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Carolyn Hax: Should I warn my abusive ex’s new girlfriend?

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We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn, I just divorced my husband of 33 years. So proud of myself for finally getting out of that abusive relationship. Although he never hit me or our daughters, he was verbally violent and terrifying several times a year. Most of the time, we couldn’t predict it was coming. No one outside our family knew about this.

My daughters are grown, and, after much therapy and work with Co-Dependents Anonymous, I have recovered enough to be ready to talk to the girls about it. I tried once not long ago and they were both too uncomfortable. I get it.

Also, he is in a new relationship. I know there are a hundred reasons not to contact this person (intruding in the relationship, she’s unlikely to believe me, etc.), but I wonder if his abusive tendencies of him are enough of a reason to try. It would be different if it was just about his narcissism, I think?

I got out, can they?: Much respect to you for getting away from that situation! I do want to say that I feel there’s a reason you didn’t mention what your therapist and/or Co-Dependents Anonymous group advised. Possibly that reason is because you haven’t asked them? If that’s the case, is it because you understand that getting involved in his relationship is getting involved with HIM, and all of this points to a co-dependent behavior, one you’ve done a lot of work in changing? As for her de ella… she’ll figure it out, or she wo n’t. It’s not worth sabotaging any of the hard work you’ve done to get where you are. I say this as someone who has been in shoes similar to yours. It likely won’t help her and it will likely hurt you. The days of putting someone else’s interests first, especially at the expense of your own, are officially over. Now, go have a cool drink on a warm beach with a good book, and try not to make this your problem. Go forth, guilt-free, and enjoy your freedom from his terrible burden. You deserve it.

I got out, can they?: Although it is commendable that you want to save someone the trauma you experienced, the probability of her actually hearing your advice is almost nil. If he is, in fact, a narcissist then he will have already laid the groundwork for you to not be believed (new supply vs old supply). If he is a narcissist, he will undoubtedly place the blame for the failure of your marriage at your feet and victimize himself in the narrative she has heard. If you feel compelled to warn her, don’t expect your story to be fully embraced. That being said, an early warning from you might plant a seed that makes her more ready to recognize red flags if and when they occur. Although she probably won’t leave the relationship based on your advice, she might be more prepared to leave should the need arise.

I got out, can they?: Good for you for getting out! You describe yourself as a recovering codependent, so you might want to reflect on your rationale for wanting to reach out to this woman. Having just left an abusive marriage, your energy is better spent focusing on your own wellness, and continuing to keep lines of conversation open with your daughters.

Most abusers test the waters in new relationships — starting with small, harmful comments, or trying to control their partners in ways that initially seem charming, sweet or motivated by concern — before escalating to more overtly harmful behavior. There will be yellow flags, and then red flags. The new girlfriend is (I assume) an adult woman. If she is with him day-to-day, she is already gathering the information she needs to help her decide whether to stay or go. She may be choosing to ignore those initial yellow flags, but intervention from you is not likely to change her mind.

I got out, can they?: Abuse of any kind is a serious matter, and I personally believe a short letter or direct message may be warranted. You’re correct in thinking she may not believe you or suspect you have ulterior motives. As emotional beings we are naturally suspicious of outsiders in our relationships, especially a previous partner. I’ll give you an example I experienced second-hand from my best friend. Her ex-husband of her was abusive, both verbally and physically. When he started dating a younger and seemingly more vulnerable woman (they met occasionally due to sharing custody of their child), she became concerned just as you have. My friend thought it was important to be dispassionate with her statement by her, just give the facts, and let the young woman do what she will with the information. She put it shortly and plainly: “I was abused by him and I’m concerned he has not done the therapy or work to behave any differently toward you. I’m not telling you to leave him, but I’m telling you so that if you see warning signs you’ll be better prepared.” She did not really react one way or another at the time, but once she experienced his first outrage from her, she left him and expressed thanks to my friend. You know your ex-husband and the situation best so only you can make the final call, but I hope this has helped.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installation here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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