What I am about to embark on is something that I’ve been silent about for almost 12 years. I’ve been too afraid to speak out about the details, and truthfully, didn’t even fully realize the impact of what I had been through. In fact, my awareness is still so fresh that I don’t have a full grasp on it quite yet, but I can’t stay silent any longer.
Two weeks ago, I sat in my therapist’s office and she started the hour by handing me a printout which contained a list of 17 signs to look for in an abusive personality. She wanted me to go through the list and count how many of the headlines were recognizable in the marriage to my ex-husband. As my eyes scrolled down the page, my heart rate sped up and I felt like I had a giant stone in my gut. 13. I counted 13 out of the 17 items on the list that fit his behavior to a tee. I could hardly catch my breath at what I was seeing.
I always suspected that there that there was a slight form of “emotional abuse” in my prior marriage, but I had never really looked at how deep it went or what it really meant for me. I never identified myself as a “victim” of, or the preferred term, a “survivor” of abuse – until that day. I went home that evening and spent time slowly going back through the list. Maybe I had jumped the gun and it wasn’t really all that bad, but instead, the time spent perusing the descriptions only solidified the fact that I was unquestionably in an abusive relationship for almost 10 years. Here are the immediate descriptors that I recognized, some with the brief explanations included on the sheet:
- Jealousy – A sign of possessiveness and lack of trust. Jealousy of the time spent with anyone else, friends and family. Maybe even dropping by work frequently during day, checking car mileage, asking friends to watch her.
- Controlling Behavior – With money, clothing, etc…
- Quick Involvement – Many abused women knew their abuser for less than six months before they were married, engaged or living together. He comes on like a whirlwind. He will pressure the woman to commit to the relationship in such a way that later the woman may feel very guilty or that she’s “letting him down” if she wants to slow down involvement or break off the relationship.
- Unrealistic Expectations – Abusive people will expect their partner to meet all their needs. He expects a perfect wife, lover, friend. His partner is expected to take care of everything for him emotionally and in the home.
- Blames Others for Problems
- Blames Others for Feelings
- “Playful” Use of Force in Sex
- Verbal Abuse
- Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde Personality – Many women are confused the by the abuser’s sudden changes in mood. She may think he has some sort of mental problem because one minute he’s agreeable and the next he’s exploding. Explosiveness and moodiness are typical of men who abuse their partners.
- Breaking or Striking Objects – Breaking loved possessions is used as a punishment, but mostly to terrorize the woman into submission. The abuser may beat on the table with his fist, or throw or destroy objects around his partner. Not only is this an extreme sign of immaturity, but there is great danger when someone thinks he has the right to punish or frighten his partner.
- Any Force Used During an Argument
In case you are wondering, the other 4 items that either didn’t fit, or I just didn’t know for sure were:
- Cruelty to Animals or Children – He was good to animals, but had a serious dislike for kids. I can’t say how he would have treated them, because he avoided them and would scowl if he even saw one.
- Rigid Sex Roles – This is a bit questionable for me, the abuser would expect his partner to serve him. He did have some expectations, and would pout if he didn’t get his way, but I was on the fence about this one.
- Past Battering/Abuse – Unknown
- Threats of Violence – While never directly threatened to hurt me that I can recall, he would often talk about how he knew how to commit the perfect crime if he ever needed to. Even just typing this gives me the chills.
I used to say that I had a bad marriage with my ex-husband, that he wasn’t a very nice person – but “he didn’t hit me” so it was okay. Looking at this now, it was not okay. It affected me. It changed me. It hurt me. His grip through manipulation and fear was so strong, that it stuck with me for 12 years after the marriage ended. It made me afraid to open my eyes to what was going on and most of all – to talk about it. Even though I’m ready to get my story out there, writing this still scares me. But I believe that through my boldness, the power that the fear has had over me for so long will diminish. I am ready.