Five steps to take when an abusive ex’s behavior escalates
Once an abusive relationship has ended and a Solo Mom has done the work to successfully separate herself and her children from the toxic environment, the last thing she’ll want to deal with is her abusive ex. Unfortunately, the parenting rights of someone who has not abused his or her children will not be denied or revoked even if this person has abused his or her spouse. As long as this person has not directly caused physical harm to the children, he or she is entitled to have a relationship with them.
Such a predicament does little to put a Solo Mom at ease, and more often than not, she becomes the target of the abusive ex’s behavior, the children used as scapegoats to continually punish her. Harmful behavior can ebb and flow, and sometimes die out altogether, but it’s important to always be ready to take action to ensure your own safety. Even if there have been no incidents for a while, it’s all too common for situations with an ex to quickly escalate and become dangerous.
Here are some tips and suggestions for how to approach the situation if your ex’s harmful behavior has escalated:
1. Separate yourself from the conflict. If it’s a phone call during which you go from discussing the pickup and drop-off schedule to being yelled at and threatened, hang up. If you’re face to face, walk away from this behavior and disengage as quickly as possible. If you’re out in public, make sure that you find the nearest location where there are other people. An abuser is likely to back down if it’s obvious he or she will be seen, heard, and witnessed.
2. Contact local police/authorities for assistance. If you’ve tried the tactics described in the previous tip yet find yourself being further pursued or feel in fear of physical harm, you should alert your local authorities for help. You might already have a restraining order and just need to enforce it. Also, reach out to your nearest neighbor, friends, or family members for support. Ask if one of them can come and sit with you for a while. If no one is able to be with you in person, keep him or her on the phone with you until you are sure you’re safe. The point is to have someone around to bear witness to what is happening. Report all escalated behavior to the police, and keep detailed accounts of every situation that has occurred.
3. Seek out a professional mediator for conflict. If you find yourself in a situation in which you are having to negotiate things such as schedules and visitation, or even come to an agreement about where your child will go to school, seek out the help of a professional mediator. The last thing you need is to have to try and hash out details with someone who will take the opportunity to manipulate, control, verbally abuse, and attack you.
4. Set up a supervised visitation schedule. With the help of a court advocate, you can arrange to have your ex spend time with your child in a public place accompanied by a court-appointed supervisor to ensure the quality and safety of that visit. You can also request to have your pickup and drop-off locations in public places for your safety and to avoid potential outbursts or attacks. Such a request may feel odd and will probably cause your ex to respond angrily and/or critically, but it might be a good opportunity to explain that meeting in public will be insisted on as long as the behavior warrants it.
5. Get counseling and support. After enduring an abusive relationship, it’s likely that you have already been to therapy, but if not, you should consider it. Traumatic events such as relationship violence have lasting internal damage that often takes time to heal.
Counseling and support groups are a great way to process emotions, not just for you but also for your children. School social workers will likely have programs in place to support children who have experienced the effects of relational trauma. Often, children don’t have the appropriate language for what they are experiencing, so try to find ways to comfort your child or give him or her ways in which to cope. Engage in creative activities such as journaling, coloring, or drawing. Get outdoors and take a walk together, go swimming, and soak up some sun.
It doesn’t really matter how you do it; the important thing is to create a sense of normalcy and connection with your children, who may not know how to process what they are feeling.
Former Solo Mom VersAnnette Blackman-Bosia, ESME’s Resource Guide for Domestic Violence, is a painter, published poet, speaker, and facilitator. Through her business, Soul Revival Healing Arts, she offers original paintings and products, and teaches workshops. Her first poetry collection, Butterfly Spirit, was published in 2015. VersAnnette is passionate about empowering women, eating great food, and traveling the world. She and her family currently reside near Chicago.
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