As the next couple years went on, things escalated. He sought therapy but stopped after a short while. Ultimately, things reached a breaking point last year. In July, he threw me out of the house for suggesting something about a backyard project we were working on. After that, I insisted on couples therapy and we did go for several months. Things got worse and escalated to where he was yelling and swearing at me in public, on vacation. I told him I was at my limit and that we had a lot of work to do to regain the trust and communication we used to have.
At the end of October last year, he flew into a rage about not finding the right shoes for work and slammed a door on me as he tore through the hallway. I was so scared I quietly locked myself in the bathroom until he left. I was stunned but by mid-day had realized I needed to get out of there. I packed a bag at lunch and crashed with a friend. My husband and I separated, and I kept going to therapy (couples and individual) to try to see if anything could be salvaged, but by Christmas I felt ready to leave for good. I lived in AirBnBs and crashed with friends until February when I finally found a place of my own and got on with the divorce paperwork. As an aside, we never did have children, which ultimately made things easier to break off.
My question is regarding new information that I’ve discovered about my ex’s behavior during the worst of this escalating verbal and emotional abuse last year. My sister recently told me that our dad had confided in her last year that, while I was away on a weekend trip and my dad was in town helping my ex with our backyard project, they had an altercation. Apparently while they were drinking whisky at some point, my ex threatened to punch my dad. This is completely unacceptable.
My dad has never said a word to me about this. My dad, for context, also seems rather broken up about the divorce despite knowing that my ex was verbally abusive and also about the door slamming incident. (I only told my parents about his past behavior after I had already left, because I was embarrassed.) I do not understand why my dad has seemingly forgiven and absolved my ex of the threat he made, but mostly I am extremely frustrated he didn’t tell me this. Either when it happened, or, at least, after I explained why I was leaving. I don’t think confronting my ex will do any good for me at this point, but I don’t know if I should approach my father. I feel abandoned–like my dad doesn’t have my back. I’m considering cutting way back on my interactions with him in part due to this (though lately his more extreme conservative views have put a strain on our relationship anyway).
My question, I guess, is is it worth confronting my dad about why he didn’t tell me this? It would have forced me to confront the kind of person I was married to much sooner. I struggle because then he would also know that my sister was the one who betrayed his confidence – Dad doesn’t have my back
No, it is not worth is to confront your dad about why he didn’t tell you about the threat your ex-husband made to your dad while you were still married and away for a weekend. What would discussing it possibly resolve now? What would be your motive? You’re out of the marriage — which, congratulations, by the way. I can’t imagine it was easy to leave and to start over on your own, but you did it and you should feel very proud of yourself. It sounds like your dad did, in fact, “have your back,” albeit maybe not exactly in the way you think, now in retrospect, he best could have. He was at your home working on a project for you while you were out of town, after all. Isn’t that kind of having your back?
You really can’t know for sure why he didn’t tell you about the altercation with your ex or that his doing so would have “forced you to confront the kind of person you were married to much sooner.” You don’t know that at all. And neither does your dad. For all the both of you know, his telling you might have put you on the major defense. Maybe he was afraid you wouldn’t believe him and you’d alienate him. Maybe he was afraid you’d blame him if you thought to ask: What did he do to provoke your ex? How much whisky were they drinking? Does he even remember the incident the way it happened? I can’t imagine that his NOT telling you was an easy choice or one based on abandoning you. That he told your sister indicates that it was, indeed, something that weighed on him and bothered him as he was probably looking for her to validate that he did the right thing.
As for why your dad didn’t tell you about the altercation after you announced your separation, or why he seems broken up about the divorce: Don’t you think it’s possible that he simply feels sad that your marriage didn’t work out, that you’re in pain, that you were verbally abused? I would feel broken up about something like that, too, if it were my daughter. Yes, I’d feel relieved she got out of the marriage, but I think the overriding emotion so soon after learning the details would be sadness — and probably anger — that she hadn’t been happy. I think I might also feel guilty that I didn’t know about it and didn’t/wasn’t able to help when she needed it.
When a couple divorces, it’s hardest on the two spouses, of course, but it affects other people — their family and close friends. Your parents have lost a son-in-law — one whom they probably loved and whose flaws they did not see or even know about like you did. While you had years to get used to the idea of your ex being as flawed and troubled and abusive as he was, it may have come as a shock to your family when you suddenly left him. And when people are shocked, they don’t always react or behave in ways that others might wish them to or think they should.
You’re angry and I get that. You’re looking for someone to blame because it really sucks to go through a divorce and to think you’re at all responsible for it. You can look back and think you should have seen signs sooner, you should have left sooner, you shouldn’t have married him in the first place. All of that is a lot of should’ves that can be a heavy burden to carry. So I can appreciate the urge to want to hand some of that load to someone else. You think your father should have told you that your ex-husband threatened you, and then maybe you would have been more open to your ex’s flaws and you would have left him sooner. But you don’t know that for sure, and you can’t blame your dad for choosing “wrong” when you don’t know whether either choice would have been “right.”
While your and your ex’s marriage didn’t work out, and you may feel tempted to focus on that, I’d urge you to focus instead on the great steps you’ve taken to turn your life around — to get off the path of destruction and find a new way to go. You’re going to be fine. Keep going to therapy and keep working on forgiving yourself (and anyone else you’re blaming) for what happened. And as for your father having extreme, conservative views — please be careful not to lump that with your divorce or what you consider his failing you. Your father’s political views, which I’m sure are troubling to you, do not define him and they certainly don’t define his love for you. He may not live and think the way you wish he would, and he may love you imperfectly, but he’s your dad, and I do think he has your back, and I hope you’ll let him continue having it in his way, however he can.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.