When you are Family of a Domestic Abuse Victim
From the perspective of the family of a domestic abuse victim, wanting desperately for her to be free from the emotional abuse, this sister-in-law offers her experience of helping abuse victims, including the limitations:
This story concerns my sister-in-law, the frustration and fear we experienced witnessing her emotionally abusive husbands behaviour. I hope that this story will give some hope to people in the same situation and their friends and family.
I met my husband fifteen years ago and quickly met his family. At this time I wasn't close to his sister and as we didn't live in close proximity to her and were unaware of the problems she was experiencing. My sister in law, Tiffany, was in a relationship that was very damaging emotionally, although her husband wasn't physically abusive, the damage he has caused with his behaviour to his daughters and his wife is tremendous.
She met Dave when she was 18 and he was 19. Tiffany admits that the first inclination she had of his deep insecurities were discovered within the first three months. After finding out she had a large poster of a film star on her bedroom wall, he instigated a nasty argument in front of his family (at Christmas time). He was very offensive and this was the first time she experienced his cruelty. He made her agree to take the poster down and made her fully aware that this argument wouldn't have occurred had she simply done as he had asked previously (she had always taken his request to remove the poster as a joke as she thought no one could be that jealous or insecure).
Dave claimed to have an illness: OCD. He stated that he had obsessive thoughts and as a result was paranoid, overly anxious and needed constant reassurances with these thoughts. The first real problem we knew of was when Tiffany called my husband in tears saying that her husband had asked her to go for an AIDS test as he was convinced that he had contracted AIDS (he had never had unprotected sex and claimed to only had two sexual partners). He would spend hours researching symptoms of the disease and would claim to have them. If anyone suggested that he had a test to ensure that he didn't have the illness he would become angry and abusive. His thinking was that although he daren't have the test, he should make his wife (Tiffany had a 5 year old child with him at this point) go instead. We now believe that he had been routinely unfaithful throughout their marriage.
She went for the test after constant harassment from him and when she was given the all clear he didn't believe it and made her go again. His behaviour was becoming worse daily and he would constantly hide behind his mental illness claiming that he couldn't help his behaviour. He was also alcohol dependent and would become very verbally abusive after drinking, calling her names in front of their young children. Generally day to day she was expected to do all of the domestic chores and take care of their demanding and often poorly young children. When they went out she would often be glared at if she spoke to a male friend (he once accused her of flirting with his brother), he often embarrassed her in front of their friends. Upon getting home he would often instigate nasty arguments and he would make her admit and accept that her behaviour had been unacceptable and she wouldn't do it again.
She was being trained and manipulated into submitting to his every whim and he demanded constant attention from her. Not surprisingly his mental illness would flare up and become very invasive and intense when her attention was diverted. Her young children were once very ill for 4-5 weeks and during this time he claimed that he was receiving messages from the devil and was fearful for his soul. The less attention he received the worse his episodes became and the more verbally abusive he became. We saw our funny, thoughtful and happy sister turn into a meek, submissive and exhausted woman that was trained to staunchly defend his behaviour. He was always charming, attentive to her and tactile in front of family and it took us 7 years to establish that he was as nasty as he was. We realised that he was controlling her financially, saying that she was incapable of looking after the family's finances after they became nearly £10,000 overdrawn (he was withdrawing £200 every 2-3 days to go drinking) and although she was allowed credit cards she had to report to him every time she spent money. He once made her beg for money in front of his family, then threw it on the floor for her to collect. If she ever dared challenge his drinking and his abuse he would agree that things would change, and for 2-3 weeks they would and he would help around the house and not belittle her, but ultimately it would resume.
This was very difficult for us to witness and at first any discussion we had with regards to his behaviour would be met with denials and he was defended. She blamed a lot of in on his mental illness and the fact that he had never got over his father's death at the age of 16. Slowly but surely she started to admit that it wasn't normal but she was completely in his control and he was very good at intimidation. 6 years ago her brother passed away and his behaviour became much worse. He decided he wanted to leave his £36,000 a year job as she had had "her Time" when she had been off with their children and she should support him with this choice and work full time. As a result they had to move out of their home and sell it to cover the mounting debts. They had to move to rented accommodation and he would sit in his underwear all day and would drink, urinating in pint glasses and bins. She was expected to work full time, take care of the home and children. He also admitted that he was very close to having an affair at this point and stated that it was her fault because she didn't meet his needs and care for him as she should. He even wrote down a list of pros and cons for her and the other woman trying to establish who he would be better off with and openly texted the other woman and flirted with her.
Tiffany was also given a list of suggested improvements and conditions she would have to adhere to if he were to give her a second chance. One of them was for her to stop grieving for her brother as he felt 9 months was long enough, they also had to move away from her family (especially me as he hated me for challenging him), she also had to meet his emotional needs and support him more. She was so convinced she shouldn't live without him, she agreed to all of these demands. As a result of this treatment she developed bulimia and at one point started to self harm. Her self-loathing was so complete and she had no sense of self worth. He blamed her and their children for his severe unhappiness and claimed that she had more or less trapped him in a loveless marriage and he would often say that he wanted to leave, but never would. He would constantly check her mobile phone and would go through her bill to see whose phone numbers she was contacting, if he didn't recognise a number he would become abusive accusing her of having an affair.
Her children were badly affected and her eldest child started to have dark thoughts and was mimicking his OCD patterns. She is now receiving psychiatric help but she is a shy and quiet child who struggles to express herself forcibly, and is easily intimidated and is starting to show signs of bulimia. Her other child has very little respect for her mother and often repeats the insults she has witnessed her Father levy at the Mother, it is clear that the cycle of abuse would well be repeated when they grow older, one becoming the abuser, the other becoming the abused.
Thankfully she finally acknowledged that his behaviour was not going to change and after one or two false starts (at one point we had a house, money and new possessions for her new home ready and she decided to stay as he had convinced her he would change), she finally left after 14 years of abuse.
When she finally told him that she was leaving he sat his children down and told them that their mother was abandoning them when she was out shopping. She came home to two very distressed and bewildered children. He thought that by using the children (her one real weakness) it would be enough to make her stay, she managed to see past this disgusting behaviour and continued her plans to leave. He made her leave the family home and wouldn't allow her to take shared possessions except for the oldest items. We had to replace beds, tables, sofas but I felt it was a small price to pay. He continues to harass her by sending her charming texts and abusive texts within minutes of one another. He constantly quizzes the children about their mother's social life and whether or not she is seeing anyone (he is in a new relationship). He also claims that he is a changed man and that he loves her and he now realises his behaviour was wrong. If she doesn't respond the way he wants he becomes abusive and insulting.
Although she is still toeing the line with him to some degree (he has no problems walking into her home without warning and logging on to her computer to see what sites she is going on) she is starting to become the person I first met. She has a strong sense of relief and freedom and says that she feels like it's a dream and he's going to take it all away from her at any moment. She also has more control of her money and her children's behaviour and understands that her relationship was completely abnormal. She often says that she envied my relationship with my partner because we are tactile, equal and deeply respect one another. It is going to take a great deal of time for her to find self respect. She is still making herself sick but doesn't self harm any longer, but sadly I can see that she is going to accept the same kind of behaviour from a potential new partner as she is so grateful for attention she will put up with the worst behaviour.
As a family member it is very frustrating and scary to see such destruction and I wanted to simply be her for one day so I could tell her rotten husband what I thought of him and leave, but I had to let her off load when she needed to and be there for her when she finally made the decision to leave. Emotional abuse doesn't leave visible bruises and as such isn't taken as seriously as physical abuse (which we are only just starting to wake up to). Many women are unaware that their partners are abusing and bullying them and it takes someone to point it out to them. If you can answer yes to just some of these questions below you are being abused. Tiffany constantly excused his behaviour and even blamed herself for his insecurities and was convinced that she could "heal" his narcissistic tendancy. The sad truth is that people like this do not want to change as they constantly see themselves as the injured party and even the victim. They take no responsibility for their actions and find others to blame.
Does your partner:
Your Partner’s Violent Behaviour or Threats
Does your partner:
Your Partner’s Controlling Behaviour
Does your partner:
I hope anyone reading this can find the strength to leave and forge a new life for themselves and finds peace for their children. It helps if you have a good family who can support you and give you strength. Stop thinking you can change them, you can't and it will only get worse and could progress to physical harm. Everyone has the right to a fullfilling relationship, respect, loyalty, courtesy and love.
Love and light to you all, good luck.
Return from When you are Family of a Domestic Abuse Victim to Domestic Violence Stories
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Domestic Violence Stories
Helping Her to Get Free by Susan Brewster, is an excellent, no-nonsense, book to help the family and friends of women who are being abused. The book identifies the many ways that abuse occurs, how to recognize the conditions, and describes the background behind abusive relationships. Most importantly, Brewster provides ways that friends and family members can aid the woman by being "anchors" in that woman's life. This is the book us family and friends of abused sisters, daughters and friends have been waiting for.
To order in the US: Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women
To order in the UK: Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women
Lundy Bancroft has written what is probably the most comprehensive and readable book on domestic violence, the beliefs of the abuser and the dynamics of abuse. This truly is a MUST READ for anyone seriously trying to understand domestic abuse and how to cope with an abusive relationship:
To order in the US: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
To order in the UK: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
Many people suffer verbal and emotional abuse in secret for years, not really understanding what is happening or why they feel so rotten. Nor do they realize how easily such seemingly mild forms of abuse can be the precursor to physical violence. This book by Patricia Evans helps the victim understand how to recognize abuse, validates the victim's perception of what is happening and offers solid suggestions as to what to do to control abuse and to protect oneself :
To order in the US: The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond
To order in the UK: The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Expanded Third Edition
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