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Gabi’s Story of Abuse

break your silence

Gabi’s Signs of Being Abused

Putting down my intelligence, understanding, or feelings during any disagreement; getting livid if I ever raised any emotional issue such as having my feelings hurt ; physically hurting me in small weird ways; sexually treating me in a cold, object sort of way that still makes me shudder. Not ever asking me about my day, my family, my plans or my work. Putting down my ability to support myself, to be competent, to form relationships.

Gabi’s Emotional Signs of Abuse

Anxiety, Confusion, Despair

Gabi’s Story of Abuse

Gabi's Story of Abuse SurvivorDespite my husband being a minister and he and I going to 5 different counselors and me talking to a few pastors, no professional was able to pick up on the abuse. They all know my husband as a pastor and they seem to be unable to believe he could be abusive. The exception is one counselor who counsels a lot of ministry couples and says our story is not at all unusual. To figure out I was being abused, I needed a book.

After a few years of marriage, I knew things at home were out of control, confusing and didn’t make sense. We spent hours and hours arguing over every tiny disagreement or conflict, with no outcome or understanding achieved, and weeks at a time with silent treatment and seething silent resentment from him to me. But I didn’t call it abuse.

A friend who I spoke to about what was going on recommended a few books. I recognized my husband in the book Why does he do that: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. To be honest, I found a few of my own behaviors in there too – threatening to leave when I got angry, and a couple of other behaviors. I have since worked very hard to stop my own abuse – successfully for the most part.

My husband is a well-respected minister in a Protestant denomination. No one but his closest relatives would ever guess that he has abusive behaviors at home. We are still married. Things are getting better, but I don’t know if it will last. Sometimes I wonder how far he would go if I really challenged him or threatened his career. Something nags at me that he possibly would go very, very far and I would be in big trouble. Another part of me says – no, he is just a person in pain, needing to be loved, and he will respond to love in time. The main issues that I think I perceive are

  1. strong need for control
  2. low empathy for others
  3. constantly violating boundaries
  4. inability to acknowledge or make amends for hurtful behavior.

I’ll give details below.

Details below are sort of the worst case description – the worst parts from all our years together. After 5 years of arguing about it, many of the behaviors I’ll list below have lessened (or I wouldn’t still be with him), but this is only after hours and hours of arguing and weeks of silent punishment of me for bringing issues up. In addition, his ‘story’ of our relationship is that I caused all of our arguments because I am overly sensitive, don’t understand adult communication, carry trauma from childhood, etc etc etc. He keeps shouting at me to “grow up” and saying he is “at the end of his rope”.

Although I’ve acknowledged my abusive behaviors and insecurities, he hasn’t acknowledged at any point the pain he’s caused, and I know that even today, if I raise any issue or disagreement of any sort with him it will incur the same arguments, punishment, and summation that all along I was the troublemaker. He also says the same of any relatives or congregants with whom he has conflict – they have trouble with authority, they are expressing their trauma inappropriately, they don’t want to be ‘held accountable’. Here are some of the behaviors I’ve encountered:

During our courtship, he would push me into a wall or pinch me till I cried out in pain whenever he got off the phone from a talk with his mother. (They argued.) He would pass it off as a joke but I figured out the pattern. He would sometimes pull the cat or dog’s legs in an unnatural direction when he was feeling angry – just enough for them to cry out in pain – then he’d let them escape. He would call me on the phone to ask me if I wanted him to bring anything home from the store after work and then he would criticize whatever I requested (chocolate, vegetarian bacon) and refuse to buy it. After I asked him to never leave my dog tied up outside when he wasn’t present, because I knew a dog that strangled that way, he did it anyway and then refused to apologize or give me reassurance that he wouldn’t do it again. Instead, he called me controlling and overly-anxious.

He would look (still does) at teenage girls as young as 12 with open lust, even when I am sitting next to him. He would arrange to be in a position to stare down teenagers shirts on a bus, or at our house guests legs under a table, without disguising it. He would turn his back to me on dates to stare for 10 minutes at a blonde woman at another table. When I got hurt and angry, he denied the behavior, criticized my interpretation, called me names, and gave me the silent treatment for a week or so at a time.

When we moved across country for his job, I gave up my PhD to go with him. We ended up in a much smaller place than we’d had before. I requested 1/2 of a bookshelf (out of 8 bookshelves) , and 1 drawer (out of 5) in the desk. He was livid that I would think that my household duties of keeping the budget and doing all the bills would warrant a whole drawer in a desk, and he refused (until his sister intervened) to allow me to keep my 90 books in a separate from his 3000 books so that I could find them when I wanted to read them. Even though he had an entire office at work, and I only wanted a tiny part of the office at home, this was too much – because my ‘work’ was not important.

He has pushed me and held me up against a wall when we argued about money or jobs and said that he had built the entire life we were living, that I contributed nothing and that I would never be able to make it on my own – no one would hire me (this despite the fact that I’ve always supported myself until moving with him and leaving my PhD).

When I said it was time to discuss me donating a kidney to my twin sister because it was an important issue to me, he said he had not heard me discuss it at all so he knew I was lying about it being important to me. When I explained that I avoided discussing it with him because when I tried it ended in arguments, but that I needed to discuss it with him because I’d like to move forward, he said I was being “manipulative” and a “liar”.

He poked me in the chest hard enough to leave bruises during a public argument (at a car wash) about where I stored my pens in the car.

He called me manipulative, controlling, and a liar when I suggested that we try a living room chair in the place he wanted it for a week, and then the place I wanted it for a week, to see if we could reach a mutual agreement about where it should go. We argued for 4 hours about whether I was manipulative or not, and then I got the silent treatment for a week.

He has wrapped his hands around my neck, squeezed, and refused to release me for several minutes during an argument about the fact that he wouldn’t kiss me good-bye before I went out of town.

He has called me a controlling bitch because I was not OK with him accepting a free pass to the gym from a beautiful alcoholic congregant – a year-long, all inclusive free pass to her gym – a pass that specifically excluded me. This was just after he and I had joined a gym together, and just after he told me that we couldn’t accept a monthly invitation to dinner with an elderly blind congregant because it was a “boundary violation” to take gifts from congregants.

At one point he decided our cat was too fat, and he wanted to suddenly start feeding her 1/8th of the recommended amount of food for a cat her weight. When I said I’d like to check with a vet or at least read up on cat diet safety on the internet before taking such action, he accused me of being highly manipulative and controlling. I did consult a vet and he said it could cause liver failure. So to his credit my husband followed the vets advice, angrily.

In our entire 7 years together, he has asked me about my day, my work, my plans, my dreams, my family about 20-30 times total. And most of those times he has not shown any interest in my response – he usually either changes the subject without acknowledging what I say, or says something critical about what I said.

If I raise an issue with him, including any of these or other issues that are hurtful or confusing or creepy to me, it always turns into a loud, angry, hours or days long discussion of what I am doing wrong. From the 2nd sentence on, all we are not talking about the issue I raised – no matter how I raised it. Instead, we talk about how messed up my psyche is, or else how messed up my communication style is.

Even if I carefully compose a statement designed to raise the issue in a non-argumentative way, and read it from the piece of paper, anything I say gets twisted and turned into something far more accusatory and irrational. We end up spending hours talking about how sensitive or crazy or controlling or aggressive I am, or how I said my issue in the “wrong” way – not using Non-violent communication or one of the other methods we’ve studied.

He has called me a liar and manipulator about 300 times, a crazy bitch 3 times; about once a week or more he says I don’t understand what I’m talking about, or I’ve lost touch with reality, or I am not making sense – about whatever topic is at hand in the moment; he says my interpretations are skewed so that I am “making him the enemy” when all he wants to do is love me.

If I listen to hours and hours of him criticizing what I said or did in my hurt or anger, and I acknowledge that I was abusive of him, he will calm down. But once he calms down, if I then try to re-raise my original issue (the one from the 1st sentence of the argument), even gently or with a lot of love surrounding it, he goes ballistic. This is when he gets really intimidating – towering over me, raising a hand as if to strike, pushing me against a wall, storming out and slamming the door behind him to start a week of silent treatment.

All of his calling me crazy and irrational and misguided occurs despite the fact that I am all-but dissertation in 3 fields of science, and have supported not only myself but my 3 sisters through many trials of life since we lost both of our parents when I was 17.

At one point he told me in anger to get out of the house, so I went to Denny’s, and while I was gone he cancelled all of my credit cards and opened a bank account into which he planned to put all of our money so that I would be completely cut off financially.

As I said, I’ve seen progress, but almost completely unacknowledged – he will not acknowledge any of the issues I raise in the first place, much less acknowledge that his behavior has changed. When we argue less he says its because he’s taught me so much, and because he is willing to put up with so much crap from me patiently.

Right now, we live in an uneasy peace – both of us trying hard to avoid arguments. We are doing better because he has truly changed some, and because I am trying incredibly hard to practice good boundaries no matter what he says or does, and and I have managed to dissociate myself from any expectation of him. I have told him I will support myself, so that I can avoid triggering his money issues. I don’t make any requests on his time at all. I just do my work, make myself available when he wants to do something fun together, and otherwise I take care of myself. I let him make most of the decisions about purchasing things for the house, but I reserve my right to buy snacks, books, clothes, etc out of my own earnings. I don’t share my purchase decisions with him because I would be criticized if I did.

I find that with this arrangement he and I both manage to stay calm and respectful. He actually gets nice when he doesn’t feel threatened, and he can be very sweet. But neither of us feels really secure in this arrangement. I really don’t trust what happens if I get sick, or if one of us loses our jobs, or if we have a significant disagreement that I can’t avoid weighing in on – I think he would be so stuck in his own needs that I would not be considered at all. And the arguments would start again. And the abuse.

So – that is my experience so far.

I stick with it because I don’t believe he is so different from other men, or I am different from other women, that we can’t make it work. And perhaps I don’t really believe there are any better men. I don’t have much evidence of that. My father was rather like my husband, and so are a lot of the husbands of friends and colleagues. I really want to believe that men and women can get along and I feel like if I, with my strong IQ, 3 post-doctoral degrees, and endless patience can’t figure out how to live with a man who has good (stated) values, intelligence, and discipline – without sacrificing my integrity or his – then no one can.

So – I stick with it, out of love for my values, out of love for this person who is in pain, out of the desire to not have to start over, and out of aversion to leaving this man and forcing some other woman to have to deal with his unsolved issues.

I do think things will get better – they already have. But if I cannot get him to give up his view that it is always my fault, then that is too much of a sacrifice of my integrity.

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