Why is “you are being abused” so hard to utter, suggest, or prove? Do standers-by feel like they are butting in? Unqualified? Incorrect? That they will be summarly dismissed by the survivor/victim? Is abuse incredibly difficult to discern? Scary to talk about? Impossible to show in court?
My partner locked me out on purpose and taunted me through the door while my child cried for me from the inside. He snuggled someone else at our wedding reception. He laughed at me and walked away when I asked for pregnancy support. Over the course of our marriage, he became so depressed, anxious and distracted that he was fired from more than one job, could not maintain a functional sleep schedule in order to help with any of family life, or sustain his own social life. He developed suicidal ideations. He created a hostile home environment by alternatingly ignoring me and then being extremely verbally critical, while accusing me of endless wrongs. He was so fiscally unstable that he purchase electronics and renovation supplies for his own projects, but regularly could not afford groceries and budgeted so poorly that a $20 check to a babysitter bounced. He made the home uninhabitable and unsafe by destroying the living spaces with a renovation that took longer than a year. He became socially isolating by denying me funds to visit my family, forbidding me to visit my family with the children, and by refusing to be socially appropriate at gatherings with my friends.
When finally, I could make no more “I statements” and could make no more allowances for severe mental health issues that were not being addressed and that were being blamed on me, I signed a lease in the same city, almost the same neighborhood as my partner’s house, and offered him 50% of parenting time, in writing, against my better judgement. Despite not believing that he could competently care for the children, I bent over backwards to offer him a huge part in their lives, assuming that his involvement would, on some level, be more beneficial than excluding him, even in his unstable state. He responded by using the right of any parent, even one not providing care to the children, to file a “Status Quo Order” with a judge, which keeps the children in question in the same geographical location that they had been living in for the previous 90 days. He filed this while I was missing paid work to tend to one of our sick children who was home from school; the same sick child that he refused care of, despite not having a paid job.
So the kids and I were stuck with the ill, hostile, forbidding monster while finding a lawyer and paying for a lease on a beautiful, homey refuge that we could not set foot into. He continued to forbid things: attending our children’s friends’ birthday parties if they were 30 miles from home, just across the state line; adjusting our child’s preschool schedule to allow him more stability, which is important for his developmental delays; use of the broken washing machine; trips to the laundromat with the kids or their clothing; use of his pre-marital-estate-spoons; the freedom to open windows in the home; the right to change the settings of the thermostat. He continued to sleep through the children’s care needs and failed to assist with child rearing on most practical levels, while also trying to assert and establish official control over the children’s records, activities, and education. Despite getting a new job, he remained financially unstable and abusive, refusing to provide money for my and the children’s needs, not finishing the family’s 2013 taxes until October of 2014, and refusing to pay for daycare and preschool in a prompt manner.
He called me “stupid,” “pointless,” and took my one known and well-managed diagnosis of OCD to constantly accuse me of having a personality disorder, despite his personal overuse and self-medicating with alcohol or Xanax. If I helped him structure and organize his life, I was “controlling;” if I stopped making suggestions, I was “not supportive” of his disability. If I had opinions,ideas, and feelings, I was critical and argumentative; if I stopped commenting, I was “shutting down.” If I was tender and understanding, I was “treating him like a child” and “going into caregiver mode;” if I gave him some space and tended to my own issues, I was “disengaging.” There was always a title, accusation, or false diagnosis for any action I took that did not follow his plans and mandates, leading me to doubt myself. Maybe all of his unreasonable behaviors and words are average and I really am utterly inflexible and deserve to be miserable because it is all my fault for being “rigid” and naturally unhappy as he claims.
So why hasn’t anyone stepped up to reassure me that I am experiencing abuse in the face of the overwhelming misery that my partner is imposing on me? Plenty of people have weighed in that he is a jerk or mentally ill or incapable of change. But no one has tried to seriously assert to me that he is (intentionally or not) abusive. And I am scared to say it myself. Because what if I am wrong about him being abusive? What if every reaction I have ever had to his slights, outbursts, abandonments and restrictions have been just as bad as his instigations? What if I am guilty by association, just for choosing him and standing by him in difficult times? What if my purportedly difficult personality is justification for each of his actions or tirades? What if his retorts to my finally-said and long-awaited accusations are all true and I am just as bad as he says I am?
When he locked me out, why didn’t anyone *immediately* flag it out loud to me as abuse? It is certainly an uncomfortable idea to put forth and maybe my ears would have been (were?) closed to the notion (did someone say it?), but the friend whose home we were staying in, a registered nurse and mandated reporter uttered nothing of the sort (despite registering her disgust with his behavior). His sister, a police officer who saw me the next day, didn’t mention it as abuse. Not my parents, not my best friends, not a single soul looked me in the eye and had the balls and temerity to tell me that he was abusive and that it would happen again; not until after he had filed for “Status Quo,” trapping me in his house instead of outside of it.
When our trained and licensed couples’ therapist heard about the drunken, middle-of-the-night lock-out and the taunting from behind the closed door, how could he in good conscious continue to treat our troubled relationship as a 50/50 problem? He asked me to continue to make “I Statements” and take responsibility for the state of our relationship, even though I was not the one who was drinking, locking people out, or having outbursts of anger, and he was so ill that he was forming suicidal ideations. When my partner asserted that I was the cause of his depression and suicidal thoughts — for simply trying to discuss the idea that I was so miserable at home that I was considering leaving — how could that therapist have backed him up? How did a therapist with a PHD allow that man to blame his mental illness on me? A Doctor of Psychology took the blame away from depression or other mental illness or neurobiology or society’s response to any illness or the man himself and allowed my partner to believe that I was responsible for his illness and for his resulting feelings and actions. As I wept and my partner fumed and failed to display empathy in meeting after meeting, our therapist did not pointedly address his depression, anxiety or ADHD (which are all official diagnoses that he carries).
When my partner visited the children and I at my parents’ house — during the one time that I managed to leave his influence, in order to gather support for my pregnant and postpartum self — he threatened to leave with our toddler without my permission. When my father asked him to back down, my partner asserted more strongly that he was leaving with my toddler. By the time my father called the Sheriff and the Sheriff arrived, my partner had finally relented that he would not try to leave with the toddler that night. Instead of talking seriously to my partner about how unacceptable his behavior was, or instead of pulling me aside and checking in on me about what was actually going on, or letting me know that my partner’s behavior could constitute abuse, the officer let me (with a white face and clenched knuckles) pass it off as a misunderstanding with no further questions asked. The Sheriff said to my partner that he “obviously didn’t look like a loser” and reprimanded me for having serious discussions within earshot of my parents and suggested that my partner and I should try to work things out away from my parents. In one fell visit, I got the message that my partner was a reasonable person in general, that I was correct to call his behavior a misunderstanding, and that my safe zone of protection and advocacy was not a sensical place for me to remain while deciding what to do about my relationship.
So I followed him back to Oregon, where he promptly failed to make any of the health, safety, and stability changes that he had promised. He blamed me for the uninhabitable house, even as I practiced baby-wearing while cleaning up his dangerous and unbelievable mess. He didn’t have enough money to pay for groceries on a regular basis. He forbid me to take the children on a visit to my family. And when I had finally saw through his unwillingness or inability to change or even discuss his mental health, he declined 50% of custody and parenting time to keep the children and myself trapped in his mess, where we are now.
And even now, as I become able of writing this all down, none of the horrible things he has said, done, or forbidden me to do are enough to make anyone but my parents shout “He’s abusive!” Certainly not a judge or my experienced family lawyer, who knows everything that he has done and said, yet does not see grounds for me to get out of his house and dominance under an emergency clause of abuse. So here I am, at the mercy of a mentally ill man who makes six figures in salary (until the next time he gets fired for being unable to meet job requirements, which he has implied is pending currently), but won’t put any cash in our joint account to cover food or family expenses (despite the fact that I only make $26k per year as a direct care provider).
He calls 911 from work due to panic-attack chest pain, but won’t miss work to tend to the sick children that neither he nor anyone else will immediately release from his shadow. He forbids me to go to birthday parties and laundromats, open windows, use his spoons, and adjust the thermostat. But I was encouraged to attend custodial mediation with him and use more “I Statements” in the face of his continued trill of debate over our family dysfunction. And I have to wait at least another four weeks for a hearing with a judge that *might* release me from his control of myself and my kids. And if the judge believes his intelligent, silver-tongued charm campaign and fails to see him for the malicious mess that he currently is, I still may not be able to keep my kids safe on a daily basis. Because for a long string of reasons, including that he hasn’t hit me or pushed me down stairs, nobody is helping me say that I am experiencing abuse worthy of protection. Potentially because it’s impossible to prove. Or maybe because he’s just an average jerk that I should be faulted for ever loving.
I don’t even have the energy to give this a queer twist.