No Hands Required
I know that look. It’s the jealous look. Dark brown eyes, filled with rage, glaring at me as if they are about to pierce me with a knife. It makes my heart pound, my chest tighten, and it feels like a huge cement slab is slowly crushing my lungs. I know that look. I’ve seen it many times before. What was that look for this time? Was I doing something wrong?
I was simply enjoying myself at my work Christmas party. I was playing pool with another female, against two male staff member, while my husband watched on. When I looked at him and saw ‘the look’, I knew it was time to leave. After finishing the game he carried on, so I made an excuse to leave the party. Outside the club he virtually abused me right there. An old couple walked past and one said how disgusting his outburst was.
Playing pool at my Christmas party was not ok with him. Mind you it was ok for him to play pool, at the pub after work, with his female co-workers. But it’s different rules for me.
When we got home he continued going off at me, accusing me of flirting and calling me names and stuff like that, getting angrier and angrier. So I did everything I could to make things right and not have him angry and upset. So I apologised. Even worse was that he used his situation- where he had turned things around until I felt guilty- to do something that he wanted to do and that I did not want to do.
I did it for him to try and make him happy, to calm him down, to keep the peace. He wanted to have anal sex.
I had felt a mix of emotions that time: panicked, anxious, scared and later on I felt angry that my night was ruined. But I didn’t say anything to ‘rock the boat’. Looking back now I wonder: Did he think about my feelings? Did he ever consider that he had been in the wrong, that he had ruined my night- a social event for me that I rarely experienced. Did he care that he had hurt me?
Over the years of getting ‘That Look’ I kidded myself into believing that I wasn’t a sociable person. Not me, i’m a homebody. That’s what I told myself. But in reality I didn’t go to any social events to avoid confrontation or his bad behaviour when he did come.
I was scared of him.
All through our marriage he went to his social functions and work parties alone. He came home when he felt like it. Once in the earlier years I asked him if I could come to his work Christmas party and he replied ‘it is more fun without you’.
It’s only been the last few years that I realised there was a pattern of jealousy and possessiveness. He didn’t like me going out so he’d make it nearly impossible with looks and threats or sulking, and he stopped me going to the gym because he liked me being overweight. Realising this stuff has been a lightbulb moment for me.
Marriage: the unequal partnership
We started going out about 20 years ago. We were teenagers. He was my first and only boyfriend, and I had had some childhood experiences that had affected my self-perception and self-esteem. I thought I was not good enough and that no boy would like me. When he asked me out I thought ‘Someone actually wants me!’
From the start he always did what he wanted without considering me much, but I adored him. I would get butterflies in my stomach when he came home from work because I was so excited to be with him, and he could really make me laugh. I was in love.
We were young parents. I had the image of a fairytale marriage in my head, but it was never going to be. He did not help with the children and he rarely came straight home from work. For years this went on. Even in the later years he’d be playing PlayStation at his mates house. He’d bring his mate over every Friday and they’d spend the whole weekend out, or smoking dope in the shed while I was stuck in the house alone with two small children. It all happened so gradually it just seemed normal I guess, you get used to it.
Family meant everything to me and everything I did was for my family. I just wanted my husband to love me and look at me and spend quality time with me and our family.
I wanted us to walk up the street with the kids, holding hands, like I’d seen other couples do.
I wanted to enjoy simple pleasures together. Didn’t he?
Only when it suited him and that was not often. When the kids were doing singing concerts at the local club he’d take off the bar as soon as he arrived.
We took the kids to Surfers Paradise for our only big family holiday. We took them to a theme park on the first day, but after lunch he wanted to leave even though they were having such a good time. He made us all leave, he didn’t care about the kids and their enjoyment. The next day the kids and I went to a different park and he went to the casino.
His rage is scary. It’s gotten so much worse over the last 8 years. Pent up anger from childhood perhaps that included bashings and a lack of love or nurturing. Something he’s never dealt with.
Something that has affected us all.
Something I have tried to help him with.
I know now that his childhood is not an excuse to to take things out on the people who love you.
Like the time he kicked the car door in and dinted it in rage- the kids and I had to spend a night in a motel.
Or the time he flew into a wild rage in front of my family.
I could go on and on.
He never laid a hand on me, but the fear, the anxiety, the intimidation, the hurt and the violation of myself as a person, was there every time he had an outburst.
On quite a few occasions he had grabbed or pushed the kids as they got older, and he would get right up in their faces, eyes filled with hate, fists clenched, spit coming from his mouth and he raged.
A big tough 6 foot tall bloke. What a coward. I always intervened and made him stop, or I would find out he did it when i wasn’t home. When I would ask about it, he would deny it or minimise what had happened and blame the kids.
I used to say to him: ‘what memories do you want your kids to have of you?’ I’d tell him it was not ok, but he did not change. When my son was 17 he said to his dad ‘what you’re doing is abuse and mum said to call the police’, and he scoffed and said ‘you don’t know what abuse is’. No responsibility or ownership of his behaviour.
Do you know what else I really hated? Getting woken up in the middle of the night at random times by him yelling at me. I’d wake up not knowing what the hell was going on. In his mind he would decide I had done something wrong, work himself up, and that he had to tell me right then and there. For hours sometimes he’d keep me awake telling me off.
Not only was he angry at home, he was angry at work and, well, everywhere. He was always angry with someone about something. I just can’t understand how everything can be so bad. Living with someone like that is so draining, so tiring.
I told him many times in the last few years that he had to get help, that I wouldn’t be able to put up with it forever. I don’t think he thought I would ever really leave though.
Excuses verses Reality
I used to make excuses for him- for his anger snaps and his cowardly rages. I felt sorry for him I wanted to help and support him. I wanted to be there for him: I’m a nurturer at heart.
I thought this was all I deserved- he would tell me often enough that I am damaged good and no one would want me.
I really believed that his behaviour, his moods, his treating us badly, his selfishness was all due to undiagnosed mental illness and once he got help he’d be magically cured.
I never thought about him making choices.
Did I have the information and knowledge I have now about this kind of behaviour? No, I didn’t think about the choice of his behaviour that cannot simply be blamed on mental heath issues.
I realised that I myself have had terrible things happen in my life, but I did not treat my loved ones badly. I tried to protect those around me.
He is the only one who can help himself and can choose his path in life and I cannot continue to support someone who doesn’t want help.
‘I will kill myself if you leave’
He said that quite a few times, and I believed him. He threatened suicide for the first time in my second year of Uni as a mature student [as things change and I became more independent the behaviour escalated]. I really wanted to go to the after party to say goodbye. He didn’t want me to go but I was determined. I was not going to be stopped anymore with manipulation and intimidation!
So I went and our two teenage kids came with me and we had a fantastic time.
But he went into a rage, the biggest one I had ever seen before, he even scared my dad who was staying with us, so much that he wanted to leave and drive the 2 hours home.
I guess what i had always suspected when i saw The Look was true: that I had to keep the peace or the violence would get worse.
The next day I told him he had to leave. He cried and said he was sorry and threatened suicide. In my heart I wanted it to be true so badly and believed he’d really get help this time. But he didn’t. He went to a counsellor twice and then everything went back to normal.
My eyes were open and I began to see a pattern of behaviour though.
‘I would do anything for you’
‘I would jump in a river of crocodiles to save you’ he’d say. However I did not want him to jump in a river of crocodiles, I had just asked him to go to counselling to get help as he promised he would so many times.
The final straw was one night, when I had cooked tea for us, he went out all night with a mate of his. He came home and ended up having to tell me he’d woken up ‘with a woman on top of him’ and was worried he had an STI.
I was shocked. I went to the botanical gardens to think: my happy place. I went home and told him it was over.
He would bombard me with texts and calls of ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry’. When that didn’t work he threatened suicide. He was a mess and everyone felt bad for him, even my mum and dad. Give him another chance. He will change.
So I found myself comforting him, but there were clues now: he never really showed any concern for me or the kids. It was all about him: how much he was suffering, how he was in a bad way, him this, he that… what about me? Us? He’d risked my health and our relationship!
He never once expressed genuine care for my feelings or how all this affected me. I had never seen the ME ME ME side of him quite like this before. He repeatedly manipulated situations, but this time I could see. I had started counselling, and I could really see what was happening. The counsellor enables me to TALK TALK TALK and given me a clearer perspective. She didn’t make me feel bad when I went back and forth, I just kept up the process of going. I felt comfortable and I trusted her. It helped a lot, even coming to terms with ‘domestic violence’.
I was testing you
About a month after the ‘woman on top of him’ story, he was getting frustrated because everything had not blown over and I had not forgotten. The ‘I love you, I’m sorry’ part was over because it didn’t work. Now the blame game was starting. He threats to leave and then says he was ‘testing me’ for my reaction.
I have not let everything go back to how it normally would in previous years. My eyes are wide open and I can see the tricks of violence and they are not working anymore. I think he is confused too, so he’s getting really defensive and nasty towards me. ‘The world does not revolve around you’ he said to me recently. I replied ‘No, that’s been the problem. It never has’.
What has changed is me. Not him. Me. I have seen a side of him I hadn’t seen before. I am speaking up and sticking up for myself. I am asking to be treated properly, with respect and I’m not giving that up.
I know I deserve better.
But this is a problem for him. He tells me I’m not treating him good and everything is my fault. He tells me he has always treated me good and been there and supported me.
In my heart I’m out the door, but the fear of the unknown makes me wonder if I should keep trying. He says ‘If we separate you will get another bloke and he will treat you bad and he will cheat on you’. I am confused. I am scared.
Coming to an end
It’s the end of the year now and I am at peace with my decision. I am leaving. I have fears around my safety. Will he crack? Will he kill himself? Will he try and hurt me? I have fears about money, but I am ready to say it is over. My counsellor has been supporting me and helped me make a safe plan to leave with other professionals.
Counselling has made me stronger.
I started keeping a ‘reality diary’ (on my laptop with a password) which has been really helpful.
I compare abuse to living in a cult because it’s like you have been brainwashed and it’s very hard to be reprogrammed: to see that what’s happening in the relationship isn’t normal, it isn’t right, it’s not ok. That is a long process and you need lots of support. Talking honestly with my sisters and my late-teenage children has been amazing.
They have all seen The Look and been scared too.
I talk to myself and say over and over: “This is not ok, you do not want to be putting up with this for another 20 years.”
“You deserve better, you are a good person.”
My voice is coming out louder and louder with practice.
He never showed me anything of a loving person. I had so much love to give but this year I know I am not in love anymore. I just felt anxiety and a sense of dread, I couldn’t breathe. I do not want to give anymore of myself to him. I felt drained and tired all the time: that can’t be love. It’s the everyday things you do to show love: like cooking a nice meal or running an errand when you don’t feel like it or your husband hanging out the washing or just being there to listen when you’ve had a bad day or taking the kids to give you a break. They want to make your life easier, and they say things to make you feel special. Anyone can say ‘I love you’. Love should bring you happiness, and the life I have been living was drained of happiness.
Right now I am planning for my future- me and the kids, even though they’re grown up. I will start my first year of being a teacher. I am going to save for a holiday. I am not a spring chicken anymore. I want to buy myself a little unit so when I retire I own it. I am not scared of being lonely, because I was so lonely and scared so many times in my marriage.
Like the mountains bursting through the stifling clouds, your heart will emerge in the sunshine of healing and friendship
Book of inspirations – Daisy Seal
This story was written by a woman who sat with me for a year. During that year she went from acknowledging violence, contemplating leaving her husband of 20 years, to making the final decision to end her marriage. In that marriage he never laid a hand on her- or not in the ways that the story usually goes.
This woman never recognised herself in the usual stories and images of violence against women. She wasn’t ‘cowering in the corner’ and she had never been ‘bashed’. ‘I’m not in that category’ she told me.
She generously wrote her story because she wanted other women to understand that violence is never only physical. She hoped that they will recognise themselves in her story and gain the strength to know they are not alone. The threat of violence by intimidation, coercion and manipulation is how domestic violence against women works and is vital to understanding.
I shortened it for blog sake, but it’s all her words.
After that year, the violence did escalate when she left her husband. She never imagined she would have to hide where she was living or tell the police in a new town that she could be in danger, but that all happened too.
Through all of that, though, she’s found sides of herself and parts of her story and who she is that she wouldn’t have known existed if she hadn’t been so courageous.
And here’s the most amazing part: she wrote yesterday- 2 years since our final meeting- with an update, which I think many women will treasure and be inspired by:
Two years on…
“The biggest thing I have taken from the last (nearly) 2 years after leaving my husband has been really reflecting on myself and my attitude toward myself-who am I? What do I want and need for myself? What will make me happy?
The first 12 months after leaving were the hardest, I really struggled with not being a wife anymore and my kids leaving home at the same time. I felt like: Who am I? Because I felt I was no longer a wife or mother. My main roles for 20 years. I felt like I was lost and to be honest it was not easy. I had, in the first few months thought I should go back, because I felt so lost. Thank goodness my support network and the AVO [Apprehended Violence Order/ Intervention Order] helped me stay strong and use common sense!
I did a bit of dating last year and ended up entering into another unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship, because I had not changed the way of thinking about myself and what I deserved and wanted for myself and my happiness. I definitely needed time alone to grow as a person before worrying about reIationships. I ended it after about 5 months of being lied to and played.
I started researching information on self actualisation/self help and relationships and love and from then I began to change my way of thinking about myself and what I deserved and wanted-especially from any relationship I would enter into in the future.
This help me learn about myself and I grew immensely as a person- I am resilient but I now felt self empowered and independent for the first time in my life. I knew then I could do this on my own and be happy and if I did met someone it would be as a strong woman who will love passionately and give my all to a special person but I would not settle and I would not be abused in anyway shape or form. I would be assertive and make sure my happiness and wants and needs are met. In saying that, it takes practise to incorporate these skills in real life. It’s learning to retrain my mind and patterns and that is not easy but its worth it- such as speaking up when you’re not happy or need something.
This year I have met a wonderful new partner, however any relationship is not like in the movies or a fairy tale. My new relationship has thrown challenges at me, there have been ups and downs, nothing or no one is perfect, but he has shown me how relationships should be- loving and fun too!!! I need to communicate my feelings when I feel unhappy which has been hard for me because of my past. But I know I don’t need to be scared anymore, I can talk to him and its safe to do so.
Relationships take love, commitment, honesty, respect and hard work by both people and I know of that’s not there or its one sided -then leave and find the person who ill love you and respect you enough to give you that. Through the work I have done on myself I am ready to be in a relationship that is one I choose to be in because I want to be.”
Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This is a UN supported initiative because violence against women is a human rights violation and a global crisis. Women have fought for many years- hundreds of years in fact- for our rights, our freedom and now our safety. They built safe havens and centres for other women to be educated and supported and many went unfunded for decades, some in poorer countries still are (a message to those men whining about ‘men’s rights’: start a centre from scratch amidst scathing ignorance and violent threats, raise all your own money, work for nothing dedicated to the sole cause of helping men, and do all of that for no other reason than the desire for everyone to be treated fairly with respect and THEN tell us you’ve struggled).
If you do recognise yourself in this story, then please call 1800RESPECT 24/7. There are free services available to support you in any way you may need or want. Your situation is a you-shaped one, you don’t need to compare yourself to others ‘more in need’ and no one expects you to. Get help. You are not alone and you do deserve better.