‘My daughter saw her father strangle me when she was 2. Now she sees her mom being loved.’: Blended family create ‘happy and healthy home’ after narcissistic abuse

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of domestic abuse that may be triggering to some.

“Our journey started in 2016 when I started my job as an office manager where Stephen worked. At the time, I had been married to my narcissistic, abusive ex-husband for 4 years. On my first day on the job, I was introduced to everyone in the office. When I got introduced to Stephen, I honestly didn’t think anything of it or him. He was married as well at the time, and even though I was in a very unhappy and unhealthy marriage, it didn’t mean I was looking for happiness somewhere else or in someone else. A few months went by and naturally, my relationship with everyone in the office began to develop, Stephen included. He was, and still is, a funny guy. He was definitely the office clown.

Couple lying on the grass wearing sunglasses taking selfie
Courtesy of Stephen Richardson and Crystal Rozakis

During this time, and unbeknownst to us, both of our marriages were falling apart. Over time, Stephen and I began developing a good friendship. We discovered we had great conversations, we always ended up laughing about any and everything, and eventually, I felt comfortable enough to confide in him about the hell I’d been living in. I’m an extremely private person, so I would always go to work with a smile on my face despite what was going on at home. Somehow, Stephen was able to break through my silence. If you know anything about domestic violence, you know it’s hard for a victim to speak about the things they live through.

Coupling standing outside taking smiling selfie
Courtesy of Stephen Richardson and Crystal Rozakis

Time went on and we maintained our friendship while I was able to find the strength to leave my marriage and file for divorce. Stephen was my sounding board during such an ugly time, all while he was going through his separation from his toxic, controlling, and manipulative ex-wife. In 2017, Stephen ended up moving into his own apartment while he started his divorce process. He was there for me during my divorce, so naturally, I was there for him. Months after he moved out, Stephen and I developed a more meaningful relationship that eventually turned into a romantic one. We spent more time together and eventually came out as a couple in 2018, while Stephen’s divorce was still being finalized. Because of this, we experienced a lot of backlash—and I mean a lot.

Couple sitting on bus taking selfie
Courtesy of Stephen Richardson and Crystal Rozakis

Both of our exes lashed out in extremely toxic ways. My ex-husband did EVERYTHING he could to prevent us from being together. He attempted to tarnish my name by writing vulgar comments on our company’s social media pages. He sent hateful text messages to my family. He would harass me by calling me incessantly, for hours on end. I eventually had to request a no-contact order, which is still in effect to this day. On Stephen’s end, out of spite for him filing for divorce, his ex-wife slandered his and my name to their church and to his entire family. Stephen’s family is extremely religious and doesn’t believe in divorce. They tried everything they could to keep him and his ex-wife together for the sake of the kids. Even after Stephen’s parents were on the receiving end of one of his ex-wife’s slanderous attacks, they still put their faith over their family and tried to convince Stephen to stay married and work things out.

Blended family of 5 standing by tree with water in background
Courtesy of Stephen Richardson and Crystal Rozakis

I laid witness to Stephen spending nights crying himself to sleep because no one seemed to value his mental health and emotional wellbeing, nor did they seem to want to acknowledge the kind of hell his ex-wife put him through. So many people think you should put your happiness aside because there are children involved. What people fail to realize is parents should put their happiness first BECAUSE of their children. My daughter, who is now 8, saw her mother being strangled by her father when she was just 2 years old. Because I left when I did, she doesn’t remember it. All she sees now is me being in a happy and fulfilling relationship. She sees her mother being loved and she sees the way a man is supposed to treat his wife.

Two sisters standing with arms around their little brother outside
Courtesy of Stephen Richardson and Crystal Rozakis

Instead of Stephen’s kids seeing their parents argue all the time, they now see love. When we kiss, they laugh in enjoyment. They are equally affectionate with us both regardless of what ‘step’ title we carry. Kids feed off their parents’ energy. This means as parents and role models for our kids, we need to provide them with a good example of a happy and healthy home. Divorce is sad, splitting up a family is sad, and kids having to adapt to a new routine because of a divorce is sad. But what’s worse is kids developing the same toxic traits they witnessed. What’s worse is a little girl growing up thinking it’s normal for her spouse to put their hands on her because it’s ‘what Daddy did to Mommy.’

Father lying on couch cuddling with three children
Courtesy of Stephen Richardson and Crystal Rozakis

Stephen and I worked extremely hard to blend our families. We went against what EVERYONE said and what everyone else wanted us to do. Up until we got engaged last year, Stephen’s parents still kept a photo of him and his ex-wife up on their wall. Stephen and I stopped giving people a say, we stopped giving them the option to have control over our happiness. Eventually, the photo came down, his parents started to invite me over for family dinners, and started to include me and my daughter more. It’s definitely still a struggle, but a work in progress. We have experienced years of failed attempts to successfully co-parent with our toxic exes. Stephen has requested on numerous occasions his ex-wife makes an effort to have a relationship with me for the sake of the kids. They have 50/50 shared custody so, she and I spend the same amount of time around the kids.

Family dressed in Halloween costumes posing outside
Courtesy of Stephen Richardson and Crystal Rozakis

I’ve expressed how I’d like to be in a good place so we can share photos of the kids, co-plan birthday parties, etc., but she vehemently refuses to even be in the same room with me, let alone speak to me. Whatever anger or resentment was present during the initial separation and divorce is still being held onto to this day. She only attempts to be amicable when she wants something (part of her manipulation tactics). My ex-husband only has custody of our daughter two weekends a month. Every time I convey to him about something our daughter might be struggling with, such as school, behavior, emotions, etc., and ask for his assistance, his response is always the same: I don’t do enough and should be doing more to help our daughter.

Family of five standing outside laughing
Nickstal Photography

Despite all this, Stephen and I made the conscious decision to move forward in love. To parallel-parent, with our children and our new blended family at the forefront of our decision making. The road to get here has been very long and certainly rough, but seeing our kids together and hearing them refer to each other as ‘my brother, my sister’ makes it all worth it. In just a few days, we’ll make it official with a wedding. There will still be people who don’t agree, but we are doing what makes us and our kids happy. And in the end, this is all that matters.”

Family of five holding hands standing outside
Nickstal Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephen Richardson and Crystal Rozakis of Tampa, Florida. You can follow their journey on Instagram. You can find Stephen’s Instagram here and Crystal’s here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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