For 10 years, I was in an abusive relationship. I was not physically abused, but I experienced relentless emotional abuse. Because of this, I understand all too well the painful effects of domestic violence and there is rarely a happy ending. Blessedly, I am an exception to the rule.
When I met my husband, I was in my mid-40s, and divorced with two young children. Life had taken a toll on my self-esteem, and I was thrilled to find a partner who, like me, was divorced with children. His love for me was the validation I so needed and I put him on a pedestal. In retrospect, I see that was fertile ground for abuse.
Almost immediately after moving in together, “it” began.
The unceasing jealousy. A casual conversation with a male friend would result in accusations of infidelity. I lived in fear of explosive anger, obscenities and name calling, usually directed at me, but sometimes at my children. The fuse was short and unpredictable: even the smallest irritants could cause emotional disaster. I remember the unreasonable rage directed at my 4 year-old because he ate all of the wings in a bucket of take out chicken.
As much as I lived in fear of my husband's anger, his betrayal of my trust was almost unbearable. When things were good, I shared with him the greatest hurts and disappointments of my life; his love and comfort were a balm. When things were bad, those same hurts and disappointments became his most venomous weapons.
Professionals and friends alike watched my emotional disintegration and urged me to leave the relationship. And twice, I did. Both times I returned, because seeing his misery and need was so painful that I couldn’t bear the guilt.
He promised change. Counseling. Greater honest communication. But the promises were empty. I came to agree with him that I was not worthy of love. The shame of this led me to isolate myself from friends and family. I saw in their eyes that they pitied me and that was unbearable.
To an outsider, I probably seemed fine. I was in my mid-50s, financially independent, happily employed. I was loved by many and loved many in return. No one really understood the totality of my unhappiness, including me.
On a beautiful spring day this year, I sat at my parents’ graves and asked for help. I knew my survival was at stake. Why could I not find the man who had comforted me at your deathbeds? What had I done to push away the man who laughed so impishly and could make me giggle uncontrollably?
Then I heard it: a small voice inside telling me that if I truly believed in this love, I had to do that which frightened me most: stand up to him. Make him take responsibility for his actions. I understood in that moment that if I wanted this union to survive, I would have to be the one to speak in defense of it.
When I returned home that day, the cycle began again: screaming, recrimination about being away from home all day. In the past, I would have stared in blank disbelief at the outrageousness of the accusations. But this time, from some place deep inside me, the words roared out: "You will not speak to me like this again. I am deserving of respect."
The stunned expression on my husband’s face was my answer. I saw in an instant that all the pain, all the betrayal, all the fear that he had inflicted on me was his attempt to control my behavior to conform to his wants, and he truly believed that those wants were best for both of us. I stood straight and tall against him for the first time. And in that instant, the playing field was leveled for us emotionally.
Recovery together has not been an easy road. My husband has needed to examine his past and his motives to understand his actions. He recognized that, not unlike many abusers, much of his behavior was learned, and he has committed himself to breaking the cycle.
It has not been easy for him and I am proud of all he has accomplished. Rarely is he angry or frustrated now, and he is no longer ashamed to show real emotion. The growth he has experienced has allowed me to pursue my dream of writing, my biggest passion.
He has become my biggest cheerleader, even knowing that his lessons are being exposed. We are both committed to helping others understand that domestic abuse can be overcome.
We continue to take baby steps together and fall back occasionally, but we are committed to making whatever years remain to us happy ones. Satisfying ones. Caring, unselfish ones. I could not ask for more.