real life

'I thought my husband was laid-back, charming and funny. It turns out, he wasn't.'

Two years ago, I fled my house and husband to seek solace at the local police station, where a senior constable kindly filed an intervention order on my behalf.

Emotional abuse was my husband’s primary method of control. I had been in an abusive relationship for years, although it wasn’t until the end that I understood that it was more than an inability to communicate.

For many years, the man I loved was laid-back, charming, funny and affectionate. The only problem was, we kept having the same type of fight.

It was invariably sparked by a critical comment (from him), then a defensive reaction (from me). He would say that he did nothing wrong; I would argue the toss. He would start crying, I would start apologising. After I apologised for hours on end, he would finally forgive me. The original cause of the argument was never addressed.

We would move on. There were many happy times. Then he would say something harsh, I would accept the blame… and in doing so, unintentionally set the tone for our relationship.

Controlling and possessive behaviours are abusive acts. Here are some of the signs of an abuser, told through his victim’s phone. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

If I’d accidentally dripped water on the kitchen floorboards, served dinner a few minutes after I promised, or didn’t immediately wash the dishes, he would snap at me, not letting up until I agreed in a sufficiently congenial tone that he was right. When I did these things again, he would demand to know why I was so stupid and, oh, it was on.

He called me a bad mother, a martyr. He said that I had an anger-management problem. Other terms of endearment quickly crept into his vocabulary: ‘sociopath’, ‘psychopath’, ‘liar’, ‘moron’, and that old gem, ‘b*tch’.

When I tried to walk away from impending conflict, he would scream that walking away was the worst thing I could possibly do to him, and how did I not know that by now?

When I tried to deflect, he claimed that I was ignoring him. When I tried to be light and agreeable, he said that I was being flippant.

He shamed me for wearing a black bra under a white singlet top on a steamy summer road trip. He said that the way I sat on the couch while pregnant, wearing leggings and cooing to my toddler daughter was ‘disgusting’.

When he said for the umpteenth time that he shouldn’t have to tell me ‘how to be a woman’, I agreed with him, wondering if my eyes betrayed my slow nod.

“You should do the honourable thing and not say a bad word about me ever again,” he added.

Sometimes, there were two full days when I didn’t retreat to the bedroom, sobbing quietly into my hands, unable to comprehend why he wouldn’t just give me a break.

I started talking about divorce; he started threatening to hit me. It was all about control.

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One warm evening, another fight erupted, this time, in front of our daughter. It spun into an insult-studded tit-for-tat about who was getting their daughter changed into her pyjamas, and culminated with him throwing me off the bed.

He threw me far enough that I remembered thinking ‘I’m going to have to land’ as I fell through the air. When I stumbled to my feet, there was this strange jabbing at my throat and then this squeeze, and I could not breathe. While all of this was happening, he was screaming the words, “LIAR! PSYCHOPATH! LOOK AT YOU! LIAR! YOU PSYCHOPATH!”

He then told me that he would get our daughter to bed. “No,” I said, clutching her to me. He ripped her out of my arms and stormed out of the room.

“Mummy! Mummy!” she cried.

I did have a safety plan. My overnight bag was in the wardrobe I had just landed in front of, but I didn’t move toward it. How could I get the kids out of the house undetected? How could I escape my husband long-term? I put my head on my pillow, turned off the light and willed my reality to melt away.

Mia Freedman interviewed Nicole Edwards, the founder of  Aussie domestic violence charity RizeUp, about how we can help victims of domestic violence. Post continues after audio.

A few months later, not wanting to go home and not knowing what else to do, I parked the car outside the police station and walked into my future. The choking and physical threats were cause for the police to extricate my husband from the house, plunging me headlong into the court system with paperwork in hand.

However, the emotional scars remained. My husband may have been out of the house but his voice stayed inside my head. Every time I stood at the stove or looked at the floorboards, I flinched. After I finished using an appliance, I flipped off the power switch, then pulled the plug from the wall for good measure. I would go into the bathroom, wipe down the vanity then straighten the towels. I would leave the room, then come back in and look at the sink. I would look at the towels again.

Then I realised that the anguished cry bouncing around the room was mine.

Maybe my husband was right, I thought. He was right about most things, after all. None of this would have happened if I was better at hanging the washing on the line, exactly on the seams every single time.

No.

There is no excuse for treating the person you are supposed to love with contempt.

There is no excuse for gaslighting anyone, verbally abusing them or forcing them to share your opinion.

There is no excuse for choking anyone or threatening any sort of violence against them.

There is no excuse for exposing children to violence.

It took education and support for me to break free from the insidious cycle of violence. It took years to recalibrate my mind so that I could trust my instincts and tilt my face back toward the sun.

In case you’re wondering, my kitchen floorboards are doing fine.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please seek professional support and contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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