Facing Abuse In A Relationship
If you’ve been following the news at all — and I don’t blame you if you don’t anymore, it’s downright depressing how inhumane people can be toward one another — then you’ve likely seen coverage relating to the Hacktivist group Anonymous releasing information regarding a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio. During this case, a group of teenagers known as The Rape Crew documented two high school football players raping an unconscous 16-year old girl. Things have not been pretty since. Outrage has been growing concerning the handling of the investigation by local law enforcement, and has again sparked a discussion about the seeming culture of rape in the United States, wherein victims are often ridiculed or challenged to “not entice attack” by refusing to “dress like a slut.” Incomprehensibly, the accused often faces less ridicule than the accuser, and it seems the more athletic the accused or the higher the accused’s profile, the less chance any type of charge will stick.
As has been documented ad nauseum, victims of sexual and domestic abuse almost always know their attackers. Many often live with those same attackers. It is for that reason that the National Domestic Abuse Hotline immediately notifies anybody visiting the website that connections and internet traffic can be monitored and offers an immediate escape option for somebody who absolutely cannot be caught visiting. While it is a sad fact that some people live in constant, debilitating fear of physical harm by somebody with whom they live, that fact persists nonetheless. Victims of assault come in every sex, gender, age, race, color, and creed. This is a sad, cruel fact from which we often shy but should never forget.
But what about other forms of abuse; forms that cannot easily be quantified or substantiated? Forms that do not leave bruises or abrasions or scrapes or cuts? Forms that cannot be documented easily and presented to law enforcement for the use of building a criminal case? What happens — what does one do — when that abuse is invisible, but nonetheless deadly? It wasn’t three years ago I was asking myself those very questions.
The relationship with my ex-wife started very happily. We doted on each other, we dedicated ourselves to each other completely, and things were good. After three months of dating we managed to find an apartment in Orlando together despite the fact that I lived in Texas at the time. She did the groundwork of visiting places I found through online searches, and together we settled on a place that worked well for us. Leaving Texas with her in the car next to me, the trunk and back seat packed to the brim, was one of the happier moments of my young adult life. I watched the skyline fade in the rearview mirror with a smile on my face.
The first two years together were not without some struggles, but by and large we worked well together. We weathered a hurricane or three while my brother was staying with us for a short while, and the first fights between us started. She wanted me to be more of a parental figure to him; I tried to be more of the understanding brother. She yelled at me, we both yelled at him, he disappeared to seek solace among friends, I got panicked and worried, she yelled at both of us, and eventually she ended up curled in a ball in the bathroom with a knife against her arm begging me to take the knife away. I should have seen the signs then, but I was hopeful and naive. We cycled her through various anti-depressants until we found one that didn’t make her unsafely drowsy or cause manic episodes and could help her function properly. Well… mostly properly.
Over the next year and a half her sex drive slowly took a nosedive. While the decline wasn’t a straight line down the bar graph, the trend was downward with the occasional upward swing for a week or two throughout. During this time she and I seldom spoke of anything that did not pertain to work or our upcoming wedding. We watched a great deal of shows like Bridezillas and I took notes of what not to do. I worked “on the clock” 54 hours a week and was “available ” another 58 hours in the event of an emergency. She and I argued about work, about money, about bills, about our declining frequency of sex, about how we were drifting apart; for every point I had, she had an insulting counterpoint. For ever piece of logic I delivered I was greeted with an ad hominem attack. Still, I was dedicated to her, and I chalked it up to stress over preparing for the wedding. I was convinced that after Our Big Day things would settle down and we’d get back to the loving, caring, tender relationship we once had. Had I but known…
After the wedding we reconnected for a few months. Things were looking good again. I had bought a house not long before the wedding and we’d made it into as much a home as we could together. It made for a long drive to work, but I didn’t mind the time to think and prepare for the day ahead or decompress on the way home. Our work schedules were on opposite shifts, so we really only saw each other on our days off — which didn’t always coincide. I had at least managed to shift the schedule at work for me so that I had one guaranteed day away from the worksite one weekend day every week, and we ran skeleton remote support the rest of the time. By not seeing each other often, though, she and I prolonged the decline that started kicking in about four months after the wedding; a slide from which we never recovered.
We had agreed that once we were married we would start trying to have kids; both of us wanted to be able to enjoy a honeymoon without worrying about babysitters or not being able to drink champagne at the reception. Our plan worked smashingly well. Not four months after the wedding, she confirmed she was pregnant. From that moment forward, I ceased to be an important part in her life.
Oh, I didn’t see it for what it was at first. I thought she was grumpy, or tired, or hormonal, or everything else that every other book about how to be supportive of a pregnant wife warns about. To be fair, in many case the advice worked. Gentle massages and heat therapy and foot rubs worked wonders for her general disposition… sometimes. What never was repaired, though, was the way I stopped being a priority in her life. If I proposed doing something she didn’t like, she’d shut down any possibility not only of her partaking, but would go a step further and demand I not participate without her. This extended from major things, like looking for a new mattress or a new computer, to small things like seeing a movie that had been in theaters for a few weeks, purchasing a new music album, or even watching a show on television. Her insistence on my not doing anything without her, coupled with her constant refusal to do anything other than what she proposed, become an overwhelming controlling influence in my life.
At first I resisted. I’d go see a movie after work, since she was at work already and wouldn’t be home for hours. I’d go to the beach and just sit and look at the waves or read a book. A few times I even worked up the courage to visit the local clothing optional beach, and would sit reading with nothing between my skin and the sun but the wind and the clouds. It was refreshing and taboo and exhilarating. It was the complete opposite of my home life, where I had come to feel trapped and caged in. I was pushing at the bars, testing for weak spots, but always making sure I was back behind lock and key whenever she came home.
It got worse after she gave birth. She had several complications from the epidural that required repeated visits back to the hospital. She developed chronic fatigue syndrome. She slept until the last possible minute before going to work, and was asleep very quickly after getting home. Any chance for intimacy and reconnecting was gone. We were roommates who shared a bed, and once or twice a month might have sex. If it can be called that. It’s never good to look up while performing oral on somebody and see that person more interested in what it on the television that the action twixt the legs. Yet still, somehow, I held on to hope.
I tried being more loving. I tried being more attentive. I tried being more anticipatory of her needs. I’d come home and clean the house, do the dishes, and have dinner ready for her when she came home. This became even easier when my job shifted and I began working almost exclusively from home. I was primary caregiver for our son, working full time, and a full time housekeeper all at once. June Cleaver would have been proud of the way I kept the house. On her days off we went out to do whatever she wanted. We had annual passes Universal Studios and to SeaWorld. We went to friends houses so the kids could have playdates. All I had to do was keep the work phone on me in case somebody on my team needed me and I was free to do anything she wanted. But it wasn’t enough.
I was lambasted for not spending enough time with the family. For not always aligning my days off with hers, even though she was on a rotating schedule at her job. I was ridiculed for not keeping the bedroom spotless. For not doing enough yardwork. For not doing enough housework. For not buying the right flavor of flavored water. Yet if tried to broach any of my concerns — lack of respect or time for me, lack of sex, lack of cuddling, lack of engaging as a couple — I was either told that I as worried about nothing, that she had no control over her body, or she would break down into tears and wail about being a bad wife. Regardless of her tactic, the discussion always ended up with her pulling a successful dodge and pivot.
I thought, for a very brief time, that I had started making headway. We went on a lovely vacation for one of our anniversaries to a remote beach resort. We talked. We addressed mutual concerns. We agreed to try harder to reconnect and not dismiss each other. For about six months it worked. We were intimate and physical together again. We were communicating. We were heading back in the right direction. Or so I thought.
She got pregnant again, and withdrew completely. Attempts to get her to talk to me about anything were stonewalled. The tiniest word or action on my part would be met with scathing sarcasm and insults from her. I became angry at her and angry at myself for not having seen her ugliness inside earlier, and the trapped feeling returned. Stronger. More desperate. But I was married with one child and now another on the way. I couldn’t leave that. Only deadbeats leave their families. Only good-for-nothings abandon their kids. Marriage means together through the bad and the good. Around and around my inner monologue ran, giving reason after reason as to why I had to stay, why she needed me, why our kids needed me. I slipped into depression, which she saw and on which she capitalized. Doing the slightest thing wrong garnered more verbal attacks and rebukes. I was never good enough, never working hard enough, never trying enough, and accompanying every thing she said was the continuous denial of a loving touch, a sweet caress, or a warm embrace. In tears I would beg for her to love me, to let me love her, and she would merely look at me and say… “Not right now. Maybe later.”
The final straw came one night as we were lying in bed. I was trying to get her to listen to some of my concerns and she cut me off to say “I know you’re not happy but I don’t want to hear abut it right now. I can’t take the stress.”
In one vile, heartless sentence she both destroyed me and set me free. I lay there in the dark staring at the featureless ceiling as her words rolled and tumbled inside my head. They’d come to rest, emblazoned, and I’d hear her voice again. For an hour I lay there as she drifted to sleep wet it roll through with her back to me. I processed what she said. I let it roll through me the way one moves with a punch in Aikido. I let my emotions drift away and I analyzed her behavior and mine over the course of our relationship. I relived the good times and the bad, and I found the bad overwhelming the good. Slowly, begrudgingly, I began to realize that I was a victim. Her control tactics, her rebukes and insults, the ridicule and sarcasm were all forms of abuse. I saw the pattern emerge of how she would manipulate me to get her way whenever she felt threatened or thought she might risk my getting upset. She had played a cat and game mouse with my emotions, all the while caring more for her gains than for my well being. I was her possession, to be used as she saw fit, except I’d never been informed about that being the nature of our relationship. As these realizations drew to the surface of my subconscious, making perfect sense and granting me the kind of clarity for which oracles yearn, I became enraged. The urge to destroy everything in the house flared, and for a moment I understood why law enforcement is kept busy dealing with calls for domestic disturbances. Cooler thinking prevailed, however, and I spent the next 3 hours cleaning the kitchen to a spotless shine.
Discovering consciously the level of abuse I had been facing and understanding how deep it ran provided me the means to escape it. I’ve heard the saying that the best abusers don’t ever let the victim realize the abuse. The saying made sense, internalized in a way one can never fully intellectually grasp a concept never experienced. The victim was me, had been for years, and the abuse had been systemic and repeated and altered over time to prevent the maturation of understanding. To be cliche, I had been blind but could now see. Seeing, I could seek a way out. I browsed local apartment listings, but I’d recently become unemployed and lacked the savings to be able to afford the down payment and security deposits. The plan formed than as soon as I could reestablish employment I would find my own place and begin the work to shift the house over to her. Even in understanding I was abused I was still trying to avoid being cruel to her after leaving, even though I knew I couldn’t stay.
Mrs. AP found me through an online dating site a few months later. I’d been using it to find dalliances for physical release — not with much success, I must say — and she both scolded me for seeking relief elsewhere while urging me to understand my relationship was essentially over. I’d realized it as well, but still had held onto the naive belief that there may be something salvageable buried within. Mrs. AP had been through similar experiences and knew better, and as we chatted we recognized kindred spirits within each other. She’d been looking for a third person to join her husband and her, I’d been looking for an escape, and after a few dates together she extended the offer for me to use her house as a place to escape if I so needed. Once I accepted that offer, I never looked back.
I know how debilitating emotional abuse from a spouse can be. I know how heartbreaking it can be to suffer from neglect. I know that the bruises are not physical, but that the pain is nevertheless real, and acute, and takes a long time to recede. I know that realizing the presence of that abuse can be a long, slow process. I know that working up the courage to fix the problem seems an insurmountable challenge. I was there. I experienced it firsthand, for years. I know that it can be overcome, and that things can get better.
All it takes is asking for help.
Stay SINful, friends.