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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The definition of verbal abuse

Brad was extremely controlling every day.  Non-stop telling me what to do, or not to do, with the kids. Things like “don’t put the plates on that side of the table”, ” don’t give them straws”, "don’t let them watch TV”, etc.  He would usually make these pronouncements and then go upstairs to watch TV and leave me with the kids to enforce his ‘rules’, which were never open for discussion. This was the source of much of his anger because he felt I was not doing whatever it was correctly. He was also angry about how I answered his questions, and what he called my lack of “passion”, which led him to believe I was cheating on him.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I started keeping a journal at the suggestion of my counselor. I thought if I could find a pattern, I could determine the problem and figure out a way to solve it. I decided to track only his angry behavior and not the controlling behavior because there was just too much of it. During a 90 day window in late 2007 and early 2008, I had 41 journal entries. So almost every other day there was some incident. The kids were two and a half and just under a year old at the time. Below are two excerpts that I hope will give you a feel for what it was like. The numbers indicate how angry he was with 1 being the mildly angry and 5 being furious. This is exactly as I wrote the entries in the journal.
Excerpt One
11/8/07 Thursday – 5 - moving knife, lunch plans, threatened divorce, packed a bag, called me a c**t and a wh**e, threatend to hit me, I threatened to call 911, Luke and Cassie were both there
11/8/07 Friday - 2 - still mad about the day before
11/11/07 Sunday afternoon – 2 – yelled about not following previous orders, apologized later
11/12/07 Monday PM – answering a question with a question, threatened to leave, said I was 100% wrong
11/13/07 Tuesday PM – still mad about last few days – told me I have to change
11/15/07 Thursday PM – 1 – told me I was responsible for all of Luke’s bad behavior
11/16/07 Friday PM – 3 – mad all night (medicine)
11/17/07 Saturday – 5 – threatened divorce, threatened to hit me, said I was ‘lying’ , pot rack, Luke was there
Excerpt Two
11/26/07 Monday – AM and PM – 5 – mad about not telling about medicine for Cassie, and not waking him up, mad all day, threatened divorce
11/29/07 Thursday AM - 4,5 – mad about dishes, no passion, said I was ‘lying’,sex, threatened divorce, very abusive
11/29/07 Thursday PM – continued about ‘passion’, agreement to make him feel special *zero tolerance of abuse
12/03/07 Monday PM – 2 – mad about giving ride to a coworker, says I should ask first for my safety
Note how he threatens to divorce me often. I counted 14 times in this 90 day window.
He also threatens to call CPS (Child Protective Services) on me because of my alleged poor mothering skills. In spite of the fact that he threatened to hit me at least 3 times during this window and either one or both of the kids where there when he did it. I should have called CPS on him.
He accuses me cheating several times.
I also find it interesting that I drew a line in the sand and said to myself  “*zero tolerance of abuse”. Obviously I did not stick to that.
I really thought I could point out to him that his behavior was abusive and that he would change it. I just could not accept that he was unable to be rational.  When I would mention that calling me names and threatening me was unacceptable and abusive, he would have one of several replies:
  • No it’s not, you’re too sensitive
  • You deserve it because of what you did wrong
  • I would never really hurt you
He maintains this attitude to this day. It took me a long time, longer that I wish it had, to realize he was never going to act rationally, or be able to change. It is a losing battle trying to get him to understand. Being extremely mean and threatening to someone you want to have a relationship with does not make any sense. And yet, these types of people are incapable of understanding that.
Below are the signs of a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship. Brad did all of this, except keeping me from working, before he became physically abusive.
  • Calls you names, insults you or continually criticizes you.
  • Does not trust you and acts jealous or possessive.
  • Tries to isolate you from family or friends.
  • Monitors where you go, who you call and who you spend time with.
  • Does not want you to work.
  • Controls finances or refuses to share money.
  • Punishes you by withholding affection.
  • Expects you to ask permission.
  • Threatens to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets.
  • Humiliates you in any way
Brad is a textbook case of an abusive personality.  I have never regretted my decision to leave, I only regret I did not do it earlier.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Naming the problem

Brad worked at home the whole time we were together. A little before Cassie was born, Brad’s contract job was over and he started doing independent consulting.  Brad's irrational and jealous behaviors continued, and to make matters worse, because of the economy, his work was dwindling.

He essentially stopped working about 2 ½ years into our marriage when Cassie was about six months old.  So he hads lots of time to worry about what I might be doing with my imagined men friends, or my ex-boyfriend Michael.  He was constantly calling me at work to argue with me.  I felt like I was going crazy.

In my search of the Internet to find answers I decided he might be a borderline personality and got a copy of  Stop Walking on Eggshells at the used book store. I kept the book in my desk at work. I thought he seemed similar, but not exactly as they described. I was really convinced he was mentally ill, because no rational person would think the way he did or say the things he did to me, especially if he loved me like he said he did, and wanted to keep me. I started seeing a therapist when Cassie was about seven months old, with the thought that I would be able to understand him and eventually be able to convince him to go to counseling and get help. At some level, I did not want to be in the relationship, but I also thought I had to give him a chance to change. I could not just leave an ill person. With the help of the counselor and continued Internet searches, I began to realize that no matter the cause – he was verbally abusive.

This was when I read Patricia Evans The Verbally Abusive Relationship.   The passages showing how these types of men communicate were like transcripts of my conversations and arguments with Brad. I could picture Brad saying the exact same things as in the book. It was eerie. The attitudes, behaviors and patterns were identical to him. I knew at this point that I was in an abusive relationship.

I started keeping a journal about a month after starting to see the therapist. I kept the journalin my desk at work and would come in every work day and fast and furiously write down what I remembered of the arguments the days before or even that morning. We had a lot of arguments before I even left for work. The first few months of the journal will be the topic for my next post.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Right before I got pregnant with Cassie, I was having a lot of trouble with my back – probably from carrying my big nine-month old baby around all the time. I went to see a chiropractor and if you’ve ever been to one you know it can be quite intensive. I was going two or three times a week at lunch. Since I work full time, this was the only time I could go. I went for several weeks and got better, but not 100%. Every time, I went, however there was drama with Brad. He would repeatedly call to check up on me. The chiropractor was female, but he decided that I was lying and that I was cheating on him with the chiropractor. Then he decided there was not chiropractor at all, and I that I was having lunchtime liaisons with some unspecified man. He said he would divorce me if I did not quit the chiropractor. So I quit.

When I was just over six months pregnant I went for an MRI because the doctors wanted to check some things out.   Brad and I drove downtown in separate cars because I was planning to go to work afterword. As we were getting close, he calls me and tells me where the entrance is – he says “it’s by where the bus is”. I looked around and could not find the bus. When he finally saw my car, he was furious because I had not listened to his exact instructions. If I had, according to him, I would have seen the bus. I finally parked and got out of the car and he continued to harass me and said he was going home, and I was a terrible person for not listening to him, and I don't respect him and so on. He came on into the building, though, and there was icy silence as we sat waiting for the MRI. At this visit,  I found out I had some potentially life-threatening complications with my pregnancy. It was dangerous for me and the baby and the doctors decided to schedule a caesarean section at seven and a half months (34 weeks). The four weeks between when I found this out and the actual delivery date were very stressful. I was constantly on edge, waiting for a sign things were getting worse, in which case I was to go immediately to the emergency room.

 I decided I wanted my Dad to be there for the delivery because he is a very emotionally and physically strong person and would be a lot of help with me in the hospital, a baby in the NICU, and a toddler at home. My parents are divorced, so I could not have my mom at the same time. My sister called Brad and asked him about the situation with my Mom and Dad and they had a huge argument on the phone, according to him. (My sister did not agree that there anything more than a slightly tense verbal exchange when I told her about his reaction years later.) He confronted me about this situation with my sister when I was in ICU after the delivery of Cassie. I had not even seen Cassie yet, due to my situation and he insists on unloading on my about how mean my sister is and how my family is against him. He forces me to agree that I will never take the kids to see my sister without him or he’ll divorce me. I have to pick between my husband and my family he tells me (classic isolation tactic). Keep in mind, I am still very sick, and have tubes and wires attached to me all over the place, have not even seen my daughter yet, and his highest priority is extracting a promise about visits in the future. I was stunned, but I agreed, because there was no other option. I made a lot of these ‘agreements’ that I usually had no intention of keeping, but it was the only way to stop the arguing. He would continue to bully me until he got the answered he wanted.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

One more time

My parents came to visit after Luke was born and in a casual conversation, the name of my ex-boyfriend Michael came up in passing.  As in “Michael had to clear the drain when it got stuck”.    When Brad got me alone later that evening he accused me of “carrying-on” about how great Michael was, did I still love him, was I going back to him, etc.   I was totally taken aback.  He heard Michael’s name and flipped out – none of his characterizations of the conversation were correct.  I was so upset, I went into where my mom was sleeping to ask her if she thought I had been talking Michael up.  She agreed with me, that it was just a comment in passing and that Brad had overreacted.  I had not told her all of the horrible things he said, but enough to understand the basic situation.  When I came out of her room, he was waiting for me.  Sitting in the dark – it was chilling.  I was afraid of what he would say now because he had repeatedly told me not to discuss anything we talked about with my family.  This is the classic abusive technique of isolation and it is very effective.    I had broken the ‘rules’ by talking to my mom. He said he had been listening at the door.  He was extremely angry and said he was leaving and after I went to bed, I heard him saying ‘goodbye’ to Luke via the baby monitor.   An idle threat, to be sure, but manipulative and emotionally abusive none the less.

Once I was sufficiently recovered from the childbirth, he started pushing for sex and pretty much expected it every day.  I was exhausted from working full time and taking care of the baby. We were always fighting and I was always tired, but he never understood why I was not ‘in the mood’.  Several times he coerced me into having sex in front of the baby.  I felt this was completely inappropriate, but felt powerless to say no.  Sometimes sex would appease him and he’d be a bit nicer the rest of the day.   Living with a man like this is so emotionally and physically draining, it’s hard to describe.  He was at the very least controlling and patronizing every day and would start arguments several times a week.  Your adrenaline gets up when you are arguing and then you have a period of calm where you think, “This is going to be ok, I can deal with it, I have to stick around to keep the family intact, it’s not that bad.”  And stick around I did. 
At this point, he had not been physically abusive.   I really wanted a sibling for Luke and I was old enough that I knew this was my last chance.   Brad did not really agree and would have been happy with just Luke, but I insisted and since it involved more sex, Brad agreed.  He told me later he felt ‘cheated’ because both times he had expected it to take longer for me to get pregnant, because of my age, and that he resented the fact that I got pregnant so quickly both times because he had ‘missed out’ on a lot of sex.  Imagine.  He somehow felt I had not lived up to my half of the bargain because I was luckily fertile.
Looking back, I understand the decision I made, but we did not have anything resembling a healthy relationship , it was classically abusive and yet I told myself “I can make this work”.  I had not labeled it yet as abusive.  I thought he was overly sensitive and emotional, and perhaps a tinge of mentally unbalanced, but I thought I could handle it and make it better and that the good would outweigh the bad.    If I only knew.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

And Baby Makes Three

I thought some of his jealous behavior would subside one we were married, especially now that I was pregnant and obviously ‘sticking around’.   I was wrong – it got worse.    Brad was always very jealous of my ex-boyfriend Michael and would often ask if I was still seeing him (even though how now lived in another state). He repeatedly called me at work, accused me of cheating with Michael and many other unspecified men.  This is when he started calling me the worst names imaginable and I was often in tears during these arguments. Never really sure what I had done wrong, if anything.  Often thinking “this can’t be happening, he’s crazy, I’ve got to get out of here.”  I went out to the car on several occasions and just sobbed and sobbed until I calmed down – he would always make some snotty remark when I came back inside.  I could not call my family or friends to talk about it because I was embarrassed.  I did not want them to hate him, so if it could be fixed, I was going to grin and bear it.  I was pregnant and felt I needed to stay so the baby would have a father.  I could not envision life as a single mother.

When I was five months pregnant, we made a trip overseas to visit relatives for Christmas.  Travelling with Brad was always extremely stressful.  He would tell me where to sit in the gate area and get mad if I did not understand exactly what he wanted. Heaven forbid I would ask for clarification, that made him more upset.  He would verbally harass and sometimes cuss out the various airport workers if things did not go his way, while simultaneously chatting up the flight attendants and other travellers.  This is fairly common. Many women describe their abusers initially as out-going and charming, and they can be.  It’s when they turn on you that you feel like you are going crazy.  This is the Jekyll and Hyde part of their personalities that is so difficult to reconcile in your mind.  One minute they’re happy, they next minute they are angry and abusive.  It happens in an instant and it’s completely unpredictable.

While we staying with my family, one of my sister’s friends took Brad and me to see the sights as a favor.  I had met this friend a while back and he was a very nice and unassuming guy.   I was pregnant, so I sat in the front of the car and Brad sat in back.  After we got home from the day trip and Brad and I were alone, he went off on me.  Insisting I had been ignoring him all day, that I had been rude and disrespectful of him by not involving him in the conversation.  He accused me of wanting to cheat with friend. Honestly, I was just talking to the friend because he was nice enough to tote us around to places where I’m sure he’d been a lot of times.  I wanted to make sure he felt that we appreciated his attention.   Brad threatened to go tell my family how bad I was, threatened to leave me. I had to literally beg him not leave and agree that I had been wrong and promise not to do it again.  “You have to change” he used to say to me all the time – every argument was my fault because I had done something or said something that offended him.   This was another recurrent theme in our marriage. 

At last, Luke was born and we were officially a family.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The first few months together

We started preparing for the wedding , bought a house together, and found out I was pregnant (planned) all in a few months. Things should have been great, and yet they weren't.  I was starting to notice a disturbing trend in his behavior, but I felt trapped based on the circumstances.  Even though I realized he was not perfect, I thought I could make it work.  

When we started settling up the bills for the wedding and monthly household stuff, Brad got very paranoid and controlling. He thought I was trying to ‘cheat’ him or something and had to come up with his own accounting and then decided he would pay all the bills from now on.  He also insisted on putting his furniture and pictures wherever he wanted them in the house we bought together. He would ask my opinion and then not take it, because he thought I was trying to ‘take over’ with my stuff and get rid of his stuff. I am very easy going about things like this and am generally 'anti-conflict' at all costs.  I would never have questioned what he wanted to do, since I was trying to keep the peace.  The conflict and a little bit of paranoia were all in his mind.

On one occasion, he cooked dinner for his mother and my family, and when my mother complimented him on the food and when she asked him a specific question about it, he got extremely defensive and left the table visibly upset.  I went to talk to him and he said that she was questioning his judgment and his cooking skills, that she was being condescending, how dare she, etc.  It was very embarrassing to me.  I found out later that his mother told my family “He does this sometimes, just leave him alone and he’ll get over it.”  He also got mad at my mother for reading the Sunday paper before he did, he accused her of being selfish and she walked off in a huff.  I can sort of laugh at this kind of thing now, because it’s just so ridiculous, but at the time it was not funny at all.
Lastly, we were going to the hardware store together and I was driving. He gave me a driving suggestion that I ignored.  I am not defending what I did, but I knew the area better than he did and I thought it would be quicker to go a slightly different way to get back on the highway than what he had suggested.    He then proceeded to explain to me what a thoughtless, rude and terrible person I was for not at least acknowledging his suggestion , that I was being disrespectful,  superior,  and on and on.  I tried apologizing, promising not to do it again, etc. to no avail.  This argument lasted at least half an hour and he continued to bring this incident up periodically as an example of my ‘bad behavior’ throughout our entire marriage and at least once during the divorce process.   “You never listen to me, you think you’re always right, this is just like the time you ignored me when I told you to take a left.”    Beyond Infuriating – I think sometimes he said it deliberately knowing it would make me angry. His reaction was completely out of proportion to my ‘crime’.  This would be an ongoing theme in our marriage.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Rush

We started dating and got married within a year – that should have been my first sign something was not right. Abusive men tend to move fast in relationships. I had been out of the dating scene for quite a while and wanted to fill the void my previous relationship had left. Brad seemed smart, charming, reasonably successful, and most of all - he seemed to worship me. It’s easy to overlook a few oddities in a person when they give you so much adoration and praise.  

He had a lot of friends where we lived and in his home state. We took a trip back to his home state and I met his mother who seemed normal enough – but he was estranged from his brother and sister. Various reasons for the estrangement, but it did come out that his brother was abusive to his wife– another sign I missed due to ignorance – abusive men are often from abusive families and it carries on through the generations .  

There were three incidents that happened when we were dating, that I know now, were traits of an abusive personality.

The first was at my house, we were planning to go a store and were looking at a phone book. Brad was looking at the book and I was looking on as well. We had an extremely tense ride to the store as he proceeded to tell me how I was being condescending and treating him like child by reading over his shoulder, and on and on – for twenty five minutes. He eventually calmed down and I apologized profusely for my mistake, but I kept thinking the whole time “this can’t be happening, he’s crazy, I did not do anything wrong, I was only trying to be helpful because I know the area better than he does”. At some point, I began to doubt myself and thought maybe I had been condescending. I had not had that many adult relationships to gauge his behavior, so it definitely planted some seeds that maybe I was the problem. This is a classic example of hypersensitivity, one of the traits of abusive people. I’m here to tell you - go with your first instinct in situations like this. If you think you did not do anything wrong and he’s acting ridiculous or crazy – you’re right.

The second incident occurred when I had a business meeting with a vendor of my company that was followed by a baseball game. This is fairly common in my industry and we had nice box seats with food and drinks. I was there with several co-workers. The game lasted until about 10pm. My phone had been in my purse and I had not heard it or answered in during the game. When I checked it when I got to my car to drive home, I had many missed calls and a couple of voice mails from Brad. The basic message was “Why aren’t you answering, who are you cheating on me with, etc.” I called him back and talked at length to convince him that I was not deliberately ignoring him, but that I had not heard he phone at the game and that I was not cheating on him. He said he was worried about my safety, so I should have returned his calls earlier. This phone call was very stressful and again I’m thinking “I didn’t do anything wrong, he’s crazy”. This episode shows two of the characteristics of an abusive person – controlling behavior and jealousy. He was clearly jealous and his repeated calling and saying he was worried about my ‘safety’ are classic controlling behaviors as indicated in the link above.

But, this blew over as well and we continued dating.

The third incident was bizarre indeed. I received some flowers at work with no note attached. I assumed they were from Brad, since I was not dating anyone else. You never know, however, I might have had a secret admirer. I phoned him to thank him, but asked first if they were from him, just to be sure. He freaked out. He accused me of cheating and lying and then disappeared for a couple of days. We had been dating most nights of the week at this stage and talked at least once a day – but all of a sudden he was not returning my calls or emails.  I was beginning to get worried about him, and went by his house and rang the doorbell – the car was there , but no answer to the doorbell. After several days he finally called back saying he had been ‘sick’. Looking back I think he was in either a severely depressed state, or a drunken stupor, I’m not sure which, but neither is good. His accusations in this incident and the baseball instance were clearly verbally abusive, but I did not recognize it at the time. This incident also shows the extreme jealousy and hypersensitivity as before.

These types of people are master manipulators. They use these various behaviors to make you doubt yourself and apologize and try to please them even though you did nothing wrong. Know this: If you think you did not do anything wrong and he’s acting ridiculous or crazy– you’re right. Trust your instincts – if you’re in doubt talk about it with a girlfriend, but never assume he is correct.  

I feel it’s very important to know as soon as possible in life what a healthy versus unhealthy relationship looks like. So, I leave you with the list of red flags in a relationship that I wish I had known about before I started dating. My ex-husband did a several of these before we got married and had almost completed this ‘checklist’ before I left him. Please pass this on to your daughters and sons. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It’s not okay

Welcome.  I am a domestic violence survivor and I have created this site to bring a personal story to the horror that is life with an abusive person.  I left the relationship more than a year ago in 2010 and am very motivated to help others understand what abuse looks like, what it feels like, and help give them the strength to get out of the situation or to help a friend get out. 
It’s very hard to imagine how bad it can be, even when the abuse is only verbal or emotional.  When physical intimidation, sexual coercion and physical violence are involved, it is an absolute nightmare.  Always on edge, dreading the ring of the cell phone, never knowing whether the next day, the next hour or the next minute is going to be peaceful or not.
I’m going to tell my story (using pseudonyms) over the next couple of months.  I’ll start with when I was dating my future husband and keep posting as the relationship evolved and continues to evolve.   I still have to deal with him on an ongoing basis because of the kids.   I also plan to include some topics for open comments to build some support for those who need it and to get ideas on prevention.   The web community and various web sites played a large role in my understanding that how he was treating me was not acceptable.  Domestic abuse takes a lot of forms, it typically gets worse over time, and it’s not okay.  It took a long time and lot of courage to come to the decision to leave, but I know it was the right one.  I have never looked back and am now looking forward to helping others.