We sat in the Emergency waiting room.
I sat fidgeting with my hands.
Karen sat gingerly on the edge of her seat, nervous and in more pain than she had ever experienced before.
We had agreed, Karen was about to lie to a doctor. We were honest people, but here we were about to tell a doctor that the broken rib, happened while skiing. That was not the truth. I had broken Karen’s rib in a hateful fit of rage.
As we waited for a doctor to examine Karen; the reality of my situation began to sink in. The idea that I was one of those men who beat their wives was unthinkable. I believed in equality and respect, not domination and violence. But, clearly, my behaviour betrayed my beliefs.
My wife was seeking medical attention for injuries that my I had inflicted.
Power and Control, My Escalation
My actions were intended to control Karen and I did this any way I could. These were the ways I made Karen feel inferior:
- Putting her down.
- Embarrassing her in front of others.
- Arguing relentlessly.
When I couldn’t control her with my tongue, I would do so:
– With a threatening gesture,
- Driving recklessly to scare her,
- By blocking her exit from the room.
As is typical with abusive men, my behaviour then escalated to:
- Slapping and,
- Eventually, punching.
At the time I didn’t see what I was doing as abusive; I just thought I had a problem with my temper. I didn’t think about how it was affecting Karen.
I didn’t think about anybody but myself.
It scared me when I realised that I had actually broken Karen’s rib. My so-called temper was getting out of hand. I was ashamed at what I had done, but more because it went against what I believed about myself rather than because of its effect on Karen. I was still concerned only about myself. I desperately wanted to keep my behaviour a secret, now more than ever.
Karen was living on pain killers and I had moved into a different bedroom. Neither of us were talking about it. It seemed our marriage was over.
“Keeping my pain a secret to protect Bruce became suffocating. I needed to tell someone. We decided to tell two of our closest friends, one of whom was a counsellor. At last, we had broken the silence. Bruce needed to be held accountable for his behaviour and I needed support from people who would be concerned for my safety and well being. Our friend referred us to a counselling agency where Bruce entered a group for abusive men and I entered a support group for women.
The six other women in my group had experiences incredibly similar to mine. The way Bruce treated me was not simply the way Bruce treated me, it was the way abusive men treat women.”
I Needed Help
In group counselling, I discovered all the ways I had abused Karen. In the past, I hadn’t seen any pattern of abusive behaviour, simply a few instances of what I called “losing my temper.” As far as I was concerned, we only had “arguments” or “fights.” I was amazed to discover a gradually escalating pattern of emotional and physical abuse since the early years of our relationship.
To change, I first had to admit the full dimensions of my abuse and to see the horrible impact it had on Karen. My behaviour had made her feel worthless. I was so good at turning things around that I made her feel like she was crazy when she was upset by my abuse. I had convinced her of a great, horrible lie: the abuse would stop if only she were somehow better. The truth was, nothing she did or didn’t do could stop the abuse; only I could. My abusive behaviour wasn’t simply something that happened when I “lost it,” it was a choice I made every day in order to control her and keep me and my needs at the centre of our relationship.
Admitting my abusiveness – was very difficult.
I had to acknowledge the horror of what I had done to Karen. When I finally admitted to my monstrous behaviour, I felt very alone. Terrified of being judged, I chose to talk to no one. Having to reject who I was and how I behaved, I didn’t know how to behave or who to be. I was an abusive man. I hurt my wife emotionally, physically, and spiritually. How could I ever make things right?
I still had so much to learn. We received counselling for another year as I continued to work on living in a respectful and mutual relationship. While I gave up pieces of abusiveness, it was a long time before I took complete responsibility for my behaviour. I had to learn how to put Karen’s needs and the needs of our relationship before my own. This was harder than I could ever have imagined. It took months of exhausting work (for Karen, our counsellors, and me) before I came to realise how utterly self-centred I was.
Letting go of Power: Building Mutuality, Respect, Care
I had grown up believing that every relationship is based on power. Unable to envision a relationship in which I saw Karen as truly equal, I had asserted my superiority over Karen by belittling and controlling her. Through counselling, I was invited to see relationships in a radically new way. It took me a long time to let go of my power, but I have finally learned to think in terms of “us” instead of “me.”
Although our story of abuse is all too common, the transformation in our marriage is not. Change is possible but only when abusers are willing to take complete responsibility for their behaviour. Real change does not happen unless abusive men are willing to learn a whole new way of living in relationship. Sadly, most abusers simply do not care enough to do the hard work and to give up their power. Whatever the abuser’s choice, women can choose to be emotionally and physically safe.
Intimate partner abuse that is often disguised as love
How to recognize the signs of an abuse that leaves no bruises