I wish I could say my husband was the only one who was abusive in our relationship. With all my heart I wish I could say that. But it's just not true.
Growing up I never fought back. My abusers were always bigger and stronger and more powerful than me. I didn't think there was anyone who could protect me. I learned not to cry because it only angered my abusers more. My best weapons of survival were to hide or acquiesce. I did my best to stay out of sight. When I couldn't do that I just tried to be quiet and do what they wanted me to do. I became excellent at reading the emotions in the room so I could sometimes head off an attack by changing my behavior or leaving.
I promised myself I would never stay with a man who was abusive. If he hit me, I was gone. Physical abuse is easy to recognize and prove. When I was pregnant with our first child my husband and I got into a heated argument. I stepped in front of him to keep him from storming away. He shoved me out of the way hard enough that I fell to the ground. I let him go. When things cooled off I told him if he ever did anything like that again I would leave. He never did.
Physical abuse is a quick blow (or several). Emotional abuse is slow torture. It isn't usually evident to others. But it eats your soul.
I had been unhappy with the way my husband treated me and the kids for a long time, but I didn't call it abuse. I didn't recognize it for what it was. Mostly because it was so familiar. It was how I'd grown up. I remember the moment I knew. It was when I heard myself telling the children, "Please be as good as you can so daddy won't get mad."
What a horrific moment. What an awful responsibility to dump on a child. A responsibility that was in no way theirs. That's when I started to search for a better way.
Instead of trying to placate him I began standing up to him. In the only way I knew how. I yelled. I demanded. I criticized and name called. I threatened. I demeaned and mocked and shamed. I'd only seen my mom stand up to my dad a few times and this was how she did it. It was what my emotions were shouting at me to do. My heart said protect the children, so I stood between them and the raging lion. With a whip and a chair.
It would be years before I knew a better way. And after he started to change it was a long time before I saw how awful I had been to him. In defense or not, my actions had been emotionally abusive as well. Neither of us knew how to deal with these things in an emotionally healthy way.
One or both of us has been in therapy now off and on for about six years. We have generations of unhealthy behavior to unlearn. We both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which means sometimes we are triggered and find ourselves back in those moments when we were powerless and terrified. We are still working to get healthy and strong. We still mess up. We are still sometimes unkind to each other. We still often see the other as an enemy and forget we're on the same team.
But we are so much better than we used to be. I am proud of us for all the hard work and progress. There are so many horrible things we experienced as children that we were able to protect our own kids from. So many emotional battles we've fought so they won't have to.
We're cleaning up the line as best we can. Breaking the chains that bound us.