Lauren has kindly shared with us her experience of an emotionally abusive relationship, and continuing to parent with her ex-husband now they are no longer together. The names of Lauren, her husband and their daughter have all been changed to protect their privacy.
I was 22 when I got together with Tim, he was 24. We got engaged after about 9 months and were married within two and a half years.
Looking back the signs were there that something wasn’t right even before we got married.
We had a lot of fun when we got together, going out and doing things together, but it didn’t translate into real life for us. From early on he reacted strangely to things and was unreasonable, and there was a lot of shouting and big arguments. Once we got engaged I felt that I had committed to something so I had to see it through. But whenever we had arguments after our engagement he always used to say “if we weren’t engaged I’d leave you”. That still affects me now in my relationships.
He always told me I was unreasonable, that I should be on my own, that I was too independent.
The threat to leave me was always there. I don’t now believe he ever would have left, he was shell-shocked when I finally left him. Probably because he’d done the groundwork to make it so that I had no confidence. Once I’d had Grace he’d say “you can’t leave because nobody would want you and another man’s child”.
Before we got married I think I just accepted his behaviour as I’d made my bed and I had to lie in it. Which is absolute nonsense looking back! But as soon as the arguments were over he’d click into being normal so I almost had to keep up. We didn’t really deal with it or stop and think because as quickly as it happened it went back to normal. It was quite unbalancing. He could sulk forever and it would always be my fault. But as soon as he had decided the argument was over he’d click back into normal and then if I carried it on it was my fault.
He did a lot for me around the house, and he’d say “I do all of this for you, I make the house nice for you.” He displayed a lot of characteristics that are typical of abusers. I now know what the typical traits are and it’s scary, it’s almost scripted. I don’t know if it’s a certain personality type. I don’t fully understand that. In his head it was justified – he was doing these things around the house for me and he’d expect certain things to be done. He would expect dinner to be cooked and my fair share of the cleaning to be done when he felt it was meant to be done. If he was mowing the lawn he’d tell me I was lazy if I was sat down. It wasn’t my choice when I hoovered and when I sat down and relaxed. It was all his timescales and his rules.
I worked away for most of our relationship which diluted things. The weekends would be horrible and full of arguments, or they’d be great. Even if it was bad I’d be out of the situation again after two days. Holidays were never fulfilling or relaxing. We’d never really want to do the same things – looking back I just clearly wasn’t with the right person. Things around friends and socialising were always a big deal. We had an argument once and we were meant to be going to a friend’s child’s birthday party. I had to go on my own because it was my “punishment” that he wasn’t going to come with me because I had behaved badly.
He held me back in terms of my career, he didn’t want me to take risks and there were certain roles I would have taken but he just would never have supported me. It’s sad. But when I got pregnant he was pleased and quite protective. It wasn’t a planned pregnancy but it wasn’t an “accident” either. He was a bit funny about me taking a pregnancy test so I did it on my own but he was pleased when I told him it was positive. He hardly came to any of my pregnancy appointments with me though – work was always more important than anything else. We met at work and I knew the company he worked for, there were no issues there, they would not have been difficult about him attending.
I had hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) when I was pregnant and was signed off work for 2 months. I didn’t get admitted to hospital but it was very close. I had a few issues with bleeding too. Very early in the pregnancy I was working away and I started bleeding, so I had to go to the hospital up there and he was like “oh you’ll be fine won’t you”. It was horrible. Now I would expect a partner to drive the 2 ½ hours up there to be with me.
We did go to one midwife appointment together and the midwife was very concerned about me as I was very sick and kind of out of it. Tim just said to me “oh you’re so embarrassing”. He’d been trying to push me to go back to work as he was worried it would affect my promotion and pay rises and the midwife made it clear I should not be going back to work for some time.
I ended up in A&E at one point because I was passing big clots, and I was sick with HG until 16 weeks. On the way back from the 12 week scan he was saying to me “you need to get back to work, you are not taking any more time off” even though I was signed off. I was sitting in the car crying not knowing what to do. My work were so flexible and so good and I didn’t go back to work, but I had to argue my point.
In the middle of all of this we went down south for my brother’s birthday and I was sick but doing okay. We went out for a meal and he fell out with me over such a small thing. Everyone got out of their cars in the car park, everyone was waiting around, Tim had to go back to the car to get his coat and I started walking off with the others. Well he said I should have waited for him and we fell out, he wouldn’t speak to anybody, wouldn’t speak to anyone for the whole day. I was still feeling pretty rubbish at this point, hadn’t eaten much, had been sick in the toilets a few times. We were driving back up the motorway and he was having a go at me and I didn’t have the energy. I said something about his family during the argument and he picked up the Sat Nav and threw it at me. He screeched into a services, screeched round really really fast and just sped back out onto the motorway, just to scare me. And then there was just shouting when we got home.
We had a trip to Las Vegas planned with some friends when I was 22 weeks pregnant. On the flight to Vegas one of the friends made a comment about gambling, and Tim had gambled in the past, so I made a comment about not going too crazy in Vegas. He told me he was going to leave me when we got home because I’d embarrassed him in front of his friends, he was telling me he could do what he wanted, he was on holiday. At that point it didn’t even upset me that much, by then I didn’t even want to be with him. I was wondering the whole holiday if he would leave me when we got back. I ended up in hospital in Vegas because I had some contractions and he made comments about the insurance, but he didn’t leave me when we got back, things just went back to normal. I was getting more pregnant and it just wasn’t that straightforward to walk out.
I went to the rest of my maternity appointments on my own and at that point I started to become more independent and more self sufficient. I was back at work and did the antenatal things by myself.
Tim was really good during my labour, but then afterwards he could have stayed overnight with me and Grace but he didn’t. He was very critical of my parents as they didn’t come up until about 10 hours after I had Grace – it was very important to him to have his parents there as soon as they could be. It wasn’t my choice about visitors and stuff like that.
At 4 weeks postpartum I passed big clots at home and the midwife said it was normal so Tim didn’t think I needed to go to the doctors, but I passed big clots again the next day. Then I was feeding Grace on the sofa, I felt something in my stomach, stood up, and blood hit the floor. My jogging bottoms could be wrung out, my slippers could be drained of blood. I just stood there and fortunately Tim got back from a run after a few minutes. We didn’t go to hospital that night because the midwife had already said to monitor it, and we had a scan booked in for the next day.
Tim wasn’t going to take time off work, so I took my 4 week old baby to the hospital the next day and had the ultrasound on my own. They wanted to admit me because they’d found I had retained placenta. They put me and Grace in a room and Tim said he’d come over once he’d finished work in a few hours. I had nurses holding Grace while other nurses dealt with me, and he was saying he was just having his dinner then he’d come over….. He turned up eventually. They told me I’d be first in for the operation in the morning. They found me a private room because Grace was exclusively breastfed, but then Tim said I don’t want you staying here, I don’t want her staying here, but I’m not looking after her on my own. He made me discharge myself. My Mum came up that night. I had to be back in for 6am the next day. He begrudgingly took a day off work to look after Grace and Mum came into hospital with me. I got prepped for the operation, and then went into anaphylactic shock from one of the drugs they had given me. My Mum rang him to tell him and Tim was like “why are you ringing me to tell me this, I don’t need to know. I’m looking after the baby.” No emotion at all. He commented to me afterwards asking why she phoned him “what could I do, I didn’t need to know”.
At some point during this period I remember I got blood on the back of the car and he complained about that. Grace was sick on him and he was fussing about that. The whole thing was just an inconvenience for him.
Grace was Christened at 6 or 7 months, it had to be in abroad, it couldn’t be where my family lived. I had lost all fight at this point. It was a big show for his family. We had a big argument that weekend and I remember telling his mum I didn’t want to be with him anymore. She knows he’s difficult and she understood but she just said it would calm down and things would be fine.
I was surviving and coping and was parenting independently so it felt like it was okay. When it wasn’t okay was whenever I needed support. If ever I came home and complained about work he’d say “well I can understand why you’d be having problems at work if you behave there like you do at home.” At the time I didn’t recognise it but retrospectively my confidence was low. I was really unhappy at work but he told me it was my fault because I was difficult to deal with.
At 15 months old Grace’s behaviour got really bad – she was biting and being really challenging. Tim had no patience with her. At around 18 months she started being protective of me and would shout “no Daddy, get away from Mummy!” if he came near me. She was okay with him going near her, but if she was with me she’d cry if he came anywhere near us. When she’d see him walk up the drive after work she’d start saying “Mummy, Mummy Daddy’s home” in a worried tone, and if he came up to me she’d say “No”. He threw stuff at me but he never hit me. Grace had never seen that, but she’d seen his aggression towards me.
There was one particular time when Grace had bitten a child at Nursery, it had been dealt with during the day, but he took her off me when he got home and said “I hear you’ve been a horrible little girl”. He took her out of the living room, sat her on the bottom step and started shouting at her that she was horrible. She was pleased to see him but then she was sat there making no noise with tears rolling down her cheeks and he just walked off saying “I don’t want to see you again”. I went and got her.
That was the moment when I thought “game over, I don’t want to be with this man.” I told my Mum and Dad that it was over.
This was April / May time. We had a holiday booked with his parents in the September and in my head I couldn’t let anyone down who’d paid for a holiday, so I stuck it out until then. As soon as we got back from that holiday I moved into the spare bedroom. He told me I was mentally ill, I was just going through a phase, it was my parents’ fault…. Most people would have left at that point but I didn’t want to take Grace away to where my Mum and Dad live, I was concerned about my job, so I wanted to plan and not have temporary stuff. At the time I left I wanted to be out and safe and sorted. He says I left with military precision. He would threaten to leave, he was a desperate man at that point because all of his normal tactics were no longer working. He was almost defeated.
I was signed off work for 6 weeks after the holiday with his parents and started seeing a counsellor. I spoke to my GP about it all and they referred me to local services. I was assigned a support worker through Barnardo’s and she was excellent, and I also spoke to Women’s Aid. They all reaffirmed that Tim’s behaviour was abusive.
Tim knew I was leaving him but not exactly when. He went to work, my Mum and Dad drove up, I packed my things and moved into rented accommodation that I’d already signed for. There was a police flag on the house that my support worker had set up for me.
The first night in the new house Grace slept through in her own bedroom which she’d never done, and she never bit anyone again.
Co-parenting now we’re divorced
Parenting with Tim now isn’t too bad, it’s easier than when we were together for sure. I haven’t got anybody questioning me. I can do what I want, I do it how I want to do it, sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing, but that’s okay, there’s nobody judging me.
I very much take the lead, and he lets me now, which isn’t typical of abusive men. It’s been very interesting because he hasn’t behaved typically from the point that I left him. I think that’s partly because of how I behaved, because at the point where I left I was absolutely terrified for a few months, and it still sends me into a bit of a panic when he does try to dominate me, but I was very very forceful and it was very clear in my mind what was acceptable, who I answered to…. I changed. It was me that changed. The boundaries and the ground rules were very clear from me, I was adamant and steadfast.
He challenged me a lot of the time, I got long text messages, threats, but because he got no reaction and nothing back it stopped. Every now and again he will try and assert himself if he doesn’t like something, but I’ve kind of worked out the triggers for that behaviour in him. I can recognise when it’s him reacting to a trigger. So I can sort of then manage him. The only way I’ve been able to do that was because I became so emotionally detached from it all.
He is still part of our family and he always will be. I care about him and I would like to see him happy. I would never ever want to be with him again, but I have no issues with him being in the house, me being in his house, it’s fine. It’s comfortable in many ways.
The effect on my subsequent relationships
At first I wanted something quite distant but comfortable – comfort at arm’s length. But my second relationship after Tim was different instantly, and I wanted a proper relationship. I was so so insecure and still am up to a point. I am beginning to be able to rationalise my thoughts. I’m on Fluoxetine and that seems to be helping. But I keep asking myself why would he want to be with me? Am I a burden? I’ve got baggage. Is he going to change his mind? He’d be here in my house and I’d be thinking he was changing his mind about me. That caused problems because it’s not really my personality and it’s a lot of pressure to put on somebody. At a certain point it’s what more can he do to make me feel secure??
I am very cautious and I have a huge fear of him leaving. But it is getting better. He makes me happy, he is there when I need him. I love him and he loves me. It is difficult at times but I now know it can work out and there are decent guys out there waiting for us.
Some useful links:
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247