Note from Dr. Respler: In A Plea To My Husband’s Ex (The Magazine, 12-9-2011), I mistakenly left out one important detail. Her husband has legally sanctioned visitation rights to his children, and despite this his ex-wife has largely prevented their children from having contact with their father. The father has been advised by his rebbeim and many legal experts to refrain from returning to court to fight for his relationship with his children. He is following this advice.
This letter is in response to my reply to that letter.
Dear Dr. Respler: I was very disappointed with your reply on December 9 to Anonymous. Your high praise seemed misguided to me, as you did single mothers (like me) a disservice. While it is possible that the stepmother in this situation has all the facts and knows everything about what the ex-wife went through, it is highly unlikely that this is the case.
I was in an abusive marriage and my ex-husband’s new wife has no clue as to what my ex put my kids and me through. He is a charmer and at times can come off like a wonderful, tender and fun father. But in reality he is an angry, miserable creature who hurt all of us terribly. Because he is not an alcoholic or a wife beater and presents himself like a normal person, no judge would consider limiting contact between the kids and him. So he has visitation rights. But had I been able to arrange it otherwise I would have done so, not because I am a bitter, vindictive ex-wife but rather because I know that he is an emotionally and verbally abusive person.
You write, “I have no words to express my empathy for the pain that your husband is enduring.” But what about the pain he has likely inflicted on his ex-wife and kids? Perhaps he belongs nowhere near those innocent kids. Even if it is true that “every encounter between them [father and children] is usually so loving, and full of hugs and kisses,” and the kids wish very much to see their father, you, as a professional, should know that that is meaningless in and of itself. An abuse victim is often confused and just wants the love and approval of the abuser.
I could remember a few “good” times with my ex. They are meaningless in the context of the duration and severity of abuse that he put my kids and me through. And if anything, those moments when abusers act kind and pleasant just contribute to a crazy dynamic whereby the victim second guesses herself and wonders if perhaps she just imagined the abuse. She starts to question her sanity, especially when reading letters in credible newspapers that criticize a woman’s choice to protect her children from an abusive father.
You wrote about feeling the husband’s pain. I wish you would feel the pain of the ex-wife and their children. While it is possible that this story may not be a case of abuse and that the man in question may have been a peach of a husband to his ex-wife and an amazing father to their kids, I think that it’s quite a stretch to think – as you seemingly do – that there is simply no plausible explanation for this terrible injustice other than this being a case where a vindictive ex-wife somehow manipulated the system to her advantage (thus keeping father and children away from each other) for no good reason. I realize that there are abusive women who do terrible things, but how can you even come close to knowing that that is the case in this story?
You conclude by writing, “In the spirit of Chanukah we hope that people reading this letter will try to make shalom with their former spouses, and allow them access to their children. Thank you for your eloquent words. Hatzlachah!”
Instead, you should have written something like this: “In the spirit of Chanukah we hope that people reading this letter refrain from undermining mothers and fathers who try to protect their children. We hope that people will make the effort to get more informed about the dynamics of abuse and rally around the parents who so desperately try to do the right thing – sometimes in the face of narrow-minded and judgmental community members. We hope that Hashem will give a voice to victims, and prevent others from trying to shame them. Hatzlachah!
I appreciate your letter, and understand the pain that you must have endured with your ex-husband during your marriage. However, I do not believe that your situation is the same as the woman who wrote the letter to her husband’s ex-wife. In divorce situations abuse unfortunately occurs in both directions. People who appear to be nice, friendly, and even charming can behave very differently when faced with the challenges of divorce, custody issues and children’s visitation rights. Unfortunately, there are victims all around in the divorce spectrum. Thank you for taking the time to write this important letter, and I hope that it will give support to people enduring this difficult situation. I wish you hatzlachah in raising your children!