Elaine's Story
I didnt need him in my life anymore

My first counsellor was very motherly, and I cried buckets of tears. My second asked me “what is your stomach telling you?” I said “I’m really scared”. I thought then that my husband was capable of seriously harming us. That counsellor said, “Pay attention to what you know” and that helped me create a pathway of distance between myself and my ex-husband.

He was very intimidating to the children. In a violent incident with my daughter, not long after we’d split up, he punched her in the head with a closed fist, and threatened to kill her. He told her she was “talking too much – just like your mother”.

Afterwards he turned up at my house. I suddenly connected with my anger. I walked up to him and eyeballed him and said, “Go on then – do it”. I was beyond caring, beyond being afraid. Till then I had been locked into being afraid all my life, but in that moment I started the process of reclaiming my life and asserting my power. He went to head butt me but he suddenly backed off. He knew then that I was prepared to call the police and he wasn’t prepared to risk public exposure.

I started to reconnect with people almost immediately after I left my marriage.

I went to various women’s empowerment groups and gained an understanding of how children pick up messages about how to act in, and be treated in, relationships. I linked into things I hadn’t known existed – like a ‘making it alone’ course. I was just so needy of being filled up.

It was great to gain a couple of friends as I hadn’t had strong friendships with women during my married life. One of them mentioned Women’s Refuge, but I didn’t think I fitted into the category of a victim of domestic violence because my perception of violence was my mother’s face after Dad beat her up.

I learnt a new language – and I finally found my voice! I had had so much going on in my stomach, and now I had the words to express it with. I suddenly became very articulate and very clear. When my husband said “I want us to be friends” I found I was able to say “I don’t need to have you in my life”.

I was not prepared to be on the receiving end of ‘power and control’ games or act like a victim any more. I cut my losses as regards matrimonial property. My lawyer made sure I got enough settlement to make a deposit on a modest house – though I was turned down for a mortgage by every bank in town until a young bank officer pleaded my case and got me one.

I had two part time jobs both with an irregular income. Some weeks I didn’t know how we would survive and I had to resort to asking for a food grant. But something would always come along – a tax rebate or a friend giving me a treat.

My children were fantastic, very validating of me and the path I had chosen. I told them we were now “cash only” people. They got part-time jobs and largely paid their own way through the rest of school.

Their father had always been emotionally unavailable to them. But after I left the marriage I decided not to do all the work on keeping the lines of communication open between them and him any more. I realised that I needed to care for myself as much as I had cared for other people in the past. My son finally told his father where to get off because he kept ringing all the time. One day I heard him say, “I’m telling you I’m not going to have anything to do with you ever again”.

This is a kid who was always polite and whom his father used to call “boy” in a really derogatory way. I once said to my husband, “Let him beat you at something; he needs that”, but he just couldn’t let go of that need for control. My son said he’s always felt invisible in his father’s presence. He still doesn’t see him at all. My daughter is starting to reconcile with him because she doesn’t want to deprive her children of a grandfather, but she supervises any contact.

When I came out with my new voice people were shocked. I had seemed so timid and now I seemed very strong. Well of course I was strong! You are strong if you have survived that physical, psychological and emotional violence. It’s the strength of your own spirit that gets you through.

I believe that what happens in adult relationships is that people with similar levels of self esteem link up. They might have different personalities, backgrounds, interests, drivers and motivators but the key thing is about self esteem. My parents didn’t have good self esteem and it was the same for me and my husband.

He seemed very confident but one of the reasons he was so into money and power and status was that he came from a poor background and that he wanted to transcend that.

I also think unresolved issues translate across generations. Because we never talked about any of this stuff in my family system, it continued into new generations. My daughter got involved with a younger version of her father – though she got herself out of the situation much earlier than I had.

After I’d done some processing of my childhood experiences and how they had influenced my adult responses, the way was open for me to think, “Who the hell am I, and what am I to become?” For a while I beat myself up about wasting so much of my life but I soon decided to end the tears and take responsibility for what I wanted for myself. I decided I wasn’t going to bother with relationships because I was going to deal with my relationship with myself. I replaced my old self-message of “I’m not good enough” with a new one – “I deserve this”.