Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Should I Reach Out To My Ex’s Estranged Wife?”

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!

<strong>*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at <a href=”mailto:wendy@dearwendy.com“>wendy@dearwendy.com</a>. </strong>

44 comments… add one
  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom February 16, 2011, 9:10 am

    I think you have an obligation to the child since the child is both innocent and vulnerable. Sometimes being an adult and doing the right thing is tough. By all means, do find out if the offender is alive and healthy enough to cause trouble. If they are disabled, have dementia or are in a nursing home you’re off the hook. Definitely talk this over with your boyfriend. His reaction will tell you a great deal about his character. Ultimately, if the abuser is available to abuse you have an obligation to warn the boy’s mother so she can protect him.

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      AKchic February 16, 2011, 1:05 pm

      Skyblossom,
      I’m sorry, but just because an elderly person has dementia, is disabled or in a nursing home does NOT make them unable to sexually abuse a child. In the case of dementia, it just means that they may not understand that they have DONE it to a child at the time of the incident. Depending on the disability, they can still abuse a child. Sexual abuse is not just about sex, it is about power and control. They get gratification from the power and control.

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        awendybird February 16, 2011, 3:09 pm

        AKchic, of course if he was disabled, had dementia, or was in a nursing home he could still abuse the child. However, he would probably not be left alone with the child if any of those situations were present.

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    ArtsyGirl February 16, 2011, 9:45 am

    I do have a quick question – are you positive that he was abused? You described him as emotionally abusive so it is possible that he might have made up the story in order to manipulate you. I still think if I was in your shoes I would tell his wife because in this situation it is better err on the safe side since a child might be at risk.

    You could always send her a letter which will allow you to be distanced from the situation. Also, when you are checking to see if your ex’s abuser is still alive, you can check to see if he was ever convicted on child molestation – normally it is a compulsive behavior in pedophiles so your ex is probably not his only victim.

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    cdj0815 February 16, 2011, 10:24 am

    Also do you think your ex is a moletster as well? I realize that after all the years of his abuse, now as a grown man, this alleged “father” like figure is still in the ex’s life. He chose not to separate himself from his abuser. They now may have developed a sick and twisted relationship. Most abused victims would have a love hate relationship with the “father” like figure and not let him come near their son. Even when the abused has told others about the molester, the abused are usually very protective of their children.

    Their relationship is very unusual. Something really sick and twisted is going on which could be why he is getting a divorce. In the best interest of the child, you may want to talk to a Social Worker first (for safety matter), as well. Depending on the State you are in, you should be able to do this anonomously. Something is seriously wrong, and your trying to do something may be stopping the cylcle of abuse.

    I have exprienced this in my family, and just found out in the last few years it was happening to someone I love. The person that was abused never got the help they should have gotten, and now has a lot of sick views about life. I had all but given up trying to convince her to seek help. She lives in another state.

    Thank God her mom now believes her and tries to support her.

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  • avatar

    maynard February 16, 2011, 10:26 am

    This is tough. I guess agree that if she chooses to reach out to the ex wife it would be a good idea to make her ex aware, but I have a feeling he will lose his shit regardless of when he finds out the LW plans to talk to his ex about That Man and I don’t think he’ll be understanding and supportive of her decision in the least. Kind of a rock and a hard place because this is probably going to get messy no matter what, but I suppose that by going to the LWs ex first she can at least honestly tell him her intentions and hopefully some of it will get through to him.

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      Amber February 16, 2011, 10:35 am

      I don’t think talking to the ex first will do any good or help anyone. I think he would probably freak out and tell his ex-wife not to believe anything that she would say to her after that. I agree with Wendy that she should offer the information to the ex-wife (asking if she wants to know first, like Wendy said) and then move on. Have no further contact with any of them.

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      Amy February 16, 2011, 11:09 am

      I think Wendy meant that the LW should talk with her current husband before talking with her ex boyfriends soon to be ex wife.

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      • Dear Wendy

        Wendy February 16, 2011, 11:12 am

        Yes.

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        sarolabelle February 16, 2011, 2:13 pm

        Wendy – are you posting anything on The Frisky today? Wednesday is usually my favorite day because I get like 4 DW letters! 🙂

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      • Dear Wendy

        Wendy February 16, 2011, 2:16 pm

        Yes, but I’m not sure when it’s scheduled to go up. It’s just a short one today. It’s been a very busy week for me, sorry.

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        sarolabelle February 16, 2011, 2:25 pm

        it’s okay. Sometimes I like the shortcut ones better because I like reading the letters. Just hearing about other people’s problems makes me realize I don’t really have any….

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        maynard February 16, 2011, 11:32 am

        Ahhhhh, yeah I guess if I read a little slower I would have seen that!

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      ErinL February 16, 2011, 11:18 am

      I don’t think Wendy was referring to the ex-boyfriend when she said the LW should tell him first. She said boyfriend, but I believe she meant the LW’s current husband. I agree that she should let her husband know everything, so that she has his support, especially if things get ugly, which they definitely have the potential to. But I don’t think telling the ex first would do any good.

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  • avatar

    ladiejoy February 16, 2011, 10:31 am

    I think Wendy covered everything quite well, as usual. It’s a very awkward situation, no matter what you decide. But having experienced a similar story in my own past I would urge you to very carefully reach out to the ex, as Wendy suggested. She will most likely be curious/concerned enough to contact you, but the somewhat passive approach allows that to be HER decision. If there is a legitimate possibility this child could be harmed, it is absolutely the right thing to do. I also second what ArtsyGirl said and do a quick search to see if there was ever any legal action taken against him. Though realistically, most cases that involve family like that are never reported. I wish you luck, and look forward to hearing an update on this one.

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  • avatar

    A February 16, 2011, 10:49 am

    If you are concerned about reporting this information to your ex’s ex-wife in person, you can report it anonymously using a national hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

    Its important to realize that reporting suspected abuse is not as severe as most people realize. It’s generally a short, routine visit or even mailed questionnaire from a social worker, and unmeritorious reports are dismissed quickly. And of course it is absolutely, 100% anonymous.

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    • avatar

      sarolabelle February 16, 2011, 2:23 pm

      LW – I would ignore all contact with the ex and get a restraining order if you have to and then I would call this hotline or I would write an anonymous letter to the ex wife.

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    • avatar

      JennyTalia February 16, 2011, 3:51 pm

      Agree. I was wondering if there was a neutral third party (like police or something) that could serve as a buffer between the two. Dropping an anonymous tip would keep her clean, although the ex-wife may not take it as seriously, and the ex-boyfriend may still know it was her.

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  • avatar

    Amanda February 16, 2011, 11:06 am

    I agree 100% with Wendy.
    If it were me I would tell the estranged wife about “The Man” because even if he is ill, disabled or dead that does not mean that the little boys mother shouldn’t know about the dangers that lay within the family ties. The little boys father was sexually abused for eight years, and coming from experience those are probably the only years he will let himself remember. He has already proven to be a great emotional abuser so why not be safe rather than sorry. For all you know when that little boy hits eight years old your ex-husband might see the little boy in his son that his “father figure” saw in him.

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  • avatar

    cmarie February 16, 2011, 11:25 am

    I agree with everything Wendy said. It’s a delicate issue either way you go. Personally I feel that when a child is at risk, whether you know or suspect, you should take steps to protect him/her. Whatever decision she makes is going to have pretty severe consequences, both on the people involved and on her conscience. I would tell her that letting the ex know, either in person or even anonymously will probably lift a huge burden she’s been carrying around for a while. My personal story: I was abused by a neighbor from the time a 5 to the time I was 14 and never told anyone. Even after I dealt with the emotional toll of the abuse I still had that worry of “what happens if he has children?”. See, he was just 2 years older than me and I thought because we were the same age it was different than if he was just the old creeper down the block. I found out several years ago that he was engaged to a woman who had a 6 year old daughter. You never know if an abuser will do it again or under what circumstances. I wrote his fiance an anonymous letter because I couldn’t deal with the guilt of letting her get into this relationship with her little girl without knowing everything. It was a huge weight off my heart to have finally told someone and to know that I had done my part. It’s a difficult decision to make but in the end it’s yours to make because you’ll have to live with the consequences.

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  • avatar

    PFG-SCR February 16, 2011, 11:42 am

    As a mother, I would absolutely want to know something like this, so I think the LW should contact the estranged wife. If she shares the information like she has in the letter, it’s obvious that she’s not doing this out of any malicious intent, and she’s concerned for the well-being of a child.

    I do think the LW ought to cut off contact with her ex-boyfriend, though. There’s no reason she and her husband need to be friends with him, and by the way she describes the reason for their break up, the way he has been communicating with her again, and the information she will likely share with the estranged wife, it sounds like this has the potential to become trouble.

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  • Kristina

    Kristina February 16, 2011, 12:06 pm

    This is difficult for me, cause I ended a relationship with someone not too long ago who was upset over the fact that I am still close to the person that sexually abused me as a child. It may be weird for some people, but that doesn’t mean people don’t deserve forgiveness. Not every abuser is going to do it again, and I know that this person who abused me would never do it again.

    I don’t think this woman should get involved in any of this. It’s really not her place to do so, especially cause she doesn’t know if anything has ever even happened to the young child. His ex-wife might get mad at her for revealing this information–you never know.

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    • avatar

      Amanda February 16, 2011, 12:15 pm

      I am so happy that you have a good, stable relationship with this person that words can not even describe.It is very fortunate that you had the outcome you did; I was not so lucky.
      Not everyone abuser will abuse again but a frightenly large amount do.
      My abuser was my step-brother and he went on to do it to another girl a few years after I spoke up.

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      • avatar

        MissDre February 16, 2011, 12:32 pm

        Been in your shoes. Big hugs.

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        Amanda February 16, 2011, 5:15 pm

        Big Hugs back at ya 🙂

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      callmehobo February 16, 2011, 3:02 pm

      My abuser promised me that he would never and had never previously conducted himself in that manner. I naively believed him, and kept quiet in an effort to protect his family.

      Three years and 17 girls later, he is now in jail. It is amazing that you have had the strength to forgive your abuser, but I think it is unwise to assume that That Man will not abuse again. I know that if I was this woman, I would want to know.

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      AnitaBath February 16, 2011, 5:01 pm

      I also think it speaks volumes that the abuse of the LW’s ex happened for eight years. It wasn’t an isolated incident or a short “lapse in judgment” (I realize that’s a horrible term for it, but I can’t think of what I’m trying to say), it was a reoccurring event that took place for eight years.

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      • Kristina

        Kristina February 16, 2011, 5:05 pm

        My abuse went on for 10 years, and so in a similar way to the LW’s ex, naturally I am still close to that person. It’s hard to not have an attached relationship in these circumstances. But, by now, I certainly know what kind of relationship is healthy for me to have with this person.

        I just don’t feel the LW has enough information to really intervene in a situation like this.

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        AnitaBath February 16, 2011, 5:27 pm

        I don’t know, I’m inclined to say the opposite, that she doesn’t have enough information *not* to intervene.

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        AnitaBath February 16, 2011, 5:30 pm

        And I’ll also add that it’s you yourself that is (smartly and maturely) assessing what kind of relationship is healthy for you to have with that person. In this case, it’s a four-year-old who is unable to make that decision. In such a case, it would be the parents’ job to make the decision, and when one parent is himself at least emotionally abusive and refuses to hinder his dad’s “access” to his child, and the other parent is purposefully kept in the dark, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the child for the LW to just sit back and do nothing.

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        PFG-SCR February 21, 2011, 8:56 am

        @Kristina: “My abuse went on for 10 years, and so in a similar way to the LW’s ex, naturally I am still close to that person. It’s hard to not have an attached relationship in these circumstances. But, by now, I certainly know what kind of relationship is healthy for me to have with this person.”

        Are you familiar with the term “Stockholm Syndrome”? It’s a term used for the psychological attachment that some individuals have with their abusers (named after a hostage situation). Emotionally bonding with an abuser is a strategy for survival for a victim, but it’s not the foundation of a healthy relationship.

        Here are some of the symptoms of a person exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome:

        •Positive feelings by the victim toward the abuser/controller
        •Negative feelings by the victim toward family, friends, or authorities trying to rescue/support them or win their release
        •Support of the abuser’s reasons and behaviors
        •Positive feelings by the abuser toward the victim
        •Supportive behaviors by the victim, at times helping the abuser
        •Inability to engage in behaviors that may assist in their release or detachment

        If you haven’t already sought help in dealing with the emotional trauma of being sexually abused for a decade when you were a child, please do. It’s not just about removing yourself from the bond with your abuser, but future relationships might very well be affected by this.

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      • Kristina

        Kristina February 21, 2011, 1:50 pm

        Yes, I’m quite familiar with Stockholm Syndrome, which I know I have exhibited signs of in the past. I know some people in my life disagree with the bond I have with my abuser, but I am also aware of what’s healthy and what’s not. I live 1000 miles away from him, so our contact is mostly through other ways.

        And yes, I do realize how relationships are affected by all of this. I was in several damaging relationships in the past, but I’ve been in counseling for the past 2 years, and I’ve been able to really move on from everything. And I’m now dating someone that is good for me and treats me the way I deserve 🙂

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        PFG-SCR February 21, 2011, 2:01 pm

        That’s good to hear, and I’m glad you’ve found someone who treats you the way you deserve. 🙂

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    ReginaRey February 16, 2011, 12:16 pm

    Like some of the concerns other commenters have voiced, my concern is not so much about “That Man” as it is about the ex-boyfriend. I know that abuse is extremely difficult to overcome, and it tends to be cyclical in nature. What happened to the LW’s ex-boyfriend is awful and sick, and it seems that he is still very much suffering from what happened to him. While there’s a great chance the ex may never DREAM of harming his son, the chance that he could, and the fact that he sees no problem in exposing his son to someone who HAS been abusive, would spur me to want to share this information with the boy’s mother. I think any mother would be grateful to know, for the well-being of her child.

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    Beth February 16, 2011, 12:49 pm

    In my opinion, I think she should report this to the Department of Social Services! It could be happening to any young vulnerable child in “this mans” life.

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      Emily February 16, 2011, 8:53 pm

      Generally The Department of Social Services will not do anything unless there is an official complaint from a victim or unless you have proof. They are so overwhelmed it is hard for them to intervene in any cases when all you have is a “hunch”.

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  • avatar

    QTKT February 16, 2011, 1:13 pm

    There is also the option of making an anonymous report to Child Protective Services to get the ball rolling. However, the policies are different state by state but a little research online and you can figure out the process.

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  • avatar

    AKchic February 16, 2011, 1:16 pm

    I am going to speak both from personal experience, and as someone who has worked in “the industry” (prison, sex offenders, child molesters, substance abuse/rehab).

    You recognize that your ex is an abuser. He has said that his father molested him. He has given you no indication that he was lying. He also told you that because of your reaction, he would not tell any future girlfriend so the father could see possible grandchildren. This is something that many victims do to protect their abusers. Especially when the abuser is a parent. Find out if the abuser is still alive. If he is, well:
    Can you live with yourself if you kept silent and this child were molested? That is the only question you need to ask yourself. If you can, then by all means, stay out of it. If you can’t, then you need to speak with your boyfriend/husband and tell him what you know, and tell him that you plan to contact the soon-to-be ex-wife to let her know.

    Most states do not recognize grandparents rights. Email, write or phone her. Tell her that you are sorry, and that you do sympathize with her position, and let her know, that as a former girlfriend of his, you do understand some of the issues she is going through. Let her know that you may have some information for her that she may not be aware of, that may be pertinent to her custody procedings. If she asks, ask her what she knows about him. Listen to what she says. Ask if he has spent time with them. Point blank ask if the ex has told her about any possible abuse. If she says no, then tell her what he told you. Tell her that you thought about it when you heard about the divorce, and you were concerned and wanted to make sure that she was aware, and wanted to make sure that her son was safe.
    I will tell you now that if there is no evidence of abuse and she brings it up, you may have to testify to what you were told years ago in the custody battle. Are you willing to put yourself in that position to save a child from that kind of abuse?

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  • avatar

    Wolvie_girl February 16, 2011, 1:24 pm

    I struggled with a fairly similar situation myself when I got divorced years ago. In my case, my Ex was emotionally and physically abusive. When his years of emotional abuse turned physical, I left our home and I urged him to get help. I said that I would not allow him in my physical presence again until I knew he was getting treatment, but he refused and filed for divorce. Since that time, I only shared with a handful of people (very dear and trusted family and friends) my real reason for leaving, becuase I didn’t want to publicly crucify him, so to speak. I have often felt guilt over that decision when I think or hear about him dating other women, and want to warn them that he has abuse issues for which he refuses to get treatment. I don’t think it’s a matter of “if” he will abuse again, but rather “when”. Ultimately I’ve decided to stay out of his life or any future relationship of his, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do or not.

    The difference in LW’s situation, however, is that the vulnerable person isn’t a grown woman who may or may not read the signs that I missed in an abusive person, but a completely innocent and unwitting little boy. I think she has a duty to at least investigate That Man and find out if he poses an immenent threat to the boy.

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  • sobriquet

    sobriquet February 16, 2011, 2:42 pm

    Ick. This is really tough. So many questions… why didn’t the LW think about reaching out to the wife earlier? Would she do it if they were still married and not going through a divorce? How can she tell the ex-wife about the possible child molester without blabbing about the ex’s past child abuse?

    Why not try talking to the ex about it before going to the wife? Ask him if he understands the potential risk of “That Man” molesting his little boy. She may get the answer she needs just by asking, before involving herself in all the drama that will ensue.

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  • avatar

    AnitaBath February 16, 2011, 5:14 pm

    I think the worst possible thing that could happen in this scenario is that you tell the ex-wife and she doesn’t believe you. Even then, you’ve planted the seed of doubt in her mind and she’ll be more wary, which can only be a good thing.

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    • avatar

      _jsw_ February 21, 2011, 12:40 am

      I think the worst think is that the ex will find out and react (as others have said). I think it’s worth that risk to potentially save the child, but it’s definitely something to prepare for.

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  • avatar

    sarah February 17, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Wendy, she has a husband and you said “boyfriend.” I really think that needs to be fixed… are you not proofreading these?

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy February 17, 2011, 1:43 pm

      I usually proofread each post about four times. Twice on the day that I write it and twice on the day that I post it. I’m running this site by myself — currently without any income from it at all (though, of course I hope that changes in the near future). I read a large volume of emails each day; I brainstorm ideas for posts; I respond to emails that I don’t publish; and I do a host of other things behind the scenes that you probably aren’t aware of. I’ve also had some pretty major things pop up in my personal life in the last couple of weeks that have demanded an enormous amount of my attention and energy. I’m sorry if there’s occasionally a typo that I miss, and while I really appreciate it being brought to my attention so I can fix it, I wish it could be done in a way that is not so RUDE.

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