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July 16, 2015
The Real Issue
My Abusive Ex-Husband Is Engaged
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I have been divorced for about a year. My ex-husband was physically and emotionally abusive, and I have custody of our children.

My ex-husband just got engaged to someone else. My children (who are young) have met her and she seems like a nice person. I know how charming my ex-husband can be, and I feel sick about this woman being trapped with him like I was.

Should I contact her and tell her how he treated me during our marriage? I will feel guilty if I don’t say anything.


At first glance, your question seems like a no-brainer. Yes. Write to this woman and tell her how your ex-husband abused you. Help her break off the relationship before it’s too late. Even if she does not believe you at first, your warning may help her see him more clearly and to make a more accurate assessment of his character.

So let’s say you do that. With the best of intentions to help and protect this woman, even though she is a stranger to you, you describe to her the abuse you suffered during the years you were married to your ex-husband.

What will happen next?

I suppose it is possible that the new fiancée will say, “Oh, my goodness. Martin lied to me. Tara is a lovely, rational person who is 100% right about this man I’ve agreed to marry. He is a monster, not a prince, and I will not marry him. In fact, I will break it off immediately with no explanation and never speak to him again. I am so grateful to Tara for saving me years of pain.”

And if that’s what the fiancée thinks, says and does, you’re in the clear. You are relieved and she is saved and your ex-husband is none the wiser.

Unfortunately, that rosy scenario is unlikely to occur. It seems far more likely that the new fiancée will become angry or defensive. She may not believe you, she may accuse you of being jealous, or she may tell you the abuse was your fault.

Even if she listens sympathetically to your story, she will then ask your ex-husband — not you — for an explanation. He will explain everything to her satisfaction (“Like I told you — she’s vindictive”) and she will marry him anyway.

Your ex-husband will be angry with you and may retaliate against you for your interference. Your relationship with his new wife will be strained or even hostile. You will spend months managing the situation and draining your emotional energy on your ex-husband.

It’s a high price to pay for a warning that didn’t change anything. You may be willing to pay it to avoid the guilt you feel about staying quiet. However, avoiding guilt cannot be your only objective. There is a bigger picture here. You must consider the long-term effects of your actions on the relationship you have with your ex-husband and his new fiancée, and how those effects will affect your children.

Even though you are divorced, you have (as I am sure you have noticed) an ongoing and permanent relationship with your ex-husband. You have children together, he has visitation rights and your children are young: You will have to communicate with and see this man for many years to come. He will owe you child support for many years to come. You will have to work together on parenting dilemmas and make decisions together about the children.

Further, you are about to have an ongoing relationship with this new fiancée. She will be your children’s stepmother. They will stay in her home under her supervision when they visit your ex-husband.

You will have to forge a civil relationship with her, both for your children’s sake and yours. She may seem like — and be — a nice person, but you don’t know her. You have no idea who she is, how she may react to your warning or how that will affect her relationship with your children.

In other words, you must consider whether your attempted warning will make things better for your children, or worse. You may be willing to endure wrath and contention, but how will they fare if your relationship with their father and his new wife worsens?

You must weigh your duty to this other woman, which is heartfelt but minimal, against your duty to your children, which is of first importance.

So, given all of these considerations, how might you proceed? I see three options.

One, you might decide to mind your own business and say nothing. Warning other women about your ex-husband is not your responsibility. His new fiancée is an adult and you are not responsible for her or for her romantic decisions.

Even if your ex-husband is as charming as you say while in wife-acquisition-mode, there are surely red flags that should give her pause. It is her responsibility to pursue explanations for them. You are not responsible for her failure to exercise appropriate caution. If the new fiancée wants to know about your former marriage, she can look up any relevant public records or contact you directly.

Two, you could give her an opportunity to speak to you. It is more than reasonable for you to meet or speak with the person who will be your children’s stepmother. So you might call or write to her: “Hello, Dolly. My name is Tara Rutherford. I’m Martin’s ex-wife. I understand that you and Martin are engaged to be married, and I was hoping to talk to you about the children.”

If she agrees, your goal is a brief, civil conversation in which you introduce yourself and say something positive about the time she and the children spent together during their last visit. You can give her your contact information and let her know that she is welcome to contact you if one of the children has an emergency or if she has any questions about their allergies or health, for example.

This conversation will open the door for her to ask you about why your marriage ended. She should be curious to hear your point of view, and if she is wise, she will ask for your side of the story.

Three, if you decide that you must try to warn the new fiancée, writing seems the most sensible way to do so.

Your letter should be factual and precise. Don’t say only, “He was controlling,” or “He was physically abusive.” Be specific: “He took all of the credit cards and would not give me money for groceries or gas.” “He insisted on knowing where I was every minute of the day, even while he was at work.” “After we argued, he cut off my phone service.” “He told me I was too stupid to see our bank statements.” “He pushed me into a cabinet and I needed stitches.” You could also send photos of the abuse you suffered.

Do not send anything that you do not want to be made public. Assume that everything you send will be posted on social media for all the world to see. And that she will show it to her friends, her family, your ex-husband, his extended family and to other people you know. Also, expect your letter to be met with anger, accusations, ridicule and threats of litigation.

Finally, it will be harmful to your children if they see your ex-husband abuse his new wife. If they tell you anything about their visits that alarms you, write down what they say and take the appropriate legal steps to modify their visitation.

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