Elaine's Story
He convinced me to stay - Do you want to stay? - Please stay

The kids and I used to walk on eggshells, we dreaded him coming home when he’d had a few drinks. He behaved very much like my father. He’d be doing the lawns and the mower would conk out and he’d start throwing parts of it round the section. I’d save money from my job to buy a new lawnmower so that he wouldn’t pack a wobbly again. I hadn’t had any other sexual partners so my whole sexual experience was with my husband. I said to him once, “I feel as if you should leave some money on the side of the bed”. It just came out of me, but it reflected the way I felt in our sexual relationship – that I was just an object to him.

He expected sex when he wanted it and if he didn’t get it he’d go elsewhere. But he still wanted me to be there taking care of him and the family, and because I did that it enabled him to go off and have affairs.

His infidelity was very damaging because over the years it undermined me as a wife, as a woman and as a sexual being. I once looked out the kitchen window and saw him kissing another woman. I threw my wedding ring at him and took off for a while. But when I came back he was being a really nice guy and he convinced me to stay.

That pattern repeated itself over and over. When I’d start withdrawing from the relationship, he’d show me a lot of attention and get me hooked back in. He’d write little love letters or send me flowers at work; my colleagues thought that was lovely. But when I was back in there, he’d withdraw again, and I’d be sitting at home on a Friday night while he was out having a single time.

I didn’t consciously think about how unhappy and dissatisfied I was. I did think “there’s got to be more to life than this” but I couldn’t think beyond that statement because I was so closed down.

I became much more closed down when my husband raped me one night. I just didn’t want sex and he forced himself on me. I didn’t call it rape at the time because I blamed myself for not wanting sex. He took me to the doctor the next day because I was bruised and very sore. I really liked my doctor but when he asked me, “How did this happen to you?” I was so ashamed that I couldn’t tell him. Again, I was in a situation where it was safer not to talk about the violence just as it had been when I was a child. And I did not want to acknowledge that my husband had treated me with so little respect sexually.

After that he withdrew from the relationship as well. On one level this suited me as he was less demanding. I suspected he was having an affair but I didn’t trust my instincts. It took me more than a year to get up the courage to ask him. He replied, “If I was I wouldn’t tell you” and walked out of the room. But I found out because the woman he had been involved sent me one of his love letters to her.

After that I knew that the only way forward was out. There was a turning point for me when thought, “I’m not going to get what I want here”. What I wanted was what any of us want – love and care, appreciation, acceptance, respect. I wanted my dignity and respect as an adult, a woman, and a mother. Realising that the only way I could have that was to step out of the relationship was the key for me.

Because my husband knew he was losing control of me his violence started coming out. He tried to beat me up in bed one night, and on another occasion he pinned me up against the wall and threatened to “do” me. I was very concerned about how involved the children had become as the violence escalated. One day my teenage son got between us to prevent my husband bashing me up.

He also threatened to commit suicide. When he made a statement that suggested he could kill the children and me, I began to worry about his mental stability.

As in a lot of violent relationships it was at its most unsafe at the time of separation. People need to understand that this is why so many women find it hard to remove themselves from violence. In fact, lots of women and children lose their lives at that stage because while the woman is trying to distance herself from the violence, to her partner this symbolises a loss of control, and that brings up huge levels of anxiety and fear and motivates him to use tactics to gain his power back.

When I left my marriage, I was 36 years old, my daughter was 17 and my son was 15. My husband had often told me I wouldn’t survive on my own and when I first left him I had doubts myself. I was running on pure adrenaline from fear and anxiety about being unable to cope and support my children. I didn’t sleep and I lost a lot of weight. But I used to say to myself, “If you can have nothing else you can have your dignity”. I don’t know where that came from – maybe from the sheer need to survive – but it was so helpful when I was enraged or despairing.

I felt sad, mad and bad as I started the long process of debriefing and healing. An aunt gave me a book titled I’ll Cry Tomorrow and that helped me keep moving forward in spite of feeling so terrible. And I went to counselling because I knew I was screwed up in my thinking.