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Friday, September 30, 2011

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

After leaving my abusive husband and starting to emotionally recover, I decided to become a voice in the fight against domestic violence by telling my story.  My hope is that raising awareness will lead to prevention, because no one should have to live like that. 
But what exactly does this awareness mean?  For professionals in the police and courts it’s very important to understand the dynamics of an abusive relationship and make the right decision to the best of their ability.   More knowledge and awareness should mean better decisions.
What about for the average person?  I would like the average person to be more aware of what it encompasses and how hard it is to pull away from the abuser.    They would be more open to helping friends and family in abusive relationships if they understood more, and did not judge the victim.   The abused person needs lots of support before, during and after they leave their abuser.

What about for the person in an abusive relationship?  They also need to be more aware of what it is and why the abuser does what he does.  They need to know that it’s not ok. They need to know that they deserve better, and they need to know how to get out safely.  
My story in a nutshell – I am an educated professional woman with a good job.  I married and educated professional with a good job.   There were a few red flags  in the courtship, but I did not understand what they were and I thought I could deal with my future husband’s ‘emotional’ behavior.   I was wrong.   We got married and his behavior almost immediately deteriorated once we were living in the same house.  Verbal abuse and controlling behavior in the beginning, then the physical threats started.  When my second child was about a year old he started with the physical abuse, holding me down, grabbing my arms and eventually putting his hands around my throat.  It continued to get worse until I got a protective order and had him forcibly removed from the house and filed for divorce when my children where three and four years old.  Thirteen months later we were officially divorced.  That was six months ago.   I’ve compiled my list below of the things I want people to know by the category above.    These are strictly my opinions based on my experience and the experience of others I have come across in my research on many web sites,  in an informal poll,  and in about a dozen books.

For professionals
Right after a violent incident, the perpetrator has the ability appear completely calm and rational, leaving the victim to appear hysterical or lying about the abuse.

Men that abuse and manipulate their partners will continue to do so for the rest of their lives – aim to minimize interaction between them in setting up custody agreements.   They will take almost every opportunity to verbally abuse their ex-wife or to manipulate the situation.
Ex-wives are still scared and will give in to the ex-husband because it is easier and safer than fighting.

Men that abuse their wives are typically bad roles models and should not be allowed to have standard visitation with the children.  They have poor coping skills and are typically emotionally immature and it will eventually affect the children either directly or indirectly.

Battering intervention programs may help some men, but most men do not make a significant change.  Do not assume that if they have been through a program that they are ‘better’.
For the general public
Domestic violence  encompasses a wide range of intimidating, humiliating, threatening behaviors designed to control the victim.  These include verbal, emotional, financial, sexual and physical abuse.

It can happen to anyone.

Living with an abuser is chaos and torture combined.   Fights can go on for hours and often happen in front of the children.

The victim is always on edge and afraid of the abuser.
The victim did not do anything to deserve this behavior.

The victim believes the abuser can change.
Leaving means giving up on the relationship, which is very hard for the victim to do.

The victim is ashamed to tell you about it and ask for help.
Leaving an abuser is a scary proposition and, in fact, women more likely to be seriously harmed or killed after they have left than during the relationship.

Leaving has emotional, financial, physical, and safety issues and needs to be planned.
Just because a victim doesn’t leave doesn’t mean that “It’s not that bad.”    It’s is that bad and it only gets worse. 

The victim is scared and feels powerless to change the situation.
For the victim
It’s not okay – if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not.

Even though you might think, ‘it’s not that bad’, it is - no amount of abuse is acceptable and it’s okay to leave.
You do not deserve to be abused, and the abuse will always get worse.

Everything they do is an attempt to manipulate and control you.
You did not do anything to cause the abuse.

It’s not because of drugs or alcohol.
You think you can protect your children more if you are there with the abuser, rather than apart from him, but it’s not true. Think about how much the children are hurt by what they see and hear on and ongoing basis.

Boys that witness domestic violence are much more likely to be abusers – stop the cycle.
Girls that witness domestic violence are much more likely to be abused – stop the cycle.

The abuser will not change without significant time and effort and help from outside sources and even this is unlikely.
You are not a failure if it does not work out, he is.

Most women (75%) do eventually leave, so why not do it sooner rather than later.

Make sure you and your children are safe when you leave.
Be patient with your children. They've seen enough violence and heard enough yelling and screaming for a lifetime.  They will thrive in a calm environment.
The abuser will act normal for a while after you leave, but don’t fall for it. The abusive behavior always comes back.
If you have children, you will have to deal with his bad behavior for a long time, but it’s still better than living with him.

It takes strength and courage to leave and stay gone, but it will eventually give you peace.

I've put an 'End Domestic Violence' support sticker on my car, even though I’m afraid of what my ex-husband might think if/when he sees it.  So far he has either not noticed, or chosen not to say anything.   
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and I encourage you to do something positive to help others, or to get help yourself .

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Insulting, Invasive, Idiotic

The things Brad says to me.  I3, “I” cubed I’m going to call it  Here are a few I remember off the top of my head.

You let Cassie play with makeup? Do you let her do it before school?  (This when he saw her with Peppermint lip gloss and an old compact of mine at the soccer game.  As if I would let her wear makeup to school.)

Are they eating vegetables? (Implying that I am not serving enough.)
I’m giving the kids fruit smoothies to make sure they get their vitamins. (implying I am not feeding them correctly.)

You’re the least attractive women on the planet (this is not just insulting, but abusive.)
The kids are always tired when I get them.  Do you let them stay up late?

Did you give them fast food last night?
Do you text or talk to your ‘friends’ when the kids are around.  (Implying I am putting my needs to date in front of the kids’ needs.)

Does Luke do what you say? (Implying I am a bad disciplinarian, which was one of his hot buttons all along.)

I don’t trust you not to put your (sexual) needs over the needs of the kids. (The sexual part was implied by the context.)
You’ve done better the last few weeks at not saying rude things to me. (Of course, I am never rude, he just thinks I am if I don’t respond to his I3  behavior exactly as he wants. And who is he to judge my behavior and praise me one way or the other?  Just ridiculous.)

Are you taking a trip? (After seeing a coupon for a car service on my refrigerator.)

What’s that? (After seeing a pink cosmetic bag in my purse.)
Is that a new bra? I don’t remember it. (After seeing my bra strap when I was leaning over to put Cassie in her car seat.)

Are the kids having a babysitter this weekend? (Implying a boyfriend.)
Is there anything regular? (Again, implying a boyfriend, in spite of that fact that he says HE DOES NOT CARE ABOUT ME.)

Is that a new kind of champagne, what are you drinking on a daily basis? (After seeing some bottles in my refrigerator, he obsessively bought a huge supply before I left him, that I have only made a dent in. As if I would be drinking daily, he was the alcoholic, not me.)

Do you like your hair longer? Why didn’t you have it longer when we were married?

I’m dying without a raincoat. (This in July after a few days of rain, before he had taken possession of all his stuff.)

My clothes all got ruined because you packed them in cardboard boxes and I want you to pay to get them dry cleaned. (I declined to pay.)
I need you to tell me all about the results of any doctor appointment for the kids before you tell anybody else. (As if I would actually agree to this.  Controlling? Indeed.)

You look nice. Did you have a good Isabelle day?  (Said when he saw me at kid pick-up.  I have no idea what this means, but I think it vaguely might mean “Did you have date?” – in which case it would also fall into the Invasive category.)

To Cassie - Where did you get that stamp on your hand? Is mommy taking you to bars now? (After gymnastics where she gets a stamp on her hand.  This could also be included in the Insulting category.)
Luke’s feet smell because he is not wearing socks and his shoes are made in China out of man-made materials that are might get into Luke’s skin and harm him. So make sure he always wears socks.   (Not really sure how he knows anything about how/where the shoes are made, but the foot smell is accurate though, it’s pretty bad.)

I'd call you 100 times when you don't answer if I knew it was making you mad. (Whaat?)

I think it will help me to deal with these things he says if I categorize them. File it and move on. I need to take them less personally, so they won’t make me so mad.   I have tried to push back when he says these things, but it almost never goes well and typically escalates.  He feels completely justified and no amount of convincing changes his irrational mind.  This is one of the things that is so hard to deal with being divorced from an abuser, at least for me.  I couldn’t make him change his behavior when we were married and I can't now, either.  It’s like arguing with a two-year old.
Maybe I’ll get a little notebook with a tally sheet for the categories.  It’ll work great until he somehow sees it and asks what it is…   Add one to Invasive.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Leaving is a process

I’ve read that over 75% of women eventually leave their abuser.  This is the good news.  I’ve read that it typically takes 7 or 8 times for a woman to truly leave an abusive relationship.   This is the bad news.   Why is it so hard to leave?  A lot of good reasons, most of which applied to me, are outlined here.  When I read about how many times it typically takes to leave, at first I scoffed.

“ I left the first time, and stayed gone, I thought.  I’m better than that.  I’m stronger than that,” I said to myself.
Then as I was going through my journals and writing this blog, I realized that it wasn't true.  It's true that after I had him forcibly removed from the house and filed for divorce, I didn't go back.  Before that, though, I called the police on him and even saw a lawyer, but I let him come back.  Two other times, I had been scared enough to leave and go to a hotel with the kids. The first time, I was afraid and I was hoping he would take me seriously now that I had made a bold gesture and start to change.  The second time, I was ready to file for divorce.   Both times I went back.  

The amazing part is that all three times he was somewhat apologetic, but still blaming me, and not nearly as contrite as he should have been when we talked. He thought I had overreacted; he thought the abuse was not that bad.  He was even verbally abusive in the negotiations for my return.  Hearing the conversation, most people would have thought I was crazy to go back.  In hindsight, I can hardly believe I agreed to come home with the way he was talking to me, but I did.  You never really know what you will do in a situation until faced with it.  It took a long time for the pain of living with him to overcome the perceived pain of leaving him.   But it finally did, as it does for most women, since most do leave.   

When you leave, you are trading this:

For this:

For me, it was a good trade. I only wish I had been able to do it sooner. Luckily, I was financially able to leave. Luckily, I had the support of my friends and family. Luckily, he did not try to hurt me physically after I left. The process that you have to go through to leave is emotional as well as logistical. Emotionally I had to admit defeat. Emotionally, I had to accept that he was never going to change, and that the chaos of our lives was damaging our kids and our kids’ future. Emotionally, I had to be ready to tell my family and friends what was going on. All of these are huge barriers. Logistically, I had to prepare my finances. Logistically, I had to prepare from a legal perspective. Logistically, I had to prepare for the safety of the kids and myself, which is by far the most important. For me this process took about a year and a half and a couple of tries, but it was worth it.

As I sit eating dinner on the back porch with Luke and Cassie, enjoying the nice evening now that the heat of summer is over, I am happy. I have lots of ups and downs with Brad.  Being divorced from him is stressful, and I feel bad the kids will have to deal with him as a father, but I know I made the right decision to leave. After living under the veil of impending doom for years, I finally have some peace.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And Again

I had a completely different post altogether planned for today, but I instead I am sitting here, sick to my stomach, hands trembling because of Brad.

I had an appointment about Cassie this morning, nothing major or really important.   I happened to be on the phone with Brad about scheduling when I had to leave, so I told him I was going to the meeting and he asked me to call him afterwards to let him know how it went.  After the meeting, I had to get back to work, and I had a business lunch scheduled.   While I was at lunch, he called my cell phone seven times, and texted me twice.  This first one said ‘when are you going to pick up’, the second one said ‘when are you going 2 b avail’.   This all in a time frame less than 45 minutes.  I had no idea what the issue was, so I called back (a mistake I will not make again when he repeatedly calls.)
I called him back and basically said “What’s up?”  He was upset that I had not called him right after I left the meeting and furious that I had not answered the phone, or texted him during lunch.   He assumes that I actually heard the phone, or the texts and was ignoring him.  I actually only heard it once, but even if I had heard it all those times, I would not have answered or texted.  The phone was in my purse on the floor and it would have been rude to get it out during the business lunch.   

He went off on me about how he did not care “what I was doing” or “who I was doing”, but I had to respond to him within ten minutes. He said I had already agreed to this (which, of course, I had not).   He said I was ignoring him and was trying to get away with something and “acting just like you did when we were married”,   and that my behavior like this was “the reason we are not married anymore”.  I told him calling seven times was unreasonable and that he should call once, or send one text message, and wait for me to respond.    I told him calling that much just made me mad and he said “I’m trying to make you mad.”  To what end I can’t possible imagine.
I told him that I would try to respond in a timely manner if it was about the kids, but I would not commit to ten minutes.   I told him that we were not married anymore, and I did not owe him any specific response time, and I was only being courteous by responding as quickly as a typically did. I was raising my voice a little because I was now furious myself.   Then he hung up on me. He called back twice in the next hour, but I did not answer.  Then he texted that soccer practice was cancelled, so I texted back that I would get Cassie (it was planned that he would take her to soccer).   

I thought I had until Luke’s soccer game on Saturday before I had to deal with him again, but at 6:30 pm he texted me – ‘I have a question, u call me or I call you’.   First of all this is a demand, not a request, and second of all – I have no intention of talking to him on the phone right now.  I had decided earlier in the day to only communicate via email or text, at least in the short term.  I typed ‘Please send an email’ in response to his text and my hands were trembling as I pressed ‘Send’.  I was waiting for the storm.  It was so hard not to give in and call him because I knew that the text would make him mad, but I was determined.  The kids were in the car and I did not think there was any way the conversation would go well.   

I immediately called my mom and told her what I had done.   His response to my text was to call me three more times in the next seven minutes while I was on the phone with her.  I did not answer.   I was scared.   He left a voice mail that I finally had the nerve to listen to as I was cooking dinner.  Basically it said “I’m going to the PTA meeting tonight and I have some questions, just give me a call, I don’t want to play email games.”  Well the meeting is probably over by now and I have yet to hear back from him, so I guess it wasn't that important.  At least his voice mail was only annoying and not threatening.  I was afraid to listen to it, but I was prepared to call the police if it had been threatening at all. I am still scared.  I think he might drive by the house and lurk.  I think he might still be upset on Saturday, I just don’t know.  

The part that is so scary is how quickly he gets extremely angry over nothing and reverts back to his old behavior.  The meeting was at 10 am; assuming he thought it was over at 10:30am, he was expecting a call then.  By 12:15pm he was calling me because I had not called him to report back and two minutes later he was repeatedly calling and texting.   This issue became urgent and obsessively important to him in less than two hours.  It’s just ridiculous and yet it’s the reality I’m dealing with. It proves that I never know what will set him off.   Was it really because I had not called back, or was it really because he got jealous when I did not answer my phone at lunch time?   Who knows.  What I do know is that his behavior is completely unacceptable and yet there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.  The good news is writing about it helps, which is one of the things I have learned since starting this blog.   

I feel better now.   Thanks for listening.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cycle of Violence

This cycle is all over the internet, but here is one with a pretty good definition included.  I did not fully comprehend this whole cycle until after I left Brad and after I saw this website with the shopping example.  It hit me like a lightning bolt.  I lived that so many times, it’s unbelievable.  It all seems very clear in hindsight, and he has even admitted since I left him that he did plan to abuse me sometimes.  For some reason that fact that he was planning it makes it seem even worse.  I knew he would sit at home and stew after an argument, and he seemed to get madder and madder, but it never really occurred to me that he was actually planning to abuse me and fantasizing about it, until I read this article. 

 He would tell me to go to the store, and I usually had to take at least one of the kids, and when I got back there was hell to pay.  I don’t think I ever went out of the house on my own, other than to work, when there was not some argument either on the phone while I was gone, or when I got back.   He once told me I could have  ‘an hour a day’ to myself and I could do what I wanted, but I had to ‘prove’ to him I could keep it to an hour and get back on time.  As if he was in charge of me.  It was so ridiculous, even at the time, that I just ignored the offer.   He also admitted when we were still together, that sometimes he would ask me a question, just to see what I would say,  setting me up for an argument.  Unbelievable.
When you put it in perspective, this scheming to be abusive and the whole cycle reinforces just how ingrained into their personalities this is and why it’s almost impossible for them to change.  It’s truly heinous.  This cycle is real and the main thing that keeps a woman in the relationship is the ‘normal’ stage.  It’s very tempting to assume that as long as he is acting normal, he will continue to act normal.  But it never happens, so don’t let it fool you.

I still see this cycle with Brad on an ongoing basis almost nineteen months after I left him.  Just when I think he’s acting normal, and I think he has changed, he does or says something that is verbally abusive or seriously invasive of my privacy. 
Now that I think about it, I wonder if this cycle of abuse is why he is so keen on my dating.  He has expressed his interest in my personal life in many ways.  He says he thinks it will help my relationship with him if I have a boyfriend.  As if I am somehow being mean to him because he thinks I am unhappy in my personal life.  He repeatedly asks me if I need ‘personal time’ and if he can babysit.  And he makes snide remarks about whether I am talking or texting with ‘my friends’ when the kids are around.  He has even volunteered to take my photos for a dating site.  It’s three shades of creepy.  

Perhaps he wants me to date, so he can then start asking me abusive or obnoxious questions, setting me up so he can gain some control back with his behavior.    It has actually already started, he told me once recently “I don’t care what you’re doing on your personal time, you could be shopping or f**king some guy for all I care”.  Completely inappropriate, and demeaning to boot.  
To a certain extent his bad behavior does influence my behavior and I really hate that.   I ‘let’ him say some of these ridiculous things, and I respond to his invasive questions as minimally as possible, because doing otherwise is fraught with danger.   Not physical danger, but emotional danger.  If I try to explain that what he asked me was inappropriate, he says that it was not, and that he talks to all of his friends this way, and he want to be friends with me. He says if I get defensive, I am wrong and it’s my fault and my problem, and I have to change my reaction to his behavior if I don’t want to be stressed by it.  Sound familiar?  It’s Abusive Tactics 101.  Deny, deny, deny.  Blame the other person.  It not me, it’s you.   And on it goes.

I guess I’m going to have to get used to this cycle, because I will be living with it as long as Brad is around.  I have to keep telling myself not to get my hopes up after he acts normal for a while, because the cycle will continue.  I can only hope that over time, the intensity fades.   I understand that most divorced couples have some conflict, because otherwise they would not be divorced, but conflict with Brad is particularly bad because I can’t speak my mind.   I have to put up with his behavior and put my mental state at risk for the sake of the kids, and keeping the peace.   I don’t regret for a minute that I left him, because even this level of stress is 1000% better than living with him.  I do regret that he and probably the kids will never understand what I personally went through, and continue to go through on a daily basis to make all this work.   It's worth it though, because being divorced from an abuser is no fun, but living with one was torture.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Domestic Violence is not just a black eye

A lot of people who’ve never been in an abusive relationship assume that domestic violence is when a man hits a woman or ‘beats her up’.  The reality is that it starts way before that.    I’d venture to guess that no woman would go out on a second date with a man who hit her on the first date.  She’d probably file assault charges.  

So the abuser is able to control himself - he’s charming and moves quickly in the relationship to be exclusive. He flatters you and makes you feel special.  Even if something doesn’t seem quite right, you dismiss it because he seems to adore you.  The trap is set.  The relationship continues and perhaps there are no red flags, but perhaps there are and you don’t recognize them.  I know that was true in my case.
Once you are living together or married, things likely escalate.  The abuser typically has a true sense of ownership at this point, if not before and it makes everything worse.  It starts with jealous outbursts that seem unreasonable, but perhaps it’s just because he loves you so much that he gets so jealous, at least that’s what you tell yourself.  In the midst of these outbursts, the name calling starts.  It doesn’t seem right, but you rationalize it because he was so angry, he didn’t really mean it.  Especially later when he tells you how much he loves you and that he can’t live without you.

Next you start modifying your behavior to hopefully appease his jealousy – making sure you are available by phone, not going to lunch with co-workers, hurrying  back from errands, not talking to your friends, possibly quitting your job.   You try to make him feel special and loved, but it does not work and it gets worse.  Now, nothing you do seems right.  You can’t unload the dishwasher correctly, you don’t buy the right stuff at the store, you don’t respond to his questions quickly enough or the way he wants.   

Now the verbal abuse is horrible – he rants and raves and screams at you for hours about what’s wrong with you and how you have to change to please him.  He tells you that you are ugly, bad at sex, and that no one else will ever love you, only he can. You start isolating yourself from friends and family because it’s too hard to maintain a good front and talk about your life to them.  You’re afraid they will judge you if you tell them how he’s been treating you.   You start to think maybe it is you, maybe you are the problem. You think maybe you are crazy.
During these sessions , he won’t let you leave the room, he follows you around to argue with you, he won’t let you go to sleep, he insists you apologize and admit you are wrong.  He threatens to damage your property. He demands sex that you don’t want at the end of the argument to ‘make up’.   This has been the beginning of the physical and sexual abuse. 

Now it spirals out of control.  During an argument he grabs your arms, he shoves you, or threatens to hit you.  He is scary angry.  He throws something at you.  He puts his hand over your mouth to make you be quiet.   Next time it’s a pillow.  Later he puts his hands around your throat to ‘shut you up’.  He slaps you. He threatens to kill you.   He threatens to harm the kids if you don’t ‘behave’ and it’s all your fault.   

Now he’s full scale abusive – this is all domestic violence and it’s not okay.  This is not what healthy relationships look like.  It’s impossible to really describe what it’s like to live with a man like this.  It is isolating and horrifying.  At this point you’re probably still not really accepting that it’s domestic violence – that’s would be if he hit you with a fist, or beat you with a belt, or kicked you, wouldn't it?  When you think domestic violence, you think about the pictures of Nicole Brown and of O.J.
Is what you are going through enough to warrant calling the police?  It seems not.  Is it enough to warrant leaving him?  It seems not.   Is it enough to break up the family and have to deal with him as the father of the kids?  It seems not.

And yet it is.    All of this is abusive behavior, all of this is domestic violence and is completely unacceptable.  This is what I wish for people to know.   People that are in a relationship like this, and people that are not, but might know someone who is.  These types of behavior  are the markers of domestic violence.  It starts with verbal abuse and almost always gets worse, possibly until you are killed.  On the average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.1.”

I am telling my story with the hope that someone will recognize themselves or someone they know in my words and safely do something about it. 

1. Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Years

I don’t have a real 9/11 story.   Like most of us, I went through the unfolding of events throughout the day in shock and dismay.  I had tears in my eyes as I watched the towers fall on a TV someone had turned on in a conference room at work.   I contacted my mom and we eventually found out my sister, who lived in DC, was okay.   She would have had no reason to be in the Pentagon, but you just never know.  I stayed up very late that night, glued to CNN after I got home from work.

My boyfriend of twelve years,  Michael,  was on an extended assignment in Europe, and I eventually got a hold of him as well.   He had been pulling away emotionally over the last year, and I thought maybe this event would shake him up, realize how much he wanted to be with me, etc.   Not so much.
If you had told me at the time that ten years later I would be a single mother of two children, divorced from an abusive man that I met after Michael left, I would never have believed it.  And yet, there it is.

You just never know how things are going to turn out.  It’s very easy for me to start getting depressed about my current situation.   Brad will never fully support his fair share of the kids’ expenses.  I constantly have to deal with him at the kids’ events and at hand-offs, which can be up to five or six times a week.    He is always annoying, often verbally abusive, and occasionally physically intimidating.  I will always be on edge when Brad is with the kids, because I don’t trust him and I don’t think I ever will.     
I am taking this opportunity, however, to reflect back over the last ten years and look at how far I have come and how much I have accomplished.   I got over Michael’s leaving and it was truly painful - I cried every day for six months after he left in February of 2002.  I have a steady job and a good income.  I learned to scuba dive and went on several trips to the Caribbean.  I took golf lessons, which didn’t help my game much.  I took a lot of dance lessons, which did help and I thoroughly enjoyed.   I took a chance on Brad – I knew it wasn’t a perfect fit, but I thought I could make it work.  I made it through two complicated pregnancies, and I have two truly wonderful kids that are the light of my life to show for it.

I was in a pit of despair in my marriage, but I climbed out of it.  I made the most difficult decision of my life and had my abusive husband forcibly removed from our house, in spite of how scared I was of all that was to come.  I made it through the drama of the divorce, which was so much work and so stressful that at times I felt like my head was going to explode.   I’ve reconnected with my family and friends through all of this and am truly enriched for it.  I have a small, but very dedicated support network that I can turn to when I get stressed and need to talk.
I started this blog, which has been very cathartic and provided a lot of emotional balance and perspective.  I’m (barely) over the hurdle of starting to date after the divorce.  I’ve put an “End Domestic Violence” magnet ribbon on my car and I plan to do more for the cause as I find opportunities.

I don’t know what the next ten years will bring, but I am hopeful that it will be rewarding and wonderful.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Can he change?

Probably the question asked most often by a woman in an abusive relationship.   Fundamentally, I think most of us don’t want to give up on the relationship and the potential of a happy family.   Some women still really love the men involved and don’t want to give up what was once the ‘love of their life’.   We just want the abuse to stop.   If you are in any doubt whether what is being done to you is abusive, here is one of the most comprehensive lists I’ve ever seen. 

Men who do these things are abusive and most likely will continue to be, and most likely it will get worse over time.  Statistically speaking, the chances he will change are extremely small.  I’ve seen 3%, I’ve seen 5%.    Of course, since there is no good way to measure this, the statistics are not completely meaningful, but they do give an indication of the challenge.
For me, I had been done with the relationship from early on.  It was so stressful living with him, that if it had been just me, I feel fairly certain I would have left him much sooner.  The fact was, though, it was not just me.  Even before he became physically abusive, there were two kids to think about.   I wanted them to have a real father.  I wanted to be part of a family. I did try to change to be more passionate for him.  I tried to answer his questions correctly to keep him from getting mad. I kept thinking if I could keep things relatively calm and explain to him how what he was doing was hurting me, that he would change.  It never happened. 

What about intervention programs?
Brad went into a battering intervention prevention program (BIPP, for short) somewhat voluntarily.   We had been in therapy for a short while and the therapist convinced him he should go.  Most of the other men there were ordered by the court.   I was very torn when he went, because I was pretty much done at that point and  was just getting things lined up so I could leave.   But I felt that I had to give him a chance, so I delayed my leaving a little.

He brought home a list of abusive behaviors in his paperwork.  I could have checked off almost every one.  I felt vindicated when I saw the list because it was given to him by the counselors in BIPP, where he had gone voluntarily.  It seemed like a vague admission of guilt.   He had to recognize himself on those pages, I thought. 
He came back from one of the later sessions and said “I found out I’m extremely manipulative.”   It was all I could do not to say “No sh*t.”  They had given him a checklist of manipulative behaviors, again I could have checked off almost every one.   He did seem to recognize himself on those pages at first.  It didn’t last very long, though;  he was back being manipulative a few days later. 

There were two things I noticed while he was attending BIPP.  First, he did not physically touch me or threaten to kill me as much.  That was, to him, a clear line.   He was still just as verbally and emotionally abusive, he still prevented me from leaving the room, he was still physically intimidating.  But now he usually threatened to throw stuff, rather than threatening to beat me or kill me.  It was only vaguely better, because I knew he could snap at anytime and he did.
Second, now he had an attitude.   His attitude was all high and mighty.  He would say, “I’m trying to change because I’m going to this class and you’re not trying.”    He would say, “I can’t change unless you do.”  He never really accepted that he was responsible for his behavior, and has not to this day.    He insisted my poor communications skills, my lack of passion, my ‘lying’, or what have you, were the cause of his behavior.    If I would change, then he could change. He went to BIPP for almost two months before I left him and there was no real improvement during that time frame. It was almost worse because of his attitude.  He kept throwing that in my face.  For me, it was a case of way too little, way too late.   It was very hard, but I knew I had to leave, in spite of the fact that he was now in a treatment program.  I felt a little guilty leaving him in the middle, but there was no way I could wait for the six months to be up.

He quit going to BIPP for about a month because after I had him removed from the house he was in a drunken stupor for two weeks, and then he was in rehab.  He was now court ordered to go because of the protective order.   It was a six month program, but he ‘failed’ the first session because he refused to write me some sort of letter, apologizing, perhaps, I’m not sure.  So he had to go for another four months.    It was the day after moving day in December, when he cussed at me and physically prevented me from leaving my house, that I received a form letter from the BIPP program saying he had completed the course.  Ironic isn’t it?  I wanted to scream “It didn’t help.”  I know these programs provide the right information to these men, I have done a fair amount of research.  The problem is that getting the men to truly want to change and to recognize that they are responsible for their behavior is almost impossible, it seems.    You hear cases of men getting better and then teaching the BIPP type programs.  Most, however, continue to blame others, or circumstance, or substance abuse for their behavior.  
It’s so ingrained in their personalities that they seem incapable of seeing their way through to change.  This article is very helpful in explaining the situation and providing some evaluators for whether he has changed.

As I was going through the divorce and now as we are into the routine, there are moments when I think he gets it, and I think he might have changed.  But I am always disappointed.  Eighteen months after I left him, and he repeatedly called and texted, and was verbally abusive to me today on the phone.  Of course he was, he has not changed at all.  The difference is,  I could hang up on him and not worry about any repercussions right away.   I will still have to deal with him at soccer practice tomorrow.  But maybe he won’t show up, maybe he will have calmed down.  At least it will be in public, so the chance for him to do something really bad is minimal.  

Bottom line, without serious intervention, they will never change.  You can’t change them.   They have to get help to understand what they are doing is wrong.  Some of them have to go to jail to understand that they need to change.  They have to really want to change.  Only you can decide if you are willing to wait around on the off-chance that they might get better.