For most of my married life, I thought I was a terrible communicator. When I talked to my boys, I’d automatically say the same thing three or four different ways (like I had to do for their father). I peppered conversations with “Do you understand what I’m saying?” My husband’s consistent abuse caused me to doubt my ability to do the most basic thing all animals do: communicate.
It didn’t help that he became my community, my friend, and my family. He hated my old friends, found moral fault with my family, and made it difficult to make any new friends. I eventually gave up reaching out to others because I was so darn tired of hearing how stupid I was to trust strangers when all I wanted was a friend outside of him.
Isolated and lonely, my husband was the only grown-up around. If I couldn’t make him understand how I felt, then who could understand? This is the nature of abuse: isolation, whether it happens physically or in the victim’s mind, isolation is key to an abuser’s ability to control.
Real Conversations Do Not Exist
Isolated and starving for his positive attention, I found myself thinking about his preferences constantly. I became an expert on his likes and dislikes, I thought. I figured once I had “his” house perfectly clean, “his” kids groomed to his specification, then he would have time to talk to me about things we both liked. Maybe then I could explore my interests with him – talk about my business or discuss psychology.
But, as it turned out, although I thought things were “perfect”, he found fault with my housekeeping and child-rearing. He found fault with my business ideas and psychology (both nonsense by the way). He preferred to tell me what he thought, cram it down my throat really, and continue lecturing until I agreed with him (at least out loud).
There were no questions about my day, no follow-ups to the topics he promised we’d discuss later. In fact, he didn’t ask me many questions that required a thinking response. He would ask “When’s lunch?” followed immediately by “Where are the boys?” and “Did you do the laundry?” Three questions at once, with no time to answer. There was a definite right answer, I just knew it, but the right answer wasn’t necessarily the truth.
The right answer depended on what he thought I should be doing, explained why the boys were somehow not where they should be, and the only answer to the laundry question was, “I’ve done the laundry and your boxers are folded in quarters and put into your dresser,” to which he replied, annoyed, “I like my boxers folded in thirds.”
My heart began to beat heavily. His annoyance signaled the beginning of turmoil. He was picking, looking for a reason to blow off steam. I knew that in my heart, but I did the same old thing anyway - I scampered about making his world as perfect as possible hoping to accomplish the mission before he blew his top.
Method to His Madness
My husband’s rapid-fire questions and denial of reality caused me to stop thinking in favor of reacting. His whole game was about throwing me off my guard, hoping I’d feel the stress of a cornered animal who can react in seemingly irrational ways, giving him another reason to find fault and tell me that what I was doing, thinking, or being was wrong.
I had no proof to show that I was abused, and for years, wasn’t looking for any. I accepted that he was an asshole and a chauvinist, because he said that if I truly loved him, I’d love him despite his faults. It took a long time for me to admit to myself that his abuse wasn’t a “character fault”. It was his systematic way of controlling and monitoring my thoughts and feelings. Mental, emotional, and verbal abuse did the trick most days.