About six and a half years ago, I broke up with my ex-boyfriend. I concluded, at the time, that he was borderline abusive and cut him out of my life. Three years ago, I moved back to the city where we had both lived, and got back in contact to clear the air in case I ever ran into him. The contact went well, we updated each other on our lives, and have had very occasional contact since. He seemed to be living the happy life that he’d always wanted, and I was glad for him.
Nine months ago, his marriage broke up. He and his wife are in the midst of a divorce; they have an almost four year old son. Since the breakup, he’s been contacting me more often, and pressing to meet me and my husband as friends. I have not let that happen, and don’t plan to. Part of the reason is this: I read Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That?” and realized my ex was not “borderline abusive” but a classic emotional abuser. I have a pretty good idea what he was like to live with and therefore have developed a strong identification with his almost-ex-wife and feel a strong urge to reach out to her.
My dilemma is this: one of the reasons our relationship went sour six years ago is that he told me that a close father figure, who was still an active part of his life, had sexually abused him from about eight years of age to sixteen. The abuse described was horrible. I insisted that “That Man” would never be a part of my life, or of the lives of any children I had. My ex pitched a fit about denying his “dad” access to his hypothetical “grandchildren.” When we broke up, my ex *swore* that he would never tell another girlfriend about his abuse. Now, I feel haunted by the pictures of my ex’s beautiful little boy, and fearful that his wife doesn’t know about the danger That Man represents, especially if my ex gets shared custody.
What do I do? I know the best thing for me is to cut off contact with my ex again, and make it permanent. I also think my urge to contact his wife is completely inappropriate and would continue to stifle it if there was no child involved. But there is! What do I do about the child molester? Should I be offering some kind of warning to his wife, for their child’s sake? Or do I just bow out and protect myself? — Concerned Ex
Before you do anything, you need to see if you can find out if “That Man” is still alive. If you know his name, a quick Google search, or even a peek on Facebook might give you a definitive answer. If you aren’t able to rule out death, your next step is to consider the worst-case consequences of your two options, which are to reach out to your ex’s estranged wife or to not reach out to her, and decide which potential consequence you think you’d be most able to live with. If you do reach out to her, the worst-case consequence is that you are pulled into a drama you want no part of and are accused of being a jealous trouble-maker. She may tell your ex you’ve been in contact with her and your ex will likely come after you in some way or another. Are you prepared to handle the harassment of an abusive man? On the other hand, if you don’t reach out to this woman, the worst-case consequence is that she remains ignorant to the possibility of That Man’s abusive history and potentially puts her little boy at risk by allowing him to be in his presence and have a relationship with him.
If you decide that the former is the consequence you’re more prepared to live with — that you’d rather risk your own comfort and well-being than the safety of this little boy — than I would advise you do two things. First, make sure your husband is aware of what’s going on and what you’re planning to do. If there’s a chance you’re going to be swept into potential drama that involves an abusive ex, your boyfriend needs to know about it so he can clearly understand your motives and support you. Second, when you reach out to your ex’s estranged wife, I would word you warning in such a way that she has a choice to receive the information or not, thereby cutting down the possibility of her thinking you’re acting maliciously or with ill intent. I would say to her — either in email or over the phone — that you have information about her estranged husband that you have reason to believe she doesn’t know. Explain that you don’t have proof that the information is true, but if it is it could have a very negative and long-lasting impact on her son, and you would like to share it with her but only if she is open to receiving it. Let her know that if she doesn’t want to hear from you again, you understand but that you’re available at this number or this email address if she ever changes her mind. That’s really the best you can do without overstepping your bounds and putting yourself in a very precarious situation. It really needs to be up to her whether to follow up with you or not, and if she doesn’t, you can’t say you didn’t try.
I’m sorry you have this dilemma, and I hope that whatever decision you make, the consequences are minimal and your conscious is clear. Good luck!