My name is Mary. I'm a 41 year old survivor of subtle and consistent emotional abuse for the duration of my 13 year marriage. Luckily, I found a way out and ended my marriage. Many people still doubt that the abuse really existed. That's because my ex was a master of passive-aggressive abuse and at fooling everyone around him that he was a religious pillar of the community. That's part of why it was so hard to escape the abuse. See, he even convinced ME that it was all my problem, and that if I was just smarter, skinnier, or a better wife, he wouldn't have to be so mean.
I'm writing this story to help other women out there that are stuck in this same hell. I pray for you all that you will find the strength and even just that small hint of self-worth that is buried beneath the pain to realize that you deserve better. I deserved better and suffered for 13 years, beating myself up, and believing that I didn't deserve better. Let me tell you in no uncertain terms.THAT'S A LIE! We each have something to offer this world and anyone who tries to put out your light needs to be put out of your life!
Okay, now that I'm done with that little pep-talk, let me tell you what this everyday subtle abuse looks like.
I was a professional computer engineer at the time I met my ex. He was working at the same location as me. We dated and he was (what I thought at the time) the most attentive, sensitive man I had ever dated. He would show up to pick me up for a date and every time would have a little gift of some kind (sometimes just my favorite candy bar). He wooed me like no man had ever wooed me. No date was too lavish, no gift too much. (My mom, in her infinite wisdom and mother's intuition said she had a feeling things looked just a bit too good to be true, but even she couldn't say anything because he was always to "good" to me). Looking back, I see that this is part of the seduction of abusers. They lure you into their world and then turn on you when you aren't looking. Anyway, we dated for 4 years and I had glimpses of the real man underneath (the abuser), but every time I'd try to talk to him about things that were bothering me, he would convince me that I was "too sensitive" or that "he didn't mean it the way I took it". He was so good at convincing me that this was my problem that I didn't even realize it was happening. To be honest, I don't even think to this day that he thinks he's ever done anything wrong.he still believes that he's perfect and everyone else who disagrees are the one's with the problem.
I caught him in many lies during our 4 years of dating. Stupid lies..things that made no sense to lie about. One lie was that he smoked. We had dated for an entire year, including going on a 2 week vacation together, and he was so good at hiding his smoking that I had no clue. That may seem impossible, but he would say "you go inside and relax and I'll get the luggage" and then go smoke and pop mints before he came back in with the luggage. Here I was naively thinking he was such a great man.so considerate and loving that he wanted me to relax and he would take care of everything, and he was just lying to do what he wanted. Very bizarre behavior that, looking back, tells me so much more now than it did at the time.
Anyway, we finally got married and I think deep down inside I knew it wasn't right. But I wanted to get married and he had me so convinced that he was perfect (even when I found out he wasn't, he was an expert as explaining away his behavior and making it sound like MY misunderstanding) that I decided it was all in my head. That he was perfect and I must just be getting "cold feet".
Well, the story was only beginning at that point. Immediately after getting married, this man who was all about making ME happy during our courtship was suddenly all about HIM. His goals, his decisions, his money, etc. Our first year of marriage was the worst year of my life (to that point anyway - the divorce years top it big time). I was completely disillusioned. The amazing thing is that even as miserable as I was, he was putting on such a "perfect" act for everyone else, and he was even so good at explaining his behavior as the only way things could be done that I just stayed miserable and figured that I was expecting too much. Man, looking back I realized that my gut was telling me this guy was a jerk from long before our marriage to this first year of marriage and I felt stuck and stupid and like I had no way out. All because he told me so. I am a smart, professional woman and I fell for his crap and believed the worst about myself because he told me so. To make things worse, my very nature worked against me in this relationship. All the things that are good about me: being open-minded, willing to accept responsibility for my actions, being nurturing, being trusting..all these wonderful qualities about me were my demise. They allowed me to be snowed by him. Being that understanding person who was willing to accept responsibility made me an easy mark for the abuser. I made it so easy for him to kill my spirit - because I trusted him. And slowly, day by day he completely drained me of all my self-worth and inner spirit.
There are way too many abusive incidents to list, but I'll highlight a few "doozies":
About 3-6 months into our marriage, I had called and hooked up our cable for TV. We had an antenna and it wasn't doing a good job, so I decided to call and get our cable hooked up. At this point, we were both working full time at great engineering jobs, had low rent and plenty of money in the bank. He came home and found out I hooked up the cable and threw a complete fit. Ranting and raving at how dare I make financial decisions without his approval. Then he not only called the cable company to disconnect, but he climbed up on the roof and cut the cable so they couldn't reconnect it without running entirely new lines to the house. At this point, my girlfriend was on the phone with me and told me to go against him and call and have it done, but I decided that it wasn't worth fighting him on..again my nature being one to keep the peace, I thought it was one of those moments in marriage where "compromise" was needed and that I'd compromise this time and he could compromise next time. Well, trust me, to this day he has NEVER compromised on anything with me. If he wants it one way, that's the way it is and there are no other people or reasons to consider because his way is the RIGHT way.
Then we got pregnant. I was so happy. I was going to take a year leave of absence and go back to work part time after that. It was a perk of the company we worked for at the time to have the option of a guaranteed job after a 1 year family leave and working 25 hours a week and still getting full benefits with just a pro-rated salary. At the end of my year off, the company was offering a "buy out" to lower their staff numbers. He said, "Why don't you stay home with the baby?" "We can cut back on expenses and that way our daughter has her mom with her instead of a babysitter". He manipulated every aspect of all of this. Of course at the time, I thought he was being Mr. Wonderful..concerned about me and the baby. This was step 2 in his manipulation to make me lose myself. Slowly and surely over the next 5 years of my being home with the baby and having another baby, he tore me down. He would give me an "allowance" and when I spent more than the "allowance" on formula or diapers, he'd make me get out the receipts and explain to him why I need more money than he had budgeted for me. When he came home from work if dinner wasn't done, he'd give me the silent treatment - sometimes for days. One time, I had done the laundry and it was folded and in a laundry basket in the laundry room for 3 or 4 days without getting put into the drawers. That weekend, I heard him telling his sister (behind my back as they were in a different room) that "he had to wear dirty underwear because I wouldn't even clean the clothes" - making me sound like the laziest person alive. Another time, he saw a laundry basket full of clothes in the baby's room not put away yet and kicked it across the room right in front of our (then) 3 year old and 1 year old daughters.
One of the worst things is that he would care more about the carpeting or furniture being damaged than our kids. My youngest daughter had health problems as a baby and would throw up due to acid reflux all the time. One night as I changed her diaper (she was about 1 year old) she began throwing up while lying on her back. I quickly turned her over onto her stomach and the throw up went down the side of the dresser/changing table. Of course, I couldn't have cared less, as long as the baby was safe. He went absolutely ballistic in front of the kids, yelling at me and at one point he even raised his hand to hit me. He stopped himself, but I knew he so badly wanted to punch me. I couldn't believe it. I almost left him at that point, but again..my nature to "make it work" kept me trying to keep it going. Plus, remember that he had me so beaten down at that point, he had me convinced I couldn't make it without him. I had been off work long enough that he made sure I had no career to go back to and he had convinced me how stupid I was for years at that point. Of course, now looking back, it's clear what was happening. At the time, I was caught in his web of consistent abuse and had no clue how artfully he had manipulated me to be right where he wanted.
It got to the point where he would look through the garbage to see whether I threw my tampons in the garbage. I know this because he came to me one day with the garbage in his hand and said.."Uh, where are your tampons?" . I was shocked! I said "What on earth is your problem?" To which he replied that we had a mechanical septic system and if I was throwing my tampons in the toilet it would ruin our system and I had better not be doing that (yelling at me). I was mortified. I had to defend myself and tell him that "my mother taught me how to properly dispose of tampons in the garbage by wrapping them in toilet paper so no one would have to see them in the garbage". How humiliating!
Man, typing this story is bringing up a lot of old pain that I know I'm past, but it's awful to type this and realize that it was ME in this story. Now that I'm away from that abuse and feel better about myself, it's hard to imagine myself taking that stuff from anyone. I was such a strong and confident person and I had been reduced into this bumbling idiot explaining myself even as to where and how I dispose of my tampons.
My ex went through many depressive states. I finally convinced him to go to marriage counseling with me when I really thought the only other option for me was divorce and I was desperately trying to keep my family together. When the marriage counselor basically validated that I was "okay" and that he was "obsessive" in his NEED to keep everything in a certain "state" (for example he would obsess about mowing the lawn) and the counselor suggested medication for him, he completely lost it. When I told him it was the medication or divorce, he conceded long enough to try 2 different medicines that he claimed didn't work (even though I saw a "little" progress in his mood swings and obsessive compulsive tendencies), and then he went off the medicine. He told me this counselor was "ganging up on him" with me and he refused to go anymore. Things would get back to normal for just long enough for me to think that MAYBE we were making progress and then the bottom would fall out again. Of course, every time I told him I wasn't happy, he convinced me that either I was wrong and imagining things or that if something was wrong, it was my fault. He was all about blame and pointing the finger at me. It was my responsibility to live exactly how he wanted me to live and to be exactly who he wanted me to be.
I wanted to move to a town closer to my friends, and he refused, saying that town was "scummy". Then, when a friend of his convinced him that town was the next up and coming town so if we built a house there, it would no doubt raise in property value, he conceded to move there as long as it was on his terms. I jumped through hoops, and drove around with the kids in the car for hours a week looking for a lot that would fit his qualifications to build a house on. He was acting as though he was "compromising" and doing ME the favor, when he was doing exactly as he wanted to do exactly when he wanted to do it. (by the way..he still lives in that town that he was so convinced was "scummy" until HE decided it was worthy of him).
Everything was on his terms at all times. If I put the deli meat in the wrong drawer of the refrigerator he would comment in disgust how I couldn't even get that right. If I parked the car "wrong" (meaning differently than he wanted it) in the garage I was stupid to the point where he would hang a tennis ball from the ceiling of the garage to make sure I could get it right if I could pull in without hitting the tennis ball.
And it wasn't just me he was abusing at this point. He started throwing fits when the kids would spill their drinks or some food on the floor. One time he made my oldest daughter get up from the dinner table and pick up a few crumbs that had fallen while she was eating her dinner IN THE MIDDLE OF DINNER. She's overweight and he to this day calls her "plumber butt" when she bends over if her jeans are too low. When my youngest daughter tried to make Kool-aid on her own at the age of 8, and spilled the entire pitcher of Kool-aid on the kitchen floor, he went completely nuts, carrying on in front of her about how "now I have to completely remove the island (a permanent fixture in the kitchen) because it'll grow mold under there!". I'll never forget her fallen expression when he went on like that. That poor child was devastated. And when I tried to stop him in his ranting and point out what he was doing to her, he just defended himself as "right" and "she should be more careful". Unbelievable!
One time, I woke up to find my 6 year old daughter had crawled into bed with us and I hadn't heard her. I was MORTIFIED to find that he was masturbating in bed while she slept next to him! Since I could tell she was sound asleep, I didn't wake her, but made sure to stay awake until he was finished to make sure she didn't wake up. In the morning, I told him NEVER to do that again - that it was inappropriate behavior. About a week later, I woke up to the exact same scenario. This time I jumped out of bed like there was a fire and took her into her room and then slept downstairs. I was so completely mortified that his only concern was his own needs . to hell with how inappropriate his behavior was.
Then, when we were going through the divorce, he refused to leave HIS house, and the abuse escalated. I was frightened of him, as one time I really thought he was going to push me down the stairs. He always stopped himself just short of physically hitting me though, since he knew that was what the judge needed to hear to get him out of the house. The judge we had even heard my ex's OWN testimony about his inappropriate masturbating with our daughter in bed and still didn't agree to supervised visitation. So, now I have to make sure my kids are strong enough to tell me if he does inappropriate things or acts inappropriately around them. It's not right. The court system in Illinois doesn't seem to care about emotional abuse. In fact, I had to borrow money from my sister (who took out a home equity loan just to get me out of this situation) and move out with the kids on my own. He completely refused to do what was right for the kids because as always, it was all about HIS needs.
Now, a year after the divorce, the kids are doing better, since they are living in a safe environment here. I have sole custody, but he still has very liberal and unsupervised visits no thanks to our judge. But, the girls are starting to thrive as they see me healing and being more self-confident. I'm just trying to teach them that their dad in the only person in charge of his own emotions. That no one can "make" him feel a certain way or "make" him feel better - That we all are in charge of making ourselves better just like we are in charge of eating when we are hungry. I tell them that they can no more make their dad feel better when he's upset than they can eat when he's hungry. It seems to help them realize that emotional needs are very much like physical needs - we are each responsible for our own bodies and emotions.
I know this was a long story, and believe me, it's not even a sliver of the times this man abused me. But, I hope the incidents I highlighted are enough to make you realize that if you are being told that it's your fault your mate feels bad that you'll realize IT IS NOT! Abuse is about the abuser's pain and their inability to regulate their OWN emotions. It doesn't excuse their behavior at all, but it helps us, the victims, to understand that because it reminds us that it is impossible for any of THEIR behavior to be OUR fault! We each have a beautiful light to shine on this earth and if we nurture it, we can't go wrong with our decisions. While that may mean tough choices about actions that we might not want to take on, it's worth taking action to nurture ourselves and be right with our world!
COMMENT: Dear Friend, Thank-you so much for sharing your story. For me it has been a year since my pious, church going husband told me he sleeped with prostitutes and was having an affair with a women because she looks like our daughter. The abuse I've suffered is exactly as you've discribed it, subtle and consistent, till you believe that it really is you and not them. That you really are all the things they say you are.Weak, pathetic, stupid. It's true also what you said about other peoples reactions. I've learned to let people believe whatever lies they wish too and have walked away from many people who don't believe that he could do such a thing.
The one thing I cling to is my dignity. I keep my head high, let others thing what they will and I take care of my children. My only hope is that when my children are older they will be able to see their way through all the lies.
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