I've posted about my abusive ex-husband, about the time he tried to strangle me and about what leaving him was like. I've posted about physically abusive relationships, and even alluded to my more recent struggle. I often see people posting in response that what they're going through "isn't as bad" as what I went through because it's "just" verbal abuse. And that is what is so horrible about verbal abuse.
About a dozen years after I escaped from the man who tried to strangle me to death, I had recovered enough to consider marrying again. He was handsome, charming, funny, kind and helpful, and he thought I was beautiful, smart, successful, and really, really special. He was a colleague in my ICU, someone I had worked with for over nine years and a part of my friend group. We had dated for nearly five years. He was someone I thought I knew well. We married in a romantic outdoor ceremony in a very romantic city. I was so happy I'm sure I glowed. Finally, I had married the man of my dreams, someone who told me often that I was the woman of his dreams, that we would be together forever. Someone I loved and cherished and someone who I believed loved and cherished me. Life was wonderful!
And life was wonderful for a long time. We were happy, congratulating each other often on how lucky we were to have found one another and on how lucky we were to have such a terrific life. We had a nice home, reliable cars, steady and interesting work, friends, family, dogs . . . it was more than I ever thought possible.
There were red flags. In retrospect, I can see them although they flew right by me at the time. When you're wearing rose colored glasses, red flags just look like flags.
He always had to be the center of attention. I was OK with that; I didn't want to be the center of attention.
He was always helping others -- helping them move, helping them repair their houses, helping them with any kind of manual labor that meant he could take off his shirt and show off his physique. "Isn't he terrific," I thought. "He really cares about other people; he's always trying to help." Then came the day that the water heater exploded and flooded my house, and because I owned the house there was no landlord to call. Mac told me I was on my own because he had promised to be at Cindy's house to help her dad repair her roof. I dealt with the problem myself, and that afternoon when the water heater had been replaced and the mess was finally cleaned up, Mac showed up telling me that, "If we're going to be married, you should be able to count on me." What I heard was him admitting that he was wrong, and vowing to change his behavior. What he actually said was what I needed to hear, what I needed to believe in order to stay in the relationship. If I believed that in the future, I would come first, that our home came first, I was wrong.
He was always cognizant of how he looked to the world at large, always going out of his way to maintain his shiny image and his reputation as a good guy. I thought he was the good guy he portrayed himself as being. I had known him for nearly a decade. worked beside him, attended all the same parties and outings, then dated him for years. I thought I knew what I was getting.
We spent some time with his sister, who observed that Mac was "a know-it-all knight in shining armor." We all laughed about that, because Mac (who was very intelligent and well-read) DID like being right. Mac said later that "nobody likes being called a know-it-all."
Then one day I was one of eight nurses helping to place a 500 pound quadriplegic patient on a specialty bed. As we pulled him from one bed to another, I felt a "pop" in my back. Although I didn't realize it until the MRI nearly two weeks later, that was the moment I herniated a disc -- an injury that would keep me out of work for six months, unable to walk for nearly three months and require back surgery to repair. Two days later, I was officially on medical leave. And suddenly, I had to concentrate on my own health issues, deal with the pain of the injury and Mac was no longer the undisputed center of attention in our home. That was when his mask started to slip.
When your husband throws you down a flight of stairs, slams you through a wall or attempts to strangle you, that's abuse. You know it, the ER staff recognizes it as abuse, and anyone who sees your injuries would agree that you have been abused. Verbal abuse isn't so clear cut. It's difficult to recognize it at first because we LOVE our partner, and we want to give them the benefit of the doubt. If physical abuse leaves visible injuries, verbal and emotional abuse takes place in private, where no one else is around. No one sees your injuries, no one sees the abuse. Abusers are adept at switching on a dime from berating and haranguing you to pleasant and charming when they answer the phone or the door back to berating and haranguing you as soon as the other person is out of earshot. YOU appear to be the "crazy" one because there you are, visibly upset and maybe even crying and HE'S being so pleasant.
Like physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse starts slowly. The abuser "grooms" you to accept it. And because you love them, because you believe that you know them and that they are a wonderful person who loves you, you do accept it. If he screams at you that the kitchen is a disaster, that you're a lousy housekeeper, you work at cleaning the kitchen more thoroughly, at keeping it clean, at NEVER making a mess. You want to believe it's about the kitchen. You cut him some slack -- he's "just had a rough week at work," he's "just stressed because his mother is having a biopsy," he's "a little overwrought because of an issue with his daughter's mother." At first he may have tantrums a couple of times a year. And then it's a couple of times a month. And then you realize that he's "flying off the handle" three or more times a DAY.
When the man that you love, who you believe loves you with all his heart screams at you that you're "too fat and ugly to satisfy me," you literally cannot believe it. And when he comes up with an excuse for saying such a horrible thing, an excuse like "I was just angry, so I said the worst thing I could think of," you WANT to accept the excuse. The alternative is just too awful to contemplate. When you're upset about the flirty texts he's been exchanging with his best friend's wife, and he tells you that he didn't do anything wrong, you're just too sensitive and overreacting because you're jealous of her great figure, you may have a bit of difficulty accepting that, but you do. Or maybe you don't, and he punishes you by giving you the silent treatment for days or just stops coming home for awhile. If you disagree with him, express a different opinion about politics or how to cook the turkey, or even if you simply fail to agree with him fast enough, he has a tantrum. When he blames YOU for the single car accident he's being ticketed for because if you hadn't made him so angry, he wouldn't have been driving so recklessly, it's just normal behavior. THIS is what your life has become. But he hasn't thrown you down the stairs or slammed you through a wall, so it's not really abuse. Is it?
And then one day a friend on AN mentions a book by Patricia Evans on verbally abusive relationships. And as a lark, you download it. As you read it, you recognize your husband, your relationship. And then you realize, when you look in the mirror, that you are no longer the strong, independent woman you once were. In fact, you don't even recognize the person in that mirror. THAT is verbal abuse, emotional abuse. It doesn't merely damage your body; it damages your SOUL. It destroys who you are; changes you into someone you don't recognize; someone you don't LIKE. And because no one else has witnessed the abuse, because he's so handsome and charming and everyone believes he's such a nice guy, no one believes you've been abused.
Physical abuse damages your body; it leaves evidence and it heals. With emotional abuse, no one but you -- and sometimes not even you -- realizes that there has been abuse. It damages your perceptions of reality, it makes you doubt yourself. It steals your good qualities and uses your strengths against you. It, too can heal, but it's far more difficult.
Verbal abuse is not just abuse; it is, in so many ways, worse than physical abuse.
I've been through breast cancer. I've been physically abused by a husband who tried to strangle me. And I've lived with verbal abuse for far too many years. The worst thing I've ever lived through was the verbal abuse, and the bravest thing I have ever done was leaving the love of my life who had turned into my abuser.
I don't want to 'like' this because I hate what you've been through- but thank you for being transparent enough to put yourself out there. I know it will help many.
I liked this simply to let Ruby know how brave she is for sharing and hopefully helping someone else that has gone through a similar situation. I have experienced some of the same gaslighting and and verbal abuse. It changes who you are as a person. For me thankfully, I became stronger when I realized enough is enough. Before reaching that point it was destroying my health from stress. I am sorry you had to go through that Ruby but very happy that you are in a better place.
My heart is aching so much for you right now. Thank you for sharing this with us Ruby Vee.
This just breaks my heart. I am so sorry for all you have been through. I am glad that you are a survivor and have lived to tell your story for others.
Ruby, this is my first post after a long hiatus, and I want to extend to you my heartfelt apologies that you have had to endure that kind of treatment from the one you loved. What you have been through is not uncommon, unfortunately, and it should never be ignored.
We live our lives with the hope that the ones we love are able to love us as we do them, and unfortunately that isn't always the case. My wife endured years of verbal abuse from her parents, and not long after we married I found myself engaging in the same tactics.
I will never be proud of any day in my life that found me talking to her in a manner that dehumanized and belittled her, even if I made the excuse that I did it as a response to her words or actions toward me.
She deserved better. You deserved better. All of us deserve better. Relationships are built on many things, but mutual respect and trust have to be at the base. If not, then nothing you build above it will last...like building a castle on the sand.
I can't imagine the strength it took to get out of that situation, but I am very glad you did. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. With any luck, someone else might read your words and recognize themselves or their loved one as characters in your truth, and may make the decision to get help.
TY for sharing and (((Ruby Vee))).