A few weeks before my 20th birthday I met a charming young man. I hadn’t had much luck with guys, but he came along and swept me off my feet. He made me feel like a million dollars. I hadn’t had the easiest of starts to my life and desperately craved affection and love.
When I was with him all my problems seemed so far away, he made me feel so loved and we had so much fun. “You don’t need to wear make-up — you are so beautiful.” After a year of going out, partying at weekends, I fell pregnant. I was so happy as doctors told me it would be unlikely that I’d have a family due to my early diagnosis of endometriosis. My life felt like it was finally coming together until we had our first argument. I can’t even remember what it was about, but he started to get physical, pulling and shoving me. I was desperate to protect my unborn child and left the house in the pouring rain to stay at my friend’s house for the night.
The next day he had a big bag of “sorrys” and was devastated at the thought of losing me. The thought of bringing my child into the world without her father was enough to give it a second go. My friend was not happy about this and found it hard to be happy for me.
We had a few months of enjoying being young parents. He enjoyed celebrating in the pub being a new dad. But I was tired and distracted and time was passing by.
The second time it happened my daughter was still a baby and again it was not a punch or anything that I considered to be domestic violence but in hindsight, it was the acorn growing into a mighty oak.
I didn’t go out with my friends very often now, and any time I did I was made to feel like a slag for getting dressed up or wearing make-up. I was such a young mum I didn’t realize I was suffering from postnatal depression. I felt isolated and unhappy, but I didn’t understand why. I was happy with my daughter and being on our own. As time went by there were rare occasions of mild violence but they were always when he had had too much to drink and he was always so very sorry, and he would always tell me how much he loved me. And by now I’d mastered avoiding conflict by treading on eggshells when I sensed he was in a bad mood.
We got married and moved to a new house and eventually, we had another baby. This time it was different. I didn’t have postnatal depression, I felt so much more confident the second time around. My first year of maternity leave was also my daughter’s first year of school, so I got to see and experience all the firsts. During this time his anger issues had increased, and I still felt anxious. When I went back to work, I would always be accused of cheating or being dishonest. Everything was questioned, how short my skirt should be, why had the commute taken an extra 10 minutes’ drive, why was I wearing lipstick!
The morning of my daughter’s first Christmas school play, his rage was flowing. He threw me up against the back door and I thought I’d broken my back. An ambulance was called and so was his parents. His parents played it down as usual and even went in my place to the school play while I stayed at home, bound to the sofa in excruciating pain, praying my back would not be permanently damaged.
Looking back, it’s strange how that pain has healed far easier than the mental scars that remain raw all these years later. I’d be in a room full of people feeling alone and miserable, but I’d put on that big smile that hid my feelings; I buried them at the back of my mind like all my other past problems. His parents’ relationship was far worse than ours — so much so I thought maybe my mother-in-law thought I was a drama queen and should have thought myself lucky. I hadn’t been beaten black and blue as she had endured, but I did not want this for my children. I couldn’t understand how she accepted this behavior as normal?
I had to change the pattern, I had to be brave for them, but in some ways, it was easier to stay. I didn’t want my marriage to fail like my parents’ marriage had, so I kept trying.
I’d been to the doctor’s and taken antidepressants for a long period of time and there were long periods of no violence. But I didn’t realize my relationship was not just about violence, it was about control. My doctor couldn’t advise me to leave him but recorded the dates of violence should I have need to show evidence. He also asked me to report the incidents to the police.
To this day, I still don’t think he realizes he is a narcissist. On the outside, everyone saw how in love we were and how attentive he was, not that he was jealous and controlling. Maybe everyone had fallouts, maybe I was overreacting.
I would ask myself the question…would I have the same problems with another man, surely there would be more arguments as he wouldn’t be their father?
I couldn’t talk to many people as they would say ‘just leave him’. Now looking back, I see it wouldn’t have mattered what they would have said as it took me to find my own self-worth and confidence to eventually separate.
One day whilst standing outside my daughter’s school, I was handed a leaflet for a new Zumba class starting in the school hall. With the support of a friend I went; we stood at the back of the class, hiding under our big T-shirts. I enjoyed the loud and motivating music, watching the girls on the front row shake their asses to the beat of the funky music. It had been the first time I had enjoyed exercise since I was a child at dance classes, in fact, it was the first time I’d enjoyed anything since I could remember. I was hooked! I went every week and as my confidence grew, I started to chat with the other women there and made friends. For an hour a week, I was me and thought of nothing else but the dancing. It was my therapy. Sometimes, I would take the kids with me…rather that than miss a class. The children played with the other children and had as much fun as I did.
Everyone was happy except for him! He demonized Zumba, my happy place! The classes increased to twice a week and then 3 times a week. I was “taking the piss”! Exercising 3 times a week with a bunch of women, yes, I was being very unreasonable! But there was a change in me, I was no longer trying to preempt his mood or pacify him. I didn’t want to give up having fun. I worked full time and I deserved to have some enjoyment, but he would rather me be at home, watching boring TV and going to bed early.
One hot summer evening I spent at my friend’s house, our daughters painting their toenails and sons playing in the garden. They were all similar ages which was great and we sat peacefully enjoying a glass of wine and eating pizza. At the end of the evening, we got a taxi home to find a very angry man. I could feel the tension. I put the children to bed and followed suit. I could hear him slamming around and muttering to himself. I knew things were about to get ugly. I decided to get in bed with my daughter thinking he wouldn’t hurt me in front of her, but I was wrong. He came upstairs just as my friend texted me to see if I’d got home ok. He wrestled my phone out of my hand and threw it up the wall smashing it into a million pieces. He was trying to pull me out of her bed, the cat was scratching at my daughter in panic as I fought underneath him. A punch to my face and I stopped struggling, he dragged me to the top of the stairs demanding I leave. He pushed me from the top of the stairs, I must have passed out briefly as when I opened my eyes, I saw my son, looking down at me in disbelief from the top of the landing.
He stepped over me on the bottom step. I was petrified, confused and hurt. I got out and ran. I didn’t know where I was going but I ended up running past a man walking his dog. I asked to use his phone and said my husband had assaulted me, and he asked: “Why did he do it”? Like that mattered, but the reason was that I’d been with my friend for dinner.
I realized I’d put up and shut up to avoid this exact reaction! I must have somehow deserved it, this guy who everyone thought loved me and was so charming – hurt me? Yes!
I know this attack wasn’t as brutal as some women endure but I think it may be more common and affect more women who, like me, didn’t realize I was being abused.
When the police came to take my statement, the questions they asked were textbook: did he do this or that? Yes, he did. Every question the answer was “yes”. And from that moment I didn’t look back.
They arrested him and we went to court; he was found guilty and served 1 month of a 5-month sentence. He reported me to Social Services and then lost all contact with the children due to the emotional abuse towards them. He took me to court for access, but the courts also would not allow him any contact.
Despite paying nothing toward the mortgage or upkeep of the property or even child maintenance, he wanted equity from the house. He also financially abused me when we were together leaving me in £35K of debt. Seven years later I am nearly debt-free. I have just bought him out, so we are now officially separated. All the hard work and emotional turmoil that I have endured to get away from him has finally paid off.
I have met a new man, he is the opposite of my ex-husband and I am very lucky to have found him. He shows me he loves me every day, rather than just saying the words. We have been together for three years and enjoy a happy and healthy relationship.
Happy endings do exist. Leaving him wasn’t the easiest thing I’d ever done but it was definitely worth it.