After a highly toxic 10+ year relationship and two children, aged 6 & 3, my wife and I separated. There was wrong on both sides, however the way she ended the relationship was particularly underhanded and malicious.
She started seeing someone else behind my back, took the children with her when she went to see him, and got my eldest son to lie to me about it. All of this while I was away spending time at the hospital with my mother who was dying of breast cancer at the time.
Once the truth came out she left me, taking the children. Initially, she refused to let me see the children, she refused to allow my mother to see them before she died, she refused to let them attend the funeral/wake or the funeral/wake of both my grandparents that died shortly after. She falsely accused me of domestic abuse. While I was arrested and held for 24 hours, she emptied the house of everything.
She let me see my eldest son regularly after a couple of months had passed but still forced me to get a court order to see my youngest son. She falsely accused me of abusing the children and was dishonest during the entire process.
She is now living with the man she left me for and they have had a baby together.
All of this has left my eldest son deeply unhappy. He has become very introverted and his teacher has said he seems like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Whenever I speak to him, he begs me to pick him up. When he is with me he never wants to return to his mother and when I have to take him back he gets angry and cry's/screams hysterically. He tells me he misses me and that he wants to live with me. I barely know my youngest son and it worries me that he will be affected by not having the same relationship with me that his brother has.
The situation our children are in is difficult enough for them but is being made worse due to the conflict between me and their mother. We are unable to to communicate constructively to come up with a solution that will mitigate as much distress to our children as we can.
She refuses to speak to me half the time and the other half she cannot talk to me without trying to start an argument by bringing up the past or by making hurtful remarks. I try to keep the conversation focused on the children but she will eventually either provoke me into an argument or she will get angry about something and hang up.
I don't want to see any further distress caused to our children but I do not know what to do. I have tried unilaterally apologising for my part in the failure of our marriage and for how I hurt her. I have tried my best to forgive what she did to me and I have tried to make peace.
If I didn't have children with her I would gladly just walk away and never have any contact with her again but it is tormenting me to see our children put in this situation. She doesn't seem to treat them as individual human beings with needs and relationships independent of her. They are treated as if they are just props in her life to be used for her own ends.
How can I change things so that I can have a better relationship with my children's mother so the children are not caught in the middle of a bitter conflict ?