“I wouldn’t want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I’d like it if he COULD be wicked and WOULDN’T.”
Anne Shirley, from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of the Island”

artist TaraFly speaks against domestic violence

Controlling relationships remind me of cages, from whence I must escape...

I wonder why women idolize men struggling with inner demons? We can’t blame Hollywood, and their brooding bad-boy heroes, because authors have been romanticizing tragic tales of tortured souls for hundreds of years. Gatsby, Heathcliff, Frankenstein, Hamlet…
But true stories such as this – the murder of Yeardley Love by her estranged boyfriend, prompt me to lay my cards on the table in this blog post, which is highly difficult for me. Admitting that I’ve been involved in volatile relationships is something I’d rather not confess, because I tend to seek control over my environment and I refuse to acquiesce to a demanding partner or boss.
Never the meek and humble “yessir” from me… I’m a fighter who seeks to balance the scales, at the very least. I would never acknowledge that I cannot handle my own circumstances – that someone else can overpower me, emotionally and physically. I cannot allow myself to be considered a weakling or a failure.

Besides, airing personal drama has a tendency to backfire. There is nothing worse than confiding to someone, and then watching your problems become the subject of ridicule and gossip amongst your so-called friends. I’d rather put on a perpetual happy face and let their imaginations fill in the gaps… and believe me, they will concoct some wild stories!

I think people are afraid to admit that they’ve been abused or mistreated by their partners, because society still blames the victims. And for women like me, who adamantly refuse to be considered “victims”, the admission means we’re insecure and unable to stand our ground. People will judge us for being too blinded by infatuation, or too naïve, to recognize the “warning signs” and for not getting outside help… but ironically, many of us do turn to our loved ones for advice, to find they are also in denial. They mistakenly believe that if we “work harder at the marriage” or “avoid the anger triggers”, the relationship will improve. But it won’t. Not unless the abusive partner realizes that he/she is being a jerk-face and is willing to work on his/her OWN behavior.

People believe that women are seeking out abusive relationships, that we somehow want a strong man controlling us, which is untrue. I, for one, am a very stubborn-headed person who refuses to take orders from anyone… although a boss who signs my paychecks gets a bit more consideration than a disrespecting husband. 😉

In my case, none of my relationships ever escalated into actual violence – I wouldn’t have tolerated a second of that crap, and foolishly believed myself stronger for that decision. Verbal and emotional abuse were the main issues I encountered, however whenever he began threatening me with violence, I threatened back – with leaving his ass to rot in jail, and finding a better man.
For literally six months, I lived out of my packed suitcase, located in the trunk of my car. When all my “indoor” underwear was in the washing machine, I’d run outside in my PJs – pop open the trunk and grab a cold pair. One day, he called my bluff… and I called his. After a year of his broken promises “to change”, I walked out on him and never looked back. Our lives were a roller-coaster ride of drama, but I honestly didn’t seek out turmoil. I much prefer to live a quiet, unassuming routine at home.

This particular relationship began 6 years ago, when I was a recently single mother with a minimum wage job, and a cheap efficiency apartment. I was much too proud to live on welfare or in assisted housing, because I wanted to prove to the world that I was self-reliant. However, my car broke down on the way to work, and a stranger stopped and allowed me to borrow his cellphone to notify my boss. The assistant manager left the store, drove out to the deserted stretch of road where I was stranded, and brought me to work.
By lunchtime, word had spread that I was having car trouble, and most likely, deeper financial troubles. (You know how folks love to speculate). Mr. Future Nightmare, who worked in a neighboring department, was somewhat mechanically inclined, and secretly liked me, so he took the opportunity to introduce himself formally and offer his help getting my car fixed. After that, he checked in occasionally to see if I needed any help.

The man (who eventually became my second destined-to-be-ex-husband) seemed like a nice, dependable guy who genuinely cared for people… which in some respects was true. Unless he got angry or drunk, that is. Avoiding his intoxicated self was fairly simple, but you never knew when something would trigger this guy’s anger… any little annoyance or petty circumstance could spark an all-out war. Washing the cat bowl in the kitchen sink, for example. It supposedly would infect us with deadly cat germs, by transmitting them into the sink basin which will eventually come into contact with dirty plates. Apparently cat germs aren’t killed with normal bleach, so I was trying to poison the familywith my spiteful act. You think I’m joking, don’t you? You might laugh out loud, and so did I… which is baaaad.
You could NOT laugh at him when he was being serious.

His threats were often involving suicide and/or murder. He even threatened to kill Dominic if he caught me lying or cheating. I held my ground, in what I felt was a victory at the time, by declaring that would be his last act. Nobody touches a hair on my cat’s head in malice and lives to touch again. *smirk*
He then confessed that he had a foolproof plan to dispose of my body, by burying it in freshly dug grave the night before the vault is laid. Having friends in the vault-laying business, it seemed plausible that he’d have insider access to these opportunities.
Pssst, Law Enforcement Officers: when looking for missing homicide victims, check the recently buried. They might have uninvited company.

This idea that women are worthless whores seemed to be prevalent in his family; even though his 8 year old son was being raised by his grandparents in a “Christian” environment, I overheard a chilling accusation that he made against my then 3-year-old daughter, Lydia.
She was holding her doll “the wrong way” – by its legs – instead of treating it like a real baby. He scolded her by saying, “You’re a bad mother. You deserve to die.” and pretended to shoot her with his little toy gun. I told him that we do NOT joke about killing people, especially little girls, and later I mentioned to his dad that I wouldn’t tolerate it.
It is in their genetic code, I think, and fortunately I held firm against having children of my own with him. Of course, there wasn’t much time to start a family, as we barely lasted two years – from our first date, to the day I signed the lease on my Single-Lady pad… with our blink-of-an-eye marriage and separation sandwiched in between.

Although I did mention my concerns to close friends and relatives, I did so very tactfully, because a couple of them are easily excitable and I didn’t want to make a huge scene… I suppose that my carefully crafted confessions were so watered down that nobody really took me seriously. I repeatedly received brush-off answers, like:
“He doesn’t mean it. People say things when they’re angry.”
“Perhaps you should pay him more respect, and not try to provoke his anger.”
“He was raised in a strict military household, and has a bit of a drinking problem.”
“Stop kissing your cat on its mouth.”

Okay that last one wasn’t real advice, but I do kiss Dominic all the time, which made my ex angry. Petting the cats, and not washing my hand thoroughly afterwards, made him angry also.
But are any of those excuses really able to justify threats of violence?? Everyone seemed to believe them.

And deep down, even I believed them… I was the problem. I do have a wise-cracking attitude, which might be considered disrespectful. My tendency to argue and assert my opinions WAS contributing to our discord. A marriage counselor would suggest finding ways to bond, and to discuss our differences by keeping the partner’s point of view in mind… blah, blah, blah.
Oh yeah, and don’t chat with the mailman, because you’ll wind up having an affair with him.

Nowadays, every paper I open has a new story about homicidal abusive relationships; one can only hope that we, as a society, will finally open our eyes and actually see our neighbors and loved ones for the monsters they truly are.
We need to take threats more seriously, and give women the power to say: “It’s NOT me. It’s you.”

It’s easy to judge someone else suffering this kind of humiliation, and I’m guilty of judging other women as well…. I’m always tempted, when I encounter horrific verbal abuse in public, to tell the “trapped” woman to “Get the hell out! Leave that SOB!”
If he can’t see the value in her, there are plenty of decent men who can. Why give him the satisfaction of controlling her like a slave? Stand up for your basic human rights!
And this popular excuse makes me cringe: “If I leave him, he’ll kill me.” You hear it all the time from spouses of convicted murderers.
Honey, if the threat works, he’ll keep using it.
He’ll kill you if you forget to press his pants, he’ll kill you for talking on the phone to your mother, he’ll kill you for shopping in a different grocery store because they had a sale. Any sign of independence or defiance on your part is a threat to his sense of control.

However, we need to stop judging people and start helping instead.
Learn the WARNING SIGNS– such as jealousy, distrust, controlling behaviour, obsessive calling and texting, drinking/drug abuse, and blaming you for their bad behaviour, and so forth.
• Take the time to really listen (and ask probing questions) when a friend or relative comes to you for advice.
• Read between the lines, in case they aren’t comfortable discussing the graphic details.
• Don’t just find out the juicy bits so that you can divulge all her secrets to your co-workers… THAT behaviour will just shut her up and force her further into hiding. You might as well rub your hands in her blood and call yourself an accessory.

There is a book I purchased awhile back, entitled Men Who Hate Women, and the Women Who Love Them” by therapist Dr. Susan Forward, which does talk about how to break the cycle, and assert your independence, if you plan to stay in the relationship.

Alas, I’m not committed enough to stay with troubled people. I lack the resolve to marry for “better or worse”, when the “worse” might entail fighting for my life, and the lives of my children and pets. Watching my personal belongings get smashed in a fit of drunken rage, or being accused of infidelity with every man who says “May I take your order” from behind the fast food counter.

But it’s not me. Really. It’s you.