It’s day 21 of Domestic Violence Awareness Month for men and boys, the invisible victims of domestic violence. Today’s In His Own Words is yet another all too common tale.
For many male abuse victims, it is both painful and humiliating to admit they are, in fact, being abused. Men are supposed to be strong. Therefore, acknowledging the abuse is akin, wrongly, to being weak.
It’s often easier for men to acknowledge physical abuse as abuse. A plate flying at your head or a kick in the nuts are obvious assaults. Emotional abuse, particularly covert emotional abuse, is much more insidious and difficult to identify — especially if you’ve been told and believe that men cannot be abused by women.
SWM2010 was married to his abuser for 15 years. After two kids and a nervous breakdown, he finally found the courage to leave his emotionally abusive wife.
Quiet Lives of Desperation
I originally wrote this in 2009 on another website that didn’t appreciate my gallows humor, so I stopped going there when I found Shrink4Men. I am 4 years past my divorce and happy. Recalling my life with Crazy and how far I allowed myself to sink has set me back emotionally. It now makes me sick that I once lived this way.
I lived with a borderline personality disordered spouse for 15 years. When we first got together in 1992, she was fun, the straw that stirred the drink. She was a professional when we met making 60k a year, I had a high school diploma. She saw my potential, the potential my parents never nurtured and got me through college.
She essentially did a hard sell job on what an ideal partner she’d be for me, so I asked her to marry me. During our engagement, I saw what should have been the first sign of things to come. I attributed her pre-wedding anger/frustration to the stress of planning the event. I was wrong. After the wedding, her behavior became worse, not better.
On the second day of our marriage, she actually said, “I feel like you think you made a mistake and are looking for a way out.” Great way to start a marriage. Now I know that this was a sign that she had abandonment issues. Her pathology began to emerge more and more as I finished my college degree.
I wanted to be a social worker. Needless to say, my career choice was perceived as a threat. I started keeping things to myself regarding my career, like volunteering at an agency for a year that I would later work for. I simply interviewed, came home and told her that it was what I was doing. She did not support this, even though it put me on the path to make as much money as she did and gave us better benefits. She resented that I chose my career, as her father had chosen her academic major. If she’d followed her interests, he would not have helped her financially. He’s a prick, but that’s a story for another day.
“Arguments” (at least that’s what she called them) would come out of nowhere. I quickly became a non-participant in her rants because they made no sense and left me completely bewildered. It would usually end with me apologizing just to get her to shut her mouth and give me a moment’s peace. I would hug her and tell her I would change.
I became so conditioned to expect a rage rant every time I came home, that I soon began to dread coming home. I developed physical symptoms from the non-stop stress. I felt a physical sensation in my head. I didn’t feel right, it was a block. It went on like this for 15 years.
Her rages would come and go. Oftentimes, they weren’t about anything in particular. Or, she would rage about money, money that she complained we never had, but still found ways to spend. We refinanced two or three times, took out two consolidated loans for credit card debt and she borrowed against her 401k at least that many times. She’d had financial problems during her college days, too. Back then, her parents bailed her out. After we married, it was my turn to do the same.
We had our son in 1996, and our daughter 16 months later. She insisted on becoming pregnant with our son while I was still in school. School was my time, once it ended she let me know it was “her time” again.
Our daughter had a bad case of colic and my ex took it personally. She would say our infant daughter “hated” her because she was colicky. I was up with our daughter just about every night for almost a year trying to comfort her. I was exhausted. One night after coming to bed at approximately 5am after two hours of our baby daughter crying, our son jumped into our bed and woke us up.
I groggily said, “What am I, in hell?” BAM! She hit me in front of our son who didn’t say anything because he was too young to say anything. I didn’t say anything either. I laid back down and pretended to sleep. I spent the rest of the day pretending like it never happened.
At least three or four times a year she would ask, out of the blue, if I was leaving her. I could feel the blood literally leave my body when she asked this. In my mind, I shouted, “Yes!” but I was so afraid of her reaction that I would blow sunshine up her ass and tell her she was the “one” and I knew it the first day we met. I know I wasn’t being sincere and I own that.
I was accused of having numerous affairs over the years. If I got home 5 minutes late, I was banging my boss or this woman or that woman. Any time I had to work late, whenever possible, I’d call home using an alternate phone that would show up on the caller ID, such as a police station or hospital, just so she’d know I was working. It got to the point to where my focus became returning home on time instead of doing a thorough investigation.
Looking back, I see how she manipulated me into staying with her by making me dependent on her and her approval. She maintained had the upper hand. She paid the bills and never let me see the books. She took out credit cards without my knowledge. We weren’t able to save for anything while I was with her. Delayed gratification was not in her vocabulary.
She would actually get pissed off when I suggested saving for a trip or a piece of furniture. “No worries,” she’d say, “I will work extra to pay that bill.” She would work extra, but that became “found money” and it never went where it should have gone.
She claimed that she never lied to me ever, but she did. Lies by omission are still lies. I did lie to her. I lied in order to survive living with her. I put my happiness aside in order to keep her happy. I let her think I concurred with all of her opinions. What a stupid co-dependent I was! She will tell you that this was one of the reasons that we got along so well, we never fought. To an extent that was true. I didn’t fight with her because I didn’t want to deal with her borderline rage. I surrendered my sense of self to keep the peace, but it quickly took its toll on me.
In 2000, she told me I needed to go to therapy because I seemed depressed. She was right, I was depressed. The “block” or detachment I employed as a defense was still in effect. I did this to numb myself as I decided it was safer not to feel anything. I tried to keep our kids on the “safe” side of the fence with me, but that proved to be too difficult and I detached from them as well (I was able to work through this eventually).
I was diagnosed with mild depression and prescribed Prozac. I told her the medication worked; it didn’t. It didn’t work because my depression was not the problem. It was a symptom of the problem — us. At that point in our marriage, I was defeated. I was too weak to confront the issue. She had taken the fight out of me and continued to slowly erode my self-esteem.
Six months into our marriage, I was taking a nap. I was on winter break from college and she was working. Typically, she would call me two to three times a day, which I now know was about her abandonment and control issues. She was checking up on me even then. She called, heard the grogginess in my voice and literally ripped me a new asshole. “How dare you take a nap while I’m here hard at work?! You are such an insensitive, selfish prick!” I apologized, again, just to shut her up.
When our son was 3 months old, she had a 60-mile commute home and a bad snowstorm was on its way. I told her not to take the risk and to either spend the night at a hotel or at a friend’s house. She refused to do either of these things. She became angry and let me know she was not going to be told what to do.
She drove home in our Honda Civic, calling me every 30 minutes or so, terrified by the hazardous road conditions. With each call, I became a little more amped up. I practiced the speech I was going to give her when she, hopefully, made it home. Over the years, I had countless arguments with her in my mind where I would win.
I thought I had a good case that time. We had a 3-month old son and she put her life at risk. She was being completely irresponsible. She finally arrived, opened the door and I couldn’t get the words out. I experienced the blood leaving my body (like an all over pins and needles sensation) and felt sick to my stomach.
She went on a tirade that still gives me flashbacks to this day every time it snows. She blamed me for her decision to drive home in a blizzard. It was my fault again, naturally. She derided me, my job and my salary. It was my fault I didn’t earn more money, so we could have a SUV. If we had a SUV, she wouldn’t have needed to put her life in danger. Given how screwed up I was at the time, this made sense. Now I just feel emasculated whenever I think about it.
Things that should have been non-issues, were issues — even something as mundane as grocery shopping. I eventually stopped grocery shopping. According to her, I always screwed it up. If I forgot something? “What is the matter with you?!” If I couldn’t find something? “You didn’t look hard enough!” She would often come home from shopping trips without everything on the list, but did I give it back to her? No. I wanted to — I fantasized about handing all of her shit right back to her, but I couldn’t do it.
I have helped countless numbers of children of abusive and neglectful parents. I can write the most compelling affidavits with evidence that clearly indicates that children are unsafe, which are then signed by Judges. But I can’t make a god damned decision in the fucking grocery store. Want to know what finally killed it?
In February 2009, she made a grocery list and I lost the list. I went into a panic and left a pre-emptive voice mail and text message. “I’m sorry, honey. I lost the list.” I was 39-years old and sweated losing a fucking shopping list. After almost 15 years with her, I knew what was coming my way and she did it again. She ripped me a new one for losing the list. She left me crying and humiliated with even less self-esteem and self-worth!
The never-ending list of gaslighting and nonsensical arguments are too long to list. These are just a few examples of what being married to her was like. We had the typical domestic violence cycle of peace, tension and explosion. I could always feel it coming.
She never supported my career. At one point, I had about 10 interviews for a promotion. I tanked the first few and did she support me or offer me encouragement? No, I got, “You’ll never get promoted! Why don’t you quit your stupid job and get your Masters?! What, are you going to be a child abuse investigator when you’re 50?”
What I wanted to say to her but didn’t is, “Yeah, maybe I will. I love what I do. I’ve saved lives and I know it. How dare you take that away from me? I have been in places that you wouldn’t have the guts to even drive by in the safety of your car. Drug dealers, gang bangers, baby rapists, psycho nut jobs, drug addicts, hookers an junkies.” I had anxiety attacks right before every interview because I knew I’d get more of her shit if I didn’t get the job. Eventually, I did get promoted.
I finally worked up the courage to leave, but couldn’t make it stick. I returned after one day and that’s when things came off the rails for me. I ended up in the psych ward for a week. I was suicidal, drinking, taking narcotic medications, Ambien, Xanax — anything to get to sleep and block out my nightmare of a marriage.
She found a therapist and we went in for a joint session. I told the therapist everything. My ex apologized for being abusive for the past 15 years. Shortly thereafter, she recanted it all and told me to grow a pair of balls. Nice huh?
It all clicked for me after that. I work for CPS. I know what abuse is. I know the psych medications my clients take are the same ones that she is prescribed. I saw it all very clearly in my professional life, but not my personal life — a typical conundrum and also ironic as hell.
I started to see a therapist who got it. Thank god for her. I left one day when she went to work. I signed a lease that I had in my back pocket and moved my stuff out. I waited until the kids got home from school and, with the support of my brother, showed them the place where I’d be living.
Neither child was happy. Contact in the beginning was strained and controlled until things were put into a legal agreement. The divorce was uneventful. I told my attorney that my ex could have the house, on the condition that she take the 20k in credit card debt. If she disagreed, then we would split the credit card debt, she would buy me out of the house and I would get 100k from her retirement.
I had no retirement because we couldn’t afford it given the way she handled our finances. I heard from my attorney twice and went $62.50 over my retainer. That was in July 2010. Life is good now and my kids are good when they are here with me. Our daughter, who is now 15, has told me more than once that my house is less stressful and more relaxing than her mother’s.
In His Own Words is an effort to help raise awareness about the invisible victims of domestic violence, men. If you would like to submit your story, please follow the guidelines at the end of this article.
Counseling with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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I’m glad you have your children and have a better life. Through your/their experience, they may well have a better time of things in their own lives.
Your story is very hopeful. Thanks for sharing it.
hello, I’ve been reading this website as a lurker for over a week, the amount of time that has passed since I finally decided to leave my Crazy (after two previously failed attempts).
the past three years of my life have been more or less like SWM2010 has described. although i did get married to her, and financed over 6 cycles of IVF so that she could finally have ‘our’ baby, we never shared mortgages because everything was hers: the house, the car, even the computer (because of course i needn’t spend money on my own computer since one is more than enough for the both of us).
the emotional instability that he felt is just like what i felt, the beggining of the relationshio was spot-on (I think now I was just being groomed, honestly, that woman I met 4 years ago doesn’t really exist, i’m certain) and the amount of craziness was of hellish proportions. and yes, many times was I called an incompetent because i couldn’t even get through. a shopping list without forgetting something! the preposterous accusations of infidelity, the rage attacks that would go for days and nights until i finally apologised for all my wrongdoings, the way she criticised me whenever i dared to voice an opinion of my own, the subtle estrangement from family, friends, amd god forbid i ever mentioned my romantic past!
i finally decided to leave when i realised that she was starting to behave the same way with my kid (from a previous marriage, i have full custody of). it scared the hell out of me. one fit of rage was enough to activate a safety network, pick up my stuff and just leave.
right now i am dealing with the separation, and it is definitely not a walk in the park. this codepedency is like a computer virus, i swear to god. but i remain hopeful that 4 years from now i will also feel like my life is so much better without her in it!
thank you all for these words of strenghth.
Mr. Earls says
It does get better, it takes time to heal and time to move on. I still have my ups and downs but I feel present and in the moment now. This goes back to my childhood being raised by a momster and alcoholic father. A classic recreation of my childhood relationship with my mother which is why my CBex felt so familiar to me. I debated putting this up for a while. It triggered feelings of angst but also reinforced that it wasn’t me and that I was living with someone who continually moved the goal posts and simply abusive. Leaving was the right thing to do. It was originally 5000 words but edited to forum rules. Seeing it like this in this forum just makes it all the more real for me.
It really does help. My therapist, a few years back, told me to “journal”. It felt awkward at first but it really helped. He said that it “helps make things real and tangible”. It does!
“Momster” thats perfect. I love that. This one is totally my new vocab word for the month.
As time moves on, I look back and think, What was I doing?. To put up with crazy person and abuse. It does take time to heal and things do get better. I am lucky,
I got out. My ex- has a new victim, who she has remarried. I not had contact with my ex for sometime. Once you get past the hurt and aspect, you were just a object,then things become easier to deal with. My advice is to move forward and not to look back too much.
I’ve been reading all of these entries each day (mine being the first) and they’ve all struck a chord with me; this one in particular. The constant apologizing especially resonates. Every time you apologize for something when, deep down you know you should not be, takes a little bit of your soul away. But it’s worth it at the time because, as you so eloquently state, you “get her to shut her mouth and give me a moment’s peace” – HOW TRUE. I think we all, to a certain extent, knew what was right by us, but when you try to stick up for your own feelings and are constantly chastised because of it, told you’re wrong, or have it spun around back on you makes it not worth it. The quickest and easiest way to put the fire out and calm the waters is to appease. “I’m so sorry, honey. You’re right. Had I just done X, Y, and/or Z better, we wouldn’t be here. I’m sorry!” And in doing so we only give them more power. I wish I had recognized my own self-defeating behavior by reinforcing hers; but that’s all part of the vicious cycle. My Crazy wanted another dog when we didn’t have the money and, more importantly, time for one, and so I tried to set my boundary and said “No.” She went to the pound that very day and brought home the biggest dog she could find. I got back from work to find a 140 pound Saint Bernard in our house. I ended up apologizing for not listening to her needs better and she graciously accepted my pitiful apology. One of the worst feelings is hearing the door open and not knowing which “one” is going to walk through that door, and that only exacerbates the whole walking on eggshells feeling. It’s very helpful to know that I’m not alone. BUT – as long as the “powers that be” (courts, law enforcement, and other biased parties) exist and continue to turn a blind eye to a true epidemic, I’m afraid that I will continue to feel alone despite these awful stories to which we can all relate. I’m thankful for these stories and for people like Dr. T. SWM2010, I’m so glad to hear that things have worked out for you the way they have. Enjoy your children and your life without Crazy.
Oh wow. As ever, I am always astonished at how “typical” my experiences with my BPD ex. Its like you guys have been reading my journal and taking the stories as your own. I still gnaws at me how much I groveled and pleaded to appease my wife while we were married. “I am so sorry the neighbor looked at you funny, yes, It is all my fault. I will talk to them and fix it.”
The dog thing cracks me up. I wanted the first dog we got, Then she got violent and suicidal to get a second. Then after our divorce she bought a dog as a lure for our child… which became the childs dog. and the dog moved in with me and the kids because she couldn’t care for it. Then my ex DID IT AGAIN! Bought yet another dog she couldn’t take care of, said it was my other childs dog, and then the dog moved in with us… Grrr….. For a while I had 4 DOGS.
OMG!!! The dogs! I have no want for animals I have no time for. The kids are too young to train them and really don’t even like them. And my wife doesn’t care enough to even feed them! Or let them out to go. Or clean the kennel. Or fix the fence. Or….. on and on… I have been forced to take on her responsibility of the 2 dogs. I dought she would even notice they were gone if sold them…. at least for a week and then she would make it sound like I’m the worst thing on Earth.
15 years? I feel like I should give you a hug. I lasted 12 1/2 years. Yeah, she controlled the finances and we were always broke, even though I made well over the avg middle class salary. But when you need new curtains, walls painted new decor every six freaking months, kinda hard to save money. There was always something we “needed.” That same “something” I would take to Goodwill a year later (sometimes, a few months later). Our three kids had enough toys to supply a small village for a few generations. Once, I worked up the courage to tell her that maybe we should curb Christmas gifts a bit that year and I wasn’t crazy about the idea that we are actually teaching our kids that Christmas is about the size of their toy pile. That was the year “I took Christmas away from the kids” (exact words) and got an angry rant that labeled me as “the grouch who doesn’t get that into Christmas.” Christmas, by the way, is my favorite holiday. I just don’t think it should be about ramping up revenues for department stores.
Oh boy. Yeah. I live in an apartment with two cats and a dog. I didn’t want a dog. I WORK ALL DAY! I didn’t want two cats either. One was plenty. Both my dog and my second cat started out as my exCB’s pets. Of course, she couldn’t handle them, so now I have them, because I know it would crush my kids if the dog and the cat were given away. Typical BPD behavior. Yes, people, believe it or not, dogs are actually a relatively demanding responsibility. They get some half-baked idea in their head, give it a half-assed effort and leave it to their victims to make it work. The dog is attached to my hip, so I guess it all works out, right? LOL!