As I rewrote many of these posts about the emotional abuse I was subject to, I judged myself pretty harshly. I felt like I sound pathetic, like a loser. I wondered that if I thought it, that you may have thought it, too. As a result, I felt it was important to shine some further light on my situation and the topic of emotional abuse.
My (ex) husband didn’t start off the total asshole that he became (with domestic emotional abuse, the abuser gets significantly worse over time). When we first met, he was incredibly charming, family focused, and goal oriented. He seemed gentle and sincere. Once we got married, his expectations of me changed immediately. It was so abrupt that we ended up discussing it with a couple’s counselor. His belief is that a woman’s role is supposed to change once she becomes a wife. His expectations were that I had to put him first, above anyone else, and respect him always. This meant that I had to put him first, even above myself. Furthermore, respecting him meant that I had to obey him, and if I disagreed or disobeyed, then I was disrespecting him.
This was completely opposite of my thinking. I assumed that nothing much would change once we got married, only that our love for each other would continue to grow. His rationale seemed insane, and we would get into tremendous blow up fights over it. Over time, the fighting weakened me. He continued to make many rules, choices, and decisions – and I felt like I had no choice but to follow them if I wanted to give our marriage a shot. If I disagreed or “disobeyed,” more emotional abuse ensued.
Our marriage became about him having ultimate control over me. I was no longer allowed to hang out with my friends unless he planned not to be around (and if I even invited them over for a cup of tea while he was home, he would give both of us attitude and be rude), I was no longer allowed to have male friends at all (I had to distance myself from one of my best male friends who had been a supporter of our relationship all along), I had to have lunch and dinner ready on the table for him before he got home (I never cooked before we got married), I had to do all of the laundry and cleaning while still working a full-time job (and being the main bread winner), I had to stay in on weekends and do things he wanted to do when he wanted to do them (like helping him to finish his work that he didn’t finish during the week), I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol (unless he said it was ok), we had to spend money on things he wanted (even though I made most of the money), we could only have sex on Sundays if he was in the mood, and I even couldn’t reach out to my family as much anymore (because according to him, he was my family now and I had to put him above everyone else). There were many more rules, but I’ll stop there.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking, RUN! Looking back, it’s what I should have done. But, I took a vow before God, my family, and closest friends – that is a serious commitment and promise. I couldn’t just give up, I needed to find a way to make my marriage work. I am an incredibly optimistic person and I thought through communication, therapy, and work that we could get to a better place. Divorce was never an option at this point. I believed in us, and in who he showed me he was before we got married, who he told me he was and wanted to be. I prayed we could get back there.
I didn’t know what else to do but to try to adapt to his rules. Looking back, that was the worst mistake I could have made. I very quickly lost myself. I was no longer the smiley, happy, cheerful, social, smiley, sunshiny woman I once was. I was isolated, lonely, and miserable. I no longer wore bright colors, was struggling with my job, and gained a lot of weight. My soul was fading. I remember praying at night to God, telling Him that He could give my soul to the devil if He could only make our marriage work. If that wasn’t a wake-up call enough, I decided to talk to one of my best friends (who also happens to be social worker) about the struggles in my marriage, about how we go through phases where things are good, and then things get really bad. My jaw dropped when she said to me, “You literally just described the cycle of emotional abuse.” That was when the light bulb finally went off for me, when I realized how unhealthy my relationship with my (ex) husband was, and when I began to do more reading about emotional abuse and domestic violence.
The cycle of abuse is made up of several different phases. Researchers sometimes divide them into three, four, or sometimes more separate pieces, but they all come together in the same way: first, there is tension building. In this phase, the abuser may get angry, abuse may begin, the victim feels the need to keep the abuser calm, tension becomes too much, and the victim feels like they are walking on egg shells. Next, is the explosion phase. This is when the abuser is physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive. This is followed by the honeymoon phase, sometimes known as making-up. Here the abuser may apologize for the abuse, may promise it will never happen again, may blame the victim for causing the abuse, and may deny abuse took place or say it was not as bad as the victim claims. The cycle can happen hundreds of times and each phase lasts a different amount of time. Researchers point out that the total cycle can take anywhere from few hours to a year or more to complete. Furthermore, over time, the honeymoon phase will disappear, and the tension building and explosion phases will become more prevalent.
In my marriage, the abuse I suffered was mostly emotional, although sometimes physical. Most of our time was spent in the tension building and explosion phases, and the above examples are literally verbatim what happened what I experienced. There are many warning signs that your relationship is emotionally abusive. Here are the ones that I experienced (taken from www.domesticviolenceroundtable.org):
- Controls what you do, whom you see, and where you go
- Calls you names, puts you down, or humiliates you
- Makes you feel ashamed, isolated, wrong, stupid, scared, worthless, or crazy
- Acts jealous
- Threatens you or makes you feel afraid
- Punishes you by withholding affection
- Constantly criticizes you
- Blames you for arguments or problems in the relationship
- Makes non-verbal gestures intended to intimidate you
- Isolates you from friends and family
- Makes you feel guilty for spending time with someone else
- Causes problems for you at work
There are many other warning signs that are not listed. Looking back, I see things much more clearly: I used to justify his behavior and say he was controlling because of low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety…but really that’s just maybe explaining why he did what he did. At the end of the day, there is no justification to treat anyone like that. What he was doing is wrong and unhealthy.
It is important that if you are in a relationship where you experience domestic abuse or emotional abuse, please know that you are not alone. The National Domestic Violence hotline gets over 20,000 calls a day and they are there as a resource to you. From my own personal experience, I suggest that you reach out to your closest friends and family to share your struggles with them. Even though you may already be feeling cut off at the knees, they will help you to stand tall. And as things may seem hopeless, I promise that if you focus on loving yourself, you will get through this. Love will always win.