Five years ago, when I started talking about it for the first time, that was all I could say. I couldn't call it what it was. I couldn't say he was abusive. I could call us dysfuntional, for sure. But I couldn't say that my husband was abusive.
Because when you make an accusation like that you'd better be able to prove it. You'd better have bruises and medical reports. And I didn't.
Verbal and emotional abuse doesn't leave physical evidence.
No one had seen what he did. No one else knew what went on in our home. In public, around friends and neighbors, he was laughing and playful. Many times people told me that he must be so much fun to live with. What a great sense of humor. You must laugh all the time.
No. Not really. I dread picking up the phone because I know I'm in trouble for something. I hate the weekends and holidays because it means very long days with him at home, never knowing if he will be in a good mood or if we will all be walking on eggshells. Never knowing if the thing that made him laugh yesterday will have him screaming at me today. Never knowing if my latest penance was enough, if I'm forgiven yet. If he loves me again. What's going to bother him today? What did I do wrong? What want should I have anticipated? Will his anger be directed only at me or will he take it out on the kids?
Let me be clear. He did not hit me. He did not hit the kids in any way that could not be written off as discipline. I would have known how to handle that.
He pushed me once, knocked me to the floor, when I was pregnant with our first child. I remember telling him then and there that if anything like that ever happened again we were through; I would divorce him. There were times when I regretted that threat. I believe if I hadn't made it he would have hit me. And I could have left. I could have escaped. And people would understand.
There were many times when I would have given anything just to have him hit me. Then the decision would be clear.
But verbal and emotional abuse is tricky. It's a sly thing that hides from the world. It can even hide from the victim; you just can't put your finger on it. Especially if you grew up with it. Which we both did, to some extent. And it comes on a little at a time so you don't notice it growing. When you've lived it you believe it is normal. You believe that everyone gets to that point at one time or another, behind closed doors. Because it's all you've ever known.
Some examples of the abuse in our marriage/family. At various times he would --
* give me the silent treatment for days
* humiliate me publicly or privately
* ignore my feelings
* criticize me, call me names, yell at me
* give me a hard time about socializing with my friends or family
* ridicule my beliefs
* have unpredictable mood swings, from good to bad for no apparent reason
* twist my words to turn them against me
* tell me that I am too sensitive
* threaten to leave
* ridicule me and then tell me it's a joke and say that I have no sense of humor
* withhold approval, appreciation, or affection
* present a wonderful face to the world
* promise never to do something hurtful again
* abuse something I love, my children
* compliment me to keep me happy but criticize me to keep me insecure
* harass me about imagined affairs
* question my every move and motive
* make me feel like there is no way to win, damned if I do/damned if I don't
* say things and later deny saying them
* drive like a road-rage junkie
* threaten to hurt me or our children
* manipulate me with lies and contradictions
* blow off commitments to me or the kids because we had misbehaved in some way
(list wording taken in part from Dr. Irene's Verbal Abuse Site)
And there are so many more. These are just a few of the things that were prevelent in my marriage for most of the fifteen years before I found the voice to talk about it with someone.
I was made to feel incredibly guilty if I chose to go out in the evening, even for a church activity. And if I wasn't home exactly when I said I would be he would lock me out of the house.
If I woke him up when he overslept, I would get yelled at for acting like his mother -- he can take care of himself. If I didn't wake him up when he overslept, I would get yelled at for not being considerate and helpful.
If he couldn't bully me into what he wanted then the kids became pawns. Random punishment for the slightest offense. Threatening violence if they didn't do what he told them to immediately. And a complete withdrawl of his affection for them.
When I got off a phone call I would be interrogated for several minutes about who I was talking to and what we were talking about.
If we were out together with friends and I spent more time talking to the friends than to him then I was chastised and punished for ignoring him.
If I spent a night out with a friend, I was told that I was treating him like he was unimportant and that a wife should want to be with her husband.
Nothing was done right. Nothing was good enough. Nothing was his fault; everything was my fault.
And as loud and frequent as the yelling was, sometimes the silence was so much worse. He radiated anger. He would walk through the room and I could feel it coming off him like heat waves. The kids and I just tried to be on our best behavior. We tried to stay out of his way.
And I heard myself using lines I'd heard in all those woman-in-peril movies. Please just try to be quiet. Please be as good as you can. Please don't give daddy any reason to get mad.
We would go for long stretches (sometimes several months) with everything being great. It was wonderful. We were happy. We enjoyed each other. We wanted to be together. But even then I was on guard, always knowing that things could change in an instant, always ready to protect my kids and get them away from him. And something would go wrong.
And I never really knew what it was, but I found excuses for it. He's just so stressed because of money. He's working too hard. He didn't get enough sleep. He isn't feeling well.
And that's when the yelling would start up again. That's when he would kick things out of his way as he walked through the room. That's when he would push his way past someone as they passed in the hallway. That's when he would tell the kids that whatever he had promised them they were no longer going to get.
The screaming. The threats. The criticism. The hatred. The disdain. The anger. So much anger. So much pain. So much rejection. So much sadness. So much humiliation. So much fear.
The kids and I often feeling like we were in trouble, never knowing if he loved us that day.
Why did I stay? How did I deal with it? What finally changed?
More to come.
If you are here because your husband is mean to you, please read A Cry in the Dark.
If you don't think you have any options, please read What are My Options When My Husband is Mean?
** I will be selectively allowing comments on this post. It felt like people weren't honoring other people's feelings. It felt like too many comments were becoming lectures, telling people what they should think, feel, or do. I don't believe it's anyone's place to tell you how to live your life or what choices to make. And I don't believe it creates a safe environment for sharing. I would still love to hear your story if you'd like to share, as long as it is respectful.