I was abused by my husband for the entirety of our 12 year relationship. It took me 12 years to put a name to this crazy behaviour, because this abuse did not take the form of physical blows.
It started off subtly with mindgames, teasing. He found it funny to see me get upset, so he would tell me lies that would my provoke feelings. After I’d go through the feelings of being hurt, embarassed, upset, he’d laugh and say ‘just kidding!” That was funny to him, laughing AT me. I fell for it every time, then felt even more ashamed and stupid for doing so. The shame cycle begins.
He laughed at me when I made mistakes, made fun of me in front of his friends. He told me I was fat, not as attractive as himself. He told me I dressed too young, too old, too sloppy, too dressy.
He slowly isolated me from my social circle, my family. This friend was a ‘flake’, that friend was a spoiled brat, her husband ‘obviously gay’, this friend was dumb, that friend a ‘basket case’, this friend was crazy. Slowly, I came to see other people through his eyes. When I tried to socialize with him, he complained before and after that he didn’t want to go. If I went alone, I was ‘abandoning’ him, he ‘needed’ me, even though all his time was spent either working or his face buried in his computer.
He financially abused me. For several years he criticized my spending. I began to believe him smarter than me, he had his MBA after all. He demanded to see all my bills, all my accounts. He had all the passwords. I was not allowed to see his bank statements, nor his Visa statements. If I asked to see his statements, he would explode, screaming at me, “I’m an executive who makes 300,000 a year, I have a right to spend as I like”. Month after month he would yell at me: “why can’t you get by on your EI payments? Welfare moms raise a family on less than that!! Why can’t you?” I was so ashamed. I tried so hard to follow his budget, but it was impossible. When I did go back to work, he made me have the funds deposited into a corporate company account so that I still had no access to money. I had to ask him for every last penny.
The constant criticism and humiliation occurred daily. I never knew exactly what was going to upset him this week. Sometimes he laughed when the kids were silly at dinner, most days he’d shout “this is crazy! These kids just don’t know how to behave’ and storm off from the table. I cared for the kids virtually alone through infancy, terrible two’s, toddler years. My husband would agree to ‘babysit’ (his words), but only after much begging on my part, and very strict conditions: if I wanted to go to an evening fitness class for example, both kids had to be fed, bathed, stories read and tucked in bed. Also the house had to be immaculate, a homemade meal for him set aside. He would call me repeatedly through the afternoon to check in on me. If these conditions weren’t met, he simply wouldn’t make it home in time. He’d be late for a few weeks after that to drive his point home. There were always consequences to not following his regime.
In the beginning, I would try to assert myself, but over time I learned that it was just easier to comply, keep the peace, carry the load and not ask for help. But I was only human, and I was often exhausted, frustrated. He called me ‘crazy’, a ‘bad mother’ when I was at my lowest. “You need serious help!’, was an oft-repeated refrain. I began to believe I was crazy, that everything was my fault.
He could be charming when it mattered. He was careful not to allow others to see his mistreatment. Often we’d arrive at school functions or church, having argued the whole way there, with him raging and calling me names. When we walked in the door, he became the doting husband, father. My friends would tell me I was so lucky to have such a caring, sensitive husband. More crazymaking.
I would go through bouts of counseling every few years, trying to figure out why I was so miserable with my so-called perfect life, perfect kids, perfect husband. We even tried couples counseling a few times, but the changes were temporary, and he would quit after a few sessions.
My whole world seemed to revolve around the question: “what will he think of this?”. Every little thing I did, from choosing the brand of diapers, to deciding what to make for dinner, went through this filter. It was exhausting trying to figure out what would make him happy, and mostly because he changed the rules so frequently.
My life became unliveable. My hair began to fall out. My whole body was racked with signs of physical stress. I would experience panic attacks on the drive home. I could not keep weight on, I was jumpy, barely sleeping, always exhausted, always on edge. When I talked to him of leaving, of separating, he’d threaten me. I would be poor, I’d lose the kids, I’d be living in a dingy basement suite with no support. I was terrified into submission. I could tell no one, for fear of hurting the kids, of hurting him. I have never felt more trapped.
I wish I could say that leaving him has made things easier, but the abusive behaviour continues. He takes me to court over every last detail. My legal bills are already over $50,000, and our trial is still a year and a half away!
BUT, for all that he tries to bring me down, I know absolutely that I chose the right path, both for myself and my two young kids. I don’t live in a basement suite. I have a great support system of family and friends, I have time now for me. Finally, I have peace in my home, and most importantly, I have freedom.