‘He never hit me’. I said that a lot the first few months after I left my husband. I had counselling with a domestic abuse charity; the CMS labelled our marriage breakdown as being due to emotional abuse. It had honestly never occurred to me until the day I left him that I was suffering from emotional abuse. I knew my marriage wasn’t ‘normal’. I knew I wasn’t happy, but I did not realise I was being abused. In the early hours of that morning I text my friend in desperation: ‘these are things that he does, and says, and thinks about me. He admits all of them but refuses to change, I don’t know what to do.’ The reply was almost immediate: ‘Emma, you are being emotionally abused.’ I made the decision to go, our marriage was irretrievable at that point, but the words were a shock. I simply did not realise that is what had been happening to me for almost eight years.
We met on a dating site when I was twenty six years old, back in the distant past when you had to log on to a laptop to message potential partners. I had moved to a town in the South, far away from my friends and family. I felt I was being proactive, meeting people rather than staying in on my own. He was charismatic, reckless and a bit of a risk-taker; everything I had always shied away from before when looking for a boyfriend; but I was breathless with the attention and his impetuous nature.
Within two months we had rented a flat; within three we had bought a house. Within six I was pregnant. I had noticed he was a big drinker, we had already had many an argument over it, but I was always told that the problem was my issue with his drinking, not the drinking itself. If you’re told something often enough you believe it eventually. When I became close to my due date I asked him to stop drinking so that he could drive me to the hospital if I went into labour at night. He said that he was drinking for two and that we would call a taxi.
There were many more issues over the years. He called me names, ‘sexless being’ was a particular favourite of his. He created false Facebook accounts so he could chat to women, he ran up debts for online porn. He took out a loan in my name without my consent, that years later I still don’t know what it paid for. He once emailed me a list of 32 acts he wanted me to perform for him. He refused to make any effort; it was all down to me to please him.
I used to look at other marriages with envy. I’m not naïve enough to think that all other marriages are perfect, but I realised mine was definitely lacking. I was once at a friend’s house having cuddles with her new born. It was a Friday and her husband came home early from work. He came in, kissed his family, made us all a cuppa and held the baby whilst he had his coffee. Then he went outside, washed both their cars – and mine too as it was sat there – and then washed the windows too. I was almost speechless. If my husband finished early on a Friday, he would head to the pub. He’d drive home drunk hours after we’d had tea, and I’d dealt with homework and bedtime stories.
We bought our own house; stupidly I thought it might bring us together. It didn’t. If I wasn’t back from the school run in time to get him up for work and present him with coffee, I was in trouble. If I sat downstairs reading on my day off rather than doing housework, I was in trouble. If I chopped the peppers or the bacon incorrectly, I was in trouble. I remember walking back from the school run one morning. I’d been chatting to a friend and was late so I knew he’d be angry with me, especially if work had already tried putting through calls and I’d not got him up in time. I had a daydream that he would die young, maybe in his fifties, and I could hopefully have a nice life after that. I was 34 and he was 35 at the time.
I know what people will be thinking as they read this: why on earth didn’t I leave him? I look back now and I ask myself the same thing. The answer is that quite often he was nice. Things would be fine for months. He’d be the model husband and Dad. We’d have fun and go on dates and go on camping holidays and I’d think: ‘Yes. This is it. We’ve sorted it. He’s realised what’s important’. But before long I would sense a change in atmosphere, and I knew the storm was coming, I just didn’t know when. I’d live in fear until it happened. The drunkenness, the intimidation, the blame.
Since the separation I’ve created this handy image, to try and explain what being married to my then-husband was like. Picture a wide river. The current is choppy, and hard to swim in. I’m at one side and he’s at the other. The river is the disagreement, the gulf to cross. I immediately jump in. I want to get to the other side and sort it, put the issue to bed. He doesn’t, he wants to make things worse and make me suffer. So instead of jumping in the river to help me, or at least helping me out the other side, he starts throwing things at me to make it harder to make it across; old tyres, shopping trolleys and sacks of rubbish. These are labelled: Lazy, Bad Mother, Doesn’t earn enough, Doesn’t try to be sexy. I’d always strive to solve the argument, but he delighted in muddying the waters. You can’t mend a marriage like that, not on your own. It just took me eight years to see it.
So one day, five days before Christmas 2014, I took the leap. I put my clothes and our daughter’s into two suitcases, and I moved back to my parent’s house and within a month into our own small house. I went for a promotion, and got it. Bits of the last two and a half years have been fantastic, bits of it worse than I ever could have imagined. Last week the courts signed off on our financial agreement, meaning we are no longer connected financially and can have no claim in the future. The divorce had been finalised in 2015, but I needed the divorce to be done, as I knew how long and complicated financial arrangements can be. I also reclaimed my maiden name. My Dad says that one by one we disentangled every tentacle he had around me – my family clearly love a good metaphor. It’s been hard, harder than I ever could have considered it would be. There were times I felt broken, that he’d beaten me; times I thought I’d never stop crying. There have also been times that I fought, and fought hard. Those times mainly concerned issues with our daughter, who more than anything else I have done my best to protect. I’ve had help from mediators, family support workers, social workers, school mentors, counsellors and the CMS in order to best support my daughter. I’m now fluent in a language that previously I didn’t know existed, let alone knew how to speak.
Amongst all of this I’ve done my best to be a good Mum, and to give my daughter a calmer and more stable home life than she had before. She remembers the arguments and accepts that we are happier apart. Naturally I’ve shielded her from most of the reasons why we split up. However she is almost nine now and has a very mature and sensible head on her shoulders – she loves her Dad and visits him, but I’m pretty sure she knows more than I have told her. Myself and my family have a strong sense of togetherness; she is not short of love and support and is such a happy and balanced young girl, and I’m so proud of her. When she first started to visit her Dad after the separation I told her that her heart and mine lay next to each other for nine months, and that hasn’t changed, my heart will always be next to hers – she likes that a lot, and I’m making the most of the affection between us before the teenage years arrive!
I love my job; I’m lucky that I have a passion and I’m able to get paid for it and I strive to do it well. I want my daughter to know that I worked hard and I stood on my own two feet. I feel proud that I got promoted only 3 months after the separation – I wondered at the time if I’d gone a little mad to even consider going for it, and once I’d got it I wondered how the hell I was going to make it work! Fortunately, as always my amazing parents were there for support, both practical and emotional. My Mum had a serious stroke last June. That was without doubt the worst time of all our lives. We very nearly lost her, but she fought with all her strength and is doing well now and continuing to make improvements with both her speech and mobility. When she was in hospital my brother and I would talk about my ex-husband in order to encourage her to swear – our argument was that it was part of her speech therapy and therefore helpful. My Dad continues to be my rock too, in spite of the changes that have taken place in his life too now that he cares for Mum full time.
I’ve also carved a new life for myself. I have a lovely, caring, kind and considerate boyfriend who has taught me what it is to be partners, and is the kind of man that my daughter stands at the window for, to watch for his arrival. I could not feel more loved and respected; he is endlessly patient with me and my constant need to apologise. I’m getting there; when he reminds me not to say sorry I have learned not to immediately say it again – one day at a time! He’s also helped me to see that there may be a day in the future when I might walk down the aisle once more. Counselling helped me immensely, I didn’t know how much I needed it until I’d had it, but I know that I couldn’t have started a new relationship until I’d exorcised the demons of my marriage.
I’m currently off sick. The completion of our financial agreement was the final thing I’d been fighting him for, and my body sort of crumpled into a heap after its conclusion; I am one very snotty Emma right now! I’m having a rest from all that ‘strong’, but I know something that I didn’t before; how much of it I have inside me when it’s required. I’m looking forward to the next chapter, hopefully without any choppy rivers in it.