My abusive ex-husband is about to visit and I don’t feel safe | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

Next month my ex-husband is coming over from abroad to meet our son’s new baby. The whole family is viewing the prospect with alarm. He left when our son was one and our daughter four, and subjected me to all kinds of physical, verbal, financial and emotional abuse.

Last time he came, he expected to be ferried about and have meals and laundry provided, and claimed to be unable to pay for anything – he is in his 60s and behaves like a spoiled teenager. My son lives in a small house and is considering paying for his dad to stay in a hotel. My daughter has no space and lives a distance away. Although my ex claims to have stopped, he smokes heavily, including cannabis, and my daughter has said she doesn’t want him doing this around her young child.

My ex expects everyone to put him first. I have never remarried (though I would have liked to, had I met the right person), and though I have made a reasonably successful career I was never able to buy my own home – he stopped paying maintenance for the children after moving abroad. Theoretically, I have room to put him up but am certainly not going to do so.

As well as not feeling safe with him, I work full time, help to look after my baby grandchild and have no time or emotional energy for his sneering negativity. I feel resentful at the way he has inflicted his selfishness and sense of entitlement on one generation and is threatening to do so on another. Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation?

Wow. Who has invited him and who wants him here? You are absolutely right not to put him up, so do not stray from this position.

The thing with difficult people (and your ex is both difficult and abusive) is that patterns are set. So he expects things and it sounds like he gets them. It’s time to stop. Just as he did with the maintenance payments to you and your children. He chose to live abroad; you didn’t make him.

If your son really wants to see his dad – and I have some sympathy, as he may be trying to find something in the relationship to salvage – putting him up in a hotel is a great idea: it will go some way to having boundaries in place, so may be worth the expense.

But it sounds as if your ex is still trying to control those around him, just as he did when you were together. Be mindful of this and of being manipulated. Before any of you agrees to anything, it may be worth asking: do I want this? Is this for me or him?

If he meets his children, I would advise them to do so in a neutral place, which they can leave, rather than in their own homes. This will give them some control over the situation. You have told me your son is organising his dad’s return flight so he also has some control over when he goes back. That’s good.

You say you feel resentful, but what stops you feeling angry? What ties you to feeling you need to have anything to do with this man? Is it wanting to “do right” by your children? They are adults and are capable of making their own decisions as to whether or not to see him – and it sounds as if they have some strong thoughts around this.

So my advice is this: disengage from this visit. Explain to your children that although you support and love them, you don’t want to see your ex. Would it be an option for you to go away yourself? Or do you feel you have to be the peacekeeper and protector?

When we continue to behave in ways which are harmful to us, it’s worth asking what tethers us to this behaviour and, in so doing, try to undo it. When you have been abused, it can make you doubt that what you feel is valid, warranted. So let me spell it out for you: you are not responsible for this man, and you owe him nothing.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to [email protected] Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

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