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.
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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