As I review the different accounts of abuse, I can’t help but be a little bit envious. I don’t want to minimize what anyone is going through, but as I read others’ accounts I see how the individual can get themselves out of the situation they are in, piece together what is left of their lives, and move on to a better life. I wish I could see that for myself. Unfortunately, I find myself in the type of situation that I’m having a hard time seeing myself escape.
The primary reason for this is that I’m a man. Being a man in an abusive relationship makes me feel like I am in a no-win situation no matter how I act. I am considered a pushover if I do nothing, but If I try to push back (no matter how graciously), I’m likely going to be accused of being the abuser by my wife and possibly anyone who gets wind of the situation. I can try to explain to people but I don’t believe people are truly concerned for men who have been abused.
Right now I am learning about abuse through an abuse counselor, which is starting to shed light on what I have endured, while helping me to figure out what to do. I have found that so much of my life is shaped by covert abuse. It happens so often that it seems natural to be put down in front of my kids or insulted because I didn’t please my wife. I just try to do everything I can to avoid her so I can get a reprieve. Of course, when I avoid her, she tells people I don’t love her or want to be around her, while continuing to be cold and avoiding me. At least my avoidance makes me feel as if I have some control over it.
I’m not sure when the abuse began entirely. After a couple of decades and several kids, time just isn’t the same. I can remember right before the wedding, she was so angry and dismissive of me that I stopped in my tracks and said I wasn’t going to marry her like this. I tried to get an actual apology out of her, but whatever I got was more about how I wasn’t listening to her, which seems to be the pattern I remember. A lot of blame being placed on me while apologizing to her and making excuses for how she treats me. It’s not that I didn’t need to apologize for stuff; we all say things we shouldn’t. But as I think back, the vast majority of the apologies were for her overreactions to simple things or for me bringing up legitimate concerns were seen as condescending.
Life seemed fairly normal for many years and even after we had kids. I should have noticed her lack of concern for me or the fact she rarely noticed any of the effort I put into the marriage. The problem is that we can always do more, always do better. That is constant mantra for we who want to please our partners. This is true, but it takes someone who truly loves us to point out that constantly trying for perfection will not create a better relationship, but will burn us out and the relationship will follow.
As you might guess, my wife’s narcissism played on my desire to please her and my insecurities. At first it was so subtle and just felt like she was trying to improve me. It seems to me like every women’s desire is to improve her husband so she can be proud of him. But there clearly was no reciprocation or desire to meet my needs in a substantial way. There was some effort, but not the desire to please me or meet my needs, but to SAY she pleased me and met my needs. Whenever I would point out anything wrong or undesirable, I was told how perfect my life was in an insulting manner. At a recent marriage counseling session, she even went so far as to tell the counselor that I stopped loving her immediately after being married.
I first realized there was a big problem when my wife started hitting me in front of the children. I know it really stunned them, although my youngest may not remember. I want to categorize the physical stuff as isolated incidents, but there have been many brief incidents to go along with the major stuff. There were a couple of times where she tried to hurt me during sex, but most of it is reaction to me trying to touch her. Because she hates being touched, she frequently responds with slapping me away or pushing me back. Some of this hurts but I make light of it because I don’t believe she can really hurt me physically. Of course, that is the whole plan. She knows I will never have a wound people would notice, but at the same time the abuse makes me susceptible to her whims and unreasonable requests. Because I do my best to stay away from her whenever possible, the physical abuse has mostly stopped.
The worst part is that I don’t feel valued for the role I play to provide for our family. Instead, I am made to feel like I am never doing enough or my contributions don’t matter by insulting me to my face and telling my children I won’t do things for them because I am selfish. She has become so obsessed with the children’s and my cleanliness that we can’t feel comfortable at home. We are often required to use paper plates so that the dishes don’t get dirty and then have to clean them. She refuses to clean anything in the house, except the floors (which she cleans obsessively to wipe our germs off of them), insisting that the only dirty things in the house are the children and me. She refuses to take any personal responsibility for the mess placing all of the responsibility on us. In the end it has turned our house into an unsanitary place that we can’t enjoy and others aren’t allowed to visit.
We are constantly being described as “dirty” no matter what the circumstances. Nothing from outside the house is allowed to be in the house, or at least it has to stay in the front entrance where she can control it. This includes library and school books, book bags, stuffed animals, coats, sweatshirts, and even socks that walked in another house. Now mind you, this doesn’t even consider when someone actually gets dirty doing actual work with sweat and dirt. Then you are forced to take a shower immediately or be subject to constant ridicule.
I would think people would be eager to help and stop these types of behavior, regardless of whether they were happening to a man or a woman. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I’ve been to multiple counselors, pastors, health care workers, social workers, and abuse specialists to name a few. The majority have been apathetic, but some have made things worse with abuse. Most of the time counselors simply sit there and let my wife talk about me and relate any problems she has with me. Oddly they can’t seem to discern a truth from a lie and seem to have no inclination to figure out the difference. They ignore blatant contradictions while accepting her feelings as actual actions. I feel like they offer to help me, but instead tie me up and allow my spouse to pummel me with whatever gives her an advantage. I can’t believe I actually have paid money for people to do this to me.
It gets worse when I start getting blamed for her actions towards me. Unfortunately the stereotypes ring true and it is nearly impossible for a man to convince someone they did not instigate the abuse. Then I get a laundry list to work on and I’m told if I just fix my problems and attitudes, spend more time with my wife, do her work for her, and spend more money on her, then she’ll love me. After believing these suggestions for years, despite a lack of evidence or conviction, I finally woke up to the fact they were not only perpetuating the abuse, they were part of it.
The worst incident happened when a pastor came to my home to confront my wife along with me. We met several times and everything was agreed upon. I was given complete confidence that he completely understood my situation and knew how to discern abuse and confront it. Things didn’t go as we had planned. My wife figured out what was going on and started with the wild accusations. At first it was the normal stuff and I just sat there. Then she accused me of some weird sexual assault that made absolutely no sense. For some reason it was so absurd, I started laughing (sorry, I don’t know protocol for denying sexual assault). At that moment the Pastor had had it with me. He turned on a dime and went into a half hour tirade of how I was an awful person and that he knew from the beginning I was a problem. He insulted every aspect of my life and character, making it up as he went. Oddly, he had no more knowledge than what we had discussed in our sessions together, as we just met before the counseling started. After that the sexual assault and other charges never came up again and nothing else was said, except for a couple notes exchanged behind my back between the pastor and my wife.
Whenever I first tell someone what I am going through, they all agree with a resounding voice. As I start to share details, their reaction changes. It is clear that helping me out of abuse will be messy and costly, while it likely won’t get you any praise and may result in the opposite. That is when they pass the buck or start the blame and denigration.
I have at least finally found a group to support me and define the types of abuse I have experienced. So far there has been emotional, physical, and financial abuse. Unfortunately, the help is limited to counseling and telling me how to handle myself. This is welcomed but it does not stop the abuse or present a path for me and my children to escape. For now, I can just continue to plug away and hope to find some way to get out without hurting myself or my children.