Four years ago, my abusive marriage ended. I thought that the passing of four years was long enough, and that I would be “over it” by now… I was wrong. Over the past couple of months I’ve been swept up into flashbacks, as well as experiencing anxiety and dissociation for no apparent reason.
The other day, I was feeling good, and thought that the storm had passed… but now, it’s back with a vengeance.
The good thing about the four years since the marriage was over, is that I can more clearly see how we reacted to each other to create the disaster that was the marriage. It’s easy to say that I walked into the marriage because of old patterns… one therapist told me that I married a man just like my father, after all. But that’s a nice square box to place the experience in… the reality is so much more complicated. My childhood was my training for my marriage… it taught me how to ignore my own needs in favour of others, to consider myself worthless, and not expect to be treated with respect. His training involved systematically having his self-confidence destroyed; suppressing his anger, to the point where it exploded without warning; and thinking that domination equated to power.
He needed control, but didn’t want it… and I didn’t want control, but needed it.
That one line is possibly the most accurate summary of the marriage. How it presented was sometimes funny; but more often than not, painful. Now that I’m a little further away from the situation, I can see the links between such things as his jealousy and my actions. The best example that I can think of to describe this dynamic, is my fear of going outside – he once commented that one of our male neighbours always seemed to be going outside when I was; which was a huge red flag to me. It meant that something was wrong, and that something needed to change, as anything that bothered my husband, meant danger. I couldn’t stop my neighbour from going outside, but I could. So began another layer of my social anxiety.
There are lots of little examples like that…
Reading this, people will wonder why I stayed with him for so long. It’s a perfectly reasonable question… I lived in fear of him for eight years; he abused me regularly, and was constantly in trouble with his employers. But that chaos echoed both of our pasts, so it seemed normal. I didn’t go to work with visible bruises, and he acted almost childlike in public; so I would often be seen as the bossy one. No one looking into the marriage would say that anything was wrong.
Probably the most obvious example of why I stayed within the marriage for so long, is shown by his reaction after his final attack on me… The attack happened on a Sunday afternoon, and after his panicked phone call to my mother, he settled down as if nothing had happened. When I went to get medical treatment the next day, he accompanied me into the examining room, where he laughed about the injuries and how he had caused them. He repeated this laughter when he dropped my medical certificate into my workplace to say I wouldn’t be in for at least a week. It wasn’t until later that day, when my brother arrived that any sort of reality started to creep into his awareness. He hid the chair broken during the attack, and tried to pretend like nothing had happened… but my brother took him aside and said that he needed to move out for a while.
When my brother went home, and my mother arrived; there was a further dawning of awareness for him… he was always desperate for my mothers approval, and that was obviously missing. Suddenly he couldn’t cope. This is when the twisting of the story began in earnest. Two nights in a row he took off in his car… on one night he threatened suicide, and on the other night he threatened suicide and then told that police that he was too scared to return the house. This showed how he could act when faced with a situation he didn’t like.
On Valentine’s Day, he left me to return to his family. It was then that his twisting of the truth became more obvious… suddenly there was no attack, but instead, I was making it all up. I broke the chair and caused the injuries to myself. This version of events is what he was going to defend the Protection Order with… thankfully, I had the medical report detailing the attack, and all of his documentation which included a letter to a former supervisor apologising for assaulting him… When his lawyer saw the documentation, the Protection Order defence was withdrawn.
When I look at this incident, I can see why I doubted so much of what happened within the marriage. I was dissociative, so often doubted my version of events anyway; but he encouraged me to doubt things by twisting them back onto me, and playing a totally different role in public. This situation reminds me of a quote from the book Dragonslippers: This is what an abusive relationship looks like:
‘You know, it’s interesting…work…politics…. It’s really so easy to control other people. You just have to cause dysfunction. Once someone feels insecure, you can do anything you want with them.’
This was said by the abuser within Rosalind Penfold’s relationship. I entered the relationship with my ex-husband already insecure… all he had to do, was to keep me in that place and he could do whatever he wanted. That’s why my attending therapy was seen as such a threat, and why he enjoyed my dysfunction so much.
I’m glad that I’m now physically free of him… I just wish that I was psychologically free as well.