Written by a Survivor, Mother and Teacher aged mid 40’s:
“Who is the victim here?” I was asked by my GP. This had followed several appointments before where I had visited desperate for help, desperate for some way of helping my husband to control his anger and help reduce his stress.
This question stopped my train of thought; it was literally like a bolt hitting my chest. Firstly the word victim surprised me, and secondly I responded with, “Well it must be my husband!” After all it was him who was so stressed he couldn’t cope; it was him who was so worried about money, or who was so tired because of his work. I only worked part time as I was raising our two children, so how could I possibly realise the extent of what he was going through?
My GP responded with, “No, its you!” I felt almost frozen, I didn’t say it but I thought, “What do you mean, me?” He followed with, ”You are a victim of his behaviour.”
I left that appointment dazed, and with a link to a website and a book title that he had recommended, about dominating, controlling behavior.
This had come about after some quite horrendous months, which had escalated after many years, almost 20 with the last 10 being the most difficult. It’s so hard to describe how it did escalate and how things actually got this bad. I just know that my relationship was a real mix of highs and massive lows and not much in between. I had been happy, I had been in love, but life needed to be exciting and eventful for him to be happy also, and as our marriage plodded into family life, the ‘everyday’ type of life, (in my opinion my aim for life,) things changed!
Arguments would occur from situations that seemed to have no sense, and left me even more baffled as to what had gone wrong. It could escalate from emptying the bins, to a bit of DIY, and of course money worries, money was always the biggest most daunting topic. However I was never quite sure what I had done wrong to be shouted at in such a way, and sworn at with such revolting words!
If I were ever to have a voice back it would then only make matters worse, far worse, and if I cried, (which I often did,) I was offending him! He would say that I was expressing an emotion by crying, and so he was only doing the same by expressing anger! In some ways that made sense, but I was only crying because I was so upset and scared of the moment that had just happened.
He worked really hard, or so he told me, but the last thing he wanted when he came home was a nagging wife, (in my eyes I was only asking perfectly normal questions, but apparently they were nags.) One day his response would be one way, the next day it would trigger extreme anger from him, as if he changed his mind over night, but in a way that didn’t make sense, as he would argue and then contradict himself. I started to prepare myself before a conversation, almost risk assessing what could go wrong, thinking, “Now, how can I word this for the least impact?” I started to get a tight gut, and in the end feelings of acid indigestion. I was permanently on edge, anticipating what was to come. It even reached a point where I had to actually ask for permission to speak!
Over time I lost weight, and became really quite ill, and this was then always something to throw back at me in an argument, that I was upset as I was ill, or in a mood because I was ill. Inside I was screaming out to myself, “But that’s not true!”
To take time out from his stress at work, he would always need some form of activity or purchase, but always something that would cost greatly. We never seemed to have any money in our account, despite his well-paid job, and my part time work. We lived in a pretty idyllic village, but it always felt like he was expecting us to keep up with the standard of life that’s others had, and that he “deserved’ things like everyone else, because he worked so hard. However for that to happen, I started to go without, and lived off a very small budget, plus managed the food bills and the essentials for the children, but always struggling, almost down to my last penny at times. However he still continued to be very sociable and I knew that this came at times with a high cost. He was very generous, don’t get me wrong, often lavish, but I actually then felt more nervous, as this meant I had even more of a tough challenge to manage the budget that was left, whilst trying to show how grateful I was with his gifts, otherwise things would kick off again. If I were ever to mention the budget and the possibility of cut backs, then he would sulk if he couldn’t get his treats.
His socialising would be very frequently displayed on social media, often photos of having ‘good times!’ It reached a point where as a couple we hardly ever went out. It was implied how rude I was, and how unsociable I was, as I would sit there quietly, not knowing how to speak, or felt shy that I’d say the wrong thing. Often the drive home from an event would be so tense, you could almost cut the atmosphere with a knife. I could tell that somehow I had spoilt the evening for him, but also trying to hold back the tears, scared that if I showed them, this would trigger another argument. If I were to comment ever on his over familiar flirty behaviour with other woman, I would be accused of not trusting him, but I could see him behaving differently to the other people with their partners, and something didn’t feel right. But he was so charming, he made everyone laugh, and would always do something flamboyant to get attention, and this made me feel even more like retreating into the background. We had some extra close friends that I could be totally myself with, I think because I felt safe around them, as they were the only ones that had witnessed some of his outburst, and so it felt like they almost had got my back, but when we’d leave their company the rows would increase, as he questioned why I was fun with them, and not with him?
Often arguments would end with him either smashing something, punching something or throwing something. In fact the more I recall, this became far to frequent, several times a week. But the fear that I felt when this happened was immense. I’d feel sick, my stomach clenched, and all I wanted to do was actually pacify the situation, and then rush to grab the hoover to hide the evidence. The amount of times the hoover was put on at gone 11pm, I felt ashamed, what would the neighbours think? Stupidly I thought this was my way of covering it up from our children, (to destroy the evidence,) but of course, sadly they would have heard it all I now know. I would always go up to comfort them straight after, pretending I hadn’t been crying, excusing Daddy’s shouting for being over tired or stressed with work, or that silly Mummy upset him!
One day mid argument he blocked the doorway so that I couldn’t escape, I remember just crying and crying, and he started to laugh at me, his face almost becoming cartoon like, like a Disney villain. I felt such frustration that he wouldn’t move and allow me past to go and comfort the children upstairs, that I shouted back but he actually laughed even more at my feeble attempt. I stepped back, and cowered on the floor, giving in, feeling just desperate for this to stop. The doorbell rang, and he answered it, and it was a if a switch had been flicked off, as he greeted the door as charming as ever, literally changing the tone of his voice mid sentence, leaving me looking like a pathetic wreck on the kitchen floor.
Although I talk of the shouting, the same behaviour could actually be displayed through silence, through glares, a change in jaw line as he’d clenched his teeth, or his face would just get redder. As subtle as this was, and I’m sure invisible to others, it was a real indication to me what he was brewing up to, and this silence almost seemed more daunting, as I would anticipate when the outburst would arise.
This continued for several years, but as he hadn’t hit me I felt that I could never have a reason to leave, or get help, as who would believe me? What evidence did I have other than some dents in the walls, smashed items around the house? I started to imagine at times what life could be like without him, but then the guilt that I felt that I was even considering breaking my marriage vows, and potentially breaking up the family was unbearable. In fact it was my guilt of not wanting to perform my ‘intimate wifely duties,’ that actually tore at me the most. I felt sick and I’d often lie there crying, naively believing that he had this right as we were married. I was accused of not being as ‘fun’ in that department as when we first met! I was clearly failing him as a wife!
I remember justifying to my best friend that he couldn’t help it, he’d had a tough day etc, but of course I never informed them of the full extent, I guess I wasn’t even admitting it to myself. I kept thinking, ‘but it can’t be that bad,’ as he hadn’t hit me.
So back to where I started, after my appointment with my GP, I believe that my eyes had been opened slightly! It wasn’t much time later that the next situation occurred:
One day, after the most horrendous 2 weeks especially, I was standing in the hall waiting while our children put on their school shoes, and he punched the wall, (as I was making him angry, he said.) I asked him to stop whilst the children were getting ready for school, so he repeatedly shouted, gritted his teeth, clenched his fist and stood over me swearing the most vial words and telling me that I wasn’t being understanding of him. I asked him to stop again as the children were there and said that this was NOT the time to talk, and he swore more as he couldn't understand that when 'HE" wants to talk I say that its not the right time! The children started getting teary, and because I wanted to comfort them he was even more angry as I wasn’t showing him any sympathy! I just felt all I wanted to do was run away with my children, basically no matter what I said I was in a no win conversation.
I left for the school run, wanting to escape and he followed and grabbed my wrist forcing me to walk alongside him. All I wanted to do was walk with my children and calm the situation so that they didn't leave for a day of school after hearing such horrid words.
I walked home and rang my best friend, and it was as if a light bulb had gone off as I knew that things would never change, I would never say the right thing in his eyes, and he would never see that swearing and punching in front of his children was wrong. It would always be MY fault in his eyes, (and still is in his opinion even now.) I knew this was not the environment I wanted to expose my children to for even another day, I thought I’d been trying to hold the family together, but this wasn’t a family, this was toxic! Although he had said if I left then it would be me destroying their lives and breaking the family, I knew I couldn't take one more day of this, the thought of ever seeing him again made me feel sick with fear! Within half an hour I had packed our essentials, and left to stay with family.
It was then that I made that call, the one that literally changed my life, (often an over used phrase, but on this occasion, definitely a life changing moment!) I rang Womens Aid and started to waffle to their answer phone, I felt deflated that I didn’t reach a person and thought, well that’s it, I don’t tick the right box for their help etc.
However, thank goodness they did call me back. They initially checked that I was safe and that it was safe for me to talk. For the first half hour all I talked about was him, and why he was cross and what I had done to annoy him, and then they stopped me, and said, “WE BELIEVE YOU, and we want to hear about you.” I was again taken aback, as they actually wanted to listen to me. They labelled this as Domestic Abuse, and Domestic violence. Naively I thought that violence had to be specifically on a persons body! They then labelled him as the Perpetrator, and they told me that this behaviour was NOT acceptable and that it was wrong.
They then told me that someone would call back to risk assess my situation and to help match me with the right support. My assessment apparently ticked almost every box of abusive behaviour!
After the call I sat and sobbed, I don’t think I had sobbed that much for a very long time, as I had almost hardened to not show my feelings in the end, and had almost created a numbness. But these tears were pure and utter relief! Relief that I had been heard, and that even without bruising or broken bones I had been believed.
They refereed me to Worth Services, through which I had a personal Support Worker on the end of the phone for almost 9 months, my lifeline I believed. If anything his behaviour increased post separation, so I had daily calls with Worth to help me through this.
I was also then refereed to Time to Talk, the NHS counselling service, and to the Freedom Program run by Safe in Sussex. This provided me with a 12 week program, that I actually chose to repeat. Giving me a great knowledge and awareness. I met with other women, who would even quote identical sentences to me about things that their perpetrator would do or say, giving me reassurance that it was not just me, I hadn’t been going mad! I learnt that abuse is about power and control over someone, using intimidating and bullying techniques, and threatening behaviour. It is very controlled, so his anger was not ‘out of control,’ as actually it was controlled perfectly at work, or in social environments.
When I first attended the group, wrongly I thought, ‘How can a person like me be attending a group like this, isn’t this for beaten woman?’ But my goodness I was wrong. The variety of ages, backgrounds, situations of these women were so vast in the group, but the stories were pretty much identical.
He has continued to display a very different account publically, but I’ve found that a dignified silence from myself, speaks volumes.
I am no longer in the village and feel better for it. In the early days of me leaving my marriage, a lot of people had their immediate views, some would look down their noses at me, rumours would be spread and a few blanked me altogether. However what I also incurred through my silence was such great kindness by people, people who I didn’t need to explain myself to, but who knew that behind my silence there was much more to it.
A few years since the day I left I am still getting help for PTSD, from trigger related trauma and flashbacks, but, I am now able to be “Me,” I am divorced, I am confident (mainly,) I am independent, I am happy, and far stronger than I ever believed I could be, and more importantly than anything, I know that I am a very good Mum! My children are not damaged, in fact they have flourished, and I could not be prouder of them.
I am now almost fully qualified through Woman’s Aid, in Tackling and Preventing Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence, and am starting my next career move, building a professional relationship with RISE, in Brighton and The Rita Project.
Sometimes being in a relationship can be far lonelier than being on your own.