Even if you’ve been unhappy for a really long time, it’s sometimes hard to put a label on your relationship, especially if that label is “abusive.”
Its kind of like rape. We all understand what it is, but, at the end of the day, often have a hard time describing our own experiences in these terms. Why? Well, I think, for one thing, it’s just too bad, too difficult, too upsetting to contemplate. For another, we often blame ourselves. It’s sort of the other side of victim blaming. What was I wearing? What did I do? Did I encourage it? It doesn’t matter if, were the roles reversed, we’d be telling our friends that it absolutely positively was NOT her fault. Somehow, when we’re looking at ourselves, we can’t help but be extremely critical.
Abuse is like that. And I think that’s even more nuanced than a discussion of rape, because, in a relationship, especially when you’re one of the two people involved in it, you can’t see the forest for the trees. You can’t think of the low-lows without thinking, too, of the high-highs. You LOVE him, after all – or, at least, you used to. It’s not as black and white as so many people would have you believe.
Is it abuse?
If you’re wondering whether your relationship is abusive, the answer is – I am sorry to say – almost certainly yes.
But you’re not alone. And it’s not your fault. It is, though, important that you do the work on yourself to help make sure that you’re in as strong a position as possible – mentally, financially, emotionally – once you finally make the decision to walk away.
I’m not a therapist, so I can’t really analyze it all with you, discuss the labels, or help you come up with a productive way to heal. I wish I could; in fact, it’s these kinds of discussions that I love the most, because I find it’s where so much of the real work of divorcing – the actual moving on part – happens, and that’s what I love because it’s where women find the strength to give themselves the happy ever afters they’ve been looking for. But I digress. I’m still not a therapist.
I can, however, recommend a book for you. I read it recently, and, honestly, I couldn’t put it down. Having been in an abusive relationship before myself (and having struggled for years with characterizing it in those terms), I saw so much of myself and my ex in those pages.
The book is “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”, and it’s a ten out of ten, five star read for anyone who, like me, has found themselves in a relationship that spirals dizzyingly between highs and lows, with almost no warning in between.
I’m not a therapist, but I am an attorney. Frankly, my decision to focus on representing women exclusively in divorce and custody cases sort of happened at the exact same time as I was breaking up with that particular ex-boyfriend. And, even though I can’t help from a mental health standpoint, I CAN help from a legal standpoint. Also – seriously, read the book.
If it is abuse, what options do I have?
So, basically, in Virginia, a divorce can proceed one of two ways. You can either negotiate a signed separation agreement and obtain an uncontested, no fault diovrce; or you can go to court and litigate.
Litigation springs to mind when you mention abuse. Straight off the bat, I go to “cruelty” and “apprehension of bodily hurt” as being grounds for a contested divorce in Virginia. Full disclosure: you’d likely have to prove PHYSICAL abuse took place in order to finalize your divorce on either of these grounds, but it’s possible to use emotional or mental abuse if you just want to get in the courthouse as soon as possible.
Why would you do that? Well, you might want to have a pendente lite hearing. Pendente lite is Latin for ‘while the litigation is pending’, and it’s often the first hearing, where things like temporary child custody and child support, spousal support, exclusive possession of the home, and certain restraining orders can be entered on a temporary basis. (You know – while the litigation is pending.) These orders usually last up until either an agreement is reached or until a final order is entered by the judge.
Why might you NOT do that? Well, contested litigation is tough, especially for cases where one spouse is an abuser. After all, a little litigation does NOT make a leopard change his spots. If he has a personality disorder or narcissism (which he also may not – like I said, read the book!) or even is just a garden variety abuser, he may make litigation even more difficult on you. But, then again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be willing to agree to a separation agreement either.
Litigated cases tend to take longer, cost more, and yield poorer overall outcomes (because so much more is spent on attorney’s fees that there’s less to divide). Not only that, but he’ll probably make a big deal out of custody and visitation, if you share kids together – it’s definitely a pattern among abusers! You’ll definitely want to read up on parental alienation, child abuse, and more on what happens in contested custody cases in the Virginia courts.
If you’re divorcing an abuser, you’ll want a good attorney on your side. Not just a ‘pit bull’ of an attorney – which definitely has its drawbacks – but someone who understands the dynamics of domestic violence and abuse as well as its impacts on custody and visitation.