I believe that survivors of abuse tend to find each other. Or maybe it’s that emotional and psychological abuse is such a common side effect of society’s masculine ills that many of the women I know can all relate to having a partner who has been manipulative, controlling, and/or downright abusive. Some of them are willing to share their stories with me, which I’ll share here. Because telling one’s story can be an important part of healing. While they may never forgive or forget, I do hope that sharing their stories can help my friends take another step toward healing.
In this blog post, we’ll hear from Pepper, in her own words. (I may edit for clarity, grammar, etc., and I’ve changed names).
Content Warnings: Emotional abuse, manipulation, financial abuse, mental abuse, abusive marriage, and adult language (F bombs ahoy!)
I have titled my last marriage as: At least he doesn’t hit me. It explores the various ways in which I was abused emotionally, financially, and mentally in a 7 year relationship, and even into our 2 separations.
The first I will discuss is emotional abuse and manipulation. I was frequently shamed for speaking to other men, then women as well. He manipulated me into thinking I was inferior, and less than, in our marriage, and that I needed to do specific things and change behaviors to “deserve him” as my husband.
In January of 2017, I remember a big fight we got into because he felt entitled to my entire friends list, all my mental health groups, and my business pages. My entire social media life, including private messages. This is one such excerpt I wrote in hysterics after the argument:
“He has issued forth a list of rules to continue our marriage. He wants full access to my friends, groups, and everything. I politely told him to go fuck himself, he’s not getting to my safe groups. Messages, sure, unless there is private info. WTF? I am not some puppet to be controlled, you cockberry fuck nut. I am not your maid, or servant, not some 1950’s housewife, and I am most definitely not a well behaved woman. Fuck you. Fuck you times a thousand. If you can take away my safe spaces for mental health and be okay with it, you’re not who I want to be married to anyway, because you are a horrible human being. Don’t worry, he will never have access to my groups. I will never let that happen, I just really needed to vent before I lose my shit on him.”
The conversation continued between he and I:
“Him: Ok. I am not denying you a safe space to discuss your mental health. I will admit that I have trust issues, but not respect. To me it appears the other way around. You do not respect me or our marriage enough to not go seeking “insight” from other men. The pattern I was talking about with you is that you get bored of me and go seek excitement elsewhere.
I am not saying you cant have male friends.. just not ones who want to get into your pants or send you dick pics or the like.
I don’t see (friend) talking dirty to you or sending you pics of his dick.
You have “friends” who literally tell you to cheat on me.
And you fail to see how any of this is inappropriate or to even take responsibility for your actions.
You do not respect me because you actually threatened me saying you have pics of a broken remote and of where it apparently hit you in the face. (Pepper: He threw it at me) You don’t respect me because you feel the need to lie to me.”
As you can clearly see, respect is the term he frequently used in our marriage to manipulate me into changing behaviors that he disapproved of.
One type of emotional abuse is the balance in the relationship and household in itself. There was no balance in our relationship. He was dominant, and I was to be the submissive, quiet housewife. He decided my role. I was the “stay at home mom,” I was told I didn’t have a job, I didn’t work (even when I was working 40 hours a week in my small business) and that the kids and house WERE my job. He worked outside the home, therefore he was exempt for the upkeep in the family. I cooked, and made his plates, I made his lunches, I folded his clothing. However, In every aspect of our marriage, I was alone. The lone caretaker of the children, when he would “grace them with his fun presence” and then go to bed. I was the lone housekeeper, and when he would come home, he became another person for me to take care of. Socks and clothes thrown about the house, dishes left on the floor overnight, dishes in the sink left caked. Hair all over the bathroom. Laundry everywhere to be folded. Weekends were for fun, not cleaning, unless I did it. That would leave the house a complete disaster by Monday, and I in the center, with my OCD and my anxiety, crying over my plate after plate after plate of too much. By the time I was to losing my shit levels, he would tell me I was crazy and needed my meds, but then he would pitch in and do dishes, or some meaningless task that I had already done, like vacuum. Most of the time he “deserved to come home and be undisturbed” as he played his video games and went to bed.
I specifically remember we all went on a family vacation while I was still pumping for our youngest child. His parents and sisters family came too, and I was constantly shamed for pumping and not giving him formula, for giving him donor milk, and for every time I slowed them down or wanted to come along. I even went so far as to purchase a to go pump just to make “something” and be able to see the beach. The entire trip, I was shunned to a bedroom and not allowed to pump in front of anyone. One day, they planned an entire day’s worth of events without including my need to pump and feed a baby. This was incredibly upsetting to me, and most of all, because my husband would not stand up for me. He knew it was important, and remained silent. This was a constant in our entire relationship as well. I pumped as hard and fast as I could to prepare to go, and fed the baby all that I could. I looked up, and everyone was gone. They had taken my daughter, and left the baby and myself there as they went to see a lighthouse (I’m a photographer) ride the ferry, and even see wild horses. They knew I’d have loved to see my daughter’s reactions to all of that, and get photos, but I’d just slow them down, so I didn’t deserve to go. The baby and I sat alone in that house for 6 hours with no phone call or anything from anyone. I forgave him. He said “he didn’t know I wanted to go” even as I said “Hold on let me pump real quick and I’ll do the next one when we get back.” We had a cycle, as I see it now. He’d let his family shame me, say nothing, ignore it, let it upset me, shame me for “letting them get to me” and then I’d forgive him, knowing it was all my fault. This is the cycle of gaslighting.
I should have left then. But, at least he didn’t hit me.
The next type of abuse I will talk about is gaslighting, and withholding of affection and attention. The gaslighting and manipulation, guilt trips, threats, and even the silent treatment was a constant thing from him, to the point where I thought I needed to be committed for the sake of him and our kids, and that I was a horrible person and constant cheater (though I had never physically cheated.) Near the end, I stopped reaching out to him, and I sought out emotional relationships with others, deep and meaningful friendships to fill the void of what I was missing in my life. He deemed that this was “cheating” and that I was not allowed to have any such friends. The specific target became my best friend and former boss. He suffered from mental health issues as well, and I dared ask him about the sexual lifestyle he lead, out of sheer curiosity. That was inexcusable in my husband’s eyes, and he even went as far as to say he’d rather me self harm than talk to the friend.
This is a message I sent to a friend after a panic attack when I had reached out to this friend:
I contacted my old friend that was my mental health rock the other day in the middle of a panic attack that lead me to want to self harm. Everyone was busy and I had no one on that moment to distract me. My husband just told me he has been watching the phone bill to see who I talk to, and we got in a fight…He said he’d rather me cut myself then talk to him…I’m not sure how to even feel right now. I just gave him my entire savings to get away BC he couldn’t cover rent..BC things were better..Things were getting better..I thought..
He had always had jealousy and anger issues, even in the beginning of our relationship, but I just told myself “That’s just love. He doesn’t want to lose me.”
Withholding of affection and intimacy was so common that I forgot I had a sex drive at all until I left. I was rarely kissed outside of the “coming home” or “going to work” kiss, we rarely embraced, and sex was very few and far between, specifically once I was not 100 lbs like when we had met. When I got pregnant, I gained 50 lbs, and we didn’t have sex the entire pregnancy, or at all until I lost ALL the weight. Then sex would improve, I’d get pregnant and gain weight, and it would stop. I, having anorexia, see this a form of body shaming from him. He would have several excuses, but the most frequent was that he had low testosterone. With the amount of emotional anger outbursts as he had, I was skeptical, and begged for him to see a doctor and get treatment. He never did. I was only “given” sex how he wanted and when he wanted it, and he used it as a method of positive reinforcement when my behavior was something he favored.
The next type of abuse I will touch on is financial. In our 7 years together, he denied me access to our joint bank accounts, refused to give me a bank card, though I did 100% of the household shopping, and at one point, he refused to take his mother off his account to add me. I had to ask for the card in advance, and tell him what I was using it for, and how much I needed. He even went as far as to call me selfish for purchasing hand me down cloth diapers (mostly), a new mattress we had agreed upon, and a heat press I had saved up for for 2 years for my business. Here is one such excerpt of our conversation:
You don’t respect me because instead of helping me out financially, you rather spend your money on something selfish like cloth diapers or the damn mattress or heat press. You had money to pay off a loan and your ticket, but I’m left to cover it somehow. And you’ll blame me when there’s not enough money for groceries.
Again, you see the word respect in order to “bring me back under heel” and mention of completely normal things, like paying off loans and tickets, but to him, those things were needless. However, he could go out to eat, get coffee every day, etc., and that was not to be brought up because “He worked and I didn’t.” He also without consulting me, got approved and opened a $6,000 credit card to “start his own business” and maxed it out within two months. I found out, I was very upset, because we had been going without things for months, and because he lied. I should have left then. But “AT LEAST HE DOESN’T HIT ME” I thought. At one point, after being pregnant, weight fluctuations, breastfeeding, etc, I told him I needed new clothing and nursing bras, and equipment. I constantly begged for things I needed.
I told him:
“ I don’t buy things for myself. I don’t have clothes, I finally bought a pair of 12 dollar shoes after wearing mine for a year and month, 6 months with huge holes in them. My single pair of jeans has holes in the crotch and are unwearable, my shirts all have holes. I don’t buy myself food or snacks often, and not without feeling the need to run it by you. I don’t do anything with business money unless discussing it with you, and big purchases have always been agreed upon or I don’t do them.”
When I started my business, I started a seperate savings and checking account, and when he found out, he was livid. How dare I hide money or accounts from him, and spend from them without permission. He called it “family money” to guilt me into handing it over.
I should have left then. But “AT LEAST HE DOESN’T HIT ME” I thought.
For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233