Opinion | When life at home is not OK

When I* met my partner I was still recovering from my previous abusive marriage.

I wasn’t dating or “on the market” as such, but when we met it was fireworks from day one. Once bitten, twice shy, I took it slowly, I wanted us to get to know each other, to build a friendship, to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake again in choosing a mate who couldn’t love, respect and honour me in the way I deserved.

Eventually, we moved in together, got married and started a family. But it wasn’t long before cracks started to appear.

Despite my best efforts in being the supportive partner, primary carer for our child, keeping the house clean and the meals cooked, it never seemed to be good enough. It started as nit-picking, criticising me if the shopping was wrong or if I hadn’t had the chance to attend to the other chores more promptly.

Then it escalated into verbal abuse, even if we had friends around. So I stopped inviting people over. So did the kids.

Life became an endless cycle of fights, weeks of tension where I was punished for some little thing I did wrong, followed by a brief period of peace where I convinced myself this was just a rough patch and that things would get better.

All couples went through tough times, right? Even when the abuse turned physical, when things were thrown at me, sometimes knocking me out cold, I convinced myself that it was just a phase.

When the kids were older, when my partner’s job became less stressful, when we were in a better financial position – things would be OK then.

So I remained silent.

Increasingly I became isolated from family and friends, depressed, anxious and hell-bent on keeping up appearances.

When I got a call from my child’s school, everything came crashing down. The years of tension, fights and abuse directed at me had finally taken its toll and the school was asking “is everything OK at home?”

I probably could have taken that abuse for many more years to come, in fact I had convinced myself I couldn’t go through the pain of separation again, as my previous divorce had ripped my heart (and my wallet) apart.

But, when I looked into my child’s eyes that day and saw fear and distress, not trust and love, something inside me shifted.

I confided in a friend, just a little, just enough to let them know maybe everything wasn’t OK. And guess what? My friend said “I know. This is not a healthy relationship. I just didn’t feel it was my place to say anything”.

While I felt this was our secret, that our family and friends had no idea, in fact they could all see what was really going on.

They saw the control, the put downs, the steady decline in my self esteem and all I was doing to try to keep the wheels from falling off. And I started to see they had tried to help me, tried to open up a conversation with me about the behaviour, the neglect and the impact on my physical and mental health, as well as the children. And I had shut them out, too scared of what letting anyone in would do, the danger it would put our family in, the shame it would bring on our name.

Eventually, I found the courage to leave and I am now rebuilding my life.

Familiar story, right?

Well, I am a man and my partner was my wife.

*Personal details withheld  

Hear no evil, see no evil: Silence can be a danger to the well-being of a family.

Hear no evil, see no evil: Silence can be a danger to the well-being of a family.