Some here may remember that several years ago, I stumbled late one night on to an internet forum for verbal abuse. I almost skipped over it, because verbal abuse is not the typical method my passive aggressive husband has used. Well, almost never. There was that time years ago when he called me an f’ing b*tch in front of our teenage son, but maybe that will be a throwback Thursday post later.
Speaking of throwback Thursday, for those who aren’t familiar with facebook, it’s the day when people post old photos typically. Lots of nostalgia. The kind of looking back that I tend to hate and cringe from in the same way you’d recoil from a hot burner. When my firstborn was getting married, she asked me haul some bins of photos on a pre-wedding visit to her. The plan was for us to go through them together, and choose some for a slide show for the reception.
I lasted maybe… maybe fifteen minutes into that, then broke down and wept. I couldn’t stop crying. It hit with a slam. I wasn’t prepared because I’d never looked through all the photos I’d taken over the years my kids were growing up, so didn’t know to expect such an intense emotional reaction. That whole ‘this is your life’ thing was a disaster for me in the viewing.
I used to love taking photos, and writing this post reminds me that it’s been years that I’ve almost entirely stopped taking them. I almost dislike photos now. I ended up just leaving the photos with her to sift through and choose at another time. I couldn’t do it.
Back to the title of this post and the opening paragraph. Something I noticed when I became involved with the internet community of women that were victims of abuse, was that most of them seemed afraid to speak up to their abuser. I can understand that, and in fact, for many of them it’s a very wise thing to help them remain safe until they get out. It was never an issue for me. My husband probably wished many times that it was. If I don’t speak up to him, it was for entirely different reasons, not because I was afraid to or didn’t know how to stand up to him that way.
You see, the frontal assault methods of an overt abuser never were very successful with me. Overt abuse just gets me angry. My father was overtly abusive emotionally and verbally to my mother. My poor little mother would be angry, but she’d just go quiet. She tended to be passive aggressive in response, or just shut down because she was overwhelmed. My mother wasn’t passive aggressive in ways that were abusive to any of us, but I think it was a defense coping strategy at times with my father. Around the time I turned fifteen, I began standing up for my mother, and going toe to toe with my father when he’d begin to intimidate her by unwarranted criticism, harsh words, or yelling.
What this means in my own marriage is that I have always tended to stand up for myself if the abuse is overt. Overt abuse would elicit a roar from deep within me.
The covert abuse, however, strikes at the most vulnerable spot in my being, and that’s a lack of a sense of worth. Not feeling an innate sense of worth has always been the Achille’s heel for me. If my husband told me there wasn’t enough money for my violin, of course it should go to pay the ‘mystery bills’ that previously didn’t require it. If he was too busy to spend time with me, naturally practically anything was more important than I was. If he didn’t seem to desire me and didn’t touch me, if I stared into the dark while crying silent tears in the bed night after night throughout the years, then why and how could I fight that when deep inside, I doubted my innate desirability as a human being.
Ignoring me has been the toxic weapon. Leaving me to be alone with him in the marriage was effective punishment. Treating me as though he’s entirely lukewarm about intimacy has been my kryptonite. The passive aggressive abuse is covert, and the message isn’t just one of resistance and sabotage, but a message that just doesn’t care about your feelings, your dreams, your heart, and your well-being. In other words, you just aren’t worth it.
The rest of my story has been one of evolving from what I didn’t know about passive aggressive abuse, to understanding that passive aggressive is aggressive, and also a growing realization over the years that being a ‘good’ wife didn’t mean that God expected me to tolerate abuse.
This means that the story of my marriage is full of stories of me standing up to my husband when I could see clearly that he was behaving wrongly. Right from the beginning, it was so.
You see, standing up to him and speaking up is not a growth step for me. I’ve always done that. I also learned the hard way that those truth telling sessions often became what sure seemed like my supplying him a script that he could work off of later. When he’s sensed that I was at the edge of the cliff, and ready to risk the jump to freedom, he’s ‘changed’. Only now looking back, that ‘change’ looks an awful lot like behavior modification, and very subtly and covertly, I’m the manager of his behavior.
I’ve had that epiphany too. My reasons for staying have been faceted, and I’ve partially explored them on the blog. Some of my reasons, even though this blog is theoretically anonymous, I’ve hesitated to write about yet. The important thing is that I entirely overestimated my strength in being able to manage abuse. Since I’m still married, I try to limit that to a few very specific things, and one of them is finances. Don’t screw up the finances.
Another biggie is that my husband has a history that has included rare but traumatizing behaviors. It hasn’t happened often, but it has happened. Experience taught me that there are warning signs, just like you can tell when an animal is poised to vomit. A handful of days ago, I saw some body language, heard words, the tone, the look in the eyes, kind of an intense almost manic tone to him, and my radar started blaring. I asked him to go back to his office, and I told him I was seeing those warning signs, and that he needed to Stop It. Just get a hold of himself, and Stop It.
I told him that I wouldn’t ever put up with some of the traumatizing garbage he’s pulled over the years, and if he didn’t get a hold of himself and stop it, then I’d just blow things up here, and let the cookies crumble however they landed. I said, “Stop it, or else...” In other words, I wouldn’t put any effort whatsoever into saving our marriage. I would only protect myself and my kids, and it meant I’d put things into motion that would just end our relationship for good.
He knew this. He understood it very well. But unfortunately I chose the words ‘blow it up’ and the part that was connected to HIS behavior was entirely and intentionally lost by him. He suddenly focused on my threatening him. At that point, I got very quiet and told him to cut the crap. I reminded him that I wouldn’t do anything unless it was in response to him behaving very badly.
I said, “I’m telling you to get a hold of yourself, whatever is going on, stop it now while it’s just starting, or else I’ll step in and do something proactive.” But he was still ramping up, and he said that I better be careful of what I was saying.
I replied, “Why? What do you think you could do to me?”
He said, “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
I said, “Really? Because you know when I say I’d blow it up, I mean end our relationship if you behave really badly. I wouldn’t say you’d never see me again, but it would be rare and brief, like at a family wedding. What do you think you could do to me if we weren’t together?”
He said, “Oh, you’d be surprised.”
I said, “Okay. Sure. Whatever. So here’s your choice. Get a hold of yourself, or else. Your call.”
He said, “If you do that, then I’m just going to walk.”
I replied, “If you get up and pack a suitcase, and drive away tonight, I won’t try to stop you. I’ll go on with my life. You can take the car. Your call again.”
He said he needed to think.
A fairly short time later, he came out to watch a movie with us. He seemed entirely normal. He’s behaved fairly normal since then, other than my suspicion that he’s sabotaging by not getting work done (which is kind of a big thing).
The next day, I talked to him again and told him that I was tired of having to watch and manage his behavior. I told him that I’ve been too sad for too long, and I need to change my life. I said that if he had any intention of learning to love me, that he was running out of time. He asked what he could do to show me he really wanted to try. I said, “For one thing, if I say stop it, just stop it.”
Last night, he was unusually affectionate when we crawled into bed. He was looking at me more intensely, hugged and kissed me a few times. Then he said, “I’m going to work really hard at that ‘stop business’.”
I doubt. I doubt very much. I’m going to keep moving towards my goals. I hope I don’t lose ground.
It’s gotten warm enough to go to the lake and swim. My driving foot has the dislocated bone issue, so he drives the girls and I there, and swims with us. I let my injured foot just dangle, and do water aerobics for about a solid hour. As I told my daughters, “When your hands feel tied, wiggle your fingers.” I feel so hopeful about recovering some of me.