Do you ever think things have gone too far? Do you wonder about the signs of domestic abuse or violence?
This is my story.
I probably look a lot more like you than you think. I get my hair balayaged at the same salon. I’m in the same daycare pickup line. I sit next to you at church and am at the same spin studio. And my child has been begging for a play date with yours. You probably think I’m flaky, because we talk about it, and never set it up. But there’s much more to the story than what I let you see.
The truth is, I never have any friends over for play dates, so don’t think it’s because of you. Part of it is that I’m just so tired. I’m exhausted from living under constant scrutiny, with my every move examined and questioned, all while working multiple jobs and caring for a toddler essentially on my own. Part of it is that I never know which side of my husband I will get when he comes home or if he can’t reach me. And it’s not worth the risk.
My husband could possibly be friends with your husband. He is handsome and fun; charming. I’ve heard him described as a big teddy bear. He’s tall and athletic, twice my weight. He’s well-educated and grew up on one of the wealthiest streets in Dallas; he attended private school and graduated from a highly regarded graduate school. He has a coveted job and makes enough money to live very comfortably. We own a house in a “good” Dallas zip code. On paper, things look pretty perfect. And things really were wonderful in the beginning. Our relationship escalated very quickly, with us traveling together all over the world after only dating a couple of months. We ate at fancy restaurants, had great seats at amazing concerts, enjoyed a wonderful group of friends who loved to have fun as much as we did.
It didn’t take long for me to catch glimpses of his need to control, though. I brushed off all the red flags; we were having so much fun, after all. The subtle warning signs of domestic violence started when we were dating. I loved how protective he was, but this became more scary than comforting. Even when things got out of hand, he would never take ownership of his actions; everything wrong in our lives was my fault. When he lost his temper or acted out in some way, it was always a direct result of something in me or that I had caused, and I believed him. I am far from perfect and I knew I needed to take more ownership of my actions, but this just wasn’t what I imagined marriage to be like. When things started to really unravel, and true colors were exposed, we had a baby on the way and, in my mind, we were beyond the point of return.
He started calling me names and degrading my character. Right after our baby was born, I was sleep-deprived and in a hurry, and accidentally scratched the side of our new car. When I told him about it, he called me a string of expletives, someone who didn’t deserve nice things. Worse than that, he was averaging over 20 criticisms of me per day, which was more damaging over time than the big blowups. He checked my bank account daily to make sure I didn’t go over my spending allocation (despite having my own job), and checked my phone records to see with whom I was communicating. It was obsessive.
No matter how bad it got, he managed to suck me back in with charming words and an elaborate gift or vacation. He always said the right things and I always believed that it would never happen again—he was trying to change. He became obsessed with my phone, needing to know who I was texting. He would look through my phone every chance he got. He hated that I worked with mostly men and would comb through our text conversations, asking about every emoji and perceived innuendo. One day, I just wouldn’t give him the phone, tired of the charade and accusations. In anger, he grabbed my wrist to take it from me, throwing me to the floor. I ended up in a wrist brace with a sprain.
Another time in the car, he drove off the road trying to take my phone from me. Nobody was hurt, but it shook me up. He would make me leave work events and call him every hour (sometimes more often) to check in and tell him what I was doing. And if I didn’t answer, things would go off the rails. He would have to approve my outfits for most events, and many times it was too much of a hassle to go out at all, so I just stayed home or made excuses why I had to leave early. Even when we attended events together, he couldn’t control his jealousy. At a wedding, he accused me of having an affair with a man I had just met because of the way that I clinked my glass with his during the toasts. After I asked him to move out, he would show up at the house in the middle of the night, or appear outside my office and follow me. Even if he didn’t say or do anything, it was extremely unsettling.
One in three Texans will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
So chances are, I’m not the only one in your play date group or preschool class who has experienced domestic abuse. It is pervasive in all classes and all walks of life. I’m ashamed to say I’ve always pictured abused wives as being in a lower socioeconomic class, uneducated, weak. I have a graduate degree, I’ve traveled the world, and I have succeeded in male-dominated fields. I am smart and educated and capable. But mental illness and domestic abuse don’t see race or education or title.
It has taken me years to be able to recognize this for what it is, and even longer to put the words on paper: domestic abuse. I know I have a long road ahead of me before I can say that I have survived it. Even worse, what haunts me at night is that I am not alone and my situation pales in comparison to what some women have been subjected to; some women don’t have access to the resources I do. And just like them, even with these resources, I’m still terrified to leave and doubt myself a million times a day.
I have compiled some resources that have helped me on this journey. Please find solace in know that you are not alone, and this is not your only option! Seek help if you’ve seen signs of domestic abuse in your relationship, and let somebody know what you are going through.
- DOCUMENT EVERYTHING – Everything you think may be inappropriate or that just gives you a bad gut feeling. Document it in a safe place. Even just the process of writing things down (or typing them) can help you see things more clearly.
- Have an escape plan – Gather up important documents and items, pack an overnight bag for you and your kids, and have everything ready where you can leave the house in a few minutes. Genesis Women’s Shelter has a great Safety Planning Checklist here.
- Install a doorbell camera, if you can afford it (Amazon has some more cost-effective options) – It gave me great peace of mind, and I had proof of when he came to the house when he wasn’t supposed to.
- Educate yourself – If you’re like me, you may be completely confused and/or brainwashed into believing this is all normal behavior. Educate yourself on the signs of domestic abuse and understand your rights. Set your boundaries and stick to them. Just because he doesn’t punch or hit you doesn’t mean that it isn’t physical or verbal abuse.
- Resources: The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, Emotionally Destructive Relationship Test: https://www.leslievernick.com/pdfs/Relationship-test.pdf,