Living With The Enemy

When we were dating, he swept me off my feet with expensive gifts and dinners at fancy restaurants. Looking back, I missed some of the signs that he might become abusive: he blamed others for his mistakes; he used the silent treatment if he was angry with someone; he had a volatile temper.

Sadly, I was raised in a home with domestic violence, so this type of behavior seemed normal to me.

The first five years of our marriage were good. He was kind to me and we began having children together. In the next five years, I became unhappy, but I didn’t really know why. He began controlling me in little ways, and to keep the peace, I let him. During the following five years, he started using the silent treatment on me whenever he was angry.

The next four years were even worse. He ramped up the silent treatment, sometimes pretending I didn’t exist for up to a month at a time. He also began withholding my “allowance” if he was angry with me.

He verbally abused me by calling me names, ordering me around, and raging at me for an hour or more. He psychologically abused me, making me doubt my sanity. He would swear that things I remembered never occurred. He was so convincing I sometimes wondered if I really did remember them. He emotionally abused me, telling me I was a lousy wife and mother, that he hated me, and that his friends felt sorry for him being married to such a witch.

Even though I was unhappy, I didn’t want to leave him because I came from a divorced family and I knew how painful divorce was for children. I also took my marriage vows very seriously, and didn’t want to break them.

Then came the day when he told me he wanted me to die. After he left the house, I sat at the table speechless. Had he tampered with my car, or was he just toying with me? I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. The next day, he again came into the kitchen while I was eating lunch and said, “How does it feel to know I want you to die?” I said, “Not very good.” He had a tiny, satisfied smile on his face, and left.

A few days later, he hit me. That was the last straw. I packed up and went to a hotel. I met with our pastor and asked for help. He was compassionate and said he would call my husband and talk to him. I returned home after a few days.

Once our pastor knew what was happening, my husband never hit me again. But he did pin me to the floor so I couldn’t leave the room during an argument. He also locked me outside our house with no shoes or coat, and would yank the covers off me while I slept. When I told him my heart was pounding, he said, “Good, maybe you’ll have a heart attack and die.”

I found out later that all these things are considered physical abuse. During this time, he insisted I tell our kids that he had never abused me. But I couldn't do it. I knew that was a lie and I didn’t want my kids to think his behavior was OK.

I started looking for a definition of abuse so I could show him and say, "See, you have been abusing me." But I couldn't find a succinct definition of abuse. In desperation, I called the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I spoke with an advocate who confirmed I was being abused and directed me to my local women’s crisis center, where I spoke to a counselor. I told the counselor why I didn’t want to leave my husband. She helped me see that my husband had already shattered the marriage by his actions, and if I separated from him, I would only be making public what was happening in private.

She gave me the phone number of a domestic violence lawyer. I told the lawyer I had been looking for an apartment because my husband refused to leave the house. She said, “Oh no, you aren’t leaving, he is going to leave.” When I told her that he wouldn’t leave, she said that once I got a restraining order against him, he would.

Six weeks after I called the National Domestic Violence Hotline, I was ready to act. I drove to the courthouse where I met my lawyer and told the judge all the abusive things my husband had been doing to my children and me. I was granted the temporary restraining (protection) order! The judge also added my children to the order. That day, I picked up my kids at their schools. Then, I called the police and had an officer walk through the house to make sure my husband was not waiting inside for me – I didn’t know what he might do. I also had the locks, garage codes, and alarm system codes changed.

We fought an ugly divorce. And because I had pretended that everything was “normal” for 20 years, my kids didn’t understand why I had kicked their dad out from our house. They still don’t.

That was 11 years ago. I joined domestic violence support groups and received a lot of individual counseling. I trained to become a domestic violence advocate and now help other domestic violence victims.

I have come a long way in my journey toward healing. I met and married a loving man who treats me wonderfully and never abuses me. We each have several children, so we have had to deal with many issues while blending our families. Life isn’t easy, but it is so much better than life with my abusive first husband.

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Photo Credit Nadja Tatar

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