My husband is abusive.
There, I said it — he abuses me. He controls me, he punishes me, he restricts me. He demeans me and dismisses and mocks me. But the funny part —or not so— is that we aren’t your typical abuse picture. In fact, you would never ever know it just by looking at us.
We’e great at parties. We have the sweetest “old-friends-married-later-in-life-after-the-woman-suffered-a-ton-of-tragedy” tale that people suck down when they ask how we got together. We play the part. We have a tacit agreement to never mention those “times”— not to friends, and especially not to counselorc— because then, then it would be real. Then he would be in trouble, maybe go to jail because of mandatory reporting laws, which wouldn’t help me at all. It wouldn’t solve the problem and would leave me destitute. So instead, I say nothing in public or private.
Sometimes after a particularly bad fight I reach out and text a friend early that next day “can I come and talk later?” but by the end of the day I remember the secret agreement, and the dead end or much, much worse that would result from that communication, and I back away. I don’t go. I find a way to feel better and forget because he certainly won’t apologize and it’s my job to find a place to put it.
Abuse — it’s so individual. I know that because I am a women’s healthcare provider and I hear everyone’s stories. Ours looks like this: I have no money besides what I earn every month. Despite using all of my savings for our household needs three years ago when he moved across country to be with me and just didn’t feel like working more than a few hours a week, it’s enough to pay his half of the bills. Meanwhile, I was recovering from the fallout of a horrible divorce the years before.
I was starting my own healthcare practice after my ex took ours in the settlement; single-handedly raising my 4-year-old son who was struggling with his dad’s abandonment; cooking all of the food; cleaning the house; and taking absolutely no time for myself. That year, I overdid it so much I became really, really sick over Christmas and ended up crying to my new love to “please, please help more” that I couldn’t possibly keep up with this pace. But I had no choice. I had no money, and he did. So he had all the choices. And he chose to do what he felt like while I took up the rest.
When I’d weep or yell when I was fed up, he would explode — his rage would blossom into something crazy and deadly in a minute. When challenged, he would run, demean, threaten with words, then with his body. All because I would cry with exhaustion, or complain noisily with fear and frustration about how things were going. When I would try to talk to my mother or friends about my struggles (leaving out the abuse parts), the women would remind me to keep the peace, that I couldn’t afford to lose another relationship. They would remind me that women have to be wise and accept things men cannot.
Two years later, I am worse off in some ways. I still don’t have any money, but I work all the time. And my husband’s abuse has gotten much worse. My hope is all but gone that this will ever get better. But my son loves my husband, and I think I do too, despite all of this.
In counseling, I want to tell them how he ran up the stairs last week, grabbed me by the neck and took me to the floor, pressing my face into the wood, telling me I should die because I dared be mad about his tendency to be unhelpful and uncommunicative while I was taking care of my sick son, my elderly parents and facing a new threat from my ex-husband to again upend my son’s life by taking away the money for his schooling. I want to tell these counselors how my husband gets right in my face and tells me to die or shut up or that I am a piece of shit; how he puts his head right against mine or charges me screaming or slams a door hard enough to break the handle; how he screams in rage when I express something about our life that I need to change. It’s horrible. I shake and become forgetful, self-hating, and desperate. I drink when I feel really bad to stop my constant depression.
But here’s the surprise.
We are highly educated, both with graduate degrees. I am a healthcare provider for women with a prestigious position. I believe in women’s rights, and he says he does too. In fact, he loves to read and quote his blogs about anti-feminism in tech and the world. His last girlfriend before me was a huge feminist, he likes to remind me — he loves to tell me how her advice was for all women to have their own money. He seems proud of that. He’s got an MFA and is a talented and creative writer. He and I knew each other when we were young and shared a beautiful first love. I held him up as the person I would always return to in my older wiser years to grow older and die with.
I don’t tell anyone as much as I want to because doing so wouldn’t do any good. I have no power because I have no money and he has a lot. He has thousands in the bank that he won’t put my name on or share with me in any way, even though I spent all of my savings that first year when he needed time off. He won’t do it even though the only reason I want my name on those accounts is so if something happens to him, I could have access to money that I would otherwise not have for bills.
Despite having no family here, I can’t leave because I share custody of my son with his dad who lives here. But I don’t really want to leave. I want a loving husband. I want my husband to be loving. I can’t complain when my husband checks out or yells or demeans and dismisses me or even threaten me with divorce, or worse, with his body.
This is what abuse looks like, and it is so much more pervasive and terrible than anyone can or wants to admit.