Divorce After an Abusive Relationship
Abuse – especially abuse that is ongoing for a period of years – can really cloud your judgement, affect your thinking, and alter your sense of reality. It can be difficult, as you adjust out of that abusive situation, to reacclimate yourself to normal life.
In general, I try not to project my experiences onto other people, and assume that because I felt a particular way that they will undoubtedly feel that way, too. I don’t think that’s necessarily reality, but, when it comes to situations like this, the closest I can come to understanding is to try to put myself back into the shoes I was in ten years ago. I wasn’t married, but, at the time, I was coming out of an abusive relationship that had lasted several years.
To me, coming back after that felt like a fog was lifted. In some ways, the fog lifted instantaneously – I was freed of his influence. But in other ways, it felt like it took years for me to really completely re-adjust, to stop hearing his voice in my head, to calm my restless hands that always seemed to want to go around behind the scenes smoothing things to avoid a fight.
I’m not proud of that period in my life. For a long time, I felt actively embarrassed that I had allowed myself to be treated that way for that long before I said enough was enough. Now, though, I do feel that the experience was worth a lot, because it brought me here. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he led me to where I am, to this work, which is, as cheesy as it sounds, a calling for me now.
If you’re coming out of the haze of an abusive relationship, it’s easy to continue the pattern by abusing yourself. By blaming yourself. By telling yourself how weak you are to have allowed that to happen. By punishing yourself for not saying no sooner.
It’s easy, too, to continue to think about your world the way it makes the most sense for you. To justify or explain. To be too nice about it. To be uncomfortable telling the truth – or even calling him out for what he is (an abuser) and the relationship for what it was (abusive).
I know! I’ve been there. Maybe not there the way you are, but I’ve been there, in different shoes, in an abusive situation. I’ve looked up before and wondered how I got there, why I let it happen, and I beat myself up about it, too. Even though I knew I was unhappy, it took me years to recognize the relationship as abusive, and even more to start calling it that when I spoke to other people about that period in my life.
It feels dramatic. Even now, to my ears, when I say it, I feel like I’m being attention-seeking. No, I’m not looking for sympathy. No, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m good, but there was a time in my life when it really wasn’t. And now I’ve dedicated my life to other similarly situated women, and to helping them escape from it.
We think of divorce, typically, as a negative thing. I know that the experience of it is a challenge, in many cases, but I also think that the end result is often a really beautiful thing.
It doesn’t have to be an abusive marriage for getting out to be a the best thing that could ever happen, either. Even though this isn’t an article about those types of cases today, I still feel compelled to point that out. Divorce is good. Divorce means you have options. Divorce means that you have rights and entitlements to what you’ve earned during your marriage. Divorce means you can try again.
But if you’re coming to us, if you’re thinking about divorce, after recently having left an abusive relationship, you might need to put in some extra work.
Even if you’re sure you already know the answers to your divorce-related questions, ask them anyway.
Since your sense of reality has been altered during the course of your relationship, you probably shouldn’t just blindly trust your gut instinct. Take your time re-acclimating to thinking like a normal person out from under the threat of an abusive relationship, and make sure to ASK QUESTIONS about the divorce process, even if you think you know the answers already.
All too often, we find that women KNOW, they just KNOW, that the law works a particular way only to find out that it doesn’t work that way at all. They were so convinced that they were right – that they, for example, didn’t have an interest in their husband’s retirement account because they weren’t married for ten years – that they didn’t ask the question.
That kind of certainty is damaging. If you’re so sure that you’re right, you might be willing to sign an agreement that says that you don’t have an interest in the retirement without checking it over first. And then you know what happens? It becomes true, because you signed an agreement waiving your interest in it!
Don’t trust yourself. Ask the questions. Get the information.
Even if your ex – or even your best friend in the entire world, who also happens to be divorced – tells you something is true, ask the question anyway!
Step one is to ask the question.
Step two is to ask the question to someone who knows the answer. Your ex is not on your side, and if he’s sneering in your face about something you aren’t entitled to, you’ll definitely want to double check that. He wouldn’t be the first husband who told one of our clients that they weren’t entitled to something that they absolutely were. (Hey, maybe he doesn’t know – maybe he does and he’s trying to mislead you – it doesn’t matter! ASK!)
Your friend probably doesn’t know better than you. And, anyway, divorce is constantly changing. It’s also extremely state specific. You’ll want to ask your questions to a lawyer who practices family law in your state.
Even if you feel like you don’t have the money to ask questions to an attorney, ASK QUESTIONS TO AN ATTORNEY!
I know, money is tight. And things are scary. And you need answers now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll sign up for a consultation right away.
But you still need those answers and, if you can’t get them, you’ll lie awake all night worrying about how your ex told you that you weren’t entitled to whatever-it-is.
Don’t do that! Just because you’re not ready or can’t afford a consultation today doesn’t mean you can’t get access to up to date, Virginia specific divorce information.
On our website, you can request a free copy of any of our books and free reports, or even sign up to attend a monthly divorce seminar. You may find that the books (or one of our articles like this one, which you can search in our library) answers your questions – but you’ll probably also find that now you’ve got a million more! That’s the great thing about the seminar; you can attend live, and ask your questions directly to one of our attorneys!
You’re in the right place. You’re asking the right questions. Things will get better and easier with time, but, until that happens, you’ll probably have to second guess yourself. Push yourself! Reach for more! You’re worth it.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.