Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Ex-Husband Threatened My Dad and My Dad Never Told Me About It”

I wrote to you a few years ago (you answered me privately)and now I have another question for you, as well as an update. Re-reading my first letter, I downplayed a lot of my (now ex-) husband’s anger issues and how they were directed at me. He smashed things, threw things – never at me, but sometimes I would be collateral damage. I assumed he was just so overwhelmed and that he never meant to hurt me, so I made a lot of excuses.

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.

17 comments… add one
  • avatar

    dinoceros August 28, 2017, 9:35 am

    Totally agree with Wendy. There’s a lot of reasons why your dad may not have told you. Maybe he saw you excusing your ex and thought it wouldn’t matter if he told you about this. Maybe he was worried you’d confront your ex and get hurt. Maybe he was worried that it would push you away. Maybe he thought you had enough to deal with and didn’t need to worry about him too. The most likely reasons for your dad not telling you point to him trying to do the right thing or at least not knowing how to handle the situation. I mean, really, there’s no guidebook that tells you what to do when your daughter’s abusive spouse is violent toward you. And once you were broken up, what would the point of telling you be? To make you feel guilty and worse than you already did?

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    TeacherNerd August 28, 2017, 9:53 am

    The thing that occurs to me is that perhaps your dad didn’t want to be seen as inserting himself into your marriage somehow, which, I kinda have to say, is a good thing. There could be all sorts of reasons, and sometimes it’s difficult to ascertain whether or not to speak up. Perhaps he now wishes he had. Would it have a difference in the moment if he had?

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  • avatar

    Northern Star August 28, 2017, 10:32 am

    Oh, I see. It’s “completely unacceptable” for your ex to threaten to punch your dad. But you stayed with your violent, scary ex through everything he did to YOU—so how in the world do you expect your dad to magically know what your “final straw” would be? (It’s wishful thinking, by the way—I don’t believe for a minute that you would have immediately left your ex if you found out what he said to your dad.)

    Your dad already saw how terrible your judgment was when it came to your ex. He saw how you put up with all his crap and excused all the behavior. He probably confided in your sister because he genuinely thought you couldn’t be reached, and he didn’t want to push you away.

    (By the way—you mad at your sister and planning to cut her out, too? She knew and didn’t tell you…)

    You’re looking for someone to blame for your own choices, and you’ve settled on your dad. I guess you could go ahead and cut him out of your life because you’re embarrassed and upset about staying with your ex for so long. But that seems almost as foolish as staying with your ex to begin with.

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    • avatar

      Bree August 28, 2017, 10:47 am

      What is unacceptable here is your victim blaming. She eventually got out of the relationship, which takes more strength than you will ever understand. I agree wholeheartedly with Wendy’s advice.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros August 28, 2017, 11:09 am

      Wow. I’m really surprised by the tone of this. There are plenty of articles out there explaining the mentality of why those who are being abused stay. If you aren’t familiar with this, might be a good idea to check that out. Insulting someone because they were in an abusive relationship is not appropriate.

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      • avatar

        Northern Star August 28, 2017, 12:13 pm

        I’m in a foul mood, but this seems to me to be our LW looking to blame another victim. Imagine being in her dad’s shoes—and knowing your daughter is going to excuse whatever her violent, loser husband does. Unless she chimes back in to explain that dad has never really supported or cared for her before the marriage—I think shifting blame to her dad is a coping mechanism that needs to be addressed with her therapist ASAP.

        And I REALLY don’t believe that she would have divorced her ex “sooner” if dad had spoken up. That seems like wishful thinking to the extreme—because in this kind of situation, the person who speaks up often gets cut off…

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        dinoceros August 28, 2017, 2:18 pm

        I agree with you on most of those points. But I don’t think they change the fact that there are much bigger dynamics at play when someone is in an abusive relationship. As much as we love “perfect” victims who cope in the right ways and make what we think are the healthiest decisions as early as possible, that doesn’t happen most of the time. Doesn’t make the person foolish. let’s just hope that the advice here and hopefully some therapy will help her channel these emotions better.

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  • Guy Friday

    Guy Friday August 28, 2017, 10:39 am

    I also agree with Wendy, but I wanted to point out that it’s not clear from the letter what the chronology of the events actually were. I could see a scenario based on your descriptions where the following happened:

    For several years prior: Ex has been abusive to you.
    August/September: Dad and Ex have said altercation (though, is it an “altercation” so much as a one-sided threat by your Ex?)
    October: You start the separation process.
    Sometime between October and February: your Dad confides in your sister
    February: Divorce begins (and is finalized before today?)
    Recently: You find out about the conversation between your sister and Dad

    Put another way, if the interaction between your Dad and your Ex happened BEFORE you separated (and thus BEFORE your dad was fully aware of the depth of your Ex’s violence to you), I can see how he may have written it off as “drunk guy frustrated with a backyard project gets physical and then drops it.” I mean, I’ve been threatened with violence before and nothing’s come of it, and I don’t think much of it. But then, when your Dad realizes the context of all this, I could see him going to your sister and saying “Oh man. I didn’t know the rest of this story. I feel terrible. Should I have told her this? Could I have stopped some of this?” And, of course, he couldn’t have stopped it at that point, and you all know that, but he’s still going to feel guilty about it.

    I’m not suggesting you’re responsible for taking care of anyone else but yourself right now. But there IS a difference between “not taking care of him” and “holding it against him.” As a general life rule, I think that people who are usually good and make a mistake shouldn’t be defined by that mistake. If your relationship with your father — politics aside — has been a supportive and loving one, I think you simply say “Dad, I love you. Don’t worry. I’m doing better now, and that’s what matters.”

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  • avatar

    Vathena August 28, 2017, 10:55 am

    I’m also a bit confused about the timeline. You say that the threat was made to your dad “last year”. You were separated by October. The incident with your dad occurred in…June, July, August? Would his telling you really have been the wake-up call you needed to leave “much sooner”? How much sooner? You had already endured years of your ex’s abuse. Would it have shocked you so much to know that his anger was such that he had said something like that to a family member, that you were not the only target of his rage? Enough to get you to leave maybe 3 months sooner than you did?

    There are definitely a lot of reasons why your dad might not have said anything. This seems like a great topic to work on in therapy, and examine whether/how to talk to your dad about it eventually.

    Also, good for you for getting out of a toxic marriage, and for NOT having children with your ex! Stay strong and keep moving forward.

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    • avatar

      Vathena August 28, 2017, 12:31 pm

      And just in case it’s not clear, I intend no victim-blaming! I understand that it can be so hard – even dangerous – to recognize an abuser’s behavior for what it is, and leave. I just don’t think that the dad’s telling what happened, at the time it happened, would have had a significant effect on how quickly the marriage dissolved. It sounds like the LW already recognized what a bad situation it was at the time the altercation occurred.

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  • avatar

    Ron August 28, 2017, 12:20 pm

    One half of her brain is kicking herself for not leaving sooner. The other half is shifting the ‘blame’ to her father, because it is easier to think of things that way. From what she wrote, it seems clear that her father speaking up wouldn’t have changed a thing and that she may well have pushed back against her father fairly strongly. Her father was in a can’t win position. She’ll realize that soon enough. It’s not a big deal that she hasn’t reached that point yet.

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    • avatar

      Bittergaymark August 28, 2017, 12:35 pm

      Agreed. The sad truth is that few people ever listen when somebody tells them that their partner is truly an abusive asshole. Instead, they somehow all tend to kill the messenger… Heck, in this letter it’s happening even now… MONTHS after the fact.

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  • avatar

    Leslie Joan August 28, 2017, 2:28 pm

    Why do your dad the discourtesy of assuming you know everything about this thoughts, feelings, and motivations when you are making these leaps to conclusions based on partial and third hand information? I am very glad that you are out; and wish you peace and healing. I hope that you follow Wendy’s advice .

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  • avatar

    Lucy August 28, 2017, 2:34 pm

    Change the word “confront” to “discuss.” Don’t go in angry; go in curious and willing to learn. Then you might accomplish something worthwhile.

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  • avatar

    Brise August 28, 2017, 5:02 pm

    You are somehow confusing your dad with your ex-husband. You ex failed you and betrayed your trust. Your dad didn’t. He tried to help and was mistreated. He shut up in order not to intrude into an obviously bad marriage. I understand that reaction. You are an adult, with your own choices, not a child he could save. Your anger is misplaced here. Don’t tell him anything because you will make your situation worse and will seem very unfair and out of your mind to him. It isn’t because you were hurt that you have to hurt him – your dad, why? You left your ex at your own pace, when it was possible for you to actually do it. Focus on yourself and your reconstruction. You made it! You will be ok, there is still a lot of anger to work on with your therapist.

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  • avatar

    Brise August 28, 2017, 5:06 pm

    And your dad’s opinions about politics have nothing to do with it. You are in a regression phase, resenting your parents. It is normal after what you have experienced but it would be very wrong to “confront” him about your own projections. Focus on yourself.

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    • avatar

      haggith August 28, 2017, 6:57 pm

      ALL OF THIS

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