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I emphasise that this is a prospective question - I am asking about how to prepare for a situation that has not fully arisen yet.

My wife is emotionally abusive, and while we are currently in a phase of working on our marriage, I think it is most likely that it will end soon. One of the central parts of her abusive behaviour has been gaslighting - denying things she did and accusing me of things I didn't do, while implying that I am mentally ill - and over the past year that has developed into full-blown lying. She will act badly and then simply lie about what happened, usually by claiming I did something I never did.

We have two children - an eight year old girl and a four year old son - and I think that so far my wife has not been consistently dishonest with them (though she has done it to our daughter on occasion). However, as they grow older and begin to challenge her further, I expect her to start using the same tactics on them, unless she works on herself, which currently looks unlikely.

My question is - is there anything I can do to gently teach my kids to trust their own memories and versions of reality (for instance, keeping a journal), to prepare them for this eventuality? And assuming we do get a divorce, what should I do when the children tell me of episodes like this? What should I tell the kids?

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Just let your children know that they're smart enough to know the truth and what they've done. If they aren't certain, give them a journal and tell them that they can start writing down anything they think is important in it.

My ex did this all the time, and she challenged our daughter on certain things a time or two. It largely stopped when our daughter who was four at the time, told her to stop lying.

Kids are observant, as long as you give them the confidence to stand up for themselves and let them know you'll protect them, they'll sort it out on their own.

  • Thank you, that's very reassuring. I have two doubts. My wife managed to screw up my own sense of reality almost completely because she would start by exaggerating (accusing me later of "screaming like a madman" when I had just spoken firmly, etc.). Do you mean that since the kids are growing up with this (whereas I didn't), they might be able to figure it out more instinctively than I could? And second, when you say I'll be able to protect them, how will I do that when I won't be there all the time (we already live in separate cities and I'm there on weekends)? – SGo Jan 29 '18 at 15:50
  • Also, what did you tell your daughter when she told you of things like this? It doesn't seem ok to just say "Mom lies a lot." – SGo Jan 29 '18 at 15:52
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    I guess it is easier for me as I got full custody of our daughter. When my wife called her a liar, I was sitting across the room monitoring the call. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. After the call I told her that she had done the right thing by telling the truth, and that lying was bad without naming any names. She didn't really care, she was just annoyed that she'd been called a liar because in her words, "I have a good brain." – Dan Clarke Jan 29 '18 at 16:00
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    In answer to your first part. Yes your kids should have an advantage if they've seen her lying in the past. If the see that you tell the truth it makes things a lot easier for them to believe you. In my case, my daughter saw her mother hitting me, so when she tried to deny it it went over about as well as a lead balloon. If they saw her acting out while you remained calm, and later she claims differently in front of them, they'll associate her with lying. For the protecting part, give your son and daughter your number. Tell them if things get bad to call you. It will help a lot. – Dan Clarke Jan 29 '18 at 16:04
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The best approach may be to minimize the time your children spend with their mother by your getting primary legal custody in a divorce proceeding. To that end, start a log now that will be used during the divorce process to show the court that the mother is a psychological danger to the kids and to support your request for a psychological evaluation of the mother. Expect a prolonged and extremely expensive divorce battle, likely well into 6 figures.

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Go out of your way to model honesty and integrity in all your interactions with your kids during this time. This sounds like a terrible situation, and will be the worst for them. Having someone they know they can count on and trust might be the most important thing in the world right now.

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