship with him...it will be limited. Get a separate phone for him to call you on. One you feel perfectly comfortable turning off when you know you don't need to deal with him.

5. You are very bitter and angry, with good reason, but don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Always have your interests at heart. What if he marries this woman? They were equally horrible, but let's face facts, she didn't make him change his mind, she may have capitalized on his weakness, but your ex-husband was open to her advances. You may say that everything was hunky-dory until she came along. That's disingenuous, a healthy, happy man would not turn on a dime and become an asshole overnight. He may have had a brain injury that would account for this, but the more likely scenario is that he was not happy in your marriage and his girlfriend provides him with things he wasn't getting from you. This was 100% his choice and 100% his fault. As for the woman, no, you don't have to interact with her, but your daughter does. For her sake, figure out how you're going to handle interactions with her, because it WILL come up.

6. Don't depend on him financially. Your profile says you're an attorney. If you don't currently have a job, get one, a full-time one. If he holds your purse-strings it sets up an unhealthy parent-child relationship with him, where he has the power and you have to deal with him. Child support is not YOUR money, it's your daughter's and if need be, you can have him pay the state directly and have them deposit the money into your bank account. NEVER be in a position where you're asking him for something.

7. Your daughter is 11/12 years old. She is old enough to be able to process what all of this means, but very childlike in her understanding of adult relationships. She doesn't really know how much shit you've eaten recently, and her fantasies include Daddy being loving to Mommy again. It will hurt like crazy but you have to be honest with her, in an age appropriate manner about her Daddy. If he blows her off, she will be hurt. If he breaks a promise, she will be hurt. It's going to happen. Teach her how to deal with these disappointments, her anger and her conflicted feelings about her father...by example. Show her how an adult establishes and maintains good boundaries.

8. Funerals, wedding, running into the happy couple at the deli....all bridges to cross when you come to them. You will be a different person in one year, in five, and tomorrow. You don't have to figure it all out all at once. And you can change your mind about it further down the road. Today, you might huff and turn the other way, next year you may be too involved with your new boyfriend to even notice them.

My parents' and in-laws' feelings are most definitely my concern, because I love them. One of my biggest complaints about my husband's choice to leave the family is his lack of concern for the feelings of those most important to him. I am not like that. Their feelings are of paramount concern to me, as are my daughter's feelings.

But there's nothing YOU can do about any of it. Not a thing. As you so rightly noted, this is all on your ex-husband. You didn't do anything wrong, and there's nothing you can do to make them happier with how this is all playing out.

Loving people doesn't mean subordinating YOUR needs for theirs. Love doesn't mean sacrificing yourself on the altar of what's easier for everyone else.

Do you want to model this behavior for your daughter? That she has some duty in life to insure that everyone else is okay, even if she's hurting and sad on the inside? Of course not. Your mother doesn't want that for you either.

Tell your in-laws how much you love and count on them. Ask everyone you know for help and support, let others give to YOU this Christmas!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:34 AM on December 21, 2014 [22 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know if this will help, but here is how I get through triggering situations.

First, I try to envision what will happen. Then when it happens, I say, "here's this thing happening" and feel satisfied that I predicted it. As part of that, I try to rehearse how I want to respond. (Maybe this is tough, since you're still figuring out how you want to be towards him.) Then most importantly, whenever things start to get icky, I "put myself on a cloud," or "in a bubble." I can see what's happening, but it doesn't have to affect me. Someone can be mean, and it doesn't have to hurt me. I can say "oh look, there's that mean comment I thought they'd make." The more you have a strong image in your head of how you want to act, the easier it is to view their behavior through the wrong end of the telescope (ie, as though it were at a great distance from you) and then behave the way you wanted to behave.

The other thing I do is set up secret support systems for myself. People who know. (I love the idea of there being a secret code that means "I need a break.") Songs on the playlist that seem totally innocuous but have a second meaning to me. (E.g., DJ Koze has a calming instrumental called "Don't Lose My Mind.") Songs on my private headphones that say exactly what I need to hear said. A good luck bracelet. I might come up with a backup cooking project to do if I needed to escape. Your favorite tea in the world, with every sip telling yourself "he is going to leave in X hours and I will take a nice long shower." The bird feeder out the window where the birds bring you news of the fields and forests and balconies beyond your house, of a million places that are beautiful and where your ex- is not, that are fun and which you can go visit with your daughter in the months and years to come.

I'm so sorry you have to go through this. By Friday, this horrible Christmas visit will be over! (Innocuous song idea: Working for the Weekend?)
posted by salvia at 11:36 AM on December 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

There a lot of women who have been in your situation and are also trying to navigate the stress of the holiday season with ex-partners. A local DV support group is a really good way to get a sanity check on what is healthy for you and your child and also really eye-opening about what manipulations your ex will engage in. Having to share custody and keep an abuser in your life is sadly not a rare problem, and being able to talk to people who have been through it and get support is a good thing. I don't know where you are located but you can always call the national DV hotline number here: 1-800-799-7233 and have someone to talk to. They should be able to direct you to a local chapter as well.

Please take care of yourself and your daughter first and foremost. It's very common that a woman in an abusive relationship has come to squash her own desires and needs and be a caretaker for other people's feelings at the expense of her own. Like others have mentioned, this probably did not come out of nowhere, and there may be a time when you look back at the past with more clarity and see the ways in which you were always managing his feelings and desires to keep the peace. Try to sit with yourself and identify what you want this holiday to be like, and give yourself the luxury of living that out, even if it's just for a few hours.
posted by hindmost at 12:03 PM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wow, I am so sorry. I realize that you are trying to do the best thing for you and your daughter, but my god what is wrong with your therapist??? The fact that he/she would suggest you spend Christmas together is sadistic!

Here are my three suggestions:
1. Whether you play out Christmas as planned is up to you, but I don't think anyone would fault you if you decided that no, ex is not welcome anymore. Ask your in-laws what they think and whether they'd be supportive of your ex being left out this year or some other arrangement that is more supportive to you, like the ex and in-laws going out for the day and then an evening at home with mom.

2. Please for the love of god, get a new therapist - one that will be supportive of *you*.

3. Get yourself some serious distance. It's hard to come to terms with this, but the reality is is that this person in front of you is not the person you married. He will not be responsive, he will not be supportive and he will not be helpful. If he does not come for his things, then you need to put them in storage, pay for one month and let him know where he can find them. If you do not get your check on time, you need to call a lawyer. If he does not show up for visitation, you need to tell your daughter you are sorry, but that is on him. Do not call him, write him, etc. Use a mediator. He sucks.

4. Be prepared for the following (which happens EVERY SINGLE TIME) - in 1-3 months, he will realize he is made a mistake and come running back apologizing. I would not accept the apology as it will not be genuine and will be made out of confusion and desperation. Now is your chance to break free, heal and move on to be prepared for that time.

You're a good person and a good mom - now take care of you!
posted by Toddles at 12:27 PM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you do this Christmas wish for your daughter and it goes badly she is liable to think it is her fault. If you cancel his visit, at least the responsibility is on you, not her. It's too much responsibility for her EVEN if it goes well. And this is one of those moments as a parent that you have to be the bad guy and say no to your daughter's wish. When she is thirty and is empowered in her dating she will likely be glad you did it, even if she cries about it now.
posted by Mistress at 12:55 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

> What do I do about Christmas?

Can you spend Christmas morning with your parents, inlaws and daughter (no ex) at your house until say 2pm, then have your inlaws (and maybe your parents too) take your daughter to his house for a few hours? That way your daughter gets to spend happy family christmas times with both parents but you two don't have to interact with each other.
posted by rubyrudy at 12:55 PM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It will never be fair. I'm truly sorry, but you can also never truly make him 'play nice'. He started a war where he gets to decide when and how to attack, and you are the chosen target. Its entirely possible hes not doing it deliberately, consciously, blah blah blah, but I seriously believe your best option is to defend yourself as best as possible.

Don't let him take his sweet ass time with his junk. Don't let him dictate your life, your free time, your security. I know this is easy for me to say, from the outside. But based on my dads behavior, your ex wants it both ways: The ease and convenience and stability and free babysitting of you, and hot young thing hes So In Love With. Add in some seriously asshole behavior, some serious manipulation, some hardcore boundary pushing.... this guy does NOT sound like a safe person for you to be around. You have to decide how much crap to put up with... but I recommend an absolute minimum.

Your immediate goal is self preservation. Hopefully, the laws are on your side. Your moderate goal is polite formality on important discussions RE: Daughter. However, this ONLY works if he chooses to play nice, sit at the table like an adult and not a rampaging savage; if he doesn't, you can start limiting your contacts, and maybe talking more through lawyers and courts than as humans.

I'm really sorry. You will get through it all, I know.
posted by Jacen at 1:03 PM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

After reading your answer, I want to give you a big cheer. It's going to be tough, but you're going to do fine. You're committed to getting through this with dignity, and love for the people you cherish. You're strong enough to separate your relationship with your in-laws from the one you had with your husband and to be able to renew that relationship and allow them to help you and your daughter. Whatever decision you make about Christmas day, it will be hard, but it will be the right one for you and yours.

If you do decide to have him in your house for Christmas day, remember that the day is only as long as YOU define it to be. Beforehand, discuss it with him and inform your daughter, in-laws and parents of how the plan will work. If you decide that you will not allow his girlfriend in the door, tell him it's not negotiable, and you won't open the door to her. Set a time for both arrival and departure: He will arrive at ten, open presents; you'll eat at noon, and he'll leave at three. (or whatever times you decide) Don't let it be an open-ended thing. Three o'clock: Thank you for coming, here's your hat, don't let the door hit you on the way out. Explain to him that you expect him to be on his best behavior. If he turns into a shit, even with your parents and his around, don't argue, just quietly go into the bedroom and call the police to escort him off the premises. (assuming that he doesn't have friends on the force and your local police are reasonable--mine are, and would help in that situation) Otherwise, have your parents distract him, and then you and your daughter go out the back door.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:07 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check out ourfamilywizard.com or similar services. This puts a good buffer between you and him, and allows you to avoid gaslighting and claims of missed communication.
posted by Sophont at 3:18 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another thought: you might want to come up with a backup plan or two for whatever you fear. If he starts shouting, whom do you ask to follow your daughter out, whom do you ask to grab the cookies out of the oven, and what do you say to him?
posted by salvia at 4:10 PM on December 21, 2014

> She wants a family Christmas so that she can say good-bye to that part of her childhood. It's a sweet sentiment, and I support her wish for this. I just don't know how to give it to her

You can't. I'm sorry, but you just can't. It's like there's been a death in the family. Anything you put together will be terrible. Your ex will be a jerk -- maybe even bring his girlfriend -- there'll be tension, your daughter is going to see you trying to make small talk with a man who's hit you, the grandparents are all going to be miserable, it's all going to be awful.

My father died not long before Christmas when I was a teenager, and I know how horrible it is to deal with that first Christmas when everything has changed. Your current plan will not make it less horrible.

Tell him he can't come over.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:41 PM on December 21, 2014 [17 favorites]

I have only one thing to say: Don't do Christmas with your ex-. Just call it off. There is no reason for you to punish yourself with this. Nobody who loves you wants you to put yourself through this kind of nightmare. I would also add that this is an opportunity for you to begin to take control of some elements of your life.
posted by doctor tough love at 5:10 PM on December 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Tell your daughter that you can't do one last Christmas together as a family because you aren't that family anymore. You're divorced now and need to start new traditions. You and her dad will always be her parents but right now, you aren't friends anymore and trying to pretend you are for Christmas day will be awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. Have a Christmas meal earlier in the day for you and the Grandparents. Then his parents can take her to meet her dad for an evening meal, movie or a drive to see Christmas lights.

Ask for help packing up his stuff. Whether it's your/his parents, friends or whoever. I don't really know you but I would come over and help you pack up his stuff because this situation sucks and I feel bad for you. I think more people would be willing to help than you'd think. You can do the storage unit or see if anyone is willing to drop his stuff off and just let him deal with finding room.

I agree with one of the posters that finding a way to be self-supporting has to be a priority. Your ex has shown himself to be unreliable and dishonest. Do what ever you can to get the support he owes you but the less you need to depend on it, the less stressful his trying to jerk you around will be.

I'd quit talking to him about his new relationship, moving back in or anything that's not strictly practical. Visitation with your daughter, money, getting him his stuff is fine but personal stuff is just a way for him to hurt you and screw with your head. keep it strictly business and be firm and polite. Do your best to emotionally detach from your ex. Just do your best and focus on making you and your daughter's life better.
posted by stray thoughts at 8:32 PM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Tell your daughter that you can't do one last Christmas together as a family because you aren't that family anymore. You're divorced now and need to start new traditions. You and her dad will always be her parents but right now, you aren't friends anymore and trying to pretend you are for Christmas day will be awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.

Seconding this. I know it's HER ONE CHRISTMAS WISH AND THAT'S ALL SHE WANTS, but she's not actually going to get it even if you try. He's a crazy-ass wild card and who the hell knows what he's actually going to do. He could show up with a date, he could not show up at all, he could kiss your ass and act like you're still his wife, he could punch you in the face in front of everyone. Even if he tries to behave, it's NOT going to be "just like it used to be Christmas." It can't be. You really can't re-create that even if your ex was sane and normal and it was a mutual breakup. I don't think under the circumstances that you could fake it "like everything was before" even if you had a gun to your head, so much damage has been done by him. That's not reasonable of her to expect you to do. If it were me, I couldn't fake it for an hour. She's going to have to deal with the shitty new normal just like everyone else.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:07 PM on December 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I lived through a lot of parental divorces as a kid, so that's my perspective on the thing. With any luck at all, in the long term, you guys are going to be Allies in the Job of Taking Care of Your Kid. Ideally, in five years, you guys will be sitting next to each other on the bleachers at some school event, with your partners at your side (or not), amiably pointing out something your kid is doing on stage. Even if this does not seem possible right now, my experience says that it is possible. If your husband truly has brain damage and has turned into a sociopath, it might not be possible. But if he's just having a big midlife crisis of assholism, it is definitely possible that at one point he will be an amicable ally. Let us hope for this outcome, as kind of stomach-turning as it probably seems right now.

In the short term, I think the best thing to do is to take care of yourself and your child, and try to reduce contact with him as much as possible. If you are able to deal with him as little as possible, and in a businesslike manner, that is probably the best.

Other people have written enough about packing and Christmas, but one more thing about Christmas that I didn't see. You mention Pema Chodron. Have you ever heard the Buddhist discussion of the two arrows? The image is that of a man struck by two painful arrows. The first arrow is inevitable: we all deal with pain. But the second arrow is caused by our resistance to pain and by the stories we tell about it, the ways we contort to avoid it. My friend characterizes this is "ouch!" and then "WHY DID SOMEONE SHOOT ME??" (said in a miserable voice). The thing about your upcoming Christmas plans, if you go through with them, is that it is going to be painful. I mean, it'll be painful whether you invite him over or not. But when you're having those difficult emotions, think "OK, that was a thought" or "OK, that was a feeling" and just let the thought or feeling exist without embroidering it, resisting it, going into rages, etc. This is easier said than done, but I guess my advice is, try to slow yourself down at Christmas, and when you hit a painful bump, stop and breathe, and just let it be a painful bump.

I don't think it's possible for you to manage your parents or your in-laws' feelings. It is possible to be kind, so maybe just be kind and open with them, and let them find their way with it the same way you have to stumble through.

Finally, I have a lot of compassion for how tough it must be to watch your kid experience this. I think the two things you can do for her that will make the most difference are: One, take care of yourself, get as much help as you can to deal with this, be gentle with yourself because you have been dealt a terrible blow. You need to nurse yourself back to health. Both because you deserve to be well, and because your kid needs at least one parent who is well. If you are kind and gentle with yourself and get good outside help (therapy and whatever else can support you), this will both help you get back on your feet, and it will mean she will feel less like she should mother her mom. And two, the tricky thing about this is that he is your ex now, but he's her father forever. In deference to the permanence of their bond, you have to find some way to shield her from your (totally justifiable) feelings about him. She's likely to have a lot of anger and revulsion towards him over the short term, and maybe forever, but if you can find a way to not engage with her about your feelings towards him, that will allow her the space to discover if she can have a good relationship with him. Brain damaged or just acting like a dick, he's the dad she has.

This is the Jedi level difficult part. I swear, if the multiple divorces I've lived through are any indication at all, IT IS GOING TO GET BETTER.
posted by feets at 1:37 AM on December 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I also depend on him financially, and don't want to have to go to court over money. I want him to get along with us enough that there isn't a constant source of friction.

Why would you trust him on this front when he has let you down so badly? What has he said to you recently that hasn't been lies? If he's promised to support you (as long as you don't make a fuss, or any demands, or be annoying or whatever) why on earth are you choosing to believe him?

A poster above said
Let me be the first to say this: you want to have a court order that protects you and your daughter, and you can't make him get along with you.
and I think that is worth taking some notice of. It's no easy thing to keep two households going, where do think his priorities are going to lie in the future? Because he's already shown you they don't lie with you and your daughter.
posted by glasseyes at 3:58 AM on December 22, 2014 [13 favorites]

And no, I'm not packing it nicely with an inventory. I'm dumping it in a box, like I got dumped.

The inventory isn't for him. The inventory is for YOU in 6 months when he accuses you of withholding or stealing things. Treat yourself with care and protection. Document, document, document. Everything on the record.


It may be time to think of some other ways you and your daughter can mourn that childhood. Maybe an afternoon with a photo album. Maybe writing memories on slips of paper and letting them float away on a river or fly away as sparks in a bonfire. Say goodbye to the real thing that was.

Go gently with yourself. You can do every bit of this right and it is still horribly painful and broken because you're not the one who broke it.

You can tell your daughter, "I wish we had one last happy family Christmas too, but we can't turn back time and I can't undo what your father has done." You can share her sadness without taking on responsibility for this. It happened to both of you.
posted by heatherann at 6:57 AM on December 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, what a terrible situation. Your ex is a prize chump. I am so sorry for your pain, but I believe you are well rid of him.

The easy part first: I want to echo the sound advice others have given about protecting yourself legally, and I agree that his getting rid of his stuff should absolutely not be on his terms any more -- he had the opportunity to act in good faith and blew it. i agree that hauling the stuff to a storage unit and sending him the key is the way to go. Be rid of it.

The Xmas thing is difficult, but I agree that you should feel no obligation to invite him over. If you do, it won't be like the old days and I hope you prepare your daughter for that inevitability. Regardless of what you decide, remember that it's your house now and so everyone within needs to follow your rules or get out (and that includes refusing to let the other woman in if she shows up). It sounds like your ex in-laws have your back as well as your own parents, and while it's good of you to be concerned about their feelings, remember that they're concerned about yours, so let them know what's okay with you and not okay. I like the idea of a "safe word" or signal.

Lastly, let me add that expecting you to "just get over" his having an affair, leaving you for the other woman and then getting a divorce less than three months ago is astonishingly crass and narcissistic. You will get over it, but at a time that suits you, not him, and if that isn't convenient for him it's too damn bad.

I'm so sorry. I wish you the best holiday you possibly can have, and you have my every hope that things will get better in the future.
posted by Gelatin at 8:51 AM on December 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

One thing for your daughter: please consider letting her have all the family photos, the wedding pictures, and vacation photos instead of throwing them away. Although you may not want them, she may want to to have some pictures of both her parents.
posted by hmo at 10:20 AM on December 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all of you. I'm developing a plan in my head, with the support of my in-laws and local friends, and I believe it is best for all of us, but driven by my needs. You're all correct that I haven't let my needs drive my decisions, for a long, long time, so I'm unaccustomed to it. As a mother of a young child, and the wife of a busy professional, I have taken a back seat for so long it's hard to even recognize what my own needs are. Getting in touch with those, and recognizing how often I avoided even raising certain needs in order to avoid a confrontation, is a source of growth for me.

I feel I need to reassure those of you who are concerned for me. I am legally protected; he and I have a legal agreement and I can take him to court if necessary, although I certainly hope it won't be. I am physically protected, too. I am getting therapy, and not from the woman who suggested the family Christmas, but from a kind and gentle man who has given me much of the advice and counsel that you all have given — to protect myself, to establish stronger boundaries, to take the time and space that I need to grieve and, on my own time, move on.

I also do not expect that he'll ever bring That Woman over here, as he knows I'll call the police; I've been explicit about that. He brought her to our home for a romantic dinner while I was out of town with our daughter, served her at the table my father made us for a wedding present, with beautiful Japanese steak knives he gave me for my birthday, and the repercussions from that violation of my dignity and space have made it quite clear to him that if she ever sets foot on my property It. Will. Not. Go. Well.

I won't be destroying any mementos of our marriage. We had a long, beautiful marriage, and I got a million precious memories from it — travel, working together to accomplish so much, my daughter, her childhood, our friends (now my friends), our lovely home. Although part of me aches that it wasn't what I expected it to be, most of me cherishes the memories and loves, deeply, all the wonder and joy and meaning that we had, that I got. He can't take that away from me.

I am trying to be gentle to myself and my daughter, and I know that it's not my fault. I know that he didn't leave because of me, and I know that he didn't leave for her. I know that he left because he broke, inside, and is seeking someone or something to fix him. I am hurt that he didn't turn to me for help, and instead turned away, and I'm hurt that he considered his vows to be binding only so long as he felt like keeping them. But I don't blame myself, and I don't think any less of my abilities to be a good wife. I was a damn good wife, and am a damn good mother — and friend, and daughter, and daughter-in-law — and I know that he failed at being a husband, father, son, brother and friend. It's incredibly disappointing, and I can only imagine how his parents feel watching this. But I don't blame myself.

I blame him, and her, and I will forgive him only when it suits me, if ever. I will never bother trying to forgive her. She knew what she was doing, knew of the pain she was causing to people who had never harmed her, and she'll have to live with that without my forgiveness. And yes, now she has to live with a man she knows cheated, lied, and left his family - a man who would settle for a woman like her. He is now her problem.

Thanks so much to all of you. Your words are a balm on my ragged soul, a hug when I most need it. I wrap my heart in the personal letters I've gotten from you, and I hope I can love each one of you back when you need it most from me. The love, support, empathy, and care I am receiving from all over the world is almost enough to fill the deep hole my husband left when he left me. Thank you all.
posted by Capri at 1:56 PM on December 22, 2014 [24 favorites]

Thinking of you and hoping that however you decided to run your family's Christmas day, you survived it.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:10 PM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The day with my husband is over. On Christmas eve, I emailed him and told him he was invited to just gift-opening and brunch, and asked him to leave shortly after brunch. He complained that that wasn't the plan, but I didn't budge, and that's what happened. Everything was gracious and pleasant, he was late but kind, his gifts were generous and thoughtful. And then, just as he was leaving, and out of earshot of everyone, he started digging at me. I refused to engage, he attempted to start a fight again, and I left him and told the parents what happened. I want them to know that his appearance of being generous and kind is only part of the story, and that the rest is middle school games.

Anyway, he's gone now, and I'll be putting his things in a storage unit on our property. He has agreed to pay a monthly charge to me for the space, and this seems like a fair enough compromise for both of us.

It's so painful, losing our happy marriage. So very, very painful. Seeing him turn from being my best friend in the world to such a mean, selfish man is just agony. Even when I knew he was cheating on me, I didn't want to end our marriage because I knew I'd lose all the best parts of him, and see only the worst, and that's exactly what happened. I wish so much that this had never happened, but it did, and you're all incredible for helping me through it. Thanks so much.
posted by Capri at 1:32 PM on December 25, 2014 [13 favorites]

Wishing you a Merry Christmas!
posted by BlueHorse at 1:32 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am (as a totally irrelevant internet stranger) very proud of you.

This was always going to be an absolutely fucking wretched Christmas. Kudos to you for giving your daughter as much of what she asked for as you could manager, and for standing up for yourself, and for using your support system.

It will be different, and at least a little better, next year. And so will everything else. Just have faith that you'll somehow get there.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:28 PM on December 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Sounds like the day went as well as it possibly could. Here's hoping that the new year brings you joy, love and peace.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:41 AM on December 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is something I learned in my own journey, slowly and painfully. At first, anger is Just, and comforting, and even helpful. But eventually, the fire of anger can start hurting you more than it helps. At that point, holding onto it becomes increasingly self-destructive. Forgiving them- both of them- doesn't mean that what they did was ok. It does not minimize the hurt they caused, the destruction they wreaked. All it means is that for you, because you are worth it, you decide to put down that fire, and move on with your life. You seem like a smart, capable lady, so I suspect you will know when it is time.

I also know you will tap into that strength more and more. Its true that many doors were shut, quite foolishly, by your ex. But it is equally true that many more doors are opening. Not an ideal situation, of course, but there are silver linings here and there.

Last tidbit- please try to make sure your daughter gets as much help and support as she can. Its not easy on anybody, but kids often take these things really hard. You can never be ferfect or fix everything, so just do your best :)
posted by Jacen at 4:36 PM on December 27, 2014

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