A Lunchtime Live listener penned an open letter to all victims of domestic and emotional abuse during lockdown.
She tells her story, in her own words, to give hope to those who are suffering.
Just leave. I did and I’ll never regret it.
I’m a big fan of your show and one of your items a few weeks ago really resonated with me. The woman who discovered her husband’s affair before going into lockdown and his lack of remorse. Every night as I go to bed I reflect on the challenges of lockdown, not being able to get close to my cocooning 86-year-old parents, trying to keep my kids indoors and all the other challenges. But I thank God every day I’m no longer in an abusive relationship.
It’s been six years since my marriage ended. We were together since 1992. It was a difficult marriage, but I loved my husband even up to him leaving the family home– strange as that may sound. I don’t love him now because I believe the man I married never existed - he was an illusion. With the benefit of hindsight, that what he did to me and his children was deliberate. To exert control and fear so I wouldn’t challenge his drinking, anger or womanizing. Now - in lockdown - I know there’s women living with emotionally and physically abusive men and they can’t see the wood for the trees. They’re walking on eggshells with little room for escape. That goes for abused men too.
I feel stupid and ashamed and I regret staying so long in an emotionally abusive and isolating relationship - but the person I married was skilled at manipulation. Often, I was confused and I excused his bad behaviour while he projected blame on me. I was pushing him away, I was too critical which made him want to drink more, I didn’t understand him. He also tried to make me believe he tried to kill himself. This never happened. It was one of the lies he used towards the end of the marriage to control me. I eventually stood up and told him to stop manipulating me. He was startled. He knew this game of his was really up. His expression was like a child’s when you catch them out.
The emotional abuse was the most damaging. All I wanted was to have the husband I married back. He drew me in with his ‘pity me’ stories. My heart went out to him when he talked about his family background. He was abandoned as a baby and had a bad relationship with his adoptive mother. When I asked him to stop drinking he said I was criticising him - just like his mother did. I’d back down and feel sorry for him. I forgave a lot of really bad treatment. I still can’t understand how I let it happen.
One night, I was crying and upset because – again – he was leaving me at home to go to a work party with a friend. He threw a toy truck at me, hitting me in the face. The cut was deep and near my eye, so he suggested I go to the hospital while he minded my child. Of course, I didn’t admit who caused the injury. I told my family my child did it accidentally, and my black eye was covered with specialist make-up. He showed little remorse. I was confused and concluded maybe I was over the top and shouldn’t have provoked him. When I told my doctor about this incident years later, he said ‘do you really think a rugby playing man like your husband would miss his aim?’ A few times there was physical abuse, but it was more rare than the emotional manipulation and less damaging.
I became emotionally numb. It was how he was. He was a victim of his upbringing but he had great qualities. He was loving and kind. He used to buy me gifts. My friends wondered at the clothes he got me, saying their husbands would never do the same. I know these gifts were part of the manipulation now.
He’d sometimes become distant and I wondered why. About a year after I gave birth to our fourth child we were in the middle building a new home. I put his distance down to interrupted sleep and stress. When he came in drunk after midnight one night - his phone pinged. I was curious. Who was messaging him at this time of night? My gut told me something was up. I looked at his phone. It was a woman asking if he was OK. I woke him out of his stupor. Who was this woman? I was yelling, devastated. He didn’t even flinch. ‘I was on a date’, he said. The mask had slipped. Who was this man I married? What was going on? I almost died having our youngest. I’d been through so much and now my husband was going on dates? I was distraught. Another blow. More chaos. It was like he didn’t care.
The next day he changed and was crying. He was so sorry. He felt ignored by me. He needed affection. I was confused as he was the one withdrawing from the relationship. I immediately accepted his point of view, but the trust was gone. I felt I needed to leave him and threatened to, but he said he’d change and, after all, we had a family to think about. I sought counselling and he attended once but barely engaged. Time passed. It was eleven more years before I would leave him for good.
He was a large man, physically imposing. Sometimes he’d corner me, stand forehead against my forehead, chase me upstairs, push me out of a room and sometimes assault me. It didn’t happen as often as the emotional abuse, and he rarely left a mark.
He’d go out drinking. I mean heavy, can hardly stand up drinking. Sometimes if he was in a bad mood, he’d be abusive and wake up the children while I begged him to stop raising his voice. It would happen once or twice a month and the rest of the time he’d be the dutiful husband and father. He was a Jekyll and Hyde character. His anger would erupt out of nowhere and it was frightening. He’d fling me out of a room for questioning his behaviour - like finding a text from a woman on his phone. I’d cry and admonish him for hurting me and he’d minimize the women, saying ‘it’s nothing’. He was convincing. He was so good at telling me what I wanted to hear - that he only loved me. One of the most degrading things he did to me was spit on me and call me the C word – it was soul destroying but that kind of thing became my new normal.
'Why didn’t I leave him earlier?' - I can hear you ask. I threatened to leave many times and he’d beg me to stay. When I first met him, he told me about his adoption and difficult relationship with his mother. My heart went out to him. I know now he exploited my kindness while having no empathy for the misery he created for me and my children. He’d say he was depressed and if I told him off for drinking too much, he'd go out drinking the next day and say I was forcing him out. I always let him away with bad behaviour out of fear. I can see now this was how he controlled me. He hated my best friend and accused me of spending too much time with my family. I see now he was trying to isolate me. He wasn’t successful, thankfully. He scared my children, yet they loved him. He was charming and charismatic and fun. He blamed me for everything. I doubted myself. I was numb. Trying to work, care for the children and pretend everything was ok.
He was indifferent to the children when he finally left the family home. He hardly saw them at all in the first few months of freedom, he was so busy living it up. Then, more details started to come out. My eldest son said he saw him on Tinder and questioned him, but my husband told him it was fake. My son didn’t want to upset me and was confused so kept the secret. My daughter saw explicit photos of women on his phone but didn’t tell me. An acquaintance saw him being intimate with a woman while we were married. By the end, I was having panic attacks and relied more and more on my husband. I lost two stone in weight. My hair was thinning. Strangely, my husband thought I looked great. I was weakened, maybe he liked the fact I relied on him more.
Many other things happened, more harrowing than I’ve described here but I’m afraid if I told the full story it could put us in danger. I’m so relieved I’m out of this toxic situation. He was slowly killing me with the havoc and mayhem he caused. But worse still, my children started to show signs of anxiety from all the dysfunction. Thankfully they’re in a good place now and have regular counselling. I have no contact with my ex. We went through the family courts and he’s effectively barred from my home. My children and I are frightened of him, but I know what he is now. The confusion’s gone. I’ve regained my strength. He’s a coward underneath the charm and abuse - but I’m still wary. When someone has no empathy, they can do anything. The scary thing is that to the outside world he comes across as so gentle, sweet and shy. He has a responsible job and is held in high regard by people. That’s what drew me in. He has no remorse and says he’s perfect the way he is. I see now he saw my kindness as a weakness to be exploited and manipulated. He said I was breaking up the family. More emotional blackmail. My son even asked me to leave him. I have to live with the guilt of staying too long, thinking I could fix him. It’s so hard to leave a situation like this. So hard.
Finally, it happened. One night he came in drunk and became violently aggressive. He squared up to me, saying he would love to ‘break my face’. Eventually I got him to leave the house, and that was it. He couldn’t manipulate me anymore. I finally understood what he was doing. He was finally gone, and even though I was devastated it was the best decision I ever made. I only wish I made it sooner.
It wasn’t over immediately, though. I cut contact but he tried to intimidate my family and my parents. He’d arrive at the house sometimes, unannounced. Shouting.
I’d get strange texts, pictures from a romantic weekend we’d had together years ago. “Remember this?” He was still trying to reel me in. Still trying to see if I'd take the bait.
Ciara – the reason I’m telling my story is to make people realise - it could happen to you. You can't fix people who manipulate, who don’t have empathy, who control and destroy. Who abuse. Just leave. I did and I’ll never regret it.
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