My husband and I married 18 years ago. He suffers from a particularly difficult personality disorder which has become more pronounced with time. We have five children, aged 8 - 17.

As he became more abusive; specifically, name calling, insults, constant monitoring of everything I did, making sure I had no access to money, putting me down in front of our children, friends and strangers, I found it harder and harder to cope.

But I don't see divorce as an option, as he does not abuse the children, who are very settled in their schools and environment and doing well in all areas. Divorce at this point wouldn't be a case of a couple breaking up; but a whole family, and the ramifications for the children unknown.

For two years I 'escaped' every few weeks for a few days, but always came back.

But when I started having panic attacks at the thought of him coming home, I knew I had to leave. I moved to an apartment in the same building, and came home to the kids when he was at work.

I was 'away ' for nine months. During which time, I regained my self confidence and being outside allowed me to see objectively that he was the sick one, and he can call me all the names in the world, but it is exactly that, him calling me names. It has nothing to do with me. He'd do it to any wife.

I became less and less scared of him, and now see him as nothing but a sad accident. I moved back home a month ago, but my relationship with my children is on the rocks. They are decidedly frosty, even hostile towards me and ignore me completely when he is in the house.

What pains me the most is that my baby, who at seven still clung to me like a baby monkey, now sees my 13 year old as her security, and is scared to be left alone with me.

There is no outright cheek or verbal abuse from them, but they basically make me feel unneeded and unwanted. Before I left, I had a good relationship with all of them. I am pretty sure my husband has been alienating them from me while I was away, and probably continues to do so.

I feel like the children I cared for and brought up have been stolen away from me. This is emotional agony. And no, there is no way my husband will leave. Is there any hope of me getting them back?

  • 2
    Do any of the kids know your side of things? Put yourself in their shoes, kids don't tend to do modeling of other peoples motives very well at the best of times and for their parents even less. From their point of view it might very much look like their mom just walked out on them for greener pastures. Would you act any different to how your 7 year old does if you were in her shoes? Some of my friends parents split up and it wasn't until long after the split that they learned much about the various messed up things in their parents relationship and the actual reasons.
    – Murphy
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 17:41
  • Of course I realize that I cannot blame the children. They see adults as rocks, with none of their own emotional baggage, who are their for them when they need it. They see the facts on the ground and it is unrealistic to expect them to understand that adults can be vulnerable and are not acting selfishly. That being the case, is there any way I can regain my children's trust? At the moment, he is their security. Is all lost, or is it a matter of time, as they see the facts on the ground that I am no monster and am the same loving mother I always was, or is there something I can actively do?
    – Kate
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 20:30
  • 1
    Trust is instantaneous in a newborn. The older the child gets the longer it takes to develop trust. As @Murphy has said, the children may well have felt abandoned. For many, the best way to avoid that feeling again is to remain independent and not re-establish emotional ties with the abandoner. Bottom line: it's going to take time.
    – bugmagnet
    Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 23:10
  • By the way, is your husband aware of his personality disorder? It was only after I was diagnosed with depression that I was able to identify it and manage it. I wasn't much fun as a spouse or parent up until that point.
    – bugmagnet
    Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 23:15
  • 2
    He is aware that he has been diagnosed with it, but cannot accept that itj is true. Until he accepts that he has a problem, he is not going to do anything about it. There is a big difference between personality disorders than mental illness like depression. A depression sufferer wants to get better, and he can get better. It's kind of like the difference between being born with an arm missing, or having a broken arm. Which means that even if he were to recognize it, you can't 'cure' a missing arm, you can only develop ways to compensate.
    – Kate
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 0:40

2 Answers 2


I'm not meaning to put you down in any way, you suffered abuse and are the victim. However, it's going to take time for your children to come to understand that as well. Understand also that until they do, in their eyes, you abandoned them.

I was abandoned by my mother for a time under very similar circumstances. I knew my step father was a piece of a garbage, but it didn't matter, she was the one that left and I resented her for it. My step father was always physically abusive, but it increased significantly when she left.

I know you say you were around regularly after leaving, but who knows what was going on when you weren't there. I'd bet nothing good and in the mind of an abandoned child, it's your fault, not the abuser. Again I'm not meaning to shame or blame you, I'm just explaining from first hand experience the thought process of an abandoned child.

As much as you were the victim and this isn't your fault, apologizing to your children as if it is your fault would go a long way. But be clear: don't give an apology like "I'm sorry but your Dad was abusing me". Any "buts" don't matter and will seem like justification, which would only make things worse. Even though it's not, your children are convinced that it's your fault. Trying to convince them otherwise over such a sensitive issue probably isn't going to work and just backfire.

I'm sorry to hear that you've gone through what you have and I'm sorry for the challenges that lay ahead on the path to healing. But healing can and will happen in time, all the best.

  • 4
    I would like at add that an apology like the one suggested may at first be seen as a "I am to blame", but saying "I am sorry I left you behind" would, it seems to me, be NOTHING but the truth: The question does, in my opinion, show a VERY healthy understanding of not being sorry about getting the emotional separation from the husband, but being sorry about the effect on the kids. With time, they may hopefully understand that these are two VERY different issues.
    – Layna
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 13:19

Your children need to have a thread of connection with you through thick and thin. We don't know how stable their father is going to be -- so you need to be strong and a stable presence in their lives. Don't push them to be close to you before they are ready, since from their point of view you abandoned them and can't be trusted not to do it again. They will find out over time that they can indeed trust you not to disappear.

You don't have to see them every day to show that you care and that you're not going anywhere. But show up reliably to every school concert, basketball game, poster session, Open House, etc., and let the teachers know that you would like to receive a copy of all newsletters, etc.

Try to make small but steady improvements in your knowledge, health and self-sufficiency so that your children can look up to you as a role model. Set small goals for yourself -- as you progress through these, your children will see how a healthy adult lives and conquers challenges.

If there are periods in which you don't see them every day or even every week, you can write letters. Your constancy will show that you care and support them.

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