Survivor Story: Trying to Co-Parent with Her Abuser Delayed Healing

Submitted by: Bonnie, Survivor

As survivors of domestic violence know, healing from abuse is a lifelong journey that can be filled with countless obstacles. Survivors who have exited abusive relationships or marriages with children often find themselves struggling to co-parent with an abuser who exploits divorce and custody situations, thereby continuing to cause emotional trauma to their ex-partner and children.

Some survivors find themselves locked in this battle until their children become adults, with limited instances of courts intervening to remove the children from the abusive parent’s guardianship. Survivor Bonnie shares her story about marrying young, the abuse she endured, and how she broke free – and finally received full custody of her children.  

Bonnie met her abuser when she was just 15, and he was 16. At first, things were good between them. However, soon into the relationship, she was no longer able to see or talk to many of her friends. There was no trust in their relationship. He would expect Bonnie to call him when she arrived at work and when she got home. Sometimes, he would show up to her workplace just to make sure she was working.

When she graduated high school, they moved in together and married a year later. Leading up to the wedding, there were many red flags, but Bonnie just did not see them. He still insisted that she call him when she was on her way home from work. If she went to spend time with family or friends, he would text Bonnie constantly demanding to know what time she was coming home. 

In the months leading up to the wedding, friends and family warned Bonnie that the abuse would escalate and asked her not to go through with it.

A few months before the wedding, the abuse escalated, and things got physical between them. Bonnie and her fiancé were having a small party. He drank to the point of becoming intoxicated and started to tell the guests humiliating and personal things about her. When she went into the spare bedroom to calm down, one of his friends followed her in to make sure she was okay. He told her just to ignore him and come back out of the room.

Bonnie’s fiancé walked in the room and immediately started accusing her of cheating and calling her names. His friend left the room, and everyone else left the party. He slapped her, called her names, and ripped her shirt off before demanding Bonnie to perform sexual favors for him. When she refused, he got mad enough that he left the house. One of their friends called the police, and he was later found down the road and taken into custody.

Family and friends warned Bonnie not to go through with the wedding because things would only get worse. She did not heed their warnings. Bonnie was 20 years old and in love, and she wanted to follow through with it. She was too embarrassed to tell anybody what actually happened in that bedroom that night. 

Bonnie’s husband would threaten suicide to manipulate her into staying, but eventually, she decided to leave.

Bonnie and her fiancé went through with the wedding. In the seven years of their marriage, they had two children together. During that time, the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as the control he exerted over her, continued to escalate. His drinking became severe, and he had a hard time keeping a job. Bonnie walked on eggshells constantly. There were times where he would hit, push, and slap her, and he even strangled her. One night, when Bonnie tried to call 911 for help, he broke her phone so she could not call.

Whenever she said she was going to leave her husband, he would promise Bonnie that he would change. Of course, he never did. He would also tell her that if she left him, he would kill himself. Bonnie stayed in the marriage for so long because she did not want to think about what would happen if he actually did commit suicide. She felt like it would be all her fault. 

After they had some items repossessed and faced eviction, Bonnie realized that it was not a life that she wanted her children to live. She made the difficult (and scary) decision to get the kids together and pack up their clothes to leave him. When she left, she was not working and had no money. At the time, she was a student studying Human Services and had been told by him that he would support the family. That was not happening. Two weeks after leaving, Bonnie was able to find a job, and after two months, she had a place of her own. 

It was not until after the court stripped her ex-husband of parental rights that Bonnie was able to work on her healing.

The divorce process was long and difficult. Bonnie’s abuser regularly sent threatening messages to her, harassing her frequently. He insisted that she would never make it without him. Their divorce was final in July 2013, and six years later, Bonnie can proudly say that she is making it on her own.

She now also has full custody, placement, and rights as guardian over her children. Shortly after the divorce was finalized, some information came to light that led the county to deem him unsafe to be around the children. He was given many chances to change, and just recently, the state took away his parental rights.

“After all these years, I can finally start the healing process for the abuse I endured. It was hard to heal from it when we had to co-parent because of always having to be in contact with him. 

“Now, I speak up about my story, use social media platforms to raise awareness, and share my story. I also travel to schools and various organizations to educate youth on abusive relationships.”

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page.

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