Don’t ask why we don’t leave.
It took me years to get to a point where I felt I could face ending my marriage.
Years of walking on eggshells, of being frightened to open a book when my husband was asleep – if he woke up and caught me reading there would be violent outbursts, objects thrown, things broken.
He prided himself on never hitting me. He’s an emotional person, the thought of using his huge fists against a woman brought him to tears.
Being slammed into a wall was different though.
Being launched as if I were a rag-doll was also acceptable.
Most acceptable of all was bullying and emotional blackmail. Didn’t I understand how vulnerable to hurt he was? Didn’t I know that he just couldn’t help being possessive and jealous? Wasn’t it entirely reasonable to hold your wife against a wall by her throat because you’d come home early from work and she wasn’t home?
On the surface I had a good life. My husband worked hard, we had a nice house, good holidays, and he enjoyed my acerbic sense of humour. I doubt anyone thought of me as a shrinking violet.
The reality was that he was terrified, terrified that someone would look at me, terrified that he might not know exactly where I was, terrified that I didn’t love him enough, terrified that I was getting an education, terrified that I had friends.
Over time the emotional violence and threats escalated until defeated, I stopped talking to friends that weren’t joint friends and I dropped out halfway through the final year of my BSc. I had run out of fight. I told everyone that it was because my dad was ill, I think I even told myself that.
16 Years. Years of flinching. Years of feeling utterly in love because I was so grateful that he wasn’t hitting me, shouting at me, that he’d bought me a dishwasher, that he was a grafter. It was my marriage.
People love him. He’s perceived as kind and funny and generous. His generosity is legendary. While we were married women sighed over him.
They praised the fact that he couldn’t take his eyes off of me, that after all of these years I was still so loved, that there was something vulnerable about him. I’d smile and nod but inside I’d be cringing because I knew that the more vulnerable he felt, the more emotional he was, the more nightmarish my life would become.
Eventually, over time, I stopped colluding with this myth of our marriage. He sensed my withdrawal and the outbursts and violence without hitting ramped up. It culminated in rape.
The rape ended our marriage. Not right away, it took months more for me to ask him to leave.
Well for many reasons. One of which was that I had always known that ending my marriage would be dangerous, that he would probably become more violent.
Another reason was that he loved our daughter and I felt selfish taking her from him. Another was that when I spoke to close friends about the years of emotional abuse, the shoving, the throwing things and ultimately the rape they were dismissive. It’s not as if he was hitting me. He worked hard, loved us. It wasn’t so much disbelief as bafflement.
How could it be rape when we were married? Sure his temper was as legendary as his love but finding a man that still loved you after 16 years was nigh on impossible. I was lucky really.
The sad thing is that all of the things that they articulated in their bafflement were things I felt myself. Did I have the right to leave? Why couldn’t I be happy? What was wrong with me that I just couldn’t suck it up? Things were always fantastic if I could simply behave in the ways that didn’t make him feel threatened. Did I really need to work? Was a degree that important? I could always read when he wasn’t around.
One outcome of the rape was that I suddenly had leverage. Eventually I told him that I needed time to come to terms with what had happened. I ruthlessly used his belief that our marriage was perfect and it was this one loss of control that had made it difficult. He was feeling guilty and that filled me with terror. Guilt was dangerous for him because it challenged his perception of himself a good, decent, working class bloke and family man. Feelings like this made him angry, confused and caused him to lash out in ways that would let him shift blame. He went to his mum’s without too much argument, sure in the knowledge that it wouldn’t be for long.
When he realised that I meant it, that I was going to get a divorce everything got out of control. As I knew it would.
There was banging on the door in the middle of the night, visits to friends where he cried and they patted him on the shoulders and then phoned me and berated me for hurting him. There was abuse ‘All your friends think you’re a cunt’ he would scream at me, fist raised. I once locked myself in the bathroom for three hours while he stood outside, kicking the door and screaming at me.
It was partly my fault. I was still caught in the myth that he was essentially a decent man who was hurting, and I wanted him to have a relationship with our daughter, so I would let him in. It was almost as if I thought I deserved the violence and abuse he meted out.
We once met at a country store on her birthday to buy her presents, she’d wanted him to come and he could afford them whereas I couldn't. Afterwards I refused to go to a pub for lunch with him so he drove his truck behind us down the lanes, ramming the bumper of our car while he raged and screamed, my daughter was screaming and crying too.
He once locked her in his van and refused to let her out until I agreed to let him in so he could talk to me. It went on and on.
The aftermath of our marriage was bloody and it went on for years. Our daughter became little more than a tool for him to use against me.
To this day I still rarely admit to myself that I suffered through years of domestic abuse. I see him, rarely, but I do see him because I still outline his best qualities to my daughter, who isn’t fooled but goes along with me anyway.
It’s been twelve years now but he still likes to put his arm around me when he can, a bit too aggressively, while he turns his face to onlookers so that they can see how affected he is. I cut myself loose from all of our mutual friends and spent years isolated by poverty. I had to do it but it was harder than I could ever have imagined.
So don’t ever ask why someone doesn’t leave.
They don’t leave because they’re frightened, because they love despite the abuse, because they have children and families and friends who don’t know how to support.
They don’t leave because they feel guilty, ashamed, self-loathing and victimised.
They don’t leave because leaving usually means poverty and quite often isolation.
They don’t leave because they don’t know how.
They don’t leave because it’s their life.
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