John became less and less cooperative as we progressed through the divorce and remained in the same house together. He continued to twist everything I said and did to try and make me doubt myself.
I’m not sure why I engaged in conversations with him about the divorce. Perhaps I still thought that I might get through to him. That somewhere, underneath that stubborn, rigid, narcissistic personality… was a caring person who actually did love me enough to change his behavior. Of course… that was not the case.
During one of these conversations I tried to explain to John that his behavior was abusive. I reminded him of all the terrible things he did to the kids and I. Grabbing our 15 month old’s wrists… calling me names in front of the kids…. cornering me…. chasing me… punching walls… forcing me out of the house at 10 PM in a snow storm while I was 8 months pregnant.. etc, etc, etc.
He responded by telling me that if I list out the things that anyone has done wrong over the course of years, of course it’s going to sound bad. As he has always done, he was dodging the responsibility for his actions. He was trying to make me doubt my reality and make me think his behavior is normal and excusable. It wasn’t going to work on me this time.
I challenged him to make a similar list for me. Have I done anything even close to what he has done to me? Of course he couldn’t think of a single thing that I had done to him that was unkind, abusive or cruel. His response was to say, “You’ve been abusive to me too!” I took a deep breath, because I knew for a fact this was not true, and responded by saying, “Ok. I’m listening. What did I do that you perceived as abusive?” His response was beyond ridiculous. “You’re always telling me that I’m hurting your feelings!” He spat the words out at me. He was filled with rage. Telling him my feelings was the same thing in his mind as punching a wall for 5 minutes and telling me he had to do that so he wouldn’t punch me? It was the same as chasing our daughter and I to the car in the morning while I yelled, “Run!” to her because I was afraid he was going to hit me in front of her?
Looking back I have no idea how I kept my voice even… how I kept my expression flat. It must have been the years of practice I had walking on eggshells around him. I calmly looked at him and told him that sharing my feelings was not abusive. It was something that healthy people do.
Feeling his control slipping away, he tried one last effort to switch the blame for his abusive behavior onto me. “Well you have me sleeping on the couch like a dog!” Now, if you remember from previous posts, John left the bedroom on his own. I did not ask him to do that. Once I was in counseling, even thought it felt like I was swallowing nails, I asked him to rejoin me in the bedroom and he responded by saying it would be uncomfortable and chose to remain on the couch. I even offered to take turns sleeping on the couch with him but he had refused.
But he only had two choices here. Admit his behavior was wrong… that he was abusive…or try to find some ridiculous way to put the blame on me so that he didn’t need to own up to his errors. “I will NOT be put in the same category as someone who beats their wife!” So long as he was not “beating” me, he felt he was not abusing me.
For a long time John was able to make me question and doubt myself. Jane, my counselor, realized he was abusive months before I was able to see it. She would gently suggest that his behavior didn’t reflect love or consideration and that it really was abusive. I would always end up defending him or smiling and saying, “Maybe”. Inside I did not believe this was abuse. John was right. He wasn’t beating me. I have no scars…. no black eyes… he only put his hands on me a small handful of times.
But I was scared of him. I felt threatened by him constantly. He thought our marriage was a good one and I felt as if I had to be a fake person who always had a smile on her face or he would blow. I was afraid to leave him alone with our children. He called me names, screamed at me, used his body to make me feel small and weak and threatened. Is that abuse? I know it is unkind behavior…. but is it abuse?
I started to do some research and stumbled across some articles about narcissists and how they use control and fear as forms of abuse. It was my marriage. It was the life I had lived for years with John. IT WAS ABUSE.
Even to this day I have moments of doubting myself. Is it abuse? And I have to work at reminding myself that it most definitely is abuse. Just because John does not admit it or agree with it, does not mean it isn’t true. There are many forms of abuse, and John most definitely was abusive.