Crazy ex-partners. Sometimes, they suffer with inward-directed sadness and depression, hard to watch but generally harmless. Other times, they begin to turn insistent, even violent. Texts and phone calls that won’t end are one thing, but it gets much scarier when the ex starts showing up unexpectedly or starts making threats. They might want to punish the victim for the defiance of leaving, or prove that the victim belongs to them and only them. Either way, that’s when we start seeing harassment, then stalking, and perhaps escalation into more. It’s a particular line of this more that I’d like to explore today: when the ex widens their focus to the victim’s friends, family members, and potential new partners. We are rightfully most often most concerned about the direct victim, but we should also be aware that being closely involved with one also raises our own risk profiles. There are some particular points in time and space where this is most likely to become an issue. These are ones I suggest that if you are the person leaving, you warn those around you about, and if you are one of those friends who are around, to be most careful with.
If the couple was living together or spending a lot of time at one person’s place, there’s going to be stuff that needs to be moved out. That act has a level of finality that has the potential to become an explosive flashpoint for the ex, regardless of whether it’s their place you’re moving out of or vice versa. It’s unlikely that everything at the other person’s place can or wants to be left behind, and if it couldn’t be taken with at the time of the breakup, then someone’s going to have to go back to get it. Very often, moving means not just having to be in formerly shared space, but at a time when both people know it’s going to happen. If you are able arrange it so you both aren’t there at the same time, either by scheduling or by using professional movers, that helps. Either way, anybody who comes to help with or supervise the move should be aware that there was a contentious break-up. It may be wise to have a few extra folks along both to speed the process and to be discouragement against bad acts, even if only by their presence, and to alert local police (who, let’s be honest, may or may not be interested in helping, but it can be worth finding out). Having someone acting as a look-out can also be useful, and if they are prepared to use self-defense tools, then so much the better to have that option available.
Interaction between ex-partners might occur if there are children with shared custody or similar arrangements. The exchange is one of the most dangerous times for a separated parent who has left a violent partner, since it’s mandatory, perhaps court-ordered, task. Because children are necessarily present, and possibly new partners or additional family members, they can all be in danger of unpredictable violence. Being honest about the potential is the first step to ensuring that the switch occurs as smoothly and calmly as possible. That way, you can start thinking about whether there may be a safer place or way to transfer the children from one parent to the other – a busy, public parking lot, perhaps, or one drops off at school and the other picks up. It won’t be a guarantee, but it can reduce risk. Similarly, if an ex and a family member or new boyfriend or girlfriend don’t get along, it’s not a good idea to put them in the same space intentionally and certainly not at a moment when your children might end up in the crossfire.
More intentionally, and far more scary, is when the ex seeks you out in order to specifically frighten or harm you. One way is to track down where you are living, temporarily or permanently. In addition to you, your friends, family, even coworkers can be at risk and may deserve to be warned. It may simply be at the level of annoyance or harassment, as the ex may try to demand information from them in order to find you. If they don’t cooperate, the ex may become angry or even violent. If they do, well, then the ex knows where to find you where you should be able to feel and be safe. If you’re living with any of those folks, it becomes even more complicated. In getting to you, the ex may decide that it’s worth going through your roommates. It’s not a reason to only live alone, but it is a reason to make sure people you’re living with know that possibility exists so that all of you can take precautions to keep your address private and home secure.
Another is sparked by you deciding to dip your toe in the dating waters again. Your new romantic interest can be collateral damage as the ex tries to assert their place in your life and your place in theirs, or can become a direct target as a rival. It’s not even a little fair that if you are feeling healed enough to pursue a new relationship that it might be thwarted by someone from your past becoming violent, but it’s also not fair to a potential partner to not warn them. An ex who is stalking you – perhaps through a tracking device – may show up when you’re on dates, or may show up at your dating partner’s home, whether or not you’re there. The very fact that you look like you’ve moved on may be enough to set off a confrontation that can go badly. Anyone you are starting to see should be aware of the possibility and be able to make an informed decision about what they believe is best for their safety and the safety of those around them. It stinks if they decide that means not continuing your fledgling relationship, but I suspect you’d find it stinks more if they are hurt because of you.
None of this is ever the fault of the original target. That they, you, have an ex who has decided to respond so badly to a breakup is still entirely on that ex. After all, nobody goes into a relationship planning on being abused or expecting a dramatically dangerous exit. Even if some red flags may have been ignored, it’s on the person flying those flags if they become harassers, stalkers, or more. However, regardless of how someone ends up there, we need to remember that they are not the only ones who may come in harm’s way because of it, and take the necessary measures so that we can all be safe.