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"My love for him was real, and I didn’t want to be a single mother."
April 7, 2014 8:30 AM   Subscribe

It Will Look Like A Sunset
Before our son turned two, we moved to Caleb’s home state of West Virginia. He wanted to be closer to his family. There would be more opportunity for work there. His parents owned a rental house that they would sell to us. There were many compelling reasons for the move, but once there, he was the only friend I had. The loneliness was inescapable. This was common, I told myself. My parents had been married for over thirty years, and I don’t remember my father ever having a close friend. I told myself that he was enough for me. When the older policeman saw the swelling, the black and blue, and the toes like little sausage links, his expression turned to dismay. “That’s bad. That looks broken,” he said. “Ma’am, does your husband have a phone number we can reach him at? We need him to come back.”
posted by the man of twists and turns (201 comments total) 100 users marked this as a favorite

 
wow.
posted by spicynuts at 8:50 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


That was really well written...and really sad.
posted by bquarters at 8:51 AM on April 7 [6 favorites]


Everything I write seems too feeble, but I'll say it anyway - this is an amazing essay. Harrowing, moving, all of the above.
posted by Mogur at 8:52 AM on April 7 [4 favorites]


Wow. Of all the things I am grateful to my parents for, it's that they drilled in me at a VERY young age that anyone who hits you or cheats on you is ending the relationship then and there. I know lots of people disagree with me, and I am not blaming the victim in any way, but I am glad that this was never me and never could be me.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:54 AM on April 7 [19 favorites]


Jesus. That is really powerful.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:55 AM on April 7


Wow. Of all the things I am grateful to my parents for, it's that they drilled in me at a VERY young age that anyone who hits you or cheats on you is ending the relationship then and there. I know lots of people disagree with me, and I am not blaming the victim in any way, but I am glad that this was never me and never could be me.

It's very possible that the author once thought the same thing.
posted by chaiminda at 8:56 AM on April 7 [94 favorites]


Yeah, r317, you're totally right, it isn't anyone's fault but the victim's parents, for not teaching her the right stuff.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:58 AM on April 7 [4 favorites]


Yeah, r317, you're totally right, it isn't anyone's fault but the victim's parents, for not teaching her the right stuff.

I'm not saying it's anyone's fault but the person who chooses violence.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:59 AM on April 7 [15 favorites]


I'm glad she finally got out.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:00 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


That is the most indelibly sad thing I've read in a long time. So raw, so real, so damning to our human emotions.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:02 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


One thing she captures well is the fact that she loved the guy, and how that complicated things. Too many times people are quick to dismiss victims by saying "how can she stay with a bastard like that?" But the ending section, where she describes all the things that she misses about him--that's very real.
posted by Melismata at 9:05 AM on April 7 [42 favorites]


He never raped me, so there’s that.

Christ.

but I am glad that this was never me and never could be me.

I bet the author thought the same thing once upon a time. A lot of domestic violence victims are raised in non-abusive families, they have good educations, they've read stories like this and thought the same. And yet.
posted by rtha at 9:07 AM on April 7 [34 favorites]


The trouble is that by the time they hit you, you have unlearned a lot of things that you thought you knew, especially about what that violence would mean and what context it would arrive in. You will have redefined a lot of your priorities, and lost a lot of your faith in who you are and what you are worth to anyone, but mostly you will be shocked to find that the excuses you never thought you would be stupid enough to utter are now the things you not only believe, but that you can't function without believing.

Not that there aren't some women who come from backgrounds that turn them into doormats, but having heard all the right words as a child doesn't necessarily inoculate you against someday believing the wrong ones.
posted by Sequence at 9:07 AM on April 7 [98 favorites]


I'm not saying it's anyone's fault but the person who chooses violence.

Yeah but your argument that this could never be you rests upon the assumption that there is something about you that prevents it. You strongly implied that what prevents it is your parents' drilling certain information into your head. If every parent could prevent their daughter from being physically harmed by simply telling them not to tolerate it, then those parents who don't tell their daughters those things, despite it being in their power to do so, are thereby choosing not to prevent their daughters from coming to physical harm.

It's a highly obnoxious statement.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:09 AM on April 7 [31 favorites]


Well, and beyond the ineffable and emotional, splitting with the father of your child brings serious material consequences and likely will not remove you from his influence, or even dampen his ability to terrorize you via your shared child(ren).
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:12 AM on April 7 [7 favorites]


It's a highly obnoxious statement.

Well, I apologize if anyone found it offensive, but I, personally, think the best way to teach young people about domestic violence is to teach them a zero tolerance policy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:12 AM on April 7 [17 favorites]


The author however brings it into play by including the conversation with her mother where her mother insists that leaving a man is a terrible idea and it won't be any better if she does. I suspect that growing up being taught that kind of mentality is one of the things that kept her in such a violent relationship, so I also am glad that I was taught by my parents and others that once someone starts hitting or abusing you it is time to go, and not to think you can fix them.
posted by tavella at 9:12 AM on April 7 [20 favorites]


Well, I apologize if anyone found it offensive, but I, personally, think the best way to teach young people about domestic violence is to teach them a zero tolerance policy.

The danger is in thinking that this is a perfect inoculation.
posted by kmz at 9:14 AM on April 7 [15 favorites]


I think what she conveys so well that I relate to is how even after you get out you don't even want to be out. So people say how great it is you got out and what a relief it is, but for a lot of people it doesn't feel that way at all. It doesn't feel like a relief it feels like even worse pain than what you were dealing with before.

I'm not saying that is "morally right" or "logically correct" to feel that way. But relationships meet different needs that we have and I don't think it's wrong to be someone who needs intimacy deeply, or being capable of loving someone who is making horrific monstrous mistakes. And missing them when they're gone. Still remembering the good things.

Still feeling a terrible emptiness where people tell you you're supposed to get better over the years and the leaving is supposed to obviously feel so much better. Sometimes it doesn't. Or rather that sometime, when it actually feels better, it can be so many years beyond what some people think it will be, and you might, say 10 or 15 years later, still feel like there is a whole where part of yourself that bound to someone else once was.

There's so many people who rally around how great it is when you leave but for me those rallying cries sound like empty cheers, almost condemnations of all the parts of me that still just want back the good parts that I had. That don't really value the depths at which some relationships can take you-- that it's very hard to find yourself again after or to figure what it even means to love if forever should be so easily discarded. For me, intimacy and bonding is the most wonderful part of being alive. For some people maybe it's rock climbing or ocean diving or walking in the woods, painting or singing, but for me intimacy is my favorite thing. Without it I ache. And once you know how wonderful that feeling is, it's hard to think of going backward, into the unknowing state in which you dreamed of intimacy and connection but never knew it.

I think sometimes the cries about how much better people will feel when they leave abusers drive people back because for a lot of us, even years later, it doesn't feel better. It doesn't feel like you accomplished something great for yourself. It feels like you left because other people were shaming you for staying so you wanted to make them happy, but it really wasn't even for you. It feels like those people, who decide for you you'll be so much happier without what you had in that relationship, don't actually care how you feel at all.

I don't want people to stay either, but I feel like knowing that a lot of people don't feel better after leaving at all might help with understanding how nuanced and complex we need to understand what is going on with this stuff to help people leave.
posted by xarnop at 9:14 AM on April 7 [60 favorites]


It was interesting how the abuser said "I would never do this," and twisted that into another reason to blame the victim.

"I would never allow this to happen to me" is similarly easy to twist into another reason to blame oneself.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:17 AM on April 7 [17 favorites]


[Folks, this is a hard subject, please cool it and try to give some benefit of the doubt here.]
posted by cortex at 9:22 AM on April 7 [19 favorites]


R317's parents taught something useful: violence is unacceptable. R317 believes she(?) wouldn't get in this situation. Can we not pile on? Her attitude is, if anything, naive. Blaming people for having an incorrect attitude doesn't seem very useful.
posted by theora55 at 9:23 AM on April 7 [9 favorites]


Hey, guys, let's all try to be cool, maybe. This is a really powerful essay about a topic that a lot of people probably have complex emotions about, so maybe taking a couple deep breaths and assuming everyone is at least trying their best but just said stumbled when speaking may be better than coming in with the "HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT" comments.

It's a powerful essay, people are shaken up, people are gonna fuck up when they try to put their emotions into words. It happens.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:23 AM on April 7 [43 favorites]


My mom was a strong woman who told me over and over that men who use physical violence to get what they want are worthless and do not deserve our love.

...but if MuddDude, who is the most gentle and kind and loving man I ever met, ever got angry and threw something, would I recognize that as a sign of escalation? If he punched a wall? If he grabbed me hard? If he hit me would I have the clarity of mind to recognize what is happening? I am honest enough to suspect that I wouldn't. And I suspect that even my strong-minded mother could not look at a man like MuddDude and recognize that there may be a different side of him (there's not! but that doesn't mean there couldn't be).
posted by muddgirl at 9:25 AM on April 7 [17 favorites]


Wow, this was really disturbing to read but I'm glad I did. I never considered how the fucked up cruel person who beats you could be the same person who at other times you still have a great time with doing fun impromptu dance parties and making pad thai together. That must be so hard to process.
posted by threeants at 9:25 AM on April 7 [18 favorites]


This really showed me how it happens that people in abusive relationships can be conflicted about leaving them. I've never dealt with anything like this (thank goodness) but I can definitely see how someone can start rationalizing a little bit at a time.
posted by brilliantine at 9:28 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


Zero tolerance: she says he hit her twice in the first FIVE years of of their relationship. At the same time, they made many many happy memories together. Personally, I shudder to realize that I could possibly dismiss those two actions, in context.

On the other hand, it's suggested that he was verbally abusive more frequently. Equally abhorrent, and maybe crippled her just as much as the bowl did, but even more permanently. Easier to hide/dismiss. Just as abusive.

Just some thoughts... I feel uncomfortable discussing such a sensitive topic. I really appreciate her putting her experience out in the open.
posted by mantecol at 9:28 AM on April 7 [7 favorites]


It happened so slowly, then so fast.

How many of us here have, in the midst of a fight or uncomfortable discussion, slammed a door, shouted, said something terrible - or had any or all of those aimed at us? Was it a red flag? Was it the first step towards something awful? In hindsight, the flags are always visible.
posted by rtha at 9:38 AM on April 7 [47 favorites]


Thanks for posting thing.

I am glad that this was never me and never could be me.

I know you don't mean it that way, but that can be a really dangerous sentiment to have.

The first time my ex hit me, I left. I went to a friend's house and she drove me to urgent care to get the bone set. I was so stunned: people didn't act like that except in bad movies, and especially not people that were so kind and gentle the rest of them time. Not people that loved babies and kittens and cried during Serenity. A friend of a friend got in contact with the ex for an exchange of my things, and we ended up emailing back and forth about what was left in his apartment.

That led to him insisting to pay for the medical fees, and apologizing. It led to an email where he told me about how his father hit him, and confessing that he was afraid of the rage inside him. He asked for help finding a therapist. It was so confusing, because it didn't find the narrative from those bad movies. He wanted to change, and he was sick. He wasn't a bad person. I went back, and he didn't hurt me again for a year and a half. But in that instant, I knew I'd been a sucker. I was one of Those Women, one of the ones who stayed with an abuser. Fool me twice...

That shame, more than anything else, kept me with him and kept me quiet about the awfulness for another year. It got worse and I didn't leave, because I didn't want anybody to know what a fool I'd been. It's amazing what you can get used to when you start believing that you're a fool.

Anyway, we never think it's going to be us. For me, that was a big part of the problem. I very sincerely hope it's never you.
posted by a hat out of hell at 9:39 AM on April 7 [155 favorites]


That was the real mindfuck, when Dad would come in later and calmly sit down and explain everything I had done to make him lose it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:39 AM on April 7 [56 favorites]


And yeah, I think it's really odd to believe that advice on the theoretical level always translates to action that feels like it makes sense in your actual life. I was "inoculated" as a child to always eat healthily, but when I'm busy and tired I eat a bunch of junk food even though it's not the right choice for me.
posted by threeants at 9:40 AM on April 7 [2 favorites]


It's worth starting at the beginning of her blog, because I think that clarifies a great deal.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:44 AM on April 7 [7 favorites]


This was heartbreaking to read.
posted by bluesky43 at 9:49 AM on April 7


Chilling. The most disturbing part to me, and maybe I just missed it because I was a bit open-mouthed with horror (and being glad I got out when I started being afraid he'd hit me instead of waiting until he did), was that I couldn't tell if she took her son with her when she got out.
posted by immlass at 9:51 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


He started taking medication shortly after our sixth anniversary....He wasn’t supposed to drink on the medication, but he did.

ugh
posted by thelonius at 9:52 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


This is an excellent account of being in an abusive relationship. I've lived this, too, and I couldn't write it any better than she did.

I grew up fairly wealthy, in a two-parent household with a mother who doted on me and a father who is kind and caring and just a very, very good dad. But my parents did not love each other, really - I've never once seen them kiss, and my mom pushes my dad away when he tries to hug her. Some therapists have told me that this is why I was abused for three years by a man that I loved.

Other therapists have said that perhaps it was because my dad worked a lot and he wasn't home enough to teach me what a good male role model looked like.

Others have said that I felt guilt for leaving my ex-boyfriend, the man who was kind to me and loved me unconditionally for many years, so I stayed with a man who didn't love me to pay back for leaving a man that did.

Still others said that perhaps my demanding upbringing - my parents were hard on me, and wanted me to succeed so badly - conditioned me to keep trying when I should really give up.

It doesn't matter that my parents taught me not to stay with someone who hits. They never told me what to do when the man I love buys a shotgun and threatens suicide. They didn't tell me what to do when someone threw hot coffee on me and chased me down the street calling me a cunt. No one told me what to do when he smashed down a door in my face so that he could hit me for the first time.

No one told me that my boundary of "Well, I'll leave if he hits me" wasn't good enough, and no one told me that by the time he would start hitting me that it was way too late, that hitting me alone would not be enough to make me leave.

"A normal person would just know these things," I've been told. "That's a red flag if I've ever heard of one."

No one told me that it wasn't really about me, at all - it was about him. But I stayed.

I stayed.

I don't know why I stayed - it seems absurd now, it is absurd - but I think maybe I stayed because I loved him and I thought that if I loved him hard enough that would fix things. It was, after all, my fault. He only treated me badly because I was asking for it.

I never thought it could be me, but guess what: it was. It could be you, too. Education is not enough. Love is not enough. Sometimes we just get caught in someone else's web. I don't deny responsibility: I stayed. I stayed, and I let it continue.

But what other option did I have? I couldn't see my options. I had no idea that I could - or even that I should - leave. That just didn't occur to me. And I'm intelligent. I am steps away from completing a PhD. I'm intelligent, attractive, honest, nice, loving, supportive, and kind. But I also eat shit, if someone I love tells me to do it. And that's why I stayed, maybe. I don't know why I stayed. I loved him.

I don't know what we can do to stop these kind of people. I take some comfort in the fact that she says she was never raped by him. Isn't that sick? That not being raped, that her husband didn't rape her, that this is what gives me comfort about this situation?

I'm going to go have a good cry. I miss him still sometimes, and I know what it's like to love someone who is so flawed and damaged. It's the saddest thing in the entire world, especially when you're in it.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by sockermom at 9:57 AM on April 7 [134 favorites]


Yeah, r317, you're totally right, it isn't anyone's fault but the victim's parents, for not teaching her the right stuff.

I know this is just facetious reaction to what you assume is excusing the perpetrators conduct but this was at the end of the story:
The same house where my mother took me into the backyard and said, “Listen to me. I have friends who have left their husbands. I have seen it on the other side. It is not better on the other side. Try hard. Try hard before you give up.”

I tried so hard.
Her own mother was telling her to stay in this abusive relationship. Her own god damned mother.
posted by Talez at 9:57 AM on April 7 [28 favorites]


I wrote an essay about my experiences with my first husband who was an abusive alcoholic. I thought this quote from it would be appropriate to this discussion.

The thread link is a powerful and well done read. Thank you.....

"You cannot judge a person who lives through such experiences. You cannot know why they stay and expose themselves. For every rational reason you can provide for leaving, they have an irrational one that is their truth and makes them stay. I know. It took me two years to find the courage and strength to get out before my husband killed me.

If they are fortunate, as I was, the victim eventually emerges from their false truth. A new life and healthy relationships can rise from the ashes of dysfunctional fire. But there is no magic formula to make it happen. Each situation, each playing out of the individual plot lines that make up our lives, leads to different endings. In my case, I have been able to let go of the past. To forgive the sad, very ill person who had been my husband and to get on with my life.

For others, that is not the case. They are either unable to remove themselves from the situation, or if they have, they have been unable to let go of the resentment and pain and therefore never truly move on. It is a choice not always consciously made. Sometimes the best a person in that situation can do is merely survive one day at a time."

posted by cdalight at 10:09 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Her writing is so lucid that many of us (myself included) hear our own voices in hers. To me, it's not only an effort to share what happened (maybe perhaps hopefully someone will see warning signs they didn't recognize before) but also...to not be alone. Because when the abuse starts we are alone with a monster--even in public, we are alone. So maybe to discover "it's not just me" and think "you too?" the crushing weight of solitude is lifted a little, and we can figure out how to escape from under the rock someone dropped on us.

Then again, it took me over a year to get to that point.
posted by datawrangler at 10:11 AM on April 7 [9 favorites]


To add a bit to my last comment: I miss him fiercely. I still dream about him. I sometimes think about just dropping everything and disappearing and going back to him and giving in. I miss him, and I miss it. It's addictive, it's powerful, it's confusing - we did so many fun things together, and I have a lot of fond memories of being in love and making dinner together and going to the movies and slow-dancing in our living room. Of him coming home with flowers just because he loved me.

I've worked very hard to be thrilled and happy that I am out but like xarnop said above, it's really a mixed bag. I'm mostly unhappy, now. I've been in a deep depression for about a month and I can't figure out why - the only thing I can figure is that this is when we met, in March, five years ago, now. This is when I fell in love with the man that would dismantle me nearly completely, and I miss him.

And I think I didn't leave because I was so afraid of what he would do to himself if I left. My abuser used lots of threats of suicide and self-harmed a fair amount, so I was terrified that if I left I would have his blood on my hands - that he'd kill himself and that it would be my fault. Because everything that went wrong in that relationship was my fault. Because I did not want his figurative blood on my hands, I let him get my literal blood on his.
posted by sockermom at 10:11 AM on April 7 [35 favorites]


More on the verbal abuse: I wonder what people would have said if she had left him before he started hitting her. (Assuming he was verbally abusive the whole time.)

I think we sometimes don't look too kindly on divorce, especially if there is a kid involved. We don't know what goes on behind closed doors.
posted by mantecol at 10:12 AM on April 7 [13 favorites]


I wonder how much of what mantecol said plays into her mother's advice? In hindsight it looks like a terrible person telling her daughter to stay in an abusive relationship. But I think it's reasonable to assume that in the moment is was a mother who loved her daughter and failed to recognize the signs, just like everyone in her life. Because one thing that makes abusers so successful is that they can explain away all the signs. I was just drunk or she made me angry or I had a bad day at work.
posted by muddgirl at 10:15 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


This is very sad, especially this part:

Caleb wanted to change. He got therapy. He went to anger management. He did everything right. We were allies. Together, we were going to fix this problem.

He started taking medication shortly after our sixth anniversary. Every time he was violent with me, he would go to a psychiatrist who increased his dosage. I thought the psychiatrist could fix him.

posted by Asparagus at 10:15 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


Talez, Consider this activity: take any stanza of this piece and imagine that it was the one that the author chose to end with.
posted by bdc34 at 10:17 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


Also, would she be able to keep their child alone, without a documented history of physical abuse from the father? These days, there's a lot of weight given to the children's rights to both parents, so much so that states force spouses to constant contact with their would-be abusers, and there's no escape from that relationship.

Which is just another layer of messed-upness.
posted by dabitch at 10:17 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Dabitch- at the domestic violence shelter a lot of the support goes to women who share custody with the abuser. I was told without physical proof or witnesses (or at least a lawyer which I couldn't afford) I had very little hope of gaining full custody (without visitation) as is the case for a large portion of partners who leave an abuser. Which means that now, you've left but your child is left alone with a violent scary person more.

If that's not a huge incentive to stay and help them be less violent through "working on it" I don't know what is. It's like your only hope to end the violence, to help them learn to stop it by loving and supporting them as much as you can-- and it's the only hope you have to protect your child from what they might do if they have the child alone.
posted by xarnop at 10:21 AM on April 7 [20 favorites]


"I am glad that this was never me and never could be me."

I used to believe this too. And the thing is, it's true. The first time he got violent I told him to get out. I walked away with my head up and that was the end of it. What really freaked me out though was thinking about how I would have reacted at the beginning of the relationship. I had the worst crush of my life on that guy. Like I would pass him on the street and my legs literally went all wobbly. Could barely talk. The first few months we were dating were so intense.

But then I started to get to know who he really was, and as the fantasy faded away I discovered I didn't really like him. He was a boorish self-involved jerk who went to bars to start fights on purpose for entertainment. So when he twisted my arm and tried to tell me it was a "joke", it was so easy to end things. Who needs that?

If he had done it in the beginning? I have no idea. It didn't hurt, certainly I'd been hurt worse play fighting with friends and siblings. There was no mark. It would have been so easy to dismiss it, to agree it was a joke and ignore it.

The experience really did a number on my ability to trust and love in relationships. Not that I'm worried about how someone will treat me, but it shook my trust in myself badly. I had the same strong belief you have, and I saw how it could be wrong. It's really easy to imagine walking away from some random person who treats you poorly, try to imagine walking away from someone you love more than anything.
posted by Dynex at 10:30 AM on April 7 [9 favorites]


What I don't get is the white-hot rage that apparently simmers below the surface in abusers like this Caleb.

I see him as a monster, or rather that there's a monster lurking inside which he can't control, and when I think about that, it's chilling. The anger turns into hatred, turns into violence; it's like civilization didn't take with some people, this is some primordial thing. Can "Caleb" ever be truly cured, or is this the way he is forever? And how many Calebs are out there, and how are the rest of us to know that their hatred won't boil over in public rather than in private?
posted by kgasmart at 10:31 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


As tough as life was in a single parent family after the divorce, I thank whatever lucky stars there are that my father wasn't interested in continuing any kind of relationship. I can't imagine what kind of nightmare that would have been, both for us and for Mom.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:33 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Seconding xarnop. A big issue that gets left out of many discussions over why women don't leave abusers right away is the issue that, if you have children together, and you separate/get a divorce, generally the resulting scenario is that THE VIOLENT ABUSER STILL GETS TO BE WITH THE CHILDREN, BUT NOW ALONE. It's very rare for a court to grant a mother sole custody of children over abuse allegations. The father can always argue that the mother is making up the abuse allegations just to try to get custody of the children. Even when there are multiple police reports documenting the abuse that's not always enough to convince a court to deny a father access to the children.

The writer of this essay didn't even really go into that as an issue, but I have no doubt it crossed her mind OFTEN that if she left the kid might wind up being daddy's punching bag instead.
posted by BlueJae at 10:39 AM on April 7 [20 favorites]


....but now alone...

Yep, and if he's really really really mad at you or having the gall of actually standing up to him and walking out instead of continuing to take the abuse and listening to his lies about you being shit and scum and making all these problems and it's all your fault, he'll make damn sure you never see that kid again. Here's a little life that will give him the love, and take his abuse, and never talk back. It's important to him that he keeps the kid.

And the state will be all too happy to help.
posted by dabitch at 10:47 AM on April 7 [10 favorites]


What I don't get is the white-hot rage that apparently simmers below the surface in abusers like this Caleb.

I see him as a monster, or rather that there's a monster lurking inside which he can't control, and when I think about that, it's chilling. The anger turns into hatred, turns into violence; it's like civilization didn't take with some people, this is some primordial thing. Can "Caleb" ever be truly cured, or is this the way he is forever? And how many Calebs are out there, and how are the rest of us to know that their hatred won't boil over in public rather than in private?


Anyone can be Caleb. All of us have breaking points. Some worse than others. Some have more resolve to control it. Others have something missing. But the one thing that ties all of humanity together is that we're all human. And sometimes, automatically, the limbic system will take over before the prefrontal cortex has a chance to restrain it. Or the limbic system is just in complete control for whatever reason.

I'm not trying to excuse Caleb's actions by any means. But he could be any one of us if we were pushed to the limit and our buttons pressed. Humans have this uncompromising ability to think that they themselves are always in complete control in any situation but the reality is far different. But the reality is so unthinkable, so deathly frightening, so ego-dystonic to people that we have to extricate people like Caleb from our definition of humanity.
posted by Talez at 10:55 AM on April 7 [7 favorites]


I am a landlord in a poor, rural section of the country. I rent to, basically, poor rural folks. And in the course of my work, I see rather a lot of young women with very little money and very little children and very little education, living with their boyfriends, husbands, or baby daddies. In my experience, this is a situation that has very little chance of ending well. *sigh* And when I walk into an apartment what has fist-sized holes in the kitchen and living room walls, what I would like to say to the lady of the house is this:

Hon? I been doin' this a while and I see the same stuff over and over. It's kinda funny, but they ain't never any holes in the bedroom walls or in the bathroom. The holes thet get punched in the walls is in the living room or in the kitchen so that errybody kin see how mad you made him. Also, you notice how he misses the studs every time he punches thet sheetrock? No busted hand for him, but it scares the lights outta you, don't it? Lissen, I seen this story before and I know how it ends. If he ain't hittin you yet, he's a-gonna be. And you deserve better'n'at. Get out. Get out now.

And I do not say it because typically he's settin there on the couch lookin at me like as if he knows he cain't hit on me but wishin thet he could because how dare I even exist. Also, better than even odds that if I did say that, she'd just as soon turn on me as take it to heart because how dare I insult her man. There is no win for me, just drywall to patch and kicked-in door jambs to put back together.
posted by which_chick at 10:58 AM on April 7 [63 favorites]


But he could be any one of us if we were pushed to the limit and our buttons pressed.

This is categorically untrue. Even if you are seething with white-hot rage, you have the ability to choose whether or not to take it out on another person or animal.
posted by desjardins at 11:00 AM on April 7 [13 favorites]


"I am glad that this was never me and never could be me."

In fairness to R317 I've dated two guys like this, one for a year and he proposed, and as soon as they started the negging amd emotional abuse I walked away immediately. In both cases they were very desirable partners in other ways, and had no problem finding another woman who would stay with them despite their controlling and abusive tendencies. I think there are more people that wouldn't though, far more.

Plenty of people walk away from the first signs of drama, overly intense relationships and controlling unhealthy partners and truly won't get into a situation like this. Please give us credit for knowing who we are. I understand why people stay, I think, I just helped a friend leave a man she went back to like 35 times and I totally got why she did it. But I wouldn't have. We spent a lot of time talking about that and she got pretty passive aggressive about it but it really boils down to - I don't get the rush she does when it turns around and is good. I dont experience those intense emotions. I just expect it to be good. It makes me content, not euphoric, when my SO treats me well.
posted by fshgrl at 11:01 AM on April 7 [10 favorites]


Oh, and surely Caleb had been that angry at other people but yet he was able to restrain himself from hitting them. He hit his wife because he got away with it.
posted by desjardins at 11:02 AM on April 7 [26 favorites]


It seems Caleb's buttons were pushed quite often.

In 20+ years of marriage I have gotten angry, on occasion VERY angry, and never ever even dreamed of raising a hand to my wife. Physical violence is just never an option. Seems to me some people's "breaking point" comes way, way early in the game - i.e., they break when others haven't even begun to bend.

So I don't think he could be any of us, because that's to accept that all/any of us harbor a secret hatred of our loved ones - and I think that's what's it is, a hatred, a rage, a resentment that comes from feeling not in control, of frustration, whatever. The idea that you're going to fucking hit your wife, or a child, with intent to hurt that person - it's malicious. There's no other word for it.
posted by kgasmart at 11:02 AM on April 7 [11 favorites]


From the author's blog (TW for abuse):
My husband emotionally abused me before he started physically abusing me, and maybe that's why I stayed for so long after the abuse got physical, because by the time he started physically abusing me, I was already at a 10 on the pain scale. There was no higher for me to go. That's why I'll never look at another person and tell myself that they don't have it as bad as I had it. It doesn't work that way. Suffering is suffering. Comparisons are useless.
I grew up in a violent household and learned very quickly that even though I am physically very small and weak, I have always been able to take hits like a boxer. If you hit me, I will grit my teeth and look at you quietly until you are done. I won't fall down or clutch my cheek, flushed and futile. I won't even cry. Having those experiences as a child taught me the intricacies of post-injury self-care, how to clean and dress my own wounds, how to ice bruises so the swelling goes down overnight. I want to say it was a valuable lesson to learn but I don't really think that's true.

Because the first time a man ever hit me in the context of ostensible romance, I didn't even flinch -- I just smirked and said, "Is that all you've got?" He was twice my size, the door behind him was double-locked, there was nothing else I could do except sass off and hope I'd be able to make a run for it if he got distracted. You can shock yourself to the core in those moments, you can say and do things that are so uncharacteristic that you feel like you're watching someone else play you in a movie.

To this day, I don't know why I didn't feel like I had a right to cut ties until I felt I was in legitimate mortal danger, but when the day came that I started to believe he might actually kill me, I dropped my entire circle of related friends immediately, just jettisoned the whole lot with no explanation. How do you explain something like that, anyway? I never spoke to him or anyone who knew him ever again. Six years ago. Still feels like yesterday.

I am very glad that many folks here have never experienced what it feels like to look across the yawning pit that opens up between "that could never be me" and "this is me, right here, right now." It can happen in an instant.
posted by divined by radio at 11:03 AM on April 7 [74 favorites]


My husband emotionally abused me before he started physically abusing me...

The worst part about this type of abuse? Never mind the gaslighting wearing you down, taking your defenses bit by bit, crumbling the part of you that was you, and making you complicit in the abuse because you now obey. You don't wear this, you don't do that, you let the abuser do things their way even if it means they'll yell at you all day while doing it because if you had done it for them, they'd yell at you for that too because you "do it wrong".

You can't prove it. Like he said; "They'll never believe you". You can't prove it, and they won't believe you. Without bruises or broken bones, was there ever any abuse?
posted by dabitch at 11:08 AM on April 7 [14 favorites]


This is categorically untrue. Even if you are seething with white-hot rage, you have the ability to choose whether or not to take it out on another person or animal.

Actually, when you're seething with white-hot rage your amygdala is mostly in control which has no regard for consequences or social rules. It's stupid, it's primal and it doesn't make decisions past "will I die?" very well.
posted by Talez at 11:10 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


I am so glad that those of you saying this could never be you have not had to live this. I am furious at the implication that my upbringing, my resolve, my whatever it is was not good enough and that maybe if I had just had more faith in myself, I wouldn't have been there. I spent years in warm water that the temperature was raised ever so slightly with. By the time anything happened, I was isolated and alone and had no friends to call on and no idea how to leave. Like the author in this essay, I heard his voice in my head, and my whole world was such a mess that I was sure I was the crazy one. I also got fired from my job for taking time off to plan my escape.

I don't understand the need of people to point out that they know better and wouldn't stay and have left at the first sign. How does this help? All it does is make me feel like when I share my story, I am somehow responsible for being a victim because I didn't just up and leave.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 11:12 AM on April 7 [69 favorites]


In 20+ years of marriage I have gotten angry, on occasion VERY angry, and never ever even dreamed of raising a hand to my wife. Physical violence is just never an option. Seems to me some people's "breaking point" comes way, way early in the game - i.e., they break when others haven't even begun to bend.

This would be my point. Nobody has an infinite breaking point just like nobody has infinite willpower. The same thing that happens when you're in white-hot rage is happening when you can't stop laughing at something funny. Your emotions don't come from your pre-frontal cortex, they come from the limbic system. And sometimes, millions of years of evolution be damned, that limbic system is going to have its turn.
posted by Talez at 11:13 AM on April 7


So tough to read, because I've been an unwitting bystander to so many abusive relationships. People who I've tried to help, but couldn't -- I will go to my grave regretting I wasn't able to do more for one young woman my first wife worked with who Would. Not. Leave. He pushed her through doors, broke her arm -- sent her to the hospital and over a span of two years she kept buying the "this is the last time, he promised to never do it again, only when he's drinking, is going to quit" bullshit. She was thin and frail and meek and beautiful, and we begged her to get help, offered her a couch, nothing worked. We both moved on and lost track of her. It breaks my heart to this day and I think about her all the time. I pray to G*d that she got out. That and the subsequent relationships & marriages that went south because even with decent men, a lot of abused women permanently lose the ability to trust, and my heart breaks for the ones who got out too, and have a lifetime of trying to get whole again. A lot fail. I've tried & failed to be the Right Guy for a couple survivors of abuse, and I failed at that and only ultimately after being in way over my head a couple of times, realized that it's an inside job, that I was never going to be the glue. Again, heartbreaking.

The worst thing about this essay though is how distressingly... common this is.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:14 AM on April 7 [8 favorites]


Actually, when you're seething with white-hot rage your amygdala is mostly in control which has no regard for consequences or social rules. It's stupid, it's primal and it doesn't make decisions past "will I die?" very well.

Neither of us can conclusively prove our point, but I believe that you must be wrong, or we'd have a lot more homicides.
posted by desjardins at 11:15 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Neither of us can conclusively prove our point, but I believe that you must be wrong, or we'd have a lot more homicides.

But this is obviously a reason we have homicides in the first place.

Some people are just less able to control their resentment and the resulting rage - as I said, civilization just didn't take. Or maybe they were dropped on their head as a child, or they themselves were beaten, etc.

Whatever it is, though, those with such a quick trigger would seem to be a menace to society itself, rather than just their loved ones.
posted by kgasmart at 11:17 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


Holy shit.
posted by HyperBlue at 11:18 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to lay too much on the mother, because I don't think it's clear at all how much the mother knew, although I haven't read the blog because I'm not sure I can stand it. Anyway, I got a number of times to the point of conversations where I was like--ready to say something, but not to say enough. So it basically came out as, "here's a description of literally the smallest possible thing this person has done wrong in the last six months, and I'm thinking of leaving, but I dunno," to which my friends would very reasonably respond with reassurance that we could totally work things out. I ended up dropping a lot of my friends after I left there, even the ones who had no contact with my ex, just because I could not figure out a way to bridge the gap between the life I had been presenting to them and the truth.
posted by Sequence at 11:19 AM on April 7 [17 favorites]


I know, from freaking years of therapy, that certain roles and tapes from my childhood, I've played in my adulthood, resulting in bad consequences for me. The consequence was getting into relationships as an adult that were awful.

So I will say, for me, I wish I had learned different things. I cannot say what a person living a different life would do, a person who had been taught different things in childhood.

In short, I believe that people come from fucked-up circumstances can be abused. I think that people who come from wholly functional households can be abused. Not really sure what the controversy is, here.
posted by angrycat at 11:20 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


But he could be any one of us if we were pushed to the limit and our buttons pressed.

This sounds a bit like victim blaming, and I hope you didn't mean it that way, but also, it's not true. I have HAD MY BUTTONS PRESSED -- I had a violent girlfriend -- her dad had beat her as a kid and she wasn't going to take ANY MORE BULLSHIT! and would sock the crap out of me occasionally. I have visible scars. I never struck back. I have felt white-hot rage, and I have never struck anyone in anger during those moments.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:20 AM on April 7 [10 favorites]


Anyone can be Caleb.

And that's how my abuser convinced me and anyone who would listen that I was the abusive one, because I hit back once when he was hitting me. He claimed that I could have killed him because the only punch I was able to land hit him in his back. I weighed 88 pounds at that point - because he was obsessed with me being skinny and wouldn't let me eat real food - and he was a 6'2" guy who weighed 200. I'm pretty sure that I couldn't have killed him with my one crummily-thrown punch.

I still mentally beat myself up for fighting back that one time, and for the insults I screamed at him when we were fighting. I was a monster, too.
posted by sockermom at 11:21 AM on April 7 [12 favorites]


"I am glad that this was never me and never could be me."

This phrase has been piled on enough times, but I have to add: I'm grateful that I've never been abused, because I know it could have happened to me if I'd met the wrong person. I've been fooled plenty of times by boyfriends who were, thank God, merely duplicitous and slimy rather than outright abusive. I was probably an easy target in my younger years: conflict-averse, eager for approval, and quick to believe the best of people. None of those are particularly unusual characteristics. And I'm smart, but I'm nowhere near as smart as I think I am. A lot of the things I know about relationships, and how to avoid the harmful ones, come directly from experience.

I can sit where I am and say, of course I would have recognized the red flags, of course I would have gotten out, of course I'm brave and believe in myself... but I don't know if I could have. You can't know until you're in the middle of it. I am so very, very lucky not to have taken that test.

This could have been me. Easily. That doesn't make me flawed or weak or deserving of abuse, not for a second. It does everyone a disservice to read the stories of abuse survivors and claim we're somehow different from them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:23 AM on April 7 [41 favorites]


We were one of those couples that others liked to be around. We laughed a lot, respected each other, and supported each others’ work. We loved the same things: cooking Thai food, impromptu dance parties in the living room, Friday Night Lights marathons. We always found time for date nights. We vacationed in Greece, New York City, and Glacier National Park. We emailed each other silly videos during the day when we were at work. He phoned me from the car, five minutes after leaving the house, just to talk.

This paragraph was hardest for me to read...
posted by mdn at 11:23 AM on April 7 [14 favorites]


Everyone experiences frog-boiling syndrome at some point in their lives, be it work or school or home repair or that "bad cold" that turns out to be pneumonia by the time they give in and go to the doctor. Relationship violence often works the exact same way, especially if you are in any way prone to question your instincts as so many people - not just women - are taught to do from toddlerhood. I mean, good for you if your Nope Cortex is finely honed and ready for action at all times, but I don't think that's a majority of the population, so at least attempt a little humility for being so privileged...or just lucky so far.

I don't understand what it is about human nature that so desperately needs to deny people's experiences. This article? Everyone here has known that woman, even if you didn't know you did. This happens every day, and will continue to do so at least until people stop automatically going "well, this is her problem, not mine. She probably deserved it, or she's lying, or she wasn't raised right."

It's okay to be compassionate.

So far in my life I've never really had a strong urge to hurt someone else I otherwise cared about, but I've pretty much not experienced any of the multitude of injuries and insults that might remove the internal braking mechanism. I came very close to picking up a nearby blunt object and going after someone actively hurting an animal, and I'd probably have a police record but not a whole lot of regrets if someone else hadn't intervened before me, so I know I could hurt a person if I was strongly enough compelled to. For all I know, I'm only one concussion or neurochemical change away from losing that inhibition.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:27 AM on April 7 [19 favorites]


I am so glad that those of you saying this could never be you have not had to live this.

This is what I have to tell myself sometimes. I recently went to a movie with graphic, very realistic scenes of domestic abuse, and most of the audience laughed through them like it was a cream pie fight.

I later mentioned it to my friend who had also seen the movie, and she said, “Well, it was just because it was played so over-the-top and unrealistic, and [actor] was overacting so much.” I was stunned, because the scenes could have been filmed with a hidden camera in my childhood home. When I was done being shocked, angry, and hurt, I had to just be happy that there were so many people who didn’t know firsthand what it looks like.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:28 AM on April 7 [23 favorites]


Everyone experiences frog-boiling syndrome at some point in their lives,

everyone except frogs
posted by thelonius at 11:29 AM on April 7 [6 favorites]


Don't make the mistake of thinking an abuser is simply a human being unable to stifle an aspect of something that exists in all of us. Abusers are "ill" - in the case of mine, he was an alcoholic. But there is something wrong in the brains/genetic make-up/chemistry of someone who can fly off the handle and abuse another human being/animal ... literally a sick soul imho.

How any individual deals with abuse is going to be as individual as that person and their experiences. For me? I was only 19 - whole family thought I was making a mistake marrying this man. At first my pride and immaturity kept me in the relationship; he was in the Navy at the time - and they forced him into rehab and I thought, oh yes, this will work. It didn't ... but I stayed. Then he got out and my naïve young self thought, oh yes, THIS will work - a new life. It didn't ... and I stayed.

What worked? I delivered my son. And I took one look at him after his birth and knew with every fiber of my being that he didn't deserve what I was taking. I left.

It didn't end there - rarely does. As others have mentioned there was forced visitation - in my case after my ex became a quadriplegic after a late night drinking related accident with some Navy buddies (I convinced him to re-enlist when I found out I was pregnant) He still drank after the accident. He used to wheel himself into the local bar in his electric chair - I had witnesses. Lawyers told me I had no chance in court to gain full custody given the sympathy factor - you see he was a charmer when he was sober.

My son's childhood was a mix of security and love with my now husband of 35 years - mixed with dysfunctional terror on court ordered overnight visits. Very long story short? My ex finally died when my son was 9. 2 years prior after some horrible incidents I finally found an attorney who agreed this needed to stop - and it finally did. It shouldn't have taken that long - but our system is skewed; another rant for another time.

My son understood at a very young age that his biological father was a very, very sick man. That perspective was all I could offer him to try and make him understand.

Sometimes I hated myself. Time has fortunately healed us.

My point it that you cannot judge - put yourself here (I will leave you with the opening paragraphs of my essay):

Imagine a kitchen, it’s after dinner. The dishes are stacked in the sink, the water is still running because I was in the middle of rinsing them when he came in. The cat had been weaving between my legs but ran off as soon as his presence was felt. He hadn’t liked the meal; it was overcooked, and I was useless. Did I know that? That I was useless? Did I? DID I?!!! I better talk to him; better look at him. No, NO??? Well why don’t you look at “this”! My back is suddenly slammed up against the wall beside the refrigerator. A fist goes through the wall to the right of my head. I’m told in rancid bourbon breath that the next shot is going on the other side, and the third is going through my face.

There is pounding at the door. I hear my name being called and neighbors asking if I’m all right. I didn’t think that my nightmare little world was being heard by the normal people that lived around me. It’s a good thing I was wrong. Their insistent pounding caused just enough confusion and distraction in the sad, sick man in front of me that I was able to dodge around him and make it to the front door. As my neighbors’ wife put her arm around me and led me to their apartment, the husband kindly, and wisely, addressed my inebriated spouse as he might a 5 year old; asking him to calm down and talk to him. I was six weeks pregnant at the time.

posted by cdalight at 11:30 AM on April 7 [15 favorites]


The same house where my mother took me into the backyard and said, “Listen to me. I have friends who have left their husbands' amygdalas. I have seen it on the other side. It is not better on the other side. Try hard. Try hard realize the capabilities of the frontal cortex are finite before you give up.”

I tried so hard subsume ethics in material explanations.
posted by bdc34 at 11:30 AM on April 7 [2 favorites]


I don't understand what it is about human nature that so desperately needs to deny people's experiences.

Possibly a coping mechanism, like the Just World Phenomenon.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:34 AM on April 7 [9 favorites]


I am so glad that those of you saying this could never be you have not had to live this. I am furious at the implication that my upbringing, my resolve, my whatever it is was not good enough and that maybe if I had just had more faith in myself, I wouldn't have been there.

That is unfair. Just because some of us know, from experience, that we will have a different reaction under these circumstances than you would doesn't mean we are "better". I have made an effort to understand why people stay in bad relationships, you could do me the courtesy of not dismissing my experience of them also.

Instead of everyone making value judgements I like the idea that some people just have a strong Nope Cortex. I think that describes it nicely.
posted by fshgrl at 11:35 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


If you haven't had sufficient anger and sadness, the court ordered letter of apology Caleb was forced to write her should help with that. I cannot even.
posted by aclevername at 11:40 AM on April 7 [8 favorites]


It's slow. It's insidious. They start reasonable, one request, maybe two, little criticisms couched in cheerleading to a better you. And it works. They were right, you did need to do this thing or that. So the next time they speak up about you, you listen because you love them, they (in some way) love you, and they were right before, so why not?

Slowly, it gets more unreasonable, but you don't know because you're being trained to handle their instability. Conditioned to acquiesce to their demands. Sex when they want it, on their terms; you're either afraid or unwilling to deny them. Culling your social circle when they say anything, because what do they really know anyway, and besides he knew they'd say that, he warned you they didn't like him, if he was smart (har) he said that right at the beginning.

Before you know it you're walking on eggshells, afraid of criticism but craving it at the same time because that's how you communicate now, that's how you know he still finds you interesting, paying attention by finding faults. You can try all you want but there is no way, no fucking way, to be what he tells you to be. You couldn't be that even if you were in your right mind, which you're not.

Then, one day, if you're me, he shoves you, and that is when the lightbulb goes on, because physical violence means abuse, and somehow none of the other stuff did. I told him to get the fuck out, I let him come back for his things, I destroyed what he'd forgotten while on the phone one last time with him. I warned the girl he hooked up with immediately after.

I was seventeen when it ended, but in some ways, it never has.
posted by cmyk at 11:40 AM on April 7 [26 favorites]


Well, the thing is, my mother had left boyfriends at the first sign of bad treatment before. She'd even had my tough guy uncle take one of them around the back and sort him out when he wouldn't leave her alone. But Dad played Prince Charming long enough for her to think that he was different, and by the time she realized he'd been gaslighting her she was already deeply entangled, with two babies, chronic health problems, and her self-esteem shattered from the aforementioned gaslighting.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:43 AM on April 7 [9 favorites]


(I don't talk about it much. I don't think I've ever written it that clearly before, and certainly not IN PUBLIC and TO STRANGERS who could figure out how it was all my fault JUST LIKE HE SAID. So. Um. Gonna go lie down now, or something.)
posted by cmyk at 11:44 AM on April 7 [27 favorites]


Seconding xarnop. A big issue that gets left out of many discussions over why women don't leave abusers right away is the issue that, if you have children together, and you separate/get a divorce, generally the resulting scenario is that THE VIOLENT ABUSER STILL GETS TO BE WITH THE CHILDREN, BUT NOW ALONE.

So I'm a domestic violence survivor. And one of my most vivid memories is after my restraining order was finally granted, the judge refusing to give a restraining order that would protect my child too. Because apparently, in that state, even if you can prove the abuse, just because you're a spousal abuser doesn't mean you're a child abuser. And the cherry on the motherfucking cake?

Courts often now work on "best interests of the child", which is often defined as the most accomodating parent gets the kid. And if you are not accomodating of the other parent because they beat you, well, shit, you're the less accomodating parent, and it's clearly not in the best interests of the child to place them in your primary physical custody!
posted by corb at 11:48 AM on April 7 [21 favorites]


Oh the Nope Cortex. It's a great reflex, and I was brought up to have it "The minute someone hits you, walk out the door". My mother looked at him once and knew, but no matter her warnings I couldn't hear her.

Because as so many have already described, the gaslighting is insidious. You lose privacy, cut off friends, change your world and your entire way of being and you believe this is normal. The frogs may not boil, but you're in a place where the heat is slowly turned up and you think it's you, not the abuser. What happens if you know to walk when he hits you, but he never hits you? He tears down your work. Your friends. Your looks by telling you how to look. Your self confidence. Your savings. Your dreams for the future. He builds a cage around you. He picks at you until you seriously consider self harm and the only thing stopping you is that baby you cradle in your arms. But he never hits you.
posted by dabitch at 11:56 AM on April 7 [21 favorites]


corb , I'm so sorry.
posted by dabitch at 11:59 AM on April 7 [4 favorites]


everybody: Sorry, I was satirizing this comment
posted by bdc34 at 11:59 AM on April 7


This is such a difficult situation to parse. Caleb was wrong to abuse the author. The author was wrong to take it. Those two wrongs are in no way equal, and one could not happen without the other. Even choosing words is dicey. Was it a "mistake" to stay with Caleb? With the sense of "unintentional oversight"? His actions were unforgivably evil, and yet he did so many sweet things, too. We are taught that good and evil are easy to recognize and separate. It's easy to be compassionate toward the author and much harder to be compassionate toward Caleb. She paints him as both horrible and compassion-worthy, and it's confusing and terrifying to read.
posted by rikschell at 12:01 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


The author was wrong to take it.

WHAT

NO, JUST NO
posted by desjardins at 12:05 PM on April 7 [65 favorites]


"She paints him as both horrible and compassion-worthy, and it's confusing and terrifying to read."

Imagine what it's like to ... live.
posted by cdalight at 12:06 PM on April 7 [13 favorites]


Caleb was wrong to abuse the author. The author was wrong to take it. Those two wrongs are in no way equal, and one could not happen without the other.

Shit like that? Is why we stay silent.
posted by cmyk at 12:06 PM on April 7 [65 favorites]


This article and this thread were both a really, really, really scary, important read. Thanks to everyone for sharing.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:09 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]


Raising daughters to walk out on a man the moment he becomes violent is certainly one part of the equation. But we also need to raise sons who understand that it's never ok to hit your partner, no matter how angry you are.
posted by 912 Greens at 12:09 PM on April 7 [30 favorites]


Yeah, I'd like to add:

When I left, I was able to do so because of a variety of factors. Not least of those was that I was already fully gainfully employed, with a strong support network that took great care of me. Not everyone has those options. A mother's first priority is frequently her child, and that doesn't just involve "What they see" but also "Are there shoes on their feet?" and "Are they getting fed?"

The mother saying she's seen the other side - that's taken with horror, but I think was meant as an expression of love. Sometimes, a person who has a child with an abuser doesn't have any good choices.
posted by corb at 12:10 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Well, that the "best interests of the child" conundrum. Clearly the "best interests" would be to not have to have any visitation with an abusive parent but that logic doesn't work in court. It's another on of the reasons abuses spouses stay. Imagine that cop in the story saying "things get heated, me and my wife argue...", but it's every social worker, every lawyer and every judge you meet from now on. Everywhere you turn you will be told that you are wrong, that it's the best interest of the child to be fucked up in the head and used as a tool to keep abusing both of you. He didn't hit you, how bad could it be?
posted by dabitch at 12:11 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]


That article was the tipping point for me switching from "that's horrible, but it would never be me" to "wow, I can see how that could have been me".

I've always known that people find it difficult to leave abusers because they love them, but this article really made that clear in a way that made sense to me. I am fortunate to have never been in an abusive relationship, but if my last boyfriend had been abusive rather than just treating me like garbage, I'm not so sure I would have left any faster. I was doing the same flawed reasoning - I love him, he's so gentle and loving (except when he isn't), we have so many happy memories (and unhappy ones), he's nice in public (just not behind closed doors), he's such a great guy just going through a rough time (maybe the "rough time" guy is his real self, not the guy you dated for the first 6 months). It really doesn't make sense unless you're experiencing it. I guess we all like to think we're more rational and objective than we really are.

Thank you for sharing. I'm really glad I read this.
posted by randomnity at 12:13 PM on April 7 [25 favorites]


The author was wrong to take it.

She wasn't wrong. She stayed, which is hard for many people to understand, but she had her reasons and I think she's pretty explicit what they were. Everyone I know who's stayed in a shifty relationship has had reasons, usually good ones.

For me the Nope Cortex kicks in at the first sign of emotional manipulation/ abuse/ control. It's like a bucket of cold water on whatever I felt for the person, like discovering they are a birther or an Ann Coulter fan. Nope , nope, nope. I did spend most of my 20s with feckless losers who were never going to get a real job though.
posted by fshgrl at 12:19 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


I think the whole point of this story was that Caleb wasn't a monster, or even necessarily a bad man... or not just a bad man. I do think its wise for people to see themselves not only as potential victims, but as potential perpetrators of violence, so that we can be on guard against either. Dehumanizing abusers doesn't help. They're human. They're often hurting, dealing with depression and addiction (on top of maybe natural variations in emotional set-points.) They can be warm, funny people who genuinely love the people they sometimes hurt (but sometimes selflessly sacrifice for!), and hate themselves later for what they've done.

I sometimes wonder if the motivations for abuse aren't similar to the motivations for self-harm. If hurting someone who loves you isn't a way of hurting yourself. I don't know. I don't get it. But it seems like suicide threats are also a thing in abusive relationships. And maybe they're connected. Anyway, to me the point of the essay is that the reason women stay in these relationships is because they love the guy, that the guy can be really loveable 99% of the time, and that makes it hard to abandon him and your life together no matter how bad the other 1% is. It's like the "good" Caleb, who is already suffering and needs help, doesn't deserve to be abandoned by his family for something the "bad" Caleb did...
posted by OnceUponATime at 12:28 PM on April 7 [12 favorites]


it's like civilization didn't take with some people

Women didn't even have the vote in the United States a century ago. In the past century there have been hundreds of millions of deaths in war and genocide. It's like civilization didn't take with a lot of people.
I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me--Terence
posted by No Robots at 12:34 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]


Whenever I hear about something as tragic as this, my second thought after being very sad is being relieved that it couldn't happen to me, because I try to justify that I am somehow immune. I would never take a crowded bus in that country, I would never travel alone in that region, I would never stay with someone who hit me. It is a coping mechanism that allows me to stumble through my news-filled days without crumbling.

This piece, and these discussions, are so necessary and also so crushingly eye-opening. That boyfriend from college never did hit me, or hit the wall, or isolate me. He was charming and loving and made me feel so alive. But, his picking away at me, bit by bit, was so slow and glacial, that it took an internet stranger years ago to name it what it was. And when we broke up, he told me that emotional abuse is just a part of every relationship, when it gets deep enough. And I had buried that deep in my brain and never really examined it until today, thinking until now that I was stronger and smarter and I could recognize the signs.
posted by umwhat at 12:46 PM on April 7 [21 favorites]


[A couple comments removed. Again, I know this is a tough topic and people have good reasons to feel raw about this stuff, but folks need to not get into nasty/dismissive/sarcastic "I'm saying what I imagine someone I dislike is saying" type territory. It's okay to walk away from the thread if it's hard on you to participate in it.]
posted by cortex at 12:48 PM on April 7


It tears me apart to read about mothers who were inspired/pushed to leave their abusive husbands by their children, not because I understand what they're going through, but because I don't understand what it would be like to be the child of one of those moms. What would it be like to be so precious? I was the first of three kids my mother had with her first abusive husband, and once his abuse got to be too much for her, she left us all. We woke up one day and she was just gone.

She didn't tell anyone what was happening, why she was leaving, or where she was going. She didn't contact the authorities or reach out to her network of family and friends to ask someone to take us away from him so we could be safe, too. She just hit the road, and we didn't see her again for years. She didn't show up for court at all so we wound up remanded to his sole custody until things eventually got so bad that my grandparents had to take over, and she deigned to come back a couple of years later. But from the day she agreed to return until the day I cut ties with her for good, she defended her decision thusly: "I couldn't stay another minute. I had to leave or I was going to kill myself." So as the oldest, I wound up with the honor of living to suffer the brunt of the consequences of that decision in her absence. I guess someone had to, right? She just didn't want it to be her.

I want to believe my mother just didn't realize that by leaving, she was taking away the only chance we would ever have to leave, too, but I know it isn't true. It's just that sometimes when a struggling person sees a lifeboat, they're going to jump in and start paddling away as fast as they can, even if it means their kids are liable to drown in the wake. Self-preservation is hardly failsafe or foolproof, and it can even seem to disappear completely in situations like this, but it's still one hell of a drug.
posted by divined by radio at 12:49 PM on April 7 [21 favorites]


Sequence - Anyway, I got a number of times to the point of conversations where I was like--ready to say something, but not to say enough. So it basically came out as, "here's a description of literally the smallest possible thing this person has done wrong in the last six months, and I'm thinking of leaving, but I dunno," to which my friends would very reasonably respond with reassurance that we could totally work things out.

This worries me a lot. A few years back, I had a slightly weird conversation with a friend who was telling me about a time when she was so tired and confused after a double shift in a stressful week that she accidentally took two doses of her normal sleeping pills. She slept really late and missed meeting her parents for breakfast, her phone was on silent, her sweet old parents panicked and called an ambulance, she was so embarrassed answering the door, the paramedics agreed it was silly but insisted she come in for a checkup just to be sure, she joked about it with the doctors... it was life in full-blown romcom mode, told with reassurances and jokes and funny voices, and entirely typical of the stories we'd tell each other about weird or embarrassing stuff in our pasts.

It's obvious in the context of this thread, but it was only a week later I realised she'd been telling me about her attempted suicide. Talking about it again with her, it was two weeks' doses of pills, not two nights'. Her parents knew she'd been badly depressed. There'd been no repartee with the paramedics, because they'd had to break her door down and she needed hospital care before she woke up.

What keeps me awake some nights is that she and I have radically different memories of that first conversation. She remembers being clear about the number of pills and how serious her condition was; there was nervous laughter, but she knew I'd understood. I remember her laughter and the funny voices, but above all, with crystal clarity, I remember that when I looked worried at the start she leapt to reassure me (too quickly, in retrospect), that "it was just a double dose, not even close to dangerous!", her explanation of how she got confused and ended up making that mistake, and her (hilarious!) embarrassment when chatting to the paramedics about her overprotective parents.

I currently have a friend who works long hours, sometimes alone, with a guy who is Creepy. Not "bad at social cues and norms" (he is, but that's fine), but "repeatedly ignoring clearly stated requests to stay away, keep professional, or at least stop with the thoughtful gifts and expressions of love/despair". Nothing she's said to me has ever indicated, even slightly, that this guy is anything more than an annoying, sad puppy. But I know that she hates asking for help, and has minimised or kept other stressors to herself in the past, to avoid worrying others. I have no reason to think that this guy is an actual threat, but... if he is, and even if she actually tried to tell me, would I even realise?
posted by metaBugs at 12:50 PM on April 7 [49 favorites]


Dehumanizing abusers doesn't help. They're human. They're often hurting, dealing with depression and addiction (on top of maybe natural variations in emotional set-points.)

Absolutely this. It's not like they walk around with fangs and a cape. I KNOW my father had a nightmare of a childhood with a mean drunk father and a cold, enabling mother that made my own childhood look like a tiptoe through the tulips by comparison. That doesn't make it OK, but it helped me process it. I agree with others that we all have that potential if some little thing goes wrong in our brains in just the right way. I don't know what that thing is, exactly. I think he felt powerless.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:56 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]


Sorry, I think was I was trying to get at is that it can be easy to see a false equivalence. I don't think any of you are arguing that is was RIGHT for the author to stay with Caleb so long (hence my conclusion that it was wrong to do so). That's not trying to lay any blame, but any language anyone puts to any of these concepts is going to rub someone the wrong way. I'm sure I'm being an idiot here, but the author is pretty clear herself that she should've done things differently. What's so tragic is that she makes it so understandable why she did so, despite it clearly not being in her larger interest. And while I don't think anyone could make Caleb's actions understandable, one has to wonder what was going on inside. When he said he wanted to change, was it lying or torture or a horrified self-realization? I am sorry if I caused offense. I'm just overwhelmed by the sadness, the love, and the abuse all jumbled up together. Anyone who's been through this, I'm sorry for what happened to you and none of it was your fault.
posted by rikschell at 12:57 PM on April 7 [9 favorites]


If men go their long lives without abusing, that's not accident. That's not because they were just lucky enough not to have their "buttons pushed." There are people with terrible mental illnesses, which seems a fair category for Caleb in the story. But to extend that by saying we all have that same mental illness is unhelpful at best. At worst it verges on a blanket excuse for abusive men.

I will never strike my wife. I have the will and the psyche to promise this. We've been together 15 years and I have yet to belittle her or humiliate her or abuse her, despite having grown up in an abusive household. I have a right to be proud of this*. You don't have the right to tell me I'm just lucky my wife hasn't pushed my buttons. There isn't a button she could push that would result in me abusing her.

I don't claim to be a better person than anyone else, or even a better husband. I'm a little dull and I don't clean the house enough and so on. But it's really poor analysis to say that all men are abusers just waiting for the accidental trigger.

*To a point. Not abusing is, or at least should be, baseline behavior. But I hope you'll take my meaning.
posted by argybarg at 12:57 PM on April 7 [33 favorites]


metaBugs: That last paragraph of yours is tripping my Nope Cortex into screaming overdrive, which is easy, so very easy for me, because I'm at the third-hand distance from the situation. It was the description of "the thoughtful gifts and expressions of love/despair" that did it. I don't know what to say, do, or even if you can do anything---but I don't think you're misunderstanding.

And the guy may be just an annoying, sad puppy as you put it, but that kind of annoyance is an extra burden on someone focused on a job ("works for long hours") absolutely does not need and it may be damaging to her professionally if nothing else.

(As for the original post, I've got nothing to say that hasn't been said already---I know very well about loving, and loving so deeply, someone who may not be good for you, and I know I am inordinately lucky that my "not good for me" is in no way, shape or form abuse, and I know that it was to a great degree luck because I have no great trust in my Nope Cortex when talking about things I'm looking at from the inside.)
posted by seyirci at 1:16 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


Dehumanizing abusers doesn't help. They're human. They're often hurting, dealing with depression and addiction (on top of maybe natural variations in emotional set-points.) They can be warm, funny people who genuinely love the people they sometimes hurt (but sometimes selflessly sacrifice for!), and hate themselves later for what they've done.

But they don't hate themselves enough to stop doing it.

There's a difference between loving someone and controlling them. I don't think the abuser "genuinely" loves the person he harms. I think he feels he owns that person, owns the right to treat that person as he likes. He doesn't "want" to do it but she "makes him." It's her fault because he doesn't have any self-control.

Those who have been abused may forgive their abuser, and maybe that's the only way to move forward, but they shouldn't excuse the abuser because whatever the reason you harm someone you supposedly love, it's an inadequate reason. Full stop.
posted by kgasmart at 1:24 PM on April 7 [11 favorites]


"I am glad that this was never me and never could be me."

I'm 6'4" and twice her size, but that didn't stop her from hitting me. And it surely didn't stop me from sticking around far longer than I should have. Wasted years. All of them.

On some level, I still love her and miss her - but that's because people who are good at getting under your skin are good at getting under your skin. That's the reason I was with her to begin with.

The hardest part was learning to believe that I was not the fucked up one.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:32 PM on April 7 [22 favorites]


Nobody has an infinite breaking point just like nobody has infinite willpower.

This is the wrong point. In effect, you are answering the wrong question.

The right question is what does one do when one reaches the breaking point.

There are those (most?) that would never resort to violence or abuse.
posted by mygoditsbob at 2:31 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


I know exactly what I do when I reach my breaking point. I have been so angry that I literally see red. I'm surprised steam didn't come out of my ears. Did I use the people closest to me as a literal or metaphorical punching bag?

No, I burst into great big sobbing tears. I removed myself from the situation and I calmed down. I had nothing to apologize or feel guilty for afterward.

This idea that abusers are merely people with short tempers, and that we all would do the same thing in their place does not seem true to me, someone who struggles with having a short temper. Abusers are human; they are not monsters, but that is not the same thing as claiming that anyone would abuse their spouse or child if they just got angry enough. I have been that angry, but I have boundaries and learned appropriate coping mechanisms. On the other hand, people who abuse their spouses or children don't generally walk around beating up everyone who pisses them off - that would land them in jail. They clearly have situational self-control.
posted by muddgirl at 3:08 PM on April 7 [24 favorites]


I agree with others that we all have that potential if some little thing goes wrong in our brains in just the right way. I don't know what that thing is, exactly. I think he felt powerless.

I think that, in a lot of us, that little wrong thing in our brains turns that physically and psychically abusive impulse inwards rather than out. I don't know if it's exactly the same kind of impulse, but it feels like it could be similar.
posted by rtha at 3:09 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]


I've talked about this before in other threads, but I have a pretty violent temper. I take after my dad in that way, but with one major exception...I'm a middle class white girl. Luckily or not, society has deemed it largely inappropriate for me to fight or rage. I've been taught from a very early age that fighting is just not acceptable.

And I've worked on it. In my youth, I got in a lot of fights. Mainly with boys because the whole "Don't Hit Girls" mantra was pretty deeply ingrained. And primarily because the boys did something that riled my inner sense of justice or were picking on me. But once the teen years hit, I discovered that the adults who once said, "At least she stands up for herself" started saying, "Why did she instigate it?"

My dad never hit my mother and neither of them hit me except for the standard mid-70s, early 80s view of corporal punishment. I learned early on that Daddy had a temper and I also learned that was why when he got really mad, he just went for a walk. I learned that when you have this kind of temper, it's your responsibility to deal with it. And fortunately, due to a lot of factors, I learned that having a violent temper is absolutely no excuse to hurt people.

I haven't struck another human in a rage since 1988. I have never hit someone I loved. I have been in relationships where hitting (on both sides) seems inevitable and have fortunately found a way out before it got there.

I'm lucky for a variety of reasons.

Not everyone is.
posted by teleri025 at 3:23 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]


For some reason, this excerpt: "Once, Caleb said to me, “You probably wish that someone would figure out where those bruises are coming from. You probably wish someone knew, so that things could change.” He said it with such sadness." filled me with fury. He's just taunting her with the fact that he's never going to stop of his own volition, that only outside intervention will keep him from hurting her. I agree with muddgirl above. This guy knows exactly what he's doing.
posted by orrnyereg at 3:31 PM on April 7 [15 favorites]


Absolutely telerio25 - I don't mean to make it sound like some virtue vs. being luck of my nature and upbringing. I can definitely imagine a different outcome in a different universe where I was raised by different parents or perhaps if I was a boy instead of a girl.
posted by muddgirl at 3:47 PM on April 7


For me, the lightbulb didn't go off until I told my therapist, "At least he hasn't hit me yet." I couldn't, wouldn't describe what I was going through as abuse because I wasn't one of those women. We were educated, upper middle class. We went to the theater and fancy restaurants. We didn't belong on COPS. I didn't have bruises. He'd never hit me. Yet.

But he'd scream and yell and throw things and slam doors. I used to carry my phone in my pocket, always, just in case. Slept with it under my pillow. Sometimes he'd wake me up just to yell at me. He was twice my size, he could knock me out with one hit. But he never hit me.

I wished he would, because that would be my line in the sand. I always said I'd leave a guy if he hit me. I left a guy when he cheated on me. Dropped him cold, never talked to him again. It was easy and I wanted the decision of leaving him to be easy. What I didn't count on was that hitting was at the far end of a very long spectrum.

I should have left him six months into the relationship, when he screamed profanities at me over the phone. But he was right to be upset at me - I mean, I'd hesitated when he'd asked me for a favor I didn't really want to give. I hadn't said yes immediately, so he was right to be upset.

And he was right to be upset when his boss was a jerk and his grandmother was in the hospital and his car broke down and I apparently just didn't care enough about him to CUT HIM SOME SLACK ALREADY. He had to yell at me! Look at all the things going on in his life!

But he was so, so sweet most of the time. He'd make up silly songs, he'd cook a special dish, he'd wash my car, he'd pick up flowers at the store. He was handsome and smart and good at most things he tried.

And he didn't hit me!

You can only leave at the first sign of abuse if you know what abuse is. I thought it was hitting and choking and punching and he'd never done that. He told me that everybody gets angry, everyone yells, and if a couple tells you that they never fight that they're lying. He told me that everyone needs to blow off steam and that it's normal to throw things. He told me I knew he had a temper when we met so why am I upset about it now? Why am I overreacting? Why am I so sensitive?! JEEZ! DIDN'T I KNOW HE HAD A BAD DAY? STOP CRYING!

I wish I could go back to the person I was when I met him, and tell her that saying yes out of fear is not love. I said yes to way too many things, out of fear of being alone, out of fear that I wasn't good enough, out of fear he would leave, out of fear he would hurt me. I want to tell her that it's okay to say no.
posted by fantoche at 3:59 PM on April 7 [38 favorites]


People should read "Why Does He Do That". Abusers are frequently calm and in control. If they gave a shit, and couldn't help abusing someone they ostensibly love, why would they not leave in order to protect their loved one?

They're not just like us. They are, functionally, torturers and kidnappers.

I'll wait for the "anyone could molest a kid" or "anyone could commit subprime mortgage fraud" sympathy in the relevant threads.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:02 PM on April 7 [28 favorites]


I wish I could go back to the person I was when I met him, and tell her that saying yes out of fear is not love.

Damn, fantoche. I'm so sorry. I hope you're healing and in a better place now. (Along with all of the other people who have voiced their stories here.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:06 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]


One thing that I wonder, something that was speculated about, but not really discussed is whether abusers can be changed (not the bullshit promises in a relationship, the ones that are just another means of control), but if they can learn not to view people as possessions and to take responsibility for themselves. If they can strike the phrase "look what you made me do" (or whatever their line is) from their vocabulary. Is this something that can be unlearned? Or is it, to use the only metaphor I can think of, something akin to pedophilia, where the best course of action is to remove the individual from the situation and have them avoid all situations that could lead to temptation otherwise. (I am talking about the attraction here, not any sexual abuse of children.)

And if it is the first, not the second, how can we tell if someone has been cured? Or do we simply have to wait until they are unable to physically hurt another due to old age and say "well, after he worked on it, he never hit anyone again"?
posted by Hactar at 5:21 PM on April 7


Reading all of the stories of pain and abuse here after reading the original post makes my heart ache. There is no excuse for the kind of abuse so many people have bravely shared in this thread. The activist in me is furious at the lack of institutional support for women fleeing an abusive relationship, especially if she has children. The woman in the original post wrote about this in her blog and it's horrible. There's a clear, institutional lack of giving a shit in the county she lived in. Inexcusable. I hope more stories of this sort will help us change things so that if the abuse doesn't stop at least society will provide more help to the victims.
posted by leslies at 5:57 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]


Children see domestic violence that often goes unreported, research finds

"A nationwide study of children who have witnessed domestic violence found that parents or caregivers were physically injured in more than a third of the cases, yet only a small fraction of offenders went to jail and just one in four incidents resulted in police reports, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

"One of the most shocking findings is that less than 2 percent of the cases resulted in jail time for the perpetrator," said lead researcher Sherry Hamby, PhD, a psychology research professor at Sewanee, The University of the South.
"

"The study contradicted stereotypes that domestic violence is more prevalent in low-income or minority households. The violent incidents crossed economic lines, with 28 percent occurring in households with annual incomes under $20,000, 30 percent with incomes from $20,000-$50,000, 18 percent with incomes from $50,000-$75,000 and 24 percent with incomes of more than $75,000. The violence also occurred in families from various races and ethnicities, including 53 percent white, 20 percent African-American, 16 percent Latino and 11 percent other races. Almost three out of every four perpetrators were male."

""Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, nightmares, teen dating violence and disruptions with school work, Hamby said. The trauma can be very similar to when children experience abuse themselves, she added.
"Family violence definitely cuts across all segments of society and has a serious impact on children," Hamby said. "Parents are such big figures in a child's life. If a parent is endangered, that can threaten a child's well-being. They get worried that if their parent is in danger, then who is going to protect them?"
"
posted by VikingSword at 6:14 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


From the blog:

I also had to navigate the grief of losing the person who I thought would be my partner for life. That grief was the worst part, and I needed a lot of validation.

This is spot on and this is why people go back to their abusers. The grief is CRUSHING and feels like it will never end. You start wondering, was he really that bad? Maybe I'm not remembering it right. Maybe if I did X or Y then it would be okay.

I keep a list of the worst things he's ever said and did and I pull it out whenever I'm sobbing for the life I lost. We had Dreams. We had Plans. None of them will ever be, and it's absolutely like a death. I would rather he'd died. I would sometimes rather I'd died. It would be easier.

So yeah, I need people to tell me I did the right thing, that I can make New Dreams and New Plans, because in the dark hours before dawn, when you wake up alone, it feels like you've made a big huge mistake and all you want is your abuser by your side again.
posted by fantoche at 6:40 PM on April 7 [32 favorites]


I'm only halfway through these comments, but I just want to say thank you to everyone who is sharing their stories.

I just broke up with my boyfriend today because he's exhibiting these controlling, abusive irrational behaviors for months and I finally got the courage to just end it. I can't do anymore yelling, screaming, name-calling, constantly calling me, showing up at my work, punching walls, throwing things, physically restraining me when I try to leave...I just can't.

I thought that I just needed to give him a chance. I just needed to love him better and then he would change.

I'm well-versed in issues of abusive relationships. I have a copy of the Duluth Wheel of Power & Control in my office, right across from my desk, literally right in front of my eyes every day.

I've been down this road before, I know the signs, and still, like the author said, it happens so slowly, and then, so quickly.

Being in an abusive relationship is like being given a decadent, luscious chocolate cake....that has bits of shit in it. You want that cake so bad, you want to ignore the shit, to eat around it, to just focus on the good parts, but sometimes you can't tell which parts are chocolate and which are shit.

Relationships are hard. That's what everyone says. But how do you know when to keep trying and when to cut your losses? By the time you get hit, it's too late. You're in so deep. You've already eaten a bit of shit, might as well finish the cake. It's not so bad.
posted by chara at 6:52 PM on April 7 [39 favorites]


I love very much several people who are vicious and abusive for a mix of different reasons. Mental illness, a history of abuse themselves and the cultural normalization of abuse of certain people (they aren't quite human and can be hit). It's the grief that echoes for me, because you love these people, and often they love you too in some damaged painful way.

Saying that you'd never be an abuser or the victim to an abuser, saying that all abusers are monsters, all victims are powerless - none of these get close to the muddy tangled mess of it, only the extreme edges where the choices are clearer.

I would give anything to learn the secret to fixing whatever damage drives the people I love to viciously hurting someone else for their own satisfaction. I loathe The Good Men project now, but the idea of it, of having the people who've managed to make the journey back from being cruel talk about why they stopped hitting, and what changed, I want that badly.

His court-ordered letter was so bleakly funny and familiar.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:53 PM on April 7 [10 favorites]


But to extend that by saying we all have that same mental illness is unhelpful at best.

This is a super sensitive subject, so I'm just going to speak to my own personal experience.

I think that mental illness is a pretty good metaphor. The way I see it, while we don't all have the same mental illness, some of us who have never suffered from a mental illness will go on to develop one. And, as with most mental illnesses, the people who have developed a problem may be the people least well equipped to identify that something has changed.

This is not to say that I think that all people are the same, or that abusers shouldn't take complete responsibility for their actions, or that people won't don't abuse shouldn't feel proud. It's just to say that after my not-even-that-bad family situation when I was growing up, I'm terrified of perpetuating abuse in my personal relationships.

My dad was not physically abusive. He prided himself on the fact that, in his words, he "never raised a hand to his wife and kids." He did, however, have a temper, and was intensely controlling, despite the fact that he lacked a good deal of self-control. It took me a long time to realize that my parents didn't have many friends, and that a lot of the rules I'd followed growing up made little sense, and that most parents don't, on the regular, lean down into their wife and small children's faces to scream that they're all worthless pieces of shit.

When he wasn't flying off the handle, my dad was kind and creative and thoughtful. He brought us to museums, and taught us about history, and helped draw the covers for our book reports, and played sports with us, and snuck us candy. He had a great sense of humor and was a fantastic storyteller, and people always enjoyed his company. And he went to his grave deeply in denial about his controlling behavior, and wounded by the fact that my mother divorced him, shattering what he thought of as his perfect family with years of legal fees and restraining orders and visits from children's services.

He asked me, several times, what went wrong. A couple times, I tried explaining, but any explanation I gave was followed up with, "But we're okay, right? We're good?" And I said yes. He genuinely didn't seem to remember many of the incidents that took place, or even the hostility in general. Denial is a crazy thing. And because I gave up on breaking through that denial, I ended up validating it. We were okay. We were good.

Fast forward to today. I am in a very stable, very long-term relationship with an incredibly patient guy who grew up in a non-screamy, non-controlling household with two parents who still have a ton of friends. But because of my background, I am very aware that I may, myself, be controlling, or have big gaping blind spots about my behavior. Not everyone has the same mental illness. But plenty of people who don't have it will develop it, and few of them will realize when they do, and that is terrifying.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:58 PM on April 7 [37 favorites]


It's not so bad.

This. It's the things we say to ourselves. You have to keep going has a lot of different meanings.

My heart goes out to everyone who has cringed, seeing what's coming.
posted by datawrangler at 8:14 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


A crazy thing about that letter from Caleb: it's almost entirely in the passive tense, which is a huge red flag for me.

People generally speak in the first person when they're taking personal responsibility for something: "I did x, y, and z, and I hurt you, and that is inexcusable, and I am so sorry." But that letter is all, "I guess I'm sorry that these things had to happen to you." She had to "endure things" after he was arrested. He didn't hurt her, the bowl did.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:23 PM on April 7 [13 favorites]


Also, would she be able to keep their child alone, without a documented history of physical abuse from the father? These days, there's a lot of weight given to the children's rights to both parents, so much so that states force spouses to constant contact with their would-be abusers, and there's no escape from that relationship.

Which is just another layer of messed-upness.
posted by dabitch at 10:17 AM on April 7
[3 favorites −] Favorite added! [Flagged]

Dabitch ..., THIS! These days with the Internet, once a child is born, it's the end of your life, your chance to free yourself fully. There usually end up being 2 or 3 kids before people bail.
I am so glad there was no fucking Internet when I left my abuser!
I made like my own Witness Protection program after even distance wasn't enough.
By the time I left, he embarrassed me even in private. I realized I haas fallen for a guy with no class. Not only was he violent and no longer fun, he ruined 'fun' things, he also imitated TV commercials endlessly and made sick, vulgar jokes.
His efforts to win me back only gave me the creeps.
I could respect what was decent about him.
On the road, if he saw a wreck, or an over-turns vehicle, he infallibly stopped to render aid. He brought home a baby chick, because his friend would not stop his children from hurting it. (The same children had smothered kittens) I took the little chick to a lady who kept chickens.
He too could do kind things, it wasn't always a ploy, but he could not see that he would either break me or make me turn to violence myself,
I left, because I was starting to think how I could kill him and not be caught.
Sometimes I regretted not killing him in his sleep. Civilized people leave and divorce.
I lived in fear until my children were of an age to be able to make it without me if they had to.
The court system totally failed me.
Only running and hiding worked. Thank God I'm not sentimental.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:29 PM on April 7 [9 favorites]


I cannot speak to anyone else's experience, but the calculating, controlled abuser, who is different from the rest of us, and who one cannot slip into becoming, is not the abuser I know. My mother is a generally good person. She is a valued member of her community, caring for a decade of preschool children, always on hand when a friend, or absolute stranger, needs help. She ran a household and raised four children with wildly inconsistent levels of support from others. And when my brothers and I were children, she beat us with: My mother's "discipline" was undisciplined—she did not turn to violence as a controlled method of punishing bad behavior, as older generations supposedly did, or as a modern parent might prescribe a time-out. I have vague memories of this type of punishment when I was very small; time outs for petulance, a spanking for hitting my brother, soap in my mouth for saying a bad word. But by the time I was old enough to form real memories, my mother's violence was random and unhinged: we were just the objects on which she vented her rage at the lack of control she felt in her life. Her rage, unlike a lot of calculating abusers, apparently, was not restricted to the family but sometimes hit bystanders—on the occasion when I was curled in a ball on the floor while she swung a curtain rod at me, my friend from down the street was on the floor, too.

Eventually my mother was prescribed medication for her severe depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, and the violence subsided. Sure, she still had a lot of issues with control, but a lot of my childhood began to seem like a bad dream.

The result of this, though, was that I grew up thinking domestic violence was normal. My mother never said she was sorry and shouldn't have done what she did; my father never said it had been out of control. My mother still hit occasionally, and I just took as a given that people hit each other sometimes when they got pissed off. Sure, if someone I was dating had starting beating me, or choking me, I would have known it was wrong, but my mother and romantic comedies taught me slapping in anger was completely normal.

And the truth is, I knew no other way to handle my anger than by hitting things. Growing up, I never learned any other methods. Though I know better now, I can still feel the violence in me, sometimes, and it's an active fight against using it.

I was an adult before I knew any better. It was only a few years ago—I still remember the askme I was reading, where the intense story of partner violence was met not just with "that is not normal" but "no violence is normal in a loving relationship; you do not hit or harm the partners and children you love" and "no one, especially a child, deserves violence." It was ridiculous, how enlightening this was for me. Honestly, I had always thought that when my mother hit us, it was our own fault.

All this is to say that if you think you could never be abused, or that you could never have been an abuser, I am extremely envious of you. After the physical and emotional abuse of my childhood, I went on to be emotionally and sexually abused by a partner in my teens, and I feel that it would have been so easy for me, so simple to do without a second thought, to perpetrate violence myself.
posted by audacity at 9:03 PM on April 7 [20 favorites]


...we also need to raise sons who understand that it's never ok to hit your partner, no matter how angry you are.

This.

One thousand times, this.

Don't just show them, TELL THEM.

Love is not hitting.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:45 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


I didn't know I was in an abusive relationship because my abuser had gaslighted me for so long that I had internalized all of the problems as my own. He was extremely adept at manipulating me, tearing up over my grief, consoling me for my "emotional instability", blaming the problems on my inability to handle his "honesty". Every argument, every tear I shed was further proof of how little self confidence I had, how broken I was, and how great he was for sticking by me through all the tough times I put us through. Sure he sometimes "misspoke" and said something that he didn't know I would take offense at, but the bulk of the blame rested on my shoulders.

I developed an eating disorder because of him. I hated my body because of him and his "honesty". When I lost the weight he wanted me to lose he told me he couldn't compliment me because I was "so sensitive" that he didn't dare say anything. It never stopped him from telling me all the ways I fell short though. Not just physically, but intellectually, emotionally, as a girlfriend, as a person. I was never good enough. How could I not see that his intentions were pure? That though there were signs of violence, he could never hit me? That though he had used physical force on me, he would never really hurt me? Even after he admitted that he was "occasionally abusive", he still sneered at me for being physically intimidated by him. It was a sign of how delusional I was, and he encouraged me to talk to my therapist.

I fell into suicidal depression, which further proved how unstable I was. He used it as an excuse to gaslight me further, telling increasingly bolder lies because I was hysterical, emotional, and later, insane. He was the white knight for standing by me in these trying times, when I would wail and sob and he had to step over my prone body to shut me out of the bedroom to cry it out. I started to doubt my own perceptions of reality. After all, I was emotional, and he was always so calm, so rational, so controlled. Every incident tipped the scale further in his favor.

When I read a book about abuse I recognized him in 13 out of the 15 listed behaviors. I sobbed with a mix of relief and horror. I still don't know what compelled me to buy that book and read it, as I had never entertained the notion that I was being abused. It took me months to accept that word. When I showed him the book and the list, he told me that he was proud of himself for not doing the last 2 things. It took him three days to apologize for the 13 he did, I had to pry the apology from him. He was haunted by his actions at times, and it seemed for a moment that he could actually get better with therapy. I never told anyone during this time because it was too hard to admit that a relationship that seemed so perfect on the outside could harbor such a dark secret.

In the end he couldn't keep it up. It was too hard to give up all the privileges he had gained over the years. Easier to lie to the abuse therapist and make me the crazy one. My friends asked me how I had let it get so bad. How I had sat there and allowed it. Why I didn't leave sooner. The fear of those questions had kept me from leaving many times before, and it further reduced the people I felt safe confiding in. If I didn't behave exactly the way they urged, moved on their timeline, I would feel judged, and I would be found complicit with any abuse that came afterwards. It was only at my local domestic violence shelter that I found unwavering support. When I felt confident in my own ability to make good decisions, something that had been taken away from me so early in my relationship, I was finally able to leave without looking back.

Every time you question an abused woman's motives, you're telling her that she doesn't make good decisions. It's the same message she's getting from her abuser, the same message that caused her to get mired in that horrible situation in the first place. That was the exact same path that stole her ability to speak up for herself, advocate for herself, stand up for herself. If you've never been the target of a sociopath, you don't really have any idea how vulnerable you are to the charm and charisma of an abuser in his good phase even as he's systematically removing all of your defensives and separating you from your support network. Your doubt, your judgement, your implied superiority all make it even harder for her to ask for help, to tell someone the truth, to finally walk away.
posted by hindmost at 10:11 PM on April 7 [39 favorites]


Thanks for posting, it was so well written.

I recently saw the film Private Violence which shed a lot of light on being in love with an abuser. Have tissues ready I sobbed throughout all of it. I believe it will be on HBO sometime soon. Best documentary I've seen this year.
posted by SarahElizaP at 10:39 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


I feel a little foolish and vulnerable even putting this into words, but this thread has been reassuring to me. I thought I was a terrible person for still loving, and some days deeply missing, a man with whom I had a very fucked-up and harmful relationship in my early 20s. The mix of happiness and abuse, love and horror described in the essay and being discussed here is exactly what has been confusing me. And finding out I'm not alone in being confused by that, in still loving and missing him even though I know he's one of the worst things that has ever happened to me, is genuinely an eye-opener. Thank you to those of you willing to share that jumble of feelings about difficult pasts.
posted by ootandaboot at 10:44 PM on April 7 [12 favorites]


Every time you question an abused woman's motives, you're telling her that she doesn't make good decisions. It's the same message she's getting from her abuser, the same message that caused her to get mired in that horrible situation in the first place. That was the exact same path that stole her ability to speak up for herself, advocate for herself, stand up for herself.

Yes. I know that Metafilter is not a safe space and that all the topics about why humans act in these dysfunctional ways are fair game for discussion. But having read the story, and the full blog, and the comments here, I am struck by how many of the comments (apart from the wrenching, brave personal accounts) are the types of things that will deepen the depression, self-doubt, and guilt of a woman (mostly women) currently caught in a situation like this and reading this thread.

The idea that the person you love is fundamentally broken--sociopathic--in some basic way different from the rest of us? To an abused woman this reads as "I am an idiot, pathetic, weak, for god's sake I've tied myself to a monster'--an utterly isolating and alienating feeling. The idea that a stronger "nope cortex" could have saved her? "I lack the basic smarts, self-preservation, and self-respect to know when the first line had been crossed. Clearly I never was strong enough or smart enough to deserve anything better." Or possibly--"I resorted to self-medicating, an indication of my own weakness, and now I'm at least as culpable as he is."

I believe that people CAN change. I think that most people believe that. That is the hope that initially drives the whole cycle of tension-violence-penitence-calm which then repeats itself and repeats itself again. We all start out relationships knowing that both partners are flawed individuals, and we hope for growth. At some point, in an abusive relationship, it becomes apparent that whether or not the abuser CAN change, he is not GOING to. But you can become so deeply entrenched, especially when kids are involved--and he's a good dad!--before coming to that realization. And by that time, you've absorbed so much weight already, it's hard to locate the final straw.

To me the most gut-punching part of the whole essay--and all of it is so difficult to read--was this:
"You are a fucking cunt. You are a fucking cunt. You are a fucking cunt.
"And then his voice became my voice:
"I am a fucking cunt."

That's what happens. And once it does, the self-blame, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy at the most fundamental level make it very hard to break free.
posted by torticat at 1:08 AM on April 8 [21 favorites]


Her kid is in for one helluva ride (as if he hasn't been on one already) once he is old enough to read this expose of his family's suffering, as well as the internet debate (such as we are having here) about it.

I can only imagine it will be agonizing for him. Poor little fella.
posted by nacho fries at 2:23 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Yes, I'm sure it will be really difficult for him to live with the knowledge that his father was held accountable for his cruelty, that his mother managed to rebuild her life and sense of self with enough strength and beauty to write about it, and that she didn't make him grow up in a toxic silent shame about what is incredibly widespread and routinely dismissed.

Her kid - not his kid? Because I gotta think, nacho fries, that the pain and suffering her son may be in will primarily be his dad's responsibility.

One of the best moments in my life was a few years ago when I said to the polite enquiries of a family friend that no, I am not in contact with my parents because of the horrific abuse my siblings and I went through. I am pretty sure I will go to my grave with some part of me still convinced I caused the towering rages and pain, that they were my fault, but more and more I don't lie to keep my family's name clean instead of honest.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:36 AM on April 8 [17 favorites]


Wow, that was a tough read.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:06 AM on April 8


The tragic part is that leaving is only the first step; the abuser affects your life in such a deep way. The author tells of internalizing his words and coming to believe those things about yourself, which necessarily affects your interactions with other people. I'm stupid and incompetent, I should let other people handle this task instead of attempting it myself. I should shut up and sit in the back of the room because I don't know what I'm doing. When I do try something new, and it doesn't go perfectly, it's more proof that he was right. I am incompetent.

I live alone and I cringe when I drop a dish (see, I'm clumsy) or notice there's dust on the coffee table (see, I'm lazy). It feels like it's going to take a long while to unlearn those reactions. But each time I drop a dish and ... nothing happens, no one yells... it gets better. I'm able to relax. I can leave my dirty socks on the floor and no one will care. I do not have to constantly apologize and cower and justify my actions.
posted by fantoche at 5:21 AM on April 8 [15 favorites]


I don't think the abuser "genuinely" loves the person he harms.

I think this is well-meant, but it's one of the most pernicious myths of domestic violence. Because it lets abusers think that if they do genuinely love the other person, what they're doing can't be abuse. And lets abuse survivors think that if their abuser genuinely loves them, they're not being abused.

The thing is - you can understand and even empathize with the abuser without subjecting yourself to their abuse. It's okay to humanize them, as long as you don't let that humanization keep you longer than you need to get out.

But if they're just monsters, then the non-monsters don't have to try, and that's just not acceptable.
posted by corb at 7:00 AM on April 8 [11 favorites]


I didn't expect this to be a trigger but it was. This was me. And it wasn't his fault any more than it was mine. Adolescent Onset Schizophrenia took him away from us and left a monster; just days before my family came to get me I had to wrap my body around my 8 mo to protect her from him.

He was a beautiful person. My daughter never got to meet that person. I made sure to tell her about her real father when she was a teen so she'd understand better. State laws protecting visitation rights don't let one get entirely away.
posted by _paegan_ at 7:06 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


fantoche, I recognize that so well. I make some of these moments too. I do things that once were a "I don't like when you X = don't do X", just to disobey with time as a distance. I wasn't allowed to have mirrored sunglasses. I've now bought my third pair. Every time I buy a pair of mirrored sunglasses, I'm smiling triumphantly.
posted by dabitch at 7:07 AM on April 8 [14 favorites]


Because it lets abusers think that if they do genuinely love the other person, what they're doing can't be abuse.

Right, he wanted constant assurance that he wasn't an asshole*, and I didn't want to say "yes, you are an asshole" because then I'd have to admit that I'd willingly married an asshole. (That's another reason people don't leave; they don't want to admit they're a victim, because being a victim means you're one of those women who isn't smart enough to pick good partners and stand up for herself. He'd directly say "don't be such a victim," which made me defensive and unable to think of myself as a victim.)

Early on, I said "No, you're not an asshole, I just don't like the way you're acting right now." Later, I just said nothing, because it obviously didn't matter what I said.

* Protip: when someone you purport to love says "you're hurting me" and you keep doing the thing that is hurting them, you are an asshole.
posted by fantoche at 7:16 AM on April 8 [15 favorites]


I had no idea how much I would allow myself to change until it actually started happening. He didn't hit me but he came damned close one night, a pillow so close to my face. It scared the shit out of me but I still let him stay because his son was in the room next door and even though he was fucking someone else and I'd left him because of it he still was welcome into my new home. He made me laugh but he never laughed at my jokes. I avoided situations and allowed myself to become poor because I didn't want to make him angry; I knew he was capable of going nuclear at any provocation.

I couldn't tell anyone because they would encourage me to stand up to him. I know I should have but it didn't feel like an option because he would have ground me underfoot.

It's a bad, awful feeling. No agency. I haven't even considered trying to find someone else for years because I can't stand the thought of becoming so powerless again.

He never called me a cunt, he never hit me. He just let it be known in so many subtle ways that I had no way of winning, ever. Bad stuff. Love without mutual respect is dangerous.
posted by h00py at 7:22 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


Word, fantoche, word. And then I end up feeling like even more of a failure because I'm supposed to just bootstrap myself out of those feelings because personal responsibility! Because it's just so easy to completely rewire the reality you learned in your most formative years!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:25 AM on April 8 [4 favorites]


And if I'd read what I just wrote when I was in my 20's I'd be all 'damn woman, grow a spine'. Sigh. I never thought I'd ever, ever be in a position where I could feel that way but it happened. I still feel weak because of it.

At the very least I'm doing my best to teach my boys that love does not mean overpowering someone. I hope it sticks.
posted by h00py at 7:34 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


One of the interesting points of reading all these comments is just how very hard it would be to draw the line. All of the thoughts of "That could never be me" just fade in the face of how incremental and just plain hard to tell where the abuse begins.

We are told so many conflicting things about relationships that it's unsurprising that so many of us miss the signs of control and abuse early on. If you love him, you want to do the things he wants. If you love someone, you want to be the person they want you to be. Being in a relationship should smooth out your rough edges. We're told over and over that relationships are about compromises and negotiations, that two people together frequently have to give up a little for the relationship to have a lot. But by the time you notice that the small things you surrendered happily are not normal small things, you've become so acclimatized to not getting to choose that you don't even notice.

Sometimes you can only see the abuse after it stops. Like sometimes you only notice the pain of a burn after the heat is removed. In its absence, it becomes clear just how fucked up shit really was.

When you are re-exposed to the abuse, or see it happening elsewhere, it takes your breath away with its clarity of being. You can see, with brand new eyes, that this is not right. And all of a sudden, you see what you hadn't seen all along.

It did happen to you.
posted by teleri025 at 8:00 AM on April 8 [18 favorites]


So, this morning, I drove by where that girl & her abuser lived 30 years ago -- I was out running errands and it took me right through my old neighborhood. The road had been re-aligned, & there wasn't even a driveway any more -- just a thicket of trees where their old house used to be, blotted out like so many dreams. I got some breakfast tacos, drove up to the old Hispanic cemetery at the top of the hill on Circle S road, sat in the sunlight by the graves of all the tiny influenza victims from 1918, & said a quiet prayer. I don't know what it all means, but these are hard memories to have, & I despair for humanity sometimes, but then somehow, the light gets in. The spring wildflowers were bringing new life to the tiny stone markers, the sun shone on as it always does, and the loop remained unbroken. It felt good to be alive, despite the sorrow.

There are so many people in this thread I would hug, just to say may you all find strength & peace.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:38 AM on April 8 [10 favorites]


Ok, so I've been a lurker on MeFi for a while, but this finally got me to crack my wallet enough to spend a few pennies. (I was going to use the phrase tight fisted, but in the context of this thread felt it inappropriate)

This was a very moving piece, and there are so many aspects of it that had me close to tears. Reading all your comments has certainly not helped in that regard; it is hard to read so many open and heart rending accounts.

I'm in a relationship. I've been with my partner for 13 years and we have a young son. I'm a fairly placid guy, but there have been times when we have arguments, and i've gotten angry. On two occasions i've I gotten wound up and i've hit a wall and a door. Both times in a different room to my partner, but she was in the house. She was aware of it.

We are not generally angry and we dont swear or shout at each other, ever. We've talked about the two incidents over the years and she has told me that she has never been scared of me. I've taken her word for it, but you never know I guess. Some of the comments above have made me question that. I certaily believe that i would never hit her, but could she ever be so sure? I don't feel happy with that revelation. This was probably my first, most immediate response to the article.



It took a lot longer for me to realise that the OP was personally relevant to me in more ways than one. My father was scizophrenic, and both he and my mother abused drugs before and after I was born. By all acounts they were very much in love. I guess a young child can upset the balance a lot, because it seems as though my mother took the wake up call i represented well while my father did not. I was subjected to physical violence as he struggled to cope with the demands of being a father. My mother managed to stop the drugs and left him, I think when I was two. (she struggled with alcohol for another 10 or so years but has beaten that too, of which i'm very proud) I don't remember the abuse, and my mother was very good at telling me how good a person he was and how much he loved me; he was just sick, and needed help.

I never got in touch with him, or that half of my family. He sent a few letters, a few nick knacks he had made. My mother was a bit of a loose cannon emotionally and I couldn't face dealing with the potential of a scizophrenic parent as well, so i never responded to his letters. A few years ago I thought perhaps I was capable of dealing with it, and maybe he deserved the chance to get to know me, but I had no way of getting in touch by this point so I just left it.

Not too long after that, a cousin and an aunt of mine got in touch (on Facebook, where else?) which was amazing, and really special. It was sad too, to find out that my father had died 7 years previously, in a hostel, with next to no belongings, alone, struggling to the last with his illness.

I don't consider myself the product of a broken home. My mother did all she could to make sure that I was happy, and my family (on my mum's side) was really great. She always spoke highly of my father, and wanted to be sure that I didn't hold any grudges against him and knew him for the lovely person he could be.

I guess the point i'm getting to is that i hadn't really put my mother's relationship with an abusive partner into proper context until I read this piece and the comments that followed. She was, and is still, very much in love with him. It broke her heart to have to leave him. Apparently his last words to her were "I'll never see you(both) again, will I?". She cannot say a bad word about him, and yet he fractured my skull when i was less than a year old. It's a weird dichotomy when I think about it. She was at her happiest with him, and has never achieved that since.



Sorry to go on a bit; it's not always easy to corral emotionally charged thoughts into coherent prose. This is a difficult topic for everyone I guess. And reading through it agin, I hope It's not too unsettling for anyone. Thanks for the original post, and thanks for all the discussions. Very thought provoking.
posted by trif at 9:52 AM on April 8 [30 favorites]


Great post, and I'm still reading through the incredibly thoughtful and moving discussions.

Just a quick comment, which came to me as I was reading about the "white-hot rage" discussion from mid-way through this page. It's terrifying to read about the raging monster that can live inside of others (our partners, our parents, our coworkers). But for me it's also terrifying to think about the monster that lives inside of each of us. I haven't hit my wife. But I've found myself, on the rare occasion, way far on the other side of fury, to a point that frightens me.

To know and to recognize that we are all human and all weak and subject to forces and emotions that we mostly can control but that can sometimes leak out from our own barriers is, perhaps, a first step to wisdom. I don't take my control for granted. I don't take your control for granted, either.

And I don't think that any of us should be so proud as to think that we will always be able to control ourselves. After all, nobody plans on getting sick, or getting dementia. We should, at best, be able to recognize the signs in ourselves and when such an event might be coming, to put ourselves out of danger to others.
posted by math at 11:23 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


It's so hard to move on, because all that re-wiring in your brain just stays with you. Not to mention, I've always thought that abusers had to be extra talented at romancing. They have to get you to stay somehow, so of course the highs are higher than with everyone else. You HAVE to have the most amazing time and the most amazing memories with them, because that's what will get you to stay through the other times. I know I didn't escape because I'm special or because my Nope Cortex is special.

I know I escaped because I was lucky. There was a tiny little window of time where the stars aligned and I jumped through that window so hard. The aftermath is harder sometimes. The people who can't understand why you wouldn't tell them while it was happening, because of course they would have been there for you! And now I just think about the friends I have that I know know know are in abusive situations, and I can't help. I can't. All I can do is just keep being a steady friend. Ready for them when they can walk away. I wish with everything I have that I could help them get out sooner, but the magic window will appear when it does. it can't be hurried.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:04 PM on April 8 [11 favorites]


My father genuinely doesn't remember hitting me or my mother. At least, he says he doesn't, He can recall his own abuse - his stepfather, his mother - in great detail. He ever remembers the time he punched my parrot when it swooped in to attack him while he was hitting me - but he doesn't remember hitting me. Just that the parrot attacked him for no reason. He honestly seems confused by it.

For a long time, I was angry about it, unable to forgive him for it. It took seeing him thin and ill and the fleeting thought that I could just pick up a crow bar that was sitting at his house and utterly destroy him for me to let it go. And in that moment, I had no idea who I was. It was like Bob on "Twin Peaks" or something. Like every punch I'd witnessed, every kick I'd taken was bubbling inside of me, something I had to hold back. I live in terror - not of him, but of becoming him.

I begged my mom through most of my childhood to leave him - with or without me. She gave him divorce papers on the day of my first wedding. I don't know if I'll ever forgive her for that.

I've had a few moments where I've raged out, hulked out. It's like a blackout. I come to and the freshly made bread is stomped to bits. The phone is off the hook. The soda I was drinking has spilled all over and I hear crying and I realize it's mine. I can't even remember where all the scars on my hands are from punching mirrors and glass and concrete walls in my tumultuous teen years.

I bet to Caleb, it does feel like there's a second person there. It doesn't feel real. Like a dream. Like an alcoholic blackout. He might not even fully believe everything she says he did.

My father was loving and creative and charming. He'd show me cartoons and help me build wooden structures. And then, in the grocery store, he'd pick up the rubber grocery dividers and laugh. "You know why they call these baby beaters? Because you can hit someone all day, maybe even break a bone, but you won't leave a bruise." I'd stop laughing. He'd put it back down and my eyes would be watching them every single moment, trying to see if he stole one. About 10 years ago, the grocery stores here changed to plastic rather than rubber. I never even realized how tense they made me until the first time I saw a plastic one and I stood outside of the Lucky and sobbed for about 20 minutes.

My dad doesn't believe my nose was ever broken. (It was. Twice.) He thinks I had a blood condition where I bruise especially easily because that's what he told my school. He thinks I was a clumsy kid - both my parents and my parents' friends called me Boomer because I was running into things all the time. Including lit cigarettes.

I can forgive my father because he is far away. Because he can no longer hurt anyone. And because I keep a crow bar by my back door and a baseball bat by my front door just in case.
posted by Gucky at 12:07 PM on April 8 [17 favorites]


I have been a victim twice. I spent lots of time figuring out why I was a victim. Then my pastor saved me when he asked why I was spending so much time being angry with myself. He pointed out that what I did was behave and act like a normal human being. I trusted someone, I loved someone but no matter what I did the other person behaved badly and that was not my doing. I did not control that person's behavior.

So I stopped asking "why doesn't the victim leave/did she stay/ put up with that?" The question is why doesn't he behave...and once society starts asking that question we may have a chance to change the behavior.
posted by OhSusannah at 12:47 PM on April 8 [23 favorites]


The stories from surviving children here breaks my heart. Twice so, knowing that courts and the internet as Katjusa Roquette points out, make it impossible to actually leave. There's no real help, when all the courts and cops do is doubt you once you've left. When the shelters are as helpless as you are, bound by laws written in a vacuum of logic. We should think of the children. Maybe lets start by not assuming a woman who left house and home and everything behind is doing it to "punish the guy". You know like maaaaybe there's actually a reason she had to leave like that. Maybe she's thinking of the children.
posted by dabitch at 12:52 PM on April 8 [4 favorites]


The question is why doesn't he behave...and once society starts asking that question we may have a chance to change the behavior.

QFT. I think the focus absolutely has to change from asking, "Why doesn't she leave? Why does she stay?" to "Why doesn't he stop abusing? Why does he do that?" Lundy Bancroft asked the same thing in a book of the same name.

I don't believe that there is an abuser inside of every man, just waiting to come out. It does appear that there is a generational pattern of abusiveness - from some of these stories I'm reading on here, abusive fathers were themselves abused by parent figures. And, given that many abusers confine their abuse to their spouses and children, I believe there is a deeply pervasive idea among abusers that women and children are inferior beings and that it is okay to treat them badly. Our society reinforces this. Women and children don't count as much as adult men, to a greater or lesser extent depending on culture, and there is a range from egalitarian or near-egalitarian cultures to deeply patriarchal ones where spouse and child abuse are openly practiced and applauded as "necessary discipline." Alcohol abuse stands out as something that appears to contribute to family abuse - so many abusers are also alcoholics, abusing their own bodies.

Most men don't abuse their families. Abuse is not "normal," and I don't think it's something that every one of us would do if given the chance. Some of us have lower breaking points, yes, but I don't think abuse is inevitable.

What can be done about abusers? Can they be rehabilitated? Can the generational chain of abuse that is responsible for producing these abusers be broken? What would it take to end abuse? There will probably be a few individuals who are too deeply broken to have a normal relationship, but I would like to think that the vast majority of abuse could be prevented and/or treated.

The personal accounts on here are deeply moving, and I applaud each and every one of you who shared your own personal stories. Hugs, kittens, and baby sloths all around.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:14 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I am not new to threads about DV.

Reading this today I am suddenly struck with the urge to call each of my friends and let them know that they will always have a place to stay with me, their kids too, no questions asked.

Because you just never know what's going on behind closed doors.
posted by vignettist at 1:58 PM on April 8 [4 favorites]


The question is why doesn't he behave...and once society starts asking that question we may have a chance to change the behavior.

Amen to that.
posted by vignettist at 2:01 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I have spent a lot of the last several months trying to figure out if I'm in an abusive relationship. I still don't know. There is no hitting. Still, he blocks my way, he once threw and broke a plastic trash can at the wall (that was years ago), he looms over me. He shouts at me sometimes when I fail to do something he (sometimes mistakenly) thinks I agreed to do. He knows I hate it when he shouts at me, but he still does it when he's angry. He once called me a fucking cunt and then it took him three weeks to apologize because he didn't really think he did anything wrong, he wanted me to know he was serious about MY behavior and how what I did made me deserve a talking down to. I never think that what I do is so bad, but it sounds bad when he describes it -- I'm messy, I make him feel disrespected when I don't do something he thinks I agreed to do. Our therapist, who is about 70 years old and has never seen him really yell at me, or loom, thinks I'm silly to wonder whether it is abuse when there is no physical violence and because he thinks I'm over sensitive to yelling since my parents yelled a lot when I was a child. Our therapist often works on trying to make me understand what triggers his anger, which just reinforces the idea that I'm causing the anger and the yelling.

I mean, if he would hit me I guess I would know for sure that it is abuse. But he just yells and sort of intimidates me or wears me down into agreeing to things I don't want to agree to. I leave our disagreements where he doesn't yell at me feeling like I have been fucked with somehow, but I can't quite figure it out.

And then there are the wonderful times when we are great together and I feel loved. And he is a good father, except for two times yelling at me in front of our child. I said if that happened again I would leave. But I still don't know if that's the right thing, and worry about him controlling his temper with our kid, down the line, if we divorced and he had solo visits. And you think, I can deal with being yelled at and scared once or twice a month when the rest is pretty good, especially if things might get better.

All of this is just to say I'm not stupid and I even used to work tangentially in the field of domestic violence, but I find it really hard to figure out what the fuck is going on. You think, maybe some anger and yelling is normal, and maybe some of this is my fault for triggering him when I should be able to figure out how not to do that, since I love him and want him to be happy. I don't know whether this is abuse, but I can certainly understand how someone can get caught in it, and adding children to the mix makes things even harder.

The personal stories here made me sad and thoughtful, so I thought I would add my own story even though I don't know what the fuck it is. I am going to read the archive of this woman's blog, thank you for her powerful story.
posted by Go, now. Go! at 2:18 PM on April 8 [10 favorites]


I have spent a lot of the last several months trying to figure out if I'm in an abusive relationship....

posted by Go, now. Go! at 5:18 PM on April 8 [+] [!]

Not at all hysterical. Very serious. But still eponymous. I think you already know what to do.
posted by math at 2:33 PM on April 8 [7 favorites]


The link and all the comments here make me think about an askme from a while back, from someone who was trying to figure out if they were in a "run, now" kind of relationship, and the consensus was that they were, and then they were trying to make plans to run. They were local to us (SFBayArea) and a ton of comments were just "memail me and I will come help you move" comments from local mefites. I don't know if there was ever a resolution, if the OP ever got out. I hope they did.

I hope you do, too, Go,now. Go! And everyone else who is reading this thread an not commenting and recognizing their own situations.

(For what it's worth, I've never been afraid in any relationship. Ever. Been angry, been sad, shouted and been shouted at, but never, ever been afraid, and never felt like I agreed to something out of fear. I want to believe that's the normal baseline for a healthy relationship: not being afraid.)
posted by rtha at 2:41 PM on April 8 [7 favorites]


I have spent a lot of the last several months trying to figure out if I'm in an abusive relationship. I still don't know. There is no hitting. Still, he blocks my way, he once threw and broke a plastic trash can at the wall (that was years ago), he looms over me. He shouts at me sometimes when I fail to do something he (sometimes mistakenly) thinks I agreed to do. He knows I hate it when he shouts at me, but he still does it when he's angry. He once called me a fucking cunt and then it took him three weeks to apologize because he didn't really think he did anything wrong, he wanted me to know he was serious about MY behavior and how what I did made me deserve a talking down to. I never think that what I do is so bad, but it sounds bad when he describes it -- I'm messy, I make him feel disrespected when I don't do something he thinks I agreed to do. Our therapist, who is about 70 years old and has never seen him really yell at me, or loom, thinks I'm silly to wonder whether it is abuse when there is no physical violence and because he thinks I'm over sensitive to yelling since my parents yelled a lot when I was a child. Our therapist often works on trying to make me understand what triggers his anger, which just reinforces the idea that I'm causing the anger and the yelling.

I'm not a therapist or DV expert. I'm just a random human being on the net, a male pushing 50, FWIW. All I can do is provide my perspective, as a data point - I'm not in your relationship, so I'm just giving an outsider view.

One of the key things that I took away from this thread, is that many people have trouble accepting the fundamental fact that human beings are composed of many facets and a person can be a great -- and here, put in almost anything - artist or father or mathematician or politician, or dancer, or fun-to-be-with-at-a-party, or hiking companion, or tennis double partner, and a million other things - and yet at the same time be a terrible spouse, listener, money-manager, human being. You get sucked in by the "great" part, and somehow imagine that this means everything else is great too. Far from it.

"He's a great father, loving, extremely supportive of my artistic endeavours, but he is physically violent to his wife" - you know what that means? It means he's a great father and supportive of this and that, BUT A ROTTEN SPOUSE and that's a deal-breaker.

Living with someone who yells at you, is unacceptable, period, end of story. Living with someone who looms at you and intimidates you, is unacceptable, period, end of story. Living with someone who calls you names and orders you about is unacceptable, period, end of story.

It doesn't matter how "great" he is or seems to be in every other respect. People have many facets, and you need to find one who doesn't have deal-breakers, no matter how great everything else.

I love that car, it's absolutely fantastic, everything is great about it, it's the best of the best, and there is only one flaw - the gas tank might explode at any moment and burn me alive. I'm passing on the car - I don't care about all the other great qualities.

People upthread talk about handling being pushed to the breaking point and not responding with violence. I don't identify with this. I have never been "pushed" at all, by my wife, let alone to the breaking point. Why is your relationship such that being "pushed" is part of it at all? I understand we will all have disagreements from time to time. I have them with my wife - what to do with the cat, vet now or later. Or anything else. Not once do I feel "pushed". She claims X - I ask "oh, that's interesting, let's find something workable". Well, we can't agree - cool, what's the next step - I'm more than happy to give up my point and go with her... sometimes it's comical - she: "you were right, this color doesn't work" me: "no problem. We can paint over."

"Oh, but it's big things! I want kids he doesn't!" Why are you married? If you argue over big things, you should never have married, or you should divorce. There will always be disagreements in a marriage, but they should never be about big things, because it means the marriage was or at present is, a MISTAKE. You are not compatible, never mind how great everything else. Leave.

One person's perspective. Best of luck, whatever you decide.
posted by VikingSword at 2:49 PM on April 8 [8 favorites]


Go, now. Go! I have spent a lot of the last several months trying to figure out if I'm in an abusive relationship

I'm a sailor, by inclination and education. I had an instructor once, an old-timer, who taught me a lot, about the wind and the waves, the sea and the boat.
One of the most important things we learn is how to "reef the main." This reduces the surface area of the sail, lowers the "center of effort" to reduce heeling angle, and reduces the forces on lines and mast, preventing them from breaking. We reef when the wind increases past a certain point, or when a storm is approaching, so the boat is easier to control.

I asked him once, "How do you know when to take in a reef?" ('Take in' refers to the process of reducing sail area)

He replied: "If' you're wondering whether or not to take in a reef, it's time to reef."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:53 PM on April 8 [15 favorites]


Go, now. Go!, I think in the name you chose, you have your answer.

My dad, Mr. Furious, told me once that I should never accept treatment from a loved one that I wouldn't accept from a stranger. And while it took me a while to understand that I wouldn't accept silent treatments from a stranger either, I immediately got what he meant about yelling and cussing.

My husband didn't realize until he met me that you could have an argument without yelling. I'm the first woman he's known, including his mother, who hasn't broken something of his to punish him. We disagree, we talk it out. Nothing gets broken. We've stupidly hurt each others' feelings, but no one has to "pay" for it. We just try to not do it again.

I say this as someone with a temper. Adults talk things out. Adults treat each other with respect. Adults do not threaten, intimidate, loom, or make someone they love fear them. Adults only yell at each other when one is very far away or in immediate danger.

At some point, your child needs to understand that the way Daddy behaves is not the way healthy adults deal with problems. The whole point of this article was showing how something so subtle could escalate. How the line can get blurred. As someone on the outside, I'm telling you, this is not normal.
posted by teleri025 at 3:00 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


"He's a great father, loving, extremely supportive of my artistic endeavours, but he is physically violent to his wife" - you know what that means? It means he's a great father and supportive of this and that, BUT A ROTTEN SPOUSE and that's a deal-breaker.

He is in no way a great father either. The 'physically violent to his wife' negates the great completely.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:04 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


He is in no way a great father either. The 'physically violent to his wife' negates the great completely.

You are right of course, in a larger sense - as indeed the link I provided upthread bears out. However, look at the thread - many DV victims claim or think "he's a great father". In order to make a point, I grant them that (even though I agree with you) - and then say "even so, they are still unacceptable spouse material".

It's a way of providing a sharp line. The trouble many DV victims have, is in delineating when some behavior steps over the line, and they cite other (real or imagined) "great" facets in order to blur that line. I'm saying "even with every 'great' thing, crossing this line, is unacceptable, period end of story". Keep the lines sharp, regardless of the other supposed "greats".
posted by VikingSword at 3:12 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


To Go, now. Go!, and anyone else who is stopping to consider their own situation, please take the time to read The Verbally Abusive Relationship or Why Does He Do That. They will help you assess your own relationship and answer questions you might have, tell you what works to change, and what does not work. Many abusers use the tools of their abuse during their "rehabilitation" and these books were invaluable to me in assessing whether real change was occurring. I talked about my personal experience with them in a previous ask comment. You can read these books on a kindle, or online in your browser using Amazon's Cloud Reader so that you can do it discreetly without attracting attention.

Lundy Bancroft's book specifically addresses why individual therapy and couples therapy do not work to help cases of abuse. There is a brief overview of the problems with couples counseling here, but it is addressed further in the book. Couples counseling focuses on mutual issues and frequently tries to maintain a neutral viewpoint which empowers an abuser and gives him an avenue to manipulate his victim to feel like they are contributing to their own abuse. Couples counseling works when both parties are making a good faith effort but it works against you when one party is taking advantage. It set the stage for my remaining in a bad relationship for years past when I would have (should have) walked away, because it helped convince me that I was the source of the problem.

If you are reading this and have questions or need someone to talk to, feel free to memail me privately.
posted by hindmost at 3:43 PM on April 8 [8 favorites]


""even so, they are still unacceptable spouse material" I think one problem with trying to use this logic to help people leave is that often the person being abused either already didn't have good self esteem or doesn't after that experience of abuse and being broken down. And they might very real flaws of their own and are thinking "well I have anxiety/am forgetful/am not good at earning money and I am not good spouse material either"

So trying to point out that some people aren't good enough to be spouses or parents can really just make the person feel deeper sunk in a whole of worthlessness where they "equally" not good enough. Here's where I think it's important to talk about the level of danger and the actual statistics about rehabilitation. Meaning-- whether it's a choice or an illness-- people with anger and violence issues are usually going to have accidents especially when they first start trying and many are not going to actually try (or pretend do) and many are not going to recover even if they are legitimately trying and it legitimately is some sort of disorder causing it.

And one mess up of violence is too much to expose a partner or especially kids to. Once violence is in the picture it's a much different level of risk than any non-violent/aggressive fault you can have, although there are other faults that can include risk those can often be worked with a lot more easily. You can help someone work through a lot of different issues with but extremely violent physical attacks or even intense and terrifying verbal attacks on a regular bases are really hard to work with because even when the person says they are "working on it" that usually means they are still doing it. I'm a fan of helping people make changes and more resources for people to heal and be good parents and partners or get support services with difficulties they might have with various duties. If the problem is the parent is too tired to do some duties you can help with that. If they need food you can help with that. If a person is saying "I don't want to let my spouse eat more than celery and vegetables so they can get skinny since they're so disgusting" you can't really... I mean you can't work with hateful ideologies as easily as many of us would want to. If that's how someone thinks even if they SAY they want to change it's hard for me to believe they want to since they clearly really believe that hating people and punishing them with violence or psychological attacks is the right thing to do.


But living with someone violent and aggressive can really bring out any mental health problems you might be at risk of having or were controlling and a lot of people dealing with it don't feel like they "deserve" to be a spouse to anyone either. So the idea that their spouse is unworthy of spousehood for having (violent) faults adds to them feeling worthless because they can't just fix their behavior either.

I really do though, think there's a difference between a legitimate disability/difficulty doing something/etc and mindset that abusive behavior is ok or even deserved even just in that moment of rage. I don't know. I'm not sure, but it really is complex. For me it's harder because I'm not even entirely sur eI believe in will and I know I can't just fix my spaciness or learning difficulties even when I try really hard and have tried all sorts of interventions of various sorts with various amounts of improvements. But a believe system that harming and controlling others, or punishing them for any faults you can find, or degrading them if you can find a fault, or even are in a bad mood and they aren't doing/being whatever you want them to be--- the thoughts and beliefs that fill people's heads around stuff like this are really complex to work through and I don't know that describing it as mental illness is the right thing. A belief system is more like it, but possibly one that is formed in an unhealthy environment or with unhealthy brain chemistry.

I really do though think that in our culture we have a lot of sympathy for people with mental health problems (which is good) but I think abusers really milk that and call it all part of their mental health issues and suddenly it's hard to know what to do with that because a lot of us really want to be understanding if our partner has a legitimate difficulty so it can really throw you for a loop. I try to accommodate disabilities having plenty myself but I've had to learn what disabilities I just can't accommodate because they aren't safe for me. Requesting an accommodation for a disability is fine but that should not be harming your partner and if it is, you should be seeking help from professionals to accommodate it and learning to live with by yourself or with family/an independant living center. I also think though that perhaps making sure these are affordable (or if needed free) options for people will make it easier for people who need to leave a relationship (or even are the abusing partner in a relationship but don't how to leave because they can't afford it or need help with their issues).

Needing to hit your partner or scream insults in their face is not actually a disability need.
posted by xarnop at 3:56 PM on April 8 [4 favorites]


One thing that I learned in my long journey through abuse and out of it was that sometimes it doesn't even matter if you can label it. At times the label has been helpful to me and at times it has not. Identifying a relationship as abusive can be very, very difficult - and isn't even a necessary precondition to leaving. If you are not being treated well, if you are hurting? You do not have to stay.

My life was good probably, oh, 75% of the time. This is hard to gauge now, because we always see the past through the lens of the present, but I know that a lot of my time with him was good. But there was very very frequently - verging on always - a low buzz, like there was some kind of appliance on in the background of my brain. Why was I hiding in the bathroom for three hours a day playing Bejeweled on my phone and crying? Why did I fear that I would find him dead every time I walked up the stairs to our apartment? Why did I wake up every morning feeling nauseated, like someone had just pitched my stomach off of a tall building? The anxiety always melted an hour or so after waking, but what was that about?

That was about my brain being on the precipice of fight or flight all of the time.

But let's get mathematical for a second. If my life was good 75% of the time, that means it was bad 25% of the time (usually when I was doing well at work, or when I wanted to go out with friends, or when I had a problem in the relationship that I wanted to talk about). And 25% - that's a lot of time. Even 10% is a lot of time. Let's say, just to be conservative, that it was bad 10% of the time: that means that, assuming I slept 8 hours a night (it was frequently 4, let's be honest, because I had to work sometime, and it was safest to work early in the morning when he was asleep) - but assuming I was awake for 16 hours a day, that means that every week, I had roughly 11 bad hours.

Eleven bad hours a week is like a part-time job. In reality, I was experiencing about 28 bad hours a week with him, at 75% "good times," and that sounds pretty accurate to me, looking back. Twenty eight hours. A week. No wonder I was barely functioning at work. He encouraged me to quit and to start working for him, instead of doing what I loved, because I was - for some reason - just not so good at it anymore. Isn't that interesting and convenient? And isn't it also interesting that about two months after I left him I started producing at work again, and I've done nothing but climb my career ladder at an extremely rapid pace since I left him after stagnating for three years? Funny how that works.

But to return to my point: it doesn't even matter if he was abusive or not. In the end, that label doesn't really matter. What matters it that, for every year I stayed with him, assuming that the good times remained steady at about 75% - and this is also a false assumption, the abusive episodes were starting to occur more rapidly, and were longer each time they happened - but for every year I stayed, I would have had about 60 days full of bad.

Two whole months of my waking life every year. And it's not like the remaining ten months would have been like, great and fine and lovely, because remember that buzz I mentioned? It would have always been there, and I would have been constantly waiting for it to get bad again. Because it always does. They call that "walking on eggshells."

And who cares if he abused me or if we just weren't compatible. Really, that doesn't even matter. What matters is that no one should spend their life in fear of their partner or of their partner's temper. Labeling it abuse helped me leave, but it also made it harder to face and to come to terms with. Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time trying to define it, though, because the time I spent trying to determine whether or not he was "actually" abusive may have been better served by asking myself whether or not I felt good and happy and supported by my partner, all of the time. One hundred percent of the time. Maybe, maybe, 99.9% (that works out to five hours of badness a year, by the way, just for comparison's sake, which is about one big argument a year) - because no relationship is going to be perfect, and yes, sometimes people do falter. But faltering is very different from making your partner miserable for 11 hours a week. Or 28.

Because it's not really even about 28 or 11 bad hours. It's about that low hum. The eggshells. Not knowing when or why it will happen again, just knowing that it will happen again. That's enough to make anybody miserable, even if they can't feel it all of the time, it's always there. That's why waking up every morning felt like being shot full of anxiety: the eggshells.

And it doesn't matter what's going on: all that matters is that whatever it is - whatever it is - it doesn't feel like a good, loving, supportive relationship 100% or very very close to 100% of the time. And that's because it's not. At best, it's a crummy relationship; at worst, it's abusive. Either way, it's not worth it. It's just not.

I hope that all of the people that read this and that are feeling that buzz, that dread... I hope they take good care of themselves, because they're worth it, whether or not they believe that to be true. And, like someone said above, anyone can feel free to me-mail me if they want to talk about this further, at any time. I wish you all the best.
posted by sockermom at 6:21 PM on April 8 [19 favorites]


Uh, what sockermom said. You don't need a label to justify your feelings. If he makes you feel bad, especially about yourself, you don't have to check off each box on a checklist of abuse. You can still leave.
posted by desjardins at 6:41 PM on April 8 [4 favorites]


You think, maybe some anger and yelling is normal, and maybe some of this is my fault for triggering him when I should be able to figure out how not to do that, since I love him and want him to be happy.

If you take this statement, and rotate it a little, it becomes, "It's my job to walk on eggshells around this man."

But it's not. That's not your job. That's not a normal or happy state for a relationship. I was raised in a home with an emotionally volatile mother - we all tried to avoid triggering her, a main family goal was to not set off Mom. It was a horrible way to live. It was damaging to me - I didn't know how to function in relationships for much of my twenties. I still have problems being emotionally open. I'm so sad my father felt like he had to stay in that minefield, and that my sister and I grew up thinking it was normal and our responsibility.

"I am not happy here" is reason enough to leave.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:50 PM on April 8 [15 favorites]


You think, maybe some anger and yelling is normal

After growing up in a very screamy house, one of the many pleasant surprises of adulthood has been that screaming isn't, and shouldn't be, something that you have to encounter on a daily basis—let alone name calling and the slamming and throwing of things.

In fact (and this would have sounded crazy to me as a kid) you can go weeks and months and even years without yelling or getting yelled at. It's nuts, but that's apparently how lots of people go about their lives, even though they, too, have disagreements.

Looming and belittling and yelling aren't normal, and I cannot recommend a world without them enough. It's like waking up into the calm of a Buddhist monastery every day, but in your own little home.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:21 PM on April 8 [14 favorites]


About two years ago, I got called up for jury duty. I was only brought in for selection on one case: a stalking case, I think with battery involved. I sat there staring daggers into the defendant while all the formalities were gone through, and found myself thinking both that I didn't want to be involved, and that I did so the sonofabitch could be put away for it.

They did the voir dire by row, telling us all to raise our hands if we thought anything would disqualify us. A few people mentioned things like being related to a cop. One man went up and talked to the judge in private. When it was my row, I raised my hand, and as calmly as though I was telling the time, said that I was an abuse survivor and couldn't possibly be impartial on a case like this. The judge thanked me, the lawyers did too, and -- the world didn't end. Nobody flipped out about it. It was okay that I mentioned what had happened to me. It was good that I had.

Then the really sad-amazing thing happened. Another woman in my row raised her hand: "What she said? Yeah. Me too." A woman from one of the rows we'd already gone over raised her hand and spoke up about that. And one more in the back.

It felt kind of good, like my being brave about this had encouraged them to be brave too. But it also felt horrible, because out of forty people, four of us spoke up to say the same thing. I fear that more could have said the same, but didn't.
posted by cmyk at 1:00 AM on April 9 [12 favorites]


corb: [quoting somebody upthread] I don't think the abuser "genuinely" loves the person he harms.

I think this is well-meant, but it's one of the most pernicious myths of domestic violence. Because it lets abusers think that if they do genuinely love the other person, what they're doing can't be abuse. And lets abuse survivors think that if their abuser genuinely loves them, they're not being abused.

Thanks for saying this, because "I don't think abusers feel REAL love for those they harm" has been my position for a long time. Yours is the first thoughtful argument that I've heard against it. l'll think on your words. All previous people I've had this discussion with have merely listened to me explain the physical and emotional harm my dad did to my mom and the emotional harm and neglect he did to me and my sibs, and they've insisted on having the last words: "But he still loves you!" As if that neutralized all the fuckedupness I'd just told them about. Family friends and relatives who had never seen the fucked up side of him, only the smiley charming publicly impressive side, they couldn't let go of their "knowledge" of his "love" long enough to acknowledge, just once, that I had a legitimate grievance that I had every right to prioritize over his "love" for me. So that's how I came to make this distinction between REAL love and the fuckedupness that many call "love."

Below are some points from books that have helped me figure out subtler aspects of the problem of people who aren't physically or verbally abusive, but -- whose "love" has physically and emotionally damaged me, who deny that I'm right to call it damage, because they can't conceive of it being damaging, because to them it's normal and unremarkable and they have the best of intentions for [THEIR idea of] my wellbeing, and they're publicly loving and respectable and occupationally impressive so family friends' and etcs' high opinions of their publicly loving natures added more levels of isolation and self-doubt that I had to work through.

The points are not groundbreaking but holy shit they need to supplant typical ideas of "love" that are superficial and made toxic by fuckedupness lurking within:

Brene Brown's Men, Women, and Worthiness: The Experience of Shame and the Power of Being Enough includes a bit where she says people have asked her about abusers and whether they can really be said to love those they victimize. I listened to the audiobook weeks ago so I'm not quoting exactly, but she says something like, "They may feel love, but I would say that they are not practicing love."

A lot of observations in Dan Neuharth's If You Had Controlling Parents would, I think, apply to romantic relationships, not just parental. Eg, "When children are baffled by mixed messages, they often conclude that they're stupid or must have missed something. When parents live a double standard, children conclude that they are not as important as their parents, perhaps not as important as anybody else. When parents deny children's pain, children see their own perceptions as faulty. Above all, they learn not to trust themselves. . . . Controlling families . . . are organized to please and protect the parents, not to foster optimal growth or self-expression among family members."

bell hooks, All About Love:
The most astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb. . . . M. Scott Peck . . . defines love as 'the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.' . . .

Most of us learn early on to think of love as a feeling. When we feel deeply drawn to someone, we cathect with them; that is, we invest feelings or emotion in them. That process of investment wherein a loved one becomes important to us is called 'cathexis.' In his book Peck rightly emphasizes that most of us 'confuse cathecting with loving.' We all know how often individuals feeling connected to someone through the process of cathecting insist that they love the other person even if they are hurting or neglecting them. Since their feeilng is that of cathexis, they insist that what they feel is love.

When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another's spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. . . . An overwhelming majority of us come from dysfunctional families in which we were taught we were not okay, where we were shamed, verbally and/or physically abused, and emotionally neglected even as [we] were also taught to believe that we were loved."
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:27 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


Although, "nurturing another's spiritual growth" still doesn't cut it when you have somebody whose idea of "nurturing another's spiritual growth" is to impose THEIR idea of "spiritual growth" on the other person, against what the other person knows is optimal for them. Anti-gay deists who insist that gay family members' spiritual growth must involve celibacy and a lifetime of never experiencing sexual fulfillment with somebody they're attracted to, for instance.

This refusal to respect somebody else's right to make different choices; to assume that their reasons for making different choices are stupid or irrational; to treat them instead as if they are an adjunct of yourself or as if they, if they wanted to better themselves, would mold themselves into an adjunct of yourself -- you can fuck somebody up deeply, doing this. Especially if they trust you and look up to you.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:43 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


I'm still thinking about Go Now Go!'s comment. If you want to break up with him, you don't need to have a "good enough" reason. You don't have to wait until he crosses some line. You can set the line wherever YOU want. It might be lower or higher than someone else's line.

Here are some perfectly valid reasons to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend:

- they don't shower every day
- they chew with their mouth open
- they're a bad kisser
- you're not sure whether or not they have teeth
- you don't have the same taste in movies or music
- they like loud parties and you like to stay in
- they leave dishes in the sink and socks on the floor
- they don't recycle and they take long, wasteful showers
- they only tip 10% at restaurants

My point is that you never have to justify why you're breaking up with someone to anyone else; it only matters that it's valid to you, and lots of people (mostly women) are conditioned not to trust their own judgment. They don't have to be a horrible person; you don't have to worry about whether his or her behavior is "bad enough" to warrant a breakup, you might just be incompatible.

Now, marriage is a bit different, because you should know whether or not you're compatible before you make that commitment, and "she's a bad kisser" is a lousy reason to end that commitment (and is probably an excuse for deeper issues). The stakes are much, much higher and divorce should be a last resort. But things change, people change, and your decisions belong to you, even if you don't think others will approve.
posted by fantoche at 7:42 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


This is just something I'm thinking about because any time I think about issues like this I always turn to solution oriented thinking-- like how can we make this thing in the world better?

I really think sometimes we discount how very real emotional needs are. As in they are NEEDS and not wants. They don't HAVE to be met in a relationship but I think in a lot of culture that's the place, that our deepest emotional and intimacy and physical contact needs get met.

I feel like we should try to make sure there are better ways for people with REAL needs to get those needs met; as in stronger community support networks that open their arms to people struggling, more free and sliding scale counseling and emotional support where you don't have to be defined as mentally ill just to be heard and validated and get some support; more financial help for people to work less hours or hire help in their homes, or feel like their housing and food supply is stable even if they are having a hard time with work or dealing with a physical or mental illness etc.

Once we're sure these types of supports are available the rest of it is teaching people respectful and safe ways to get their needs met (like seriously if you need a hug, find a community where people like to hug!) and harmful ways of forcing people to meet your needs--- which would be finding someone vulnerable and trying to overpower them even though they aren't into it... like... I think it's worth considering that some people on either end of abusive relationships really don't have access to any other forms of support that meet the very big deal needs they are coping with-- and so ONE part is making sure those options are there to support people in healthy ways before shaming people for using "bad" methods to get needs met.

The other part of that is, once those support structures are actually functioning much better than they are now, holding people accountable for using them and not harming others with their needs. A lot of times people who have used the existing support structures and it worked for them, don't realize that it's not enough for many people who need more resources than exist.

I also think the last thing is that, of course, even if you can't get your needs met, you really should at the very least, try to take the hit to your own suffering (just deal with your own misery) rather than harm someone else to get your needs met. Doing that is still wrong even if there were plenty of justifications to come up with. I believe in robinhood acts of harm. What I mean is, if someone else has bread and you are starving, I really don't think people are bad for trying to get the bread. However I do actually think if someone else has just enough bread to live and you steal their bread and leave them to die, that is different-- and wrong. Like, ideally we would in fact let ourselves die for the sake of others.

But survival instincts start kicking in when you get to that point and sometimes people stop being able to think rationally or empathetically about the welfare of others.

I also think even in families with money there can be emotional scarcity-- a scarcity in nurturing, love, gentle discipline, validation and mentorship, to help the kids become healthy and strong. And in our culture, for men it's even harder to admit a need for support, men would rather get it by controlling a supply which is more acceptable than being seen as needy. But in reality they have TONS of emotional needs in the relationship even if they are manifesting as a need to control or even harm, there's still a need for that person to still be there and available. I think this is the sort of thing that culturally can shift, where it can be more ok for men to have emotional needs and seek support, but be expected to do so in a healthy way?

I don't know, I'm just rambling in the hopes some sort of helpful idea will come of it. Cause I really, really want this to change. So much.

In my experience the guys were all children of single mothers who were very poor, they missed meals, went hungry, watched a lot of violence, were subjected to abusive stepparents because the mother literally couldn't provide for the kids or made too much for any other assistance. This is not, of course, the only place abuse happens, it's across the economic spectrum, but when there is no safety net in place I feel like that effects everyone, people are scrambling to stay at the top of the financial AND social ladder because if they fall, it's into an abyss of really really hard life and that will literally work you to death and kill all your dreams and no one will save you from that. I don't know how much any of that plays into, just things I've wondered.
posted by xarnop at 8:12 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


Thank you to people for their many comments to me and particularly to hindmost for the resources posted. It was a chapter from the Lundy Bancroft book, recommended from another thread, that made me start to wonder about abuse, so clearly I should read the rest if it. I didn't realize couples counseling might actually be counterproductive, so I need to see whether I can move us to something that might be more helpful. How frustrating that all this time in counseling may have been not just wasted but actually hurtful.

A lot of people are commenting as though it's obvious I should leave, and to me it really does not seem that clearcut. We have a child together and I'm not being hit, so if we divorced we would share custody and would surely have a much more tense and oppositional relationship than we do now, we just wouldn't live together. There would be no working from within the relationship to try to fix it (which seems possible, though maybe I am naive) or preventing him from showing his anger to our child. To me it seems worth it to work with someone together on the anger and shouting before giving up, because we are married and that means something, because I love him and we have a child together. I do feel like I need to be strong and firm about the bottom line of keeping this behavior away from our child. Anyway, thank you to people for their comments and I hope my unwillingness to leave now doesn't frustrate you or make you feel like you wasted your effort, but I would like to try to work on the right track to fix things and stay together if we can manage it. Anyway, sorry to hijack the thread and, sincerely, thank you.
posted by Go, now. Go! at 2:19 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


I think you deserve at least one comment telling you that it may be worth staying, Go, now, Go!

Someone earlier in the thread said something about not accepting from a loved one behavior that you wouldn't accept from a stranger. I think that's wrong. What is love if you have to be as on your guard around someone as you would be around a stranger, if you walk away as easily as you'd walk away from a stranger? People lash out when they are hurting or afraid. We all act like children at times, and we should forgive each other as we would forgive children. To a certain point.

You have to draw a boundary. Maybe you decide you will not be humiliated in front of your child. Okay. If he does that, then follow through on that decision. That's the time to leave. Physical violence should certainly be considered over the line no matter where you draw it, but short of that, it's for you to decide. My only advice would be that you DO decide. Draw boundaries based on what you can accept without it starting to eat away at your own confidence and self esteem. Tell him that you love him but if he ever does X, Y, Z, you will have to leave. Then, if he does, you should.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:00 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


Go, now. Go!, I could be your child. My mother stayed, and it is true that my father never hit her. But he did hit us. And by the time he started throwing chairs at me, she had gotten so used to making excuses for him, and so invested in the idea that she was staying for our sake, that she still didn't leave. I believe that you want to protect your child from this, and I am not underplaying the very real dilemma you're facing. But kids internalize the behavior they see, and the message I got from watching my parents was that this was normal. Every time he yelled and made crazy accusations, I heard "This is how relationships work." Every time he hit his children and my mother didn't fix it, I heard "This is how I'm supposed to be treated." It is only by sheer chance that I was to avoid the pattern of abusive behavior in my own relationships.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:24 AM on April 10 [7 favorites]


Honestly, snickerdoodle, that is not my situation, and if it were, my child and I would be gone. I am very sorry for what you went through and I'm so glad you made it through okay, and I appreciate the cautionary warning.
posted by Go, now. Go! at 7:21 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


But he just yells and sort of intimidates me or wears me down into agreeing to things I don't want to agree to. I leave our disagreements where he doesn't yell at me feeling like I have been fucked with somehow, but I can't quite figure it out.

So this is honestly a really complex situation, and in large part, the difficulty lies in that it's hard to tell whether something is an educational difficulty or an innate part of nature. Because the hard, uncomfortable truth, is that some of the people who do this are good people, but at a particular age, they learned that this behavior was okay or normal. They literally may not know they are doing anything wrong. We have managed to get to an educational point here in this country that most people know it is not okay to rape or beat your wife - but even that came very, very recently. It was 19-motherfucking-93 before it was illegal in all states. 1993, people.

The idea that verbal and emotional abuse exist is beginning to percolate through the consciousness, but has not reached all areas. So I understand the wibbling concern - the "Is it really his fault? Maybe he can change" sort of mentality going through your head right now.

Here is my suggestion. Mentally, think about going out and picking up some books explaining emotional and verbal abuse and how it impacts spouse's mental health. Now mentally, envision giving them to your husband. How does he react, in your projections, in your mind, based on your experience? Do you think he'll read them, nod thoughtfully, and apologize to you with tears in his eyes, because he just didn't understand? Or are you already mentally flinching? Are you already fearing his response, even though you haven't even done it yet? If the former? Maybe, just maybe, things are saveable. But if the latter? You need to get out, and get out now, because it doesn't matter if he's well intentioned or not if you live in a state of justified fear.
posted by corb at 7:35 AM on April 10 [10 favorites]


Hey, Go, now. Go! I just want to chime in since I may have been part of the piling on.

You are absolutely right to point out that the decision is yours to make. We are, after all, a bunch of internets people, and no matter how well intentioned our comments may be, we can't possibly know the intricacies of your situation. It's great that you're seeking out books and other resources, and I think the suggestion that you set firm boundaries is a good one. I'll just add that you might also want to seek out individual counseling, so that you have your very own professional to vent to, whose primary concern is not mending your relationship, but enhancing your well being.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:33 AM on April 10 [5 favorites]


I'm only about halfway through this incredible thread, but wanted to reply to two of fantoche's powerful comments.
"I also had to navigate the grief of losing the person who I thought would be my partner for life. That grief was the worst part..."
I keep a list of the worst things he's ever said and did and I pull it out whenever I'm sobbing for the life I lost.

The list is a good idea. I'm working on filling a notebook with rebuttals to all of the shitty things he ever said to me, esp. the stuff that replays in my head the most. It's helping, slowly but surely.

We had Dreams. We had Plans. None of them will ever be, and it's absolutely like a death.

This part has been the hardest thing for me to get across to friends. You really do have to grieve the loss of a relationship, just like anyone else, but everyone expects you to be grateful and relieved that it's over when the relationship was fraught with trouble or downright violent and abusive.

I would rather he'd died. I would sometimes rather I'd died. It would be easier.

I can speak to this, from experience. He was a veteran with severe PTSD. He hid the worst of it at first, but it was like the proverbial frog in hot water. It just gradually got worse and worse. Like the author, I felt that he was my partner, and I was his. We'd been talking about getting married, or at least being permanent life-partners. We were supposed to be in it together. He needed my help. His rages weren't his fault. It was the brain injury, the meds, the lack of psychiatrict care, stress, you name it. He just needed so much help, his family had given up on him, and the tragedy of it was horrible.

He killed himself, two months after we broke up for the third time, this time for good. When he still lived with me, before the first time we broke up, he kept trying to get me to buy a gun. Sometimes he'd even ask me to do the deed with him. When he was in a drunken rage, he told me scathingly what a terrible person I was and said things like, "If I hadn't been raised to not hurt women, I'd kill you right now." When he was high, it was the only time he could tell me that he loved me.

I was always able to talk him out of it, and go on telling myself that we could get him the help that he needed. It was always just over the horizon...get this problem solved, or that, and then we could finally get him some help.

I felt sorry for the woman he dated after me. I wanted to warn her what she was getting into, but he was so charismatic, and blitzed every woman he met with his initial charm offensive. I should know; it worked on me. But by then, I was too utterly exhausted. I thought, "If she's that stupid, she deserves what's coming to her. He's not my problem anymore." I'm not proud.

In hindsight, sometimes it is easier that's he dead. It's final. No give-backs, no eternal hope that he'll change, no seething with jealousy from afar every time he hooked up with some new chick, no worrying that he'd tear someone else's life apart. I have to accept it now, right?

It doesn't make the 4:00 AM darkness any easier, though. I flip between hating him and weeping for what his life's experiences turned him into, by the end. And at 4:00 AM, when I'm laying in the empty bed that we shared, I think what could have been, I miss with a fierce ache who he was during the good times, and stare down the existential emptiness until I can finally sleep.

The tragic part is that leaving is only the first step; the abuser affects your life in such a deep way. The author tells of internalizing his words and coming to believe those things about yourself, which necessarily affects your interactions with other people. I'm stupid and incompetent, I should let other people handle this task instead of attempting it myself. I should shut up and sit in the back of the room because I don't know what I'm doing. When I do try something new, and it doesn't go perfectly, it's more proof that he was right. I am incompetent.

I live alone and I cringe when I drop a dish (see, I'm clumsy) or notice there's dust on the coffee table (see, I'm lazy). It feels like it's going to take a long while to unlearn those reactions. But each time I drop a dish and ... nothing happens, no one yells... it gets better. I'm able to relax. I can leave my dirty socks on the floor and no one will care. I do not have to constantly apologize and cower and justify my actions.
posted by fantoche at 8:21 AM on April 8


Yes, this, so much, this.

I have days now where I come home and cry my eyes out, once I'm all alone, simply because I had a normal day with friends. And I don't have to justify it to anyone, don't have to explain it to anyone, don't have to mentally brace myself for the criticism that was always sure to come. When I'm all alone, I have his voice in the back of my mind, running the tape in his stead. I'm still working on ignoring it.

It's terribly hard to accept that someone you love so much when they're good, and stable, is also someone capable of spreading such misery and suffering to their closest loved ones. Whoever said up-thread that it's a way of externally expressing their self-hatred or self-loathing, you're so very right.

I want to hug everyone in this thread. I feel like we need a Mefite 'Survivors of Domestic Violence' support group.
posted by cardinality at 11:06 PM on April 10 [16 favorites]


It was always just over the horizon...get this problem solved, or that, and then we could finally get him some help.

This was exactly why I stayed so long. Every outburst seemed to be tied to a specific situation or life circumstance, and once that situation had passed, things would be better. Once he got that job, once we paid off some debt, once we moved to another town, he could relax and we could be happy. I finally left when I realized he had no interest in changing the way he dealt with stress. He wouldn't get therapy, he wouldn't exercise, he wouldn't sleep or eat right. His outlet was me and he saw nothing wrong with that.

It's still hard for me to tell people the truth about how he was because I feel kind of insane for staying with him so long. My father asked me how long this had been going on, and I cringed when I told him it started before we got married. Well why did I marry him, he asked incredulously. (I mentally append "you idiot!" to everything he says.) I married him because I saw the good in him and I thought it would eventually win out. It lost, and we lost.

I want to say this to the other survivors in this thread: none of us had a crystal ball, none of us could have foreseen what was going to happen, and we took a risk, because we are good people. We see the best in other people. Sometimes their "best" does not win out in the end. That is not our fault.
posted by fantoche at 7:28 AM on April 11 [15 favorites]


We never left. He left, mercifully. And even after he left, Mom wouldn't hear a word against him. She would say, "He may have done bad things, but he's still your father, and he's still a part of you, and if you hate him you're hating yourself." It took a long time and a lot of work for me to stop being angry at her for that.

And, in a way, she did have a point. All these years later, I'm working on figuring out the parts of my personality that were shaped by him, and figuring out what I can embrace without triggering bad memories, and what I can keep working on changing.

But I still have a kneejerk angry reflex when people assume that if a child of divorce has any negative feelings about the noncustodial parent, it MUST be because the custodial parent is "poisoning the child against him/her." Kids aren't as blind or stupid as people seem to think.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:47 AM on April 11 [6 favorites]


A good portion of my afternoon has been consumed with reading this piece and reading maybe half or so of the comments here. Thank you everyone who has participated.

Unfortunately, I really do not have time to finish reading all of it today but I did want to add a comment:

I understand where people are coming from when they talk about having a personal zero tolerance policy and feeling like this would benefit others to learn. I was abused as a child but I have not been hit or raped or put up with much of certain types of things as an adult. I am clear that my own choices and behavior help protect me (though, no, they are by no means a 100% guarantee of anything). I often try to talk about what works -- what empowers me to sidestep stuff of that sort -- and I am often accused of victim-blaming.

I try to talk about it in hopes of empowering others but I sometimes despair of ever doing so. I do understand why so many people view it as victim blaming. On a different forum, someone compared it to trying to suggest what people can do to safeguard against known thieves. Locking doors and the like is not a 100% guarantee that you will never be robbed and, obviously, if someone steals from you, it's on them that they did something bad. But that does not change the fact that there are things you can do substantially reduce the odds that your stuff will be taken.

Here is a quote from one of the comments above (I apologize for not knowing which one): My mother looked at him once and knew, but no matter her warnings I couldn't hear her.

I think this is the thing that trips up this conversation and this is a distinction that needs to be made clearly: That zero tolerance policy works only if you recognize it very early. Once you are on that slippery slope, getting off is nearly impossible -- that's why it is called a slippery slope. And once you have a certain level of commitment, it isn't so easy to walk away.

The author had a child and had been with her husband for some years before he became physically abusive. I don't know what happened that it went that way. But she was already very invested before he ever hit her. Once there is a child, it is much, much harder both emotionally and logistically to simply up and leave. And good luck getting social support from anyone for a zero tolerance policy. Try telling someone "Well, he slapped me. So WE ARE DONE FOR ALL ETERNITY!!" when you have a child, he is a good provider, no one else has seen him do anything bad, etc.

So I personally do not see any conflict between saying that there are things we can teach people which will help protect them from winding up in situations like this and also not blaming the victim. But I do understand that's a very hard thing to communicate. I understand because I get a lot of flack for trying to communicate about such ideas.

The other thing that makes it super hard to talk about preventive strategies is that if you walk away before anything really bad happens, you can never prove that you prevented something terrible from happening. You just can't. And trying to argue that you did prevent some big thing from happening tends to make you look a little desperate and crazy. People are only absolutely sure you walked away from terrible abuse if you were already being beaten, not if you left before it ever went that far.

People have an extremely hard time measuring what did not happen but "should" have/would have. In my marriage, one of my big frustrations was how much I was treated like I had not given up a career to be his supportive wife because I did not already have a career when I did so. I gave up a National Merit Scholarship and I quit college but I got told all the time that his career was his priority over me because "someone has to make the money -- you can't." And I just could never get it through to him that the reason I did not make the kind of money he made is because I moved around to support his career, I had his children, I was doing the fulltime mom thing, etc. There was no way to convince him that "it's not like you rescued me from welfare -- I would have had a real career had I not married you."

And I give that example in hopes it is one other people here can more readily relate to.

Though, honestly, at 48, I am not sure I will ever remarry. The relationship thing is really hard and trying to figure out what someone is really like before you are too committed to readily walk away seems impossible, even if you are socially astute, very observant, blah blah blah. A close, intimate relationship will change your life. You can't know exactly how beforehand. And I sometimes think I may just not be willing to let some man change my life that much again. My ex never hit me and I don't regret marrying him but there were things I wanted that I never got and I think I can get those things if I remain alone but I don't know if I can if I get with someone. And I think I would rather be alone than take the chance of losing my shot at doing certain things. I don't have enough time left to have the next 30 years of my life flushed down the drain and start over yet again.

So, no, I am not saying that it couldn't possibly be me. But I am saying I have a long track record as an adult of walking away early or otherwise avoiding certain kinds of problems. And it is clear to me that choices I made helped deflect drama. I talk about it not as some kind of psychological self defense denying that it could ever be me. I talk about it because I have been that slapped around, bruised, scared child crying myself to sleep and I can't imagine how awful it would be to live with fear and uncertainty every minute of my life, feeling like you simply can't predict it at all and can't ever do anything to avoid it. I think feeling like it is simply random and there is nothing whatsoever I can do to safeguard myself would be just the worst thing imaginable to live with. So I try to share the idea that there are things you can learn which can help protect the potential victims -- though nothing is a 100% guaranteed protection.
posted by Michele in California at 3:25 PM on April 11 [7 favorites]


Harriet Lerner wrote in one of her books that making change in a woman's life always has costs, many of which are imperceptible or less perceptible to outsiders, but which the woman in the situation is highly sensitive to - whether she can intellectually and verbally delineate them or not.

Ultimately I think part of feminism has to be trusting women to be the experts on their own lives.

I see my task as a feminist not to tell any individual woman when to end or not end a relationship, but to set up a system where women have, to the greatest extent possible, the financial, emotional, legal, and generally structural resources to make their own decisions from a position of as much empowerment as possible. That would include for example a safety net (and economy) that means that women and children are not one husband away from food and home insecurity, where police and the legal system is educated and sensitized to domestic violence issues, etc.

My concern for Go Now Go is that you are, as women are so trained to do, pouring so much more time and energy into him and the relationship, energy that could be used to strengthen yourself and your own position (emotionally, financially, legally), so that whatever you decide, you can execute it with as much self care and as smoothly as possible.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:57 PM on April 11 [12 favorites]


I just had a confrontation with him, as I was visiting my daughter for a few measly hours, where he chased me across a yard yelling at me and her which stressed me to the point of needing hospitalisation all weekend.

If I could turn back time to that moment when the little pregnancy stick showed a plus and I contemplated walking out the door that instant, I would. I wish so much that I had jumped on that urge today, that I could my life for it.

I stayed because babies need daddies, society says. Even if it kills the mothers.
posted by dabitch at 5:07 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I have one friend who had a child with a really awful man. He remains super abusive. On hearing of her pregnancy, my advice was 1. 'Get an abortion. Get it now!'
She was too Catholic to do that. My other advice was, 2 Get out of town before he knows you are pregnant. Do not acknowledge him or notify him in ANY way.'
She had been damn near killed by him a time or two.
He is routinely rude and scary with her friends.
I prevented him from moving into the building where I live. I couldn't face it.
Thank God Management listened! He found someplace else.

His family are equally fucked up, he and his father got into a fight involving shovels. He went to jail briefly over that incident.
His mother is a hysterical mess, probably due to abuse.

When Mr. Roquette and I got together, we did go a few places with them.
We decided it was not worth it.
We kept being promised he wasn't coming, or would be driving his own vehicle.
I finally decided that this friend was sharing the abuse.
She could have arranged doing things without him.
Her belief in father's rights is so put of hand.
I even asked her, 'Don't children have the right to safety? To fun that isn't spoiled?'
'Don't I have the right not to have put up with his shit as a cost of being a friend?'
O.K. For all of you who have said not to judge a woman who takes her time leaving, you raise fair points. I hear you.
Here is another point that NEVER gets talked about though:

Your friends may be urging you to leave so that THEY can be safe when they socialize with you.
Had this friend gone out of state and raised her child alone, she would not have needed welfare. She was a professional person and good at her work.
If she had had an abortion and let the relationship (they were never married..) fizzle, just quietly on it's own, I would have felt safe going places and socializing with her.
But with him showing up all the time at outings meant for us, I at best was uncomfortable. He was sometimes verbal with me.
The kid was her excuse.
I knew that would happen too.
I still refer people to her. I still say 'tell her I sent you.'
I miss her, but I often was in fear because of that guy.
The kid being a bit of a brat.. Kids grow out of that. Her kid liked me too. That makes it way worse. I liked her kid too.
I also like being alive. I like not being scared.

Mr. Roquette couldn't stand the guy.

So if I was less than a stellar friend, sorry.

I am also alive.

Your friends who want you out feel like someone who is watching the worst bullfight in the world go horribly wrong.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:56 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


I finally decided that this friend was sharing the abuse.
She could have arranged doing things without him.


You don't know that. Maybe it was technically possible for her to not tell him where she was going, but the cost may have been too great when he found out.

Had this friend gone out of state and raised her child alone, she would not have needed welfare. She was a professional person and good at her work.

A parent can't just take their child out of state without the other parent's permission or a court order, even if he's been convicted of a crime. Witness other mothers in this very thread who were forced to leave their child alone with their abuser. Custody is a complicated issue.

I don't think people are saying that the abused partner never makes mistakes or always makes the best choices, it's that an outsider can't always know what's really going on. That's why it's not right to judge.
posted by desjardins at 9:13 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


If the guy doesn't know, if you just never tell him and go where he won't find you, you'll get away with it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:56 AM on May 1


People are connected to places and to other people even when they are in abusive relationships. For example, I live in a city where I have a job and acquaintances that knew both me and my abuser. Most people sided with him when I left, or sided with me but didn't want anything to do with me (as you described). Now, I forgive all of those people - every one of them. I get it, I see how awful it must have been, and I'm not sure I would have done differently, to be honest. Knowing a victim of domestic violence is very difficult and painful and yes, can be dangerous. I'm not sure that "sharing the abuse" is the best term to use because seriously the pain of being in that situation cannot even begin to be known unless you have been there and I certainly don't think the abuse is shared. The temper is shared and you might feel fear but that is psychologically worlds away from the state of mind the victim lives in day in and day out during the abuse.

So had I just disappeared on my abuser, I would have lost my job. We worked together and it was literally a dream of mine to have this career since I was a very young girl. Losing my job would have cut me out of this career path and field entirely. I would have had to uproot myself with no social support around me as I did so. I would have had to somehow convince my own parents that I was not acting crazy by disappearing on him, and that it was the right thing to do, and to not answer his phone calls and under no circumstances to tell him where I was. He called my parents' house when he knew I was there and claimed to be worried about me, and also told them that I had called him crying and threatening suicide. I had done no such thing. He sounded worried and scared and they believed him for awhile, thought that I was the crazy one, until he showed them his true colors. So perhaps it would have been easier to cut ties with my parents and anyone that I had ever known in the past, too, just in case.

It would have been a lot harder if I wanted to buy a house, ever, if I just walked out and disappeared on him. I have a friend that I met in a DV group and she's been afraid ever since she purchased her house since her name, which is unique, is now publicly attached to that address. So maybe I would have had to change my own name, too.

I would have had to disable Facebook, Twitter, and all social media accounts, and never return to those places online, cutting me out of lots of social stuff as I tried to build a new life. I would have to live in fear of facial recognition software somehow alerting him to pictures on the Internet that other people in the future may post with my face in them. Hiding is a lot harder in the digital age than it was even 15 years ago. I couldn't have a LinkedIn account, making it harder to find jobs in some alternate career path that would never be as good as the one I left as I was rebuilding my life.

I would have had to start my life completely over. None of this includes the gigantic project that is essentially already starting your emotional life completely over as you recover from domestic abuse.

What you ask sounds very simple when it's written down, but when you think about actually going through all that? I'd say it's damn near impossible, especially in this day and age. I am no longer in control of information about me once it is shared. If anyone else knows where I am, there is always the potential for him to find out.

And if you just walk away, most abusers are going to go scorched Earth. They will pull out all the stops to try to find you. Mine certainly did, and he knew that I was leaving and that I didn't want him to contact me.

Leaving an abuser is enough of a burden - the heaviest burden I've ever carried, and perhaps ever will carry. I balk at the suggestion that the burden should be even heavier for victims trying to become survivors.
posted by sockermom at 11:02 AM on May 1 [7 favorites]


I finally decided that this friend was sharing the abuse.
She could have arranged doing things without him.


I kind of agree with the first sentence but not the second. Abusive people tend to be possessive and it's just not that simple.

It sounds like you still feel bad about "failing" the friend. But if you didn't know how to be supportive without exposing yourself to danger, sometimes all you can do is protect you and yours. Sometimes it just sucks. Sometimes there are no A-Team answers where you get to triumph with brilliance and a pocket knife over hordes of well armed and malicious opponents and then arrest them all without leaving a mark on them because you are both so talented and so high minded. Sometimes life just isn't like that. And that's part of why we have religion, philosophy, therapy...etc ad nauseum. Because, really, it more often than not is just not that wonderful. There are very frequently no awesome answers. This is why abuse is so hard: Because there are so often no good answers once someone that close to you starts doing really bad things to you.

About fifteen years ago, a woman I know did something that I felt amounted to "sharing the abuse" and dumping on me and mine. The husband was not beating her but I felt really crapped on. The relationship was never the same after that. Right after that, I pulled back during a crisis she was having. I felt she needed to be talking with her husband, not with me. I did not want to be saying "DTMFA!" and I also did not want to be trying to talk her into staying. I felt the crisis was a make or break for the marriage and it needed to be decided between them.

She stayed. Her life has not been pretty. Our relationship has never been the same.

In recent months, I sometimes wonder if I accidentally trapped her there by withdrawing my support at a critical juncture. I was trying to meet some high minded standard, a standard I apply to my own romantic relationships (that it's a private matter, between me and him) and it works well for me. But she is not me. Maybe she needed someone telling her "Um, yeah, he shouldn't be doing that. You shouldn't put up with that." And I realize now that I wasn't just trying to apply this high minded standard to her life, I was also mad at being crapped on by her because her relationship to him was so unhealthy.

So maybe I failed her. But she was threatening my welfare and the welfare of my kids, being very unappreciative and disrespectful ...etc...and if you make me choose between you and my kids, yeah, that's a no brainer. I am going to do right by my kids. So while I am kind of wondering here lately if I failed her, I really can't quite bring myself to feel guilty or like I made the wrong choice.

She would likely tell you that I am wrong, she has a great marriage, etc. She would likely tell you that what she has suffered has nothing to do with bad mental models, that it is just some random tragedy that has crapped on her life. I of course can't prove otherwise. So we just don't much talk anymore. We just kind of agree to disagree. And sometimes that's as good as it is going to get.

So I hope you can make your peace with feeling like you failed your friend. I don't think you need to blame her to make peace with not quite knowing what to do to help. It's not an easily solved problem. It just isn't.
posted by Michele in California at 11:55 AM on May 1 [4 favorites]


She realistically could have disappeared at the stage where he did not know of the pregnancy. She has the type of career you can do anyplace. She does not have all that good of a social network here. No family, She does own a house.
Houses could be sold then. She would have had money to start off.
she did not live with him at the time.

She really had the ability to Get Out Of Dodge.

I Got Out Of Dodge under FAR more adverse circumstances.
Frankly the only survivors I know with children who came out ok did that.

Everyone I know who was too place-bound wound up suffering longer.

In my opinion, she had a critical 3 month period to just disappear. She blew it. :(.
The guy isn't smart, he would never have found her. He would never have guessed he got her pregnant.
He would have moved on to the next victim.
I remember in the shelter, a LOT of women had belongings, maybe serious money tied up in furniture. Not a house. Furniture.
I know I never would have told that guy I was pregnant in the first place. I would have had an abortion. He wasn't and isn't her husband.
He was a long-term bad mistake. She claimed not to even love him.
Or if I really wanted a baby, I would have disappeared.

There is no way I would have put a little child through that mess.
I had two. I was married to the guy. I disappeared.

Was it wonderful? No, it was like being an illegal alien refugee in my own country. It was awful.

It also was better and safer for my kids.

It also was better for my ex. If I'd been stuck putting up with his behavior, I might have ended up killing him.

I left him because his violence was pushing me there.

I can understand staying around if you have the kind of relatives or friends who might beat the ex up, or if your town has real help or a great police/sheriff department.

This town is marginal on that score. No one was or is going to kick that guy's butt for her.

A lot of victims run to family.

I have to give my friend some real credit for NOT turning to them. They are pretty dysfunctional. She probably feared going someplace new and REALLY starting over.

Maybe I am unusual, I had to start over so many times, new schools and new towns every other year. I'm an Army Brat. My parents liked moving a lot. They'd get sick of a place and we'd move.

It might be that I over-estimate the general ability to move on.
People stay in destroyed places in America. They aren't staying someplace cool like Paris, or London or Vienna or Sarajevo.
They're rebuilding in tornado alley, or post Katrina New Orleans.

I admit to not getting not being able to leave a town, a state, a social melieu.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:18 PM on May 1


And you are right, there are no A-Team McGyver answers. She's not on social media. She's quite smart not to be in terms of her work.

Social media is a double edged sword for sure. Yes, even a few years ago, it was easier.

I had another thing going for me. My late mother had experience in going underground. Most people don't know the stuff she taught me.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:24 PM on May 1


Oh by the way, I had decent ties with my parents. A younger sibling was a problem. It was not safe to be in touch with her.
Interestingly, she worked for a women's shelter.
Decades later she said she counseled a few women to do as I did regardless of cost.


I did change all our names. My birth-name is pretty flamboyantly Slavic. I found a plain vanilla Anglo-American name. Leaving required even changes to religious affiliation.
THAT was tough. It's been safe to go back, but I went back very carefully.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:33 PM on May 1


Katjusa - while it's good that you were able to do all that, after reading sockermom's comment it sounds an awful lot like your description of how you were able to survive is coming across like, "well I could do this, so it doesn't make sense that other people aren't able to so it's their fault."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:06 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


Maybe I am unusual, I had to start over so many times, new schools and new towns every other year. I'm an Army Brat. My parents liked moving a lot. They'd get sick of a place and we'd move.

Well, there's no "maybe" about that, and unless your adult life has been spent in the near-exclusive company of other Army brats raised by parents who liked moving, then you're fully aware that the majority of people were mentally conditioned to be the oopposite way.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:49 AM on May 2


Katjusa Roquette,

My mother escaped East Germany as an illegal immigrant in her teens, with her infant niece in tow to return the baby to its rightful mother after the East German border guard forbade her from taking her baby home after their mother's funeral. My dad fought in two wars. When my parents were first together, the two of them sent scads of money to East German relatives of my mother's so they could bribe officials, get fake documents, and get out. They took in several of those relatives. For years, my parents had one or more essentially East German refugees living with them and starting life over in West Germany. So, like you, I know something about getting shit done "underground." And my dad was career army and lived overseas 18 years out of his 26.5 in the army. I am a third culture and I never fit in anywhere.

But, my dad, who was 40 when I was born, also retired from the army and bought a house the summer I turned three. I graduated high school with kids with whom I had gone to kindergarten. As a teen, I could not go anywhere in a town of something like 130k-150k people without running into someone who knew me by name. I got married at age 19 to escape the people who molested, raped and slapped me around and the folks who looked the other way and did not wish to know how much I was suffering. Hubby went into the army the following year when we were 20. I left my home town about the time I turned 21.

Adjusting to a new place after living in the same house from age 3 until age 20 (because I got married in secret and continued to live at home and pretend my husband was my only boyfriend because my life was THAT dysfunctional) was extremely ass-kickingly hard on me. I was super miserable the entire time at that first duty station. I did not know how to cope. It took me many years to forgive the state of Texas and realize that not only had it not been the fault of that place that I was miserable, but, seriously, the place had been much more supportive than I appreciated. Texas was actually good to me yet I HATED the place. (I owe Texas some apologies.)

So, yes, your assumption that you could do it, thus anyone could do it is wrong. Many people absolutely do not know how to start over like you did. They just don't. And your position that you did it thus others should is really wrong, not just factually but socially. It does not work to dictate something like that to other people. That kind of position is also a means to spread the abuse, the very thing you are decrying her for having done to you.

Three follow up posts in succession to justify your anger at her only convinces me that you really need to work on this for your own emotional health. I am sorry you are so very angry but you are hurting a lot of people with your public expression of your anger at her and your public justification of it. You are hurting a lot of women who were beaten, who have given firsthand testimony in this discussion and whose testimony and experiences should be treated with respect. You are hurting not only women who have spoken up because they have gotten to some kind of relative safety, you are also hurting untold others who may be reading without comment because they are still being beaten and are still trying to find a safe-ish path forward. Their silence makes it all too easy to ignore their needs but, of all places, this discussion is one where that should not be allowed to happen.

I understand your anger. And I don't think being angry is necessarily unhealthy. Anger typically grows out of hurt. There are healthy, constructive uses for anger -- like fighting injustice. But this is not one of them.

I would like to be supportive of you. But this very public discussion is just not the place for you to be all blamey of her. It hurts too many other people.
posted by Michele in California at 12:37 PM on May 2 [3 favorites]


I don't want to pile on. I think the point of my comment was to say that the very fact that I have to worry about these things is largely in part because this a society that tacitly condones abuse of and violence against women. This is not just my problem - it's a social problem.
posted by sockermom at 3:50 PM on May 2 [4 favorites]


There sockermom lies the problem. Society in most places aids, abets and enables abusers. You are correct that that is what must change.

In the meantime we women have got to 1. Back each other up better. This is very hard on an individual basis.
2. Women in many (not all!) are bad at cutting their losses early in relationships, BEFORE there are children, I am as guilty there as ANYONE.
3. People, men and women tend to think they will be the exception. The odds are against that when it comes to intimate partner violence.
4. We all in this discussion have been through some stuff. It colors how we see things obviously.
5. About this friend, she's not on the Internet. Her type of work actually discourages it. She has not been named. So it isn't exactly public.
Most of why I shared was, I have been abused, and a terrible number of my friends have. She had the absolute best chance at real escape.

None of my other friends did. They were married to their abusers, had children and sometimes even second abusive relationships where they had children.

Those ones could not escape. It wasn't given our legal system even possible. Some remain married to really horrible partners.

I wanted not to blame this friend, so much as to show how sentiment and social conditioning can lead to bad outcomes.

It's a very trigger subject for everyone who got involved in the discussion.

If you did not undergo abuse yourself, odds are you have at least one friend who is suffering.

Take care all.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:45 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


About this friend, she's not on the Internet. Her type of work actually discourages it. She has not been named. So it isn't exactly public.

This discussion is public, even if her identity is not. I was concerned about you hurting other people here and other people who are reading, not about your friend (being outed or something) per se (which is not to say I don't care about her welfare, just I think this bit is a misunderstanding of something I said).

(hugs) if you want them.

take care.
posted by Michele in California at 2:00 PM on May 4


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