This month I am writing a series of blog posts for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I am sharing some personal stories about my marriage and the changes that took place to help someone see themselves or their partner through my experiences to detect symptoms of abuse or domestic violence that might be present in their relationship.
Somewhere between our fourth and eighth year of marriage, our relationship began to unravel. I noticed insidious changes in his personality; he was more irritable, controlling, and much less affectionate.
There were interludes between the bad times when we enjoyed our life together. But when I did something wrong or upset him, he became angry or furious; calling me names, telling me I was lying if I remembered something differently from him or even if I had forgotten exactly what I had said earlier, which may have been a defense mechanism or response on my part.
There were times after a bad argument he would ignore me for a day. Then when I asked him about or for something he would say, “Why should I cooperate with you! You didn’t cooperate with me!” Apologizing became a way of life to survive “peacefully.”
Many times I cried during these altercations; feeling horrible that I couldn’t do anything right; that I made him angry; and later feeling angry first at myself for ruining a potentially calm, peaceful day! But somewhere an anger at him was being kept from him and me. I descended into deeper levels of stress, self recriminations, poor self image, and lowered confidence.
He was a very intelligent man with first a bachelor’s, then master’s and then doctoral degrees. He could speed read; quote lines from everything imaginable; and could speak, read and write German, Ancient Hebrew. and had a memory like a steel trap!
I decided to leave most of the decisions to him. After all, to my mind, I only had a diploma and “only a year of that was in college.” (I had been gas lighted so many times that I had forgotten how intelligent I was and am!)
On the occasion of a major decision he would ask me what I thought. If I told him a different idea than his, he would counter with his “logical” ideas and explain how his idea was better. I kept thinking how could my puny brain compare to his! Often I later wondered why I had agreed with him. In short I gave him the power over my life and my mind, but not my soul.
More fear and stress
I became more stressed and became afraid of disappointing him. Sometimes if we had a short list of groceries I could remember a few things. But I became so anxious that even with a list I forgot something or bought the wrong brand! Then there were the times I had a list but left it at home. (I sometimes wondered if this was my subconscious rebelling to his controlling methods.)
I knew there would be an argument when I got home, so I just shut down and let him yell at me. Since it was after all “my fault.” Sometimes he made me drive the 15 minutes back to the grocery store to return the item that wasn’t on the list.
An angry husband
Our situation degenerated to insults and more hurtful names than “Bitch”. I whitewashed his behavior by deciding he was just under a lot of pressure from finances, his studies, etc. After all earning a masters degree and then a doctorate was quite stressful. He stayed up late studying often. So I figured he was just exhausted.
But things didn’t get better after he graduated. I will not go into the minor ways he physically abused me. But the first time I remember physical abuse was when he shoved me hard against a door. He pushed me in my solar plexus (bread basket) and I was briefly in moderate pain.
At first he didn’t believe I was hurting and said, “I didn’t push you that hard!” Then he realized where he pushed me and apologized. Of course I forgave him, since he “didn’t mean to push me there.” (Boy do I feel dumb, I should have been more upset that he shoved me and hurt me!)
Friends knew something was wrong
When friends confided to me that they were concerned about the way he spoke to me or treated me, I continued to excuse his behavior with how stressed out he was over our finances, his job; or he was behind on his sleep or whatever. I wanted others to see the good side of him and not stress over the bad characteristics. After all as my husband reminded me, “This is private, family business.”
Talk about stress!
Through all of this I worked night shift in critical care units and later a heart monitor unit; slept short hours many times. To be able to function in these environments, I had to be intelligent, organized, able to handle stress and make decisions. I was not stupid, forgetful, or inadequate, I was under so much stress and fear that I wasn’t thinking right. I also had Stockholm Syndrome.
“There is a set of behaviors titled “Stockhom Syndrome” from an incident when bank robbers took four hostages in 1973 in Stockholm. The behavior I was showing here fits those of a victim with Stockholm Syndrome. Children and spouses of abuse frequently develop this syndrome..
They are frightened of their captors at first. The victim sees the power of their captor and their own lack of power. They begin to adopt a mind set of subservience, admiration, defense of or even love for the captors. They may think they have some control over their captors after finding that “good” behavior makes the captor treat them better.
But this behavior becomes a pattern of behavior they adopt as their own thinking. This behavior takes away every shred of the captive’s strength to resist, self esteem, and even power over their own lives.” Below is my resource on this topic.
More to come.