I have been married for almost 23 years. For the first five years of my marriage, I lived with emotional and verbal abuse most days. I remember that some days, he was so irritated by me that even my breathing was wrong.
We screamed and yelled at each other. He never hit me. Once, I slapped his face to get a reaction, and he told me that if I ever did that again, he would slap me back. I yelled at him once, after he had been yelling at me for some time, that I should go to a women’s refuge. You know where the door is, he replied. My very best friend used to watch for signs of physical abuse and she said fairly often – come and live with me. If you decide to leave, live with me.
I never left. I was too scared of being without him. I thought I needed him. I thought he was what I deserved. That my unhappiness was what I deserved. I had no power though I was a strong, stroppy woman, I had always thought. I was ashamed of myself. I thought I was the problem. That I wasn’t attractive enough for anyone else. That nobody else would have me. He didn’t tell me these things – he just knew how to manipulate me so that I apologised first. That I thought it was always my fault.
I am still married to him. He is, these days, a kind and gentle man. He has apologised for his former self – I’m not that man anymore, he has told me. And he’s not. He is my right hand person, dealing with the refuge deliveries, and chatting to the people who come to our door. He has repented.
This all happened a very long time ago. But I still remember how that felt. And when I talk to the women at the refuge, and they describe their relationships, I say “That was me, too.” It has only occurred to me, since working with the refuge, that indeed it would have been a very good place for me to go. But I didn’t, my husband changed, my relationship improved. Mainly because he got very ill, and almost died, and that was our salvation. He was never as angry or abusive ever again.
There are many women, like me, living still in relationships like this. I hear from them quite often. I encourage them along, support them, and know what this looks like, from the inside. I know the stigma, and the fear. I know the pain and the unhappiness.
And all I ask of you is this – to know that the most common violence in relationships isn’t physical, it never ends up in the news, and it is lived everyday, by women you and I know.
This is my story. I am telling it so that you know, if this is you right now, I am here. I know. And I don’t judge.