By MIA FREEDMAN
It’s the question everyone asks when a woman (or man but we’re mostly talking about women) finally escapes from an abusive relationship: what took you so long?
I’ve asked it myself of several friends who have been with emotionally abusive men. And many years ago it was asked of me because I was there too, with a boyfriend who told me I was worthless, a slut, a flirt, a drama queen…..it went on for two years. He never hit me but in hindsight, it was still toxic and abusive.
Why do women stay with men who belitte us? Who hit us? Who abuse us? It’s a complicated answer and is intensely personal. Every woman, every situation is unique and yet there are so many similarities.
It’s like a frog in boiling water. At first, things are lovely. Pleasant. Warm.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, it gets hotter. You wonder if you’re imagining things. He tells you you’re over-reacting. He apologises profusely. Things get better. And then they get worse. Each time is a new low point until one day you’re looking up at your life with your self-esteem in the gutter and no strength to lift yourself up and out and away from the man who is making your life hell but who has a powerful, confusing, torturous, invisible hold over you.
The water is boiling and you are trapped.
Weak men know the only way to dominate a strong woman is to demolish her self esteem piece by piece over a period of time. Isolate her from her support network. Make her feel so small and insecure and scared and destabilised that she doesn’t know HOW to leave. Or who she is.
And that’s why women who do get away are incredibly brave and generous to speak out and share their stories. Women like Tegan Gould, the former fiance of high profile sports agent and former AFL player Ricky Nixon, who was recently convicted of assaulting her. Not for the first time.
Tegan told her story to journalist Sue Smethurst in this month’s Australian Women’s Weekly and I urge you to read it. If you know someone in a similar situation or who you suspect of being in an abusive relationship, buy them a copy of AWW and press it into their hand.
According to the interview in the Women’s Weekly, 28 year old Tegan Gould met Nixon at a bar in 2011. He had been in the headlines for drink driving and the affair he’d had with 17-year-old schoolgirl Kim Duthie. Pictures of him in his underwear were all over the media.
She told AWW:
“…He swept me off my feet. Obviously, in hindsight, I was very naive, but he had a confidence and arrogance that was kind of attractive.”
“My friends and family said, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ But I thought I knew better; foolishly, there was a nurturing side of me that thought I could change him.”