My now ex-wife has taken a restraining order out on me

I moved home last month, from a flatshare where I was one of four (and the oldest by 15 years), and into a bedsit which, from its front window, has uninterrupted views of the next-door neighbour’s wall. It’s a relief to have my own space again. Ideally, I’d like to have my children stay over at weekends, but really there isn’t room. And besides, my wife – now ex-wife, I suppose – wouldn’t permit it. I’m 47 years old, late in the day to realise just how much of a mess I’ve made of my life, and how I could have changed its direction decades earlier, if only…

Hindsight does not help console me to my current situation.

At 16, I was lost. After an adolescence of depression and anxiety, I needed anchoring, and found it with an older woman. She was 19, and had experienced childhood issues of her own. We quickly fell in love, and she took me under her wing. Over the next few years, we conspired to shut out much of the hostile world until it was pretty much just the two of us. This suited me, for a while. She severed all ties with her family, and even though, despite everything, I’d been close enough to mine, she encouraged me to do likewise.

We moved to another city, got jobs, got on with life – we weren’t entirely happy, perhaps, but then who is? – and eventually had kids. Their arrival complicated everything. I wanted my daughters to know their extended family, but my wife forbade it. My mother was heartbroken. One Christmas, my older sister came to visit – I’d chosen the safe space of a nearby café, and I came alone – and she made it explicit just how dysfunctional I’d become, and what a tragedy it would be to continue like this.

She was right, of course. At home, the arguments grew more frequent. My wife, who is half my size, would throw things at me and get violent. Sometimes, I had to restrain her, leaving bruises on her arms as I deflected her punches. Her word against mine: I know this.

During our worst fight, she called the police. What happened next happened quickly. I was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, not allowed to return to the family home, denied access to the children. She took out a restraining order, and the sense of mourning I felt was compounded by bewilderment – my life as I’d known it, gone – and then anger. For a time, I could only see my children one hour every two weeks under strict supervision in a municipal council building near a McDonald’s drive-thru. My girls now viewed me with a suspicion I could not easily dismantle.

The next few years were punctuated by court appearances. Gradually, my wife’s multiple claims changed, were called into question, and ultimately discarded. She was proving an unreliable witness.

Today, I’m still not allowed within 100ft of what was once home, and so I try to take comfort elsewhere: a home-made birthday card from my girls; the freedom to take them to the cinema; reuniting with my siblings.

But my situation hurts. My wife, my ex-wife, is ill, I see this now, but I’m no longer in a position to help. She’s gone from me, but the children tether us. I want joint custody. It’s a long road. In the most recent court case, for extended access, I won.

But none of us in this situation is winning. With each step forward, we lose a little bit more.

Read more: The man I married has turned into a country squire – and I hate it

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