Domestic violence. The words evoke a range of responses and perceptions. Some may be a result of the media, widespread myths or personal experiences.
Personally, my idea of domestic violence was of a man who hit his wife on a regular basis. I expect that many have this view.
I wasn’t in that type of relationship. My ex-husband had never hit me.
Yet, I did at times wonder if he was being abusive. Such as when he would stand in a doorway and refuse to let me leave the room while shouting at me. Other times, he would use his physical size to intimidate me or punch a wall close to me.
Whenever I threatened to call the police, he would tell me that they would do nothing as he hadn’t laid a finger on me and never would. My ex-husband worked for the police. I believed him. But I shouldn’t have. It was finally the police that made me see that I was a victim of domestic violence and that I had been for years.
These are the signs of domestic violence according to Women’s Aid:
- Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening
- Pressure tactics: sulking, threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children, lying to your friends and family about you, telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
- Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people, not listening or responding when you talk, interrupting your telephone calls, taking money from your purse without asking, refusing to help with childcare or housework.
- Breaking trust: lying to you, withholding information from you, being jealous, having other relationships, breaking promises and shared agreements.
- Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls, telling you where you can and cannot go, preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
- Harassment: following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public.
- Threats: making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
- Physical violence: punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, shoving, burning, strangling.
- Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen, saying you caused the abusive behaviour, being publicly gentle and patient, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again
My ex-husband didn’t do all of these but, without going into specific details, he did more than half of them.
I expect some people would wonder why I stayed married for so long, so I will try to explain.
Firstly, because there was no physical violence, I believed him when he said that it wasn’t domestic violence and it wasn’t that bad. After all, everyone has their ups and downs in a marriage.
Secondly as part of this, I was in denial. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t that bad. Or that it was the drink. Or his abusive childhood. Or the range of reasons that he gave me. It is sometimes easier to be in denial than to face reality.
Thirdly, I believe that I am a positive person and I always try to see the best of every situation. Unfortunately, even after I realised that things were not ‘normal’, my positivity gave me hope that he could be ‘cured’. I persuaded him to talk to several people – friends and professionals – about his issues in the hope that once these were dealt with, he would be ‘better’.
Fourthly, a lot of the abuse was emotional and psychological, and he would threaten suicide, walk out for hours, say that he would fight me for custody, tell me sob stories and generally use a range of tactics to make me stay.
Fifthly, I loved him. And I believed that when you love someone, you try to help them and to give them another chance.
Finally, it wasn’t all bad. He wasn’t abusive every day or every week. It was like living with a Jekyll and Hyde character. He could be very loving – saying kind words or buying me little gifts. But you never knew whether it would be Jekyll or Hyde that walked through the door each day. And you never knew what would change him from one to the other, so there was a lot of eggshell walking.
Even after we split up, he still had a hold on me. I offered to give him money for a deposit on a flat – which he took but lost when he was evicted from there after getting drunk. I drove him to the doctors and support workers to get him help. I organised places for him to stay and the contact between him and our children.
I remember talking to one of the domestic abuse support team and telling her that I was going to speak to our local contact centre to arrange supervised access for him to see our younger three children. She told me that he was still emotionally controlling me, even though he had left. She firmly stated that if he wanted to see his children, then he should be the one to organise it. After all, I was trying to take care of six children, the family finances and returning back to work. So, I never made that phone call. And guess what? Neither did he.
It is hard to see that it is happening when you are in that situation. Fortunately, I am now out of the relationship and free to make my own decisions without being lied to, abused or manipulated.
I am now free and happy.
For further information and support on domestic violence: Woman’s Aid
This article was first published on Life With Six Kids