I went to my first domestic violence seminar. They showed a video, and I was shocked. My wife did worse things to me at home.
We went into small groups and we were supposed to share. So I tried to talk about what was happening to me. The group leader pointed her finger at me, and said, ‘If you treated your wife right, she wouldn’t have to hit you!’. It was as though, because I'm a man, my wife couldn’t really hurt me – that domestic and family violence is only perpetrated by men. That was not my experience. I felt like I didn't exist.
Not long after that, my wife tried to stab me with a butcher’s knife. I grabbed her wrist and squeezed until she dropped the knife. She held up her hand and said, ‘I could go to a shelter, and tell them you are abusing me! You'll never see your children again’. I thought, ‘She's right. No-one at a shelter is going to ask if she is the violent one. If I want to protect our children, I am going to have to be very careful what I do’.
When I met Andrea*, it was love at first sight. I knew she had pain in her life from broken family relationships, but I was committed to loving and protecting her.
We had our first big fight packing up after the wedding and, when we unpacked our things at our new house, Andrea got angry, said she hated me and stormed out.
I was stunned. We’d only just been married. A few days later, she threw plates at me, which broke against the wall.
I soon learnt to walk on eggshells. When I was very careful, Andrea didn’t yell.
We started a family. Andrea enjoyed the attention she received while she was pregnant and she was happy taking care of the children while they were babies. Once they were no longer babies, she wanted another child. We had a large family.
As the children grew up, they also felt the brunt of their mother’s angry outbursts.
Andrea threatened to leave me repeatedly and sex was used as a bargaining chip to get what she wanted. She verbally abused me and criticised my every attempt to help around the house.
She controlled me physically, emotionally, socially and financially. She knew my old wounds and how to hurt me.
She demanded that we move house – even interstate – a number of times because she wasn’t happy with either the house, the neighbourhood or the city.
We went to counselling and I tried many things to see whether we could restore the love and happiness to our relationship. But nothing worked – not romantic notes, special dinners, picnics, weekends away, nothing.
Andrea’s boss changed her job description at work – which was stressful. She got angry and quit her job. I was worried we would lose the house.
One day she started hitting me and cursing me. She did not really hurt me physically, but I shook inwardly for days. I decided I would never let her hit me again, which was an important step in my journey. And she never did.
We went to a marriage renewal retreat and apologised to each other for hurts we had caused. But things didn’t improve.
Andrea inherited a substantial sum of money, but instead of investing it in our future, it was soon spent. Our debt continued to build. She always wanted things we couldn’t afford. But buying them didn’t improve her happiness.
I was tired of walking on eggshells. I was tired of having to be vigilant to protect my children from their mother’s tirades. I was tired of being in a relationship with no love.
It got to the point where if I had stayed with my wife, my children would refuse to see me. I was not willing to pay that price.
But when, after more than 30 years of marriage, my wife and I separated and ultimately divorced, I found I was attracted to other controlling women. I decided I needed to change, so I could get into a healthy relationship.
By God’s grace I have remarried – to a woman who does not seek to control my every move. She looked at me like I was crazy when I asked permission to go to the toilet. I had a lot of unlearning to do!
I understand that I must take responsibility for being in an abusive relationship. I am not responsible for the negative things my ex-wife did, but I take responsibility for choosing an abusive partner and remaining in an abusive relationship.
This is one of the most important decisions a victim of domestic abuse can make, because if I am responsible for the choice and remaining, then I have the power to stop choosing and stop remaining.
I cannot change other people, but I can change me.
I recognise that I had been in other abusive relationships, with my parents, at school and at work.
I had to realise that, while I have many faults, I am a worthwhile person, loved and forgiven by God, and should be treated with respect like anyone else.
I refuse to hate my ex-wife. She is the mother of my children. But I will not defend her behaviour. However, I will encourage my children to visit their mother, in ways that are safe, and remind them they will make themselves sick if they choose to hate her.
I refuse to live in bitterness. I am often tempted to dwell on the past, but if I choose to live in bitterness, that pain will control the rest of my life.
Instead, I focus on my many blessings. One is that I know God promises everything works together for good to those who love him.
* Some details been changed to protect this man's identity.