His behaviour left me constantly on edge
At first, he made a big show of being protective of me – he told me he would always ‘look after’ me. Little did I know that what he really meant was that he wanted to make all the decisions and I was expected to go along with it.
We had our good times but once we were married, his desire to control everything became more obvious. He never actually hit me, but his behaviour left me constantly on edge. He would push me, throw things at me, call me names, humiliate me in front of friends. These episodes would often be followed by him apologising but then harassing me to make up by having sex with him. He constantly demanded that I have sex to prove I loved him.
After I had our first baby it got worse.
After I had our first baby it got worse. She was an unsettled baby and I was beside myself from exhaustion from getting up in the night and struggling to breastfeed. I’d stopped working and lost contact with my work friends. Feeling vulnerable and isolated from the rest of the world, I became very dependent on him.
I made a couple of friends through a mothers’ group, but he didn’t like that. Over time I had to cut myself off from them because he’d be so rude if they visited the house.
He’d get the kids to ignore any rules I set
He acted like a loving father to the outside world, but at home he did very little for our daughters. I had to do everything, all the housework, all the care for our kids. Even when I was really sick, he refused to do anything to help. But at the same time, he tried to control how I dealt with the kids and how they related to me and each other.
He’d sabotage my attempts to create routines and often told the kids to ignore rules I tried to set. For example, if I told the kids it was time for bed, he’d say ‘we don’t need to listen to her do we?’
He’d also tell our daughters what to wear and was always very critical of their friends. Our youngest daughter was his favourite – a fact which he made very clear to all of us. He’d say she was ‘his prettiest girl’, the ‘smartest’. This caused upset and conflict between our daughters.
Basically my whole life came to revolve around making him happy. At some level I thought the abuse was my fault – I was inadequate and couldn’t cope well as a mother. I was ashamed to tell anyone.
His behaviour was affecting our daughters
As our daughters got older, I started noticing how his behaviour was affecting them. My eldest shut herself off from everyone and became very withdrawn. Meanwhile our youngest was copying his behaviour and became demanding and difficult.
I began to read books about self-esteem and relationships. They reminded me that I deserved something more than the treatment I was receiving from him.
One day, after bursting into tears in front of my GP, I blurted out what had been going on at home. She was very kind. She spoke about ‘domestic violence’ – I’d never thought that was what I was experiencing.
I found the strength to leave
With the support of a domestic violence service, I found the strength to leave. It wasn’t easy, and took a lot of planning. I made a couple of attempts to leave, but he would beg and cry and tell me how much he’d miss me and the kids. I caved in and stayed.
But after one horrible incident, in which he pushed me up against the wall and threatened to kill me, I decided I had to get out. I picked the kids up after school and we drove to my sister’s place in the country. There, I rang him and told him I wasn’t coming back. He just exploded.
I had to endure his guilt-trips, intimidation, pleading, anger and rage, reminding myself that I deserve something better. The worse he behaved, the clearer it came to me that I had to stick to my resolve. The domestic violence service helped me to focus on the future.
I went to court and applied for an Intervention Order to protect me. To see that the Magistrate took his aggressive behaviour seriously made a big difference, and he was forced to back off and stop harassing me.
Things have settled down
It was a stressful time sorting out our arrangements through the Family Court. It was ordered that the kids can live with me, and he sees them on weekends, under supervision. Meeting him to hand over the kids is difficult as he uses this as an opportunity to berate or upset me. The kids don’t particularly enjoy seeing him, and he often tries to criticise me to them, or tells them it’s my fault he can’t see more of them. However, in the past year things have settled down. He has found another partner and shows less interest in seeing the girls or in harassing me.
I’ve found a new house and a part-time job. I am slowly rebuilding my relationship with my daughters. We go to counselling together and talk about how we can relate to each other better. It’s taken a while for them to accept my authority as their mother, after years of him getting them to think they can just ignore whatever I say. But nothing is as stressful, though, as the day-by-day stress of living with his demands, moods and criticisms.
My advice to others
I know how difficult it is to leave, how much you want to believe the justifications and excuses. I know it’s difficult to get the energy to plan a way to get out when you are living day to day just trying not to provoke an angry outburst.
But you can do it. Just take the first step: get help. There are services out there who will understand. Call them. Find ways to build your confidence, and keep your focusing on yourself and your children.
We are supposed to believe that children need their fathers. But this all depends on what their father is like. Believe me, children are better in a happy, stable environment with one caring parent, than living with two parents in an unhappy, tense atmosphere.