What is it like to realize you are married to an abuser? Life changing. Life shattering is a better description, but realizing and acknowledging that the person you love is an abuser is the first step to breaking free.
I remember when I lived in my abusive marriage. For many years I did not want to admit to myself that my husband was abusive. It was painfully impossible. I hung on through the bad times and just prayed that in time things would get better. I survived watching him throw chairs across the dining room in a rage or throwing our recliner across the living room because our girls were playing “too loud.” I survived the two year affair and the pushing down the flight of stairs when I was seven months pregnant. I held on through all of it because…..well because I loved him and I was caught in the abuse cycle.
Part of seeing that the one you love is an abuser is learning the abuse cycle. There are three parts to the cycle; the Tension Building Stage, The Incident and The Honeymoon Stage.
The Tension Building Stage is when you feel like you are walking on egg shells, waiting for the other shoe to drop so to speak. You, as the victim, know the abuse is coming you just do not know when so you walk softly in your life hoping not to rock the boat. For the abuser the tension is building in him/her. They will actually create incidents in their mind to be angry about, incidents that are minor to anyone else but they will blow them up in their mind so that they have a reason to explode. The abuser will set the victim up in a situation where they tell themselves they have a rite to explode and they will do just that; explode. The incident in the Incident Stage is never the same thing twice. This unpredictability keeps the victim on edge and gives the abuser control over them. I will give you an example. One night, in my abusive marriage, I made Hamburger Helper for supper. I cooked the ground beef and drained off the grease, like I had so many times before. When my ex started eating he suddenly exploded, yelling at me that there was too much grease in the supper and he started throwing forks and knives at me. He then got up and stormed off to the basement leaving myself and our children in a stunned silence, shaking in fear. In his head he needed to explode. He needed to release the tension that had been building in him. He created an incident in his head (too much grease in the meal) that justified exploding and he did just that. A few weeks later I made the same dish again. This time I was shaking as I made it, worried that he would explode again. I was really thorough, almost too thorough when I drained the grease, I did not want their to be a spot of grease. We sat down for the meal and I held my breath as he took the first bite. This time….nothing. No explosion, no angry words, no throwing of knives, nothing, but the meal was exactly the same! Do you see what he did? He created fear in me by getting angry about the grease, he then controlled my feelings and actions the next time I made the meal as I was extra careful in how I made it out of fear of him exploding again. He had complete control over me.
Following the Incident Stage or Violence Stage is the Honeymoon Stage. The abuser will often show remorse during this period. Many apologize and make promises that they will change and it will never happen again. There is a period of calmness as the victim enjoys the peace and the abuser is feeling calm because he has released all of that tension. Sooner than later though that tension will build again and the cycle will start all over again. As the abuser gains strength and feels more powerful each stage of the cycle will happen quicker and quicker and in turn will become more dangerous.
Breaking the abuse cycle is not easy. In fact, given the dangers around abuse, I believe it is the hardest cycle to break, but breaking it can happen. With proper support and understanding of the cycle you can break free. If you find that you are stuck in this cycle I encourage you to study the dynamics in an abusive relationship. Read books, google it on the internet and seeking counselling or a support group can all be helpful things. Empower yourself with knowledge.
In the end I did break free from the abuse cycle. It took many attempts to finally be free, but I did it and I could not be more proud of myself. Be proud of you. Do it. I BELIEVE in you.
PS. If you are planning to leave your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan so that you can leave safely. Please follow this link to download a Safety Plan. Scroll to the bottom of the page that initially opens to download it for free