Margaret's Story
But the other stuff was just as destructive - the shouting and yelling, the intimidation, the looks

One morning he was going to the fruit and vegetable auctions before heading back to Hamilton. I’d tried to wake him but by the time he got out of bed I was ready to go to work and take our daughter to child care. He demanded my help to find something and I made a comment he didn’t like – to look for it himself perhaps – and he punched me on the arm three times. I was seven months pregnant and I just became hysterical. I drove into the city to work and I was still hysterical when I got there. He hadn’t physically hurt me, it was more the shock of him punching me in a fit of rage. When he came home a week later, it wasn’t talked about. Years later, when I mentioned it, he said he couldn’t remember the incident and he denied ever having hit me.

He used to say if I did what I was told he wouldn’t get angry, and for a long time I believed that. But I finally realised that it didn’t matter what I did, he’d still get angry. I did try to talk to one of my brothers but he spoke to my husband and then I got into trouble for having talked about our problems. So I learnt not to do that.

After about a year of my husband commuting to Hamilton, we moved there. I didn’t want to, because I no longer loved him. I was getting angry by then and starting to shout back. I think my husband was quite shocked by that. He said “if you shout at me, I’ll shout louder”. When he really lost it, I’d say “well, hit me – because you know I’m going to be gone”. So he was reminded that there was a line in the sand – and he’d never go there.

But the other stuff was just as destructive – the shouting and yelling, the intimidation, the looks, and the way he would keep tabs on me. Even if I’d only been out for half an hour it would be, “Where have you been? I’ve been worried about you. Why didn’t you ring? Why did you take so long?”

I didn’t identify that stuff as family violence. I did have a sense that he was trying to control me and that I was trying to resist. But I didn’t fully appreciate that the control and domination he was practising was abusive – or that it was having an effect on me.

I had made a personal commitment not to treat my children as I had been treated –with hidings and fear. But not long after we moved to Hamilton there was an incident in which I hit my daughter. My husband and I had had a big argument. He always got what he wanted, and I was angry about it. Then my daughter, who was six, did something naughty and I over-reacted. I got a school ruler and hit her several times and left little nick marks on her arms. I knew that was completely wrong and I instantly regretted it and promised myself I was never going to do it again.

The arguments must have affected my children too – my daughter more than my son, as he was just a baby. When I think back, I don’t know where she was during the arguments. There were times when we would take the argument out into the garage, particularly when it was about breaking up. We’d go “this isn’t working, we need to finish it”, but then we would agree to try a little bit longer. I told him that as I didn’t want to sleep with him, I didn’t mind if he found someone else. But he pushed for intimacy with me, and there was always an element of coercion in it after that.

In my mind only a physical beating, a good hiding, would allow me to give myself permission to leave my marriage. My religious beliefs also kept me in there. The Bible encourages us to try and be a good example if we’ve got an unbelieving husband. I believed that if I was a better wife and more forgiving, I might win him over. It wasn’t till I left the marriage that it dawned on me that those Christian principles could only be successful in the context of a healthy relationship where both partners were applying them.

I heard that you could go to the Family Court and be sent to counselling, so I did that. The counsellor asked a lot of questions and then said, “You haven’t gone through the grieving stage yet. Perhaps the grieving stage has been suspended.” She didn’t explain what she meant and I left thinking “what was that all about?” and didn’t go back.

About a year later we agreed to separate. By then the restaurant had been sold to my husband’s business partner. They had got into violent confrontations so they had to end it. After that, my husband refused to work for anyone else. One of us had to have a job, so I was working – but then I’d always worked, even when my children were very young.

We were finishing off our house so we decided to live in it, but as flatmates. My husband kept thinking there was hope, and suggesting counselling at that point. But it was too late to build on anything. I told him, “There’s nothing to rejuvenate. The roots of the tree are dead.”

Because much of the tension had gone by then, we got on okay. But there was one violent incident during which my husband picked up the huge glass fish tank and threatened to smash it. What sparked it off was me cleaning the fish tank. My husband had told me that I was not to clean it – even though I was the one who kept fish and loved cleaning the tank and seeing it sparkling. One day when he was out, I did clean it, and when he came home he went ballistic.

He kicked my brand new coffee table upside down and then he picked up the fish tank, full of water and fish, and threatened to throw it through the patio doors.