Television icon Kerri-Anne Kennerley has bravely shared her story of the abuse she experienced in her first marriage.
But I’m not the beloved KAK. And I’m not brave. I can’t share any details with you about my relationship. When it comes to those deeply-buried memories, I’d much rather swim in that river in Egypt – you know, denial.
What I can do is tell you what I’ve figured out since leaving – what I know for sure now about relationships. By no means am I an expert in the field, but I can at least be more brutally honest than a carefully curated DV resource, because I have been you.
I’m talking directly to the women who have stayed. The ones who are reading this and are already blinking back tears because you know I’m talking to you. And I’m talking to the women who are just at the start, who’ve accepted the first apology and are hoping for the best.
So, one survivor to another, but with the benefit of hindsight, this is what I know for sure.
Oprah was right – when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Don’t minimise unkind words; they’re disrespectful, and the first step to unkind actions. You know this, and can feel it in your heart. Don’t ignore the sign. It’s much easier to walk away when you’re not already invested in each other’s lives. Believe him the first time he shows you his character, before there’s too much at stake and it’s even harder to consider leaving.
It’s absolutely possible to have a relationship where disagreements are resolved with mutual respect, and immature bullying behaviour never happens. Those relationships really do exist, and every person deserves to be in one, including you.
How you solve problems together is key. If someone can’t fight fair, if they bring out the worst in you, or react hysterically and out of proportion and insist that's normal or your fault, you can’t have a healthy relationship with them. That may sound harsh, because I know people say and do things they don't mean in anger, but there must be limits. You deserve better – despite what you may have been told.
Never believe anyone who tells you that you are being too fussy or that your standards are “too high”. I respond to such accusations with the truth; for a long time, my standards for what I accepted and expected were not high enough.
There is no such thing as a "failed" relationship; that’s an archaic description. We’ve all been young, naïve and in love. Most of us married or partnered with people we believed were good for us. You can acknowledge your choices as something you learn from, but don’t feel ashamed.
Shame results in silence, and that silence keeps his secrets for him. A lack of accountability outside of the family makes an abuser way too comfortable with what he’s doing - which makes him even more infuriated, and dangerous, if his partner decides to leave.
If you’re married, remind yourself of your full maiden name. In long-term relationships, it’s so easy to forget that you were once an individual who was perfectly fine on her own (which I promise you were, even if it didn't feel like it at the time). Abusers rely on that being a distant memory so that you’re easier to control.
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Never forget that you still have an identity outside of the relationship. Say your name aloud. Try to remember seeing it on your schoolbooks and think of what you had wanted for yourself back then. That hopeful girl is still inside you.
People truly care about you. The immense kindness of strangers will be unexpected and overwhelming. You are definitely not alone. You are seen and you matter. Last year, I wrote an open letter to the woman I saw shoved from a moving vehicle. I think about her often, and hope she’s ok. And I hope she remembers that someone cared.
But the care and kindness you really need is your own. Be good to yourself, look after yourself, and you will be ok. I promise.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, or you would like more information, please visit the White Ribbon website or call 1800 RESPECT. If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.