I was in an abusive relationship for twenty years, of the sort perfectly described by Paul Elam of ‘A Voice for Men’ and Dr. Tara Palmatier of ‘Shrink4Men’ in their excellent, and maybe even life-saving, ‘Going Mental’ show, and to take it up a notch, by Dr. Robert Hare, the acknowledged world expert on psychopathy.
And still I wonder if this was not just a very bad marriage of the type I used to see around me in Britain all the time. And that, in part, was the problem …
Paul Elam argues that when we men say we cannot not leave Crazy because we don’t want to leave our children behind, what we claim is not accurate, is even dissimulating, of our true motivations. We just want to be with Crazy, but the desire to protect our children sounds so much more defensible and reasonable than the true explanation of our crack-pipe addiction to Crazy.
And maybe he is right in all cases. Maybe we lie to ourselves all the time. Maybe we are just addicts who will say anything to justify our ongoing fixes. But that is not what it felt like, and certainly not what I was telling myself daily, which may mean something … or nothing. I have spent a lifetime in psychological research and I know from oceans of data I could drown in that we know what we like and we dislike, but we are useless at determining what drives us, without the aid of statistical analysis.
And our explanations go no way to explaining why we didn’t split with Crazy straightaway, before there were any children, when even then it was obvious that she was plain nuts, and more vicious than anyone we knew.
So, first of all I have to explain to myself, and to you, why I did not leave Crazy in the five years before there were children. Then I have to explain why I didn’t leave her for another fifteen years thereafter, after there were children. These explanations, necessarily are different.
And I have to admit from the very beginning that my ex-wife, ‘Rafaella’ was crazy. Over twenty years, as much in the beginning as in the middle as in the end, she conformed to the behavior outlined by Paul and Dr. T., and according to Dr. Hare’s checklist she is a stone cold psychopath.
Before I met Rafaella, I had never had a successful long-term relationship with a woman – plenty of long-term friendships with women, some short-term intimate relationships with women – but no real love match. Yet I knew it was possible. My parents were very much in love with each other for nearly fifty years. One of my sisters had been deeply in love with my brother-in-law for thirty-five years. A couple of pairs of my friends were clearly still in love after a significant period. But not me.
I wanted that. I knew it was possible. And, as all experts attest, Crazy is exceptionally good at presenting herself as your ideal mate. Rafaella was my chance. I wanted that reality and, yes, I wanted that status. I never had photos of Rafaella and my children on my desk at work, but I knew it was important to project yourself as a family man both at work and in society at large.
Equally, many of the relationships I had observed were, by any definition, awful. My great-grandmother was a heinous bitch. One grandmother terrorized her mild, and as it happens foreign, husband all his life. The other grandmother was, by all reports, intensely dislikable. One set of aunts and uncles were miserable together. Another aunt was so vile that she was nicknamed ‘Lem,’ for ‘lemon,’ for ‘sour.’ Most of my family in my generation were engaged in relationships in which they would end up divorced, and similarly many of my friends.
In her book, ‘Bringing Up BeBe,’ Pamela Druckerman describes her New York and British girlfriends sitting around describing what losers their husbands were, these ‘losers’ often being CEOs of international companies or top professionals. And that was my experience, too. I studied Law at Cambridge, so many of my friends were lawyers, accountants, and similar, in top professional firms. Their wives could barely count a university degree between them and virtually never had a career to talk about, or even a job, and yet they openly berated the hopelessness of their husbands who earned far less than they should have done (bearing in mind that some of them ended up earning in excess of $1 million a year), they were always at work, they couldn’t put a diaper on a baby, they never did the housework, they never played with the children, they were terrible cooks etc. Most of this was complete bullshit. British men tend to contribute more toward the household chores and pleasures than those of almost any other nationality. But, hey, what is the truth in a good story?
So when the same thing happened to me, with a wife who downplayed everything I did and up-played everything she did, it seemed more of the same rather than an outrageous travesty of the facts, of the observable facts – I had two Masters degrees and a First Class Bachelors degree, and I was the Strategy & Planning Manager of the European end of a major global corporation; my wife had no job and no qualifications. Everything is fair game in the new ‘everyone is equal’ world.
So I looked around and it was a simple decision. I could be lonely and alone or I could be lonely within a male-female partnership, and being in a long-term partnership scored you more credibility points at work and among your friends.
Then we drifted into marriage, and into having a child. I was aware that my family didn’t greatly approve of Rafaella, but they all lived far away. Some of my friends thought we had the happiest relationship they had seen.
Rafaella was always dissatisfied and never troubled to keep any of her dissatisfactions to herself. I thought she would grow up, but she never did. Then there was our first child, although maybe not mine, and she seemed to become more manic than usual, claiming there was something seriously wrong with him when neither the doctors nor I thought so. And then a second child, by which time Rafaella was demanding that I become a completely different person, because every aspect of my personality was unsuitable to her needs – and, boy, did she have a lot of needs.
But with the arrival of children, the dynamic changed. I adored my children, both of them. One of my biggest fears had been that we would have children I wouldn’t actually like. But I loved both of them immediately, and they loved each other. So what emerged was a double-triangle of intense relationships within the family. Me and the boys loved each other, with Rafaella as a really loud, aggressive TV set playing over in the corner of the room that we knew not how to turn down or turn off. Equally, Rafaella and the boys were in another mutual love relationship, with me at work. Those two triangles worked fine so long as they didn’t connect at the apex, between Rafaella and me.
From then on, as Rafaella ranted on and spent twice as much money as I was earning month after month after month, I asked myself how I could get myself out of my relationship with Rafaella but keep the boys. I loved the boys. Within a horrible marital dynamic they were sweet and loving and kind and innocent. They were the loves of my life at that time; I just had to learn to get rid of Rafaella, or to ignore her.
The problem was that, if I divorced Rafaella, she would, to all intents and purposes, have gained full custody. Everybody talks about 50/50 custody, but actually it is 85/15 – one weekend in two – and in the UK, as in the US, in 80% of cases primary custody is given to the mother. This leaves the father to see his children every other weekend, tearing them from their mother, their routines, their home, their friends, their things, in a ritual of maintaining a relationship with someone they once knew who increasingly resembles a transgender version of good old Aunt Matilda. Great!
Worse, in 70% of cases in the UK, the father never sees his children again. This may be because fathers cannot face that ‘transgender Aunt Matilda’ effect, or because of parental alienation, or because the fathers or mothers move too far away from each other to make visitation practical, I don’t know.
So, the likelihood is, as a father in the UK, that you will never see the most important people in your life thus far ever again. Yes, they will be still alive, but as the poet Tony Flynn put it, ‘Living in the same world isn’t so much.’
And what would happen if by some chance the father got primary custody, if perhaps the mother was found perched up on a mountain of empty vodka bottles, surrounded by the flames of her house she had set fire to with the explosion of her meth factory, after having been suspected of stabbing the children numerous times in near-fatal injuries?
Well, us fathers work. We have careers. In my case, I was out of the country, any country, at least once a week. What provisions could I make to look after the children in my care. 50% of my earnings went straight to the Government in taxes (and, actually, it was probably nearer 60%). 50% of the rest paid for the house. Then there was food, clothing etc. for me and the children, and alimony for the ex-wife. On top of this there was the nearly $500,000 debt my ex-wife had run up on my credit cards. Where on earth was the money to come from for a full-time child-minder costing maybe $3,000 a month, i.e. my total net salary after tax? Grandparents? My father was dead and my mother was 85 and soon to develop alzheimer’s, and two hundred miles away from where I was working.
That was a financial equation that was impossible to bring to reality, which is probably why mothers in the UK invariably get 85% custody. They don’t have full-time jobs, they are therefore free to look after the children, and all this is paid for out of something like 75% of the ex-husband’s net income. And he still won’t get to see his beloved children, or they will be taught to be about as vicious to him as his ex-wife is.
Small wonder, I would say, that husbands decide to stay and fight it out.
Then there is the issue of whether, as a caring father, you want to leave your children in the hands of super-bitch who is brutal to almost everyone you know and whom you believe will turn on your children when you are gone.
Actually, that is a wrong assumption. She probably won’t. In the end, I left Rafaella after one of my children nearly died from the stress of our relationship and the other started to become seriously OCD and missed several days a week of his schooling because he was feeling ill. I was persuaded by an expert that it was I, in fact, who was the problem. Without me, the children would be fine.
So, I left, and they are fine so far as I know – my ex-wife will not allow me any contact with them whatsoever, so I can’t be sure. I fell in love with a truly wonderful Irish-American girl (I strongly recommend them), I moved to the US, I cut all communications with my ex-wife, I offered my children a home with us if they so chose, my ex-wife married a millionaire, the children seem happy – or at least not so unhappy that they want to come and live with me – job done. The only person who is miserable out of this final outcome is my ex-wife’s new husband, who gratifyingly left her four times in their first year together. Everyone else is great.
The moral is therefore that I should have left way back, but what were the chances then of such a triumphal outcome? I don’t know, and that is the problem …