Ex-Husband Pretends His Abusive Behavior Never Happened and My Daughter Suffers

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a woman in my 50s. My ex-husband is someone of high social status and is nice to people outside of the family. However, ever since our daughter was little, he has not shown any affection toward her, and the way he physically and emotionally abused her during her rebellious years (when we were still married) got worse. My daughter says that this abuse occurred when I was not around.

One day, she told us about the frustration and sadness she felt. I apologized to her from the bottom of my heart and realized I had a lot of soul-searching to do. However, my ex-husband made no apology, but just continued to treat her callously. I asked him to change his ways, but things did not go well, and we ended up getting divorced.

After the divorce, my daughter had several opportunities to see her father. But she said each time she saw him, he would smile and act as if nothing had happened. She is confused by how differently he acts now compared to his attitude in the past. On the other hand, she is struggling with the feelings she has developed, saying, “I want him to apologize and love me someday.”

Is there anything I can do as a mother to make her happy? I would be grateful if you could give me some advice.

— Y, Saitama Prefecture

Dear Ms. Y:

Your ex-husband seems to be a person who is domineering toward those who are personally close to him but shows restraint toward those who are not. I think getting a divorce was the right decision.

Also, I think the reason your ex-husband is all smiles with your daughter is due to the fact that there is now a sense of distance between the two of them. It is natural and understandable that your daughter wants him to apologize and love her.

However, I am sure that your ex-husband does not feel sorry for what he has done. He also appears to be the kind of person who can only accept those who do what he wants them to do.

Unfortunately, there are people who will turn away even if you try to reach out to them. I don’t think you should let your daughter experience the hopelessness of continually seeking what she cannot get no matter how hard she pursues it.

Tell this to your daughter. I think it would be good for you to show her without doubt that you love and accept her.

— Junko Umihara, psychiatrist