Our relationships counsellor answers your problems: My violent ex is driving our family apart


Our relationships counsellor answers your problems: My violent ex is driving our family apart

  • Anonymous woman says her ex-husband was abusive to her and their 4 children
  • She reveals that the family still struggle with the confusing aftermath
  • Her son never wants to see his sisters unless his dad suggests it and asks if it is best to listen to her ex, who complains of being misunderstood and needing help

Q My ex-husband was abusive to me and our four children during my marriage. It wasn’t until after our divorce that I was told that this highly respected clergyman could be described as an ‘altruistic narcissist’ – admired and liked by everyone outside the home, but unpredictable and violent to his family. We still struggle with the confusing aftermath, and my three grown-up daughters and son are split into two sides – with me in the middle. My son sees his father as a ‘best mate’ and believes more care and attention should be given to him – and blames his sisters for their reluctance in getting more involved. Their father complains of being misunderstood and of needing more help now that he’s 76 and alone. Is it best to listen and not say anything to my son about his father’s abusive behaviour, which he now seems to ignore, or to explain his sisters’ point of view? My son never wants to see his sisters unless his dad suggests it.

An anonymous woman explains how her ex-husband was abusive to her and their four children during her marriage

 My daughters and son are split into sides, with me in the middle

A What you and your children have experienced at the hands of your ex sounds very distressing. It must also have been particularly hard that the outside world saw him as so generous. Although ‘altruistic narcissist’ sounds like a contradiction in terms – and there is no clinical definition of this condition – I know exactly what you are describing. Sometimes, narcissists can have such a huge need for attention that they might make grand gestures, perhaps being excessively generous or helpful. In reality, this apparent act of selflessness comes with strings attached, and is more about control. In this way, the ‘beneficiaries’ can be kept dependent. It is incredibly difficult to be the partner or child of someone with a personality disorder. Yes, I am sure that your ex probably does need help, but you and your children should not have to be the ones to provide it. He has put you through too much. Sometimes those who have suffered traumatic experiences can subconsciously block out memories that are too painful, and this could be the case with your son. For your daughters, however, the trauma is still present and, understandably, they don’t want to deal with him. So tell your son you are pleased he gets on with his father. Say too that if he feels his dad needs more help, he should get him to ask his GP for a psychiatric referral to get a proper diagnosis and support. I suspect your ex will reject this, because he probably thinks that everyone else is the problem. Also explain to your son that the situation is different for his sisters, and that he needs to understand their point of view. It would be helpful if you and your children were able to go to family therapy together to heal the emotional scars. Try relate.org.uk or bacp.co.uk.

She’s pregnant, but are they in love? 

 I’m sure your ex needs help, but you should not have to provide it

Q My son, who is 26, told us a couple of weeks ago that his girlfriend is pregnant. I was knocked sideways because we didn’t even know he had a girlfriend. He said he had only been seeing her for a couple of months and it hadn’t been a serious relationship, just a ‘casual’ thing. Now, though, with a baby on the way, he said they were going to try to make a go of it and start being a proper couple. His girlfriend seems nice, but I’m still devastated. He’s clearly not in love with her. While I will be delighted to have a grandchild, I didn’t want it to be this way. I wanted my son to fall in love, get married – then have children. I’m really worried that the relationship won’t last. 

A As a mother, I do understand – we all ideally want our children to be in love with a partner and in a relationship that seems guaranteed for success. But, sadly, real life is not like that. It is often messy and complicated and doesn’t go as planned. So all you can do is work with the situation at hand. Of course, there is a possibility that your son’s relationship may not last – but that could still be the case even if it had started as love. There is also a chance the opposite could happen: love can sometimes grow from a relationship that began out of necessity rather than an initial depth of feeling. Make good friends with his girlfriend – and ideally her parents too – because the smoother the path the better. I’m sure there will be challenges, but worrying won’t change anything – all you can do is be there to support your son through whatever lies ahead and to delight in your grandchild.

  • If you have a problem, write to Caroline West-Meads at: YOU, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS, or email [email protected] Caroline reads all your letters but regrets she cannot answer each one personally 



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