Sandra Bullock is not to blame

I heard the other day that Sandra Bullock was taking some of the blame for her marriage woes in the wake of her husband’s reported infidelities. Her famous husband has entered rehab for sex addiction and there are reports that he had many mistresses throughout the length of Sandra and his marriage.

I was sad to read that Sandra felt she needed to blame herself, but I wasn’t surprised. Unless Sandra had agreed to an open marriage, had infidelities herself or otherwise knew that her husband was sleeping around, she is not to blame.

I can also relate, because I constantly struggle with taking on the blame for my ex-husband’s decision to abuse me. But, I am not and neither is any other person who has been the victim of any kind of abuse.

If there is any one piece of advise I could give other women who have abusive husbands, it’s that you are not to blame. It seems that every woman that I have met during my recovery from domestic abuse has felt that they played a major role in their abuse and that if they had changed, then the abuse would have stopped.

But what I see when I look at other people situations, and I’m learning to see in mine own, your partner is the cause of the abuse and your partner alone.

We all make a very personal decision how we are going to handle frustration, anger, conflict, desires, and so on. Those decisions are not the result of other people’s actions.

If my ex-husband was so unhappy with me and my actions, he could have made any number of ways to handle it that would have been much healthier than taking criminal action.

During my marriage, my husband never asked to talk to me about the state of our marriage. He never asked that we seek counseling, together or separately. He never asked for a separation or a divorce, despite packing a bag and leaving me hundreds of times.

And when I finally told him I was seeking divorce, he asked me for one last change to make it work. Within just a few weeks of that request, he hit me for the last time.

I know why Sandra is blaming herself. She is taking a healthy look at her own behavior and believes like most of us that it takes two for the success or failure of a marriage. And if that is where the story ends, she would be right.

But it does not take two to cause abuse. It takes one person’s willingness to resort to violence or betrayal or lies. It takes one person’s belief that their partner is not a partner at all, but chattel in their lives. It takes one person’s desire to control the behavior of another to benefit their own position.

I wish Sandra and Elin and all the other women who put their trust in their husbands only to feel betrayed luck in their recovery. It is not easy to give up on the dreams of a happy marriage that lasts a lifetime. If fact, for me, it has been more of a process than an epiphany.

They, like all of us who have been victimized by someone who we thought loved us, will have to forgive them… because that forgiveness is better than resentment and anger.

All in due time, for sure. And of course, time that I still need as I navigate life after abuse.

How I let his fame keep me silent

My ex-husband is a sports writer and with that comes a certain level of fame. Not the kind that brings autographs and paparazzi, but the kind of fame that causes family and friends to be somewhat enamored with his status and his proximity to NFL football players.

Throughout our marriage and even throughout our divorce, I’ve had friends and family ask me to be a go-between with my ex in order to get tickets, player autographs and his general opinion about various players, games and coaches. Many times I have been involved in conversations where my friends are impressed with what my ex-husband does for a living.

I have also watched my ex-husband write many, many stories about “bad behavior” of NFL players who have spit on each other during games, beat up their wives and girlfriends and run their relationships into the ground. And as he wrote about these abusers, he was beating his own wife.

There were times that I used to think to myself after he undercovered a story of NFL player abused against a wife, just what would they all think if they knew what my ex-husband was doing to me. But it also showed how far down both of us pushed this reality of our lives. And when my family and friends were impressed with my husband, there was a part of me that got to live the fantasy that we had a great life. In a life that was filled to the brim with pain, it was an oasis of happiness.

I don’t have any resentment about it, though anyone might have the right to feel that way. I was a willing participant in glorifying my husband for a long time. However, what I do see is the unhealthy feelings I had about it… in other words, it was another way I was denying the truth and hiding it away.

I really believed that if you add a lot of decoration to a marriage… aspects that make it look healthy and normal, then it just might become what you hoped it would be. The perfect house, the perfect kids, the right life decisions, responsible, clothes, friends, family, and on and on… then maybe this one little aspect… that my husband was treating me horribly… would go away. I stabbed at the problem, or so I thought, with therapy… trying to fix it. But my ex-husband didn’t want to fix it. His coping skills were working for him. Afterall, he had a great job, a perfect home and a way to get out of all responsibility and partnership whenever he wanted. He was totally in control of his circumstance and he didn’t do a thing that he was willing to do. He could sleep well at night.

But, when I began to come out of denial and into reality, my husband’s fame posed a big problem for me. A therapist kept telling me to call the police the next time he hit me. Well, I would play that out and it didn’t look good for anyone. I knew that the minute I called the police, was the minute the abuse went public, not just to friends and family, but it would be in the newspaper and local TV and maybe even national sports news.

My small children would have their world turned upside down at school. Their dad would go to jail, and that would be bad. But the story would be in the newspaper. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to explain it to them or handle their pain.

My husband would also loose his job and likely loose his career. Afterall, how many NFL players has he dogged for beating their wives? A lot. Reporters are not suppose to become part of the story or the story. It tends to make editors who hire reporters nervous about objectivity and whether those reporters can get the job done.

So calling the police, meant that my husband would be fired, my children would have to deal with the world talking about their dad, our income ending and the mortgage not getting paid and the complete collapse of all of our lives. At the time, it was a very scary choice. The beatings were hard to take, but at least that was the devil I knew.

I am so very thankful however, that I got into a therapist office that gave me the proper perspective. She helped me to see that I could not do anything to change my husband. He was an abuser and that was that. And she helped me to see how far down a road I had gone… that I had only two choices… Call the police and collapse my family structure or keep getting hit and risk death.

I had begged and begged therapist to give me another choice, one that would end happily. No beatings. No police. Just happily ever after and a husband who stopped beating me, lying to me, abandoning me.

But finally a very good therapist read between the lines and saw what I needed. The hard truth. She said to me, “You have two choices. Never comfront your husband about anything he does, wants, believes. Never argue with him and accept him 100 percent. Or you can leave. There are no other choices.”

Those words hit me very hard. I thought to myself. Can I accept my husband and what he does 100 percent and never be mad or disappointed, hurt, in a bad mood, wanting attention and honesty…. Heck no. So that left only one other choice.. I had to leave.

It’s sad, but it took so long for me to realize that my husband hit me because he wanted me to shut up and just go along with his desires and needs. He hit me to control me, as chattel in his world. I was never an individual in his world.

Once I felt it in my heart that I was leaving this marriage, then the fame was no longer a part of the equation. I was getting out and I was going to get out as fast as I could. Once I made that decision, I stopped interacting with my ex-husband, which cut the risk of further abuse. And within months, I was out without fanfare. My family and friends were completely surprised, but my ex-husband and I knew exactly why we were splitting up. And I think my ex-husband was relieved also that no police were involved. He still had his imagine in tack. In fact, he even used the divorce as a way to be the victim once again.

I think that my ex-husband feels like he got away with something that could have blown up his career and his desire for the fame it brings. I don’t know. But I do know that publicly today, my ex likes to play the understanding and helpful ex-husband, but privately with me, he still tries to control me and how I interact in his world. And sadly, I still find myself falling for it, again and again.

I have to remind myself over and over to stay away from him as much as possible. And to avoid the comments of people who are impressed with my ex’s career. I try to be polite when asked about my ex-husband the sports writer, but I have to work at saying to people, “I don’t know if he is going to the Super Bowl or if he is writing another book.”

It is the best thing that I can do for my own health.

Why did I stay?

I have asked myself this question a million times for sure. It is this single question and the lack of a comforting answer that has troubled me for years.

I have all sorts of reasons and explanations, but in the end the fact is that I chose to stay in the marriage for many years. I chose to have children with this man and I chose to remain friends with him after divorce.

In the end, there are no quick answers. Just gut feelings that changed over time.

At first, I stayed with my ex because I didn’t believe that he was an abuser, even after he first choked me. I thought that it would never happen again and I forgave him. I didn’t want to give up on my dream of a happy family. I was pregnant and had better plan for us than what the truth was. I believed we could work it out, with counseling and honesty.

After a few more years, I felt trapped. I didn’t work and I was 100 pounds overweight. I had young children that I wanted to spend my time raising. I didn’t want them in daycare. I was afraid that a future after divorce would be far worse than the hell I was living. I didn’t want my children to have a broken home. I didn’t want them to have to deal with the complications of divorced and fighting parents, which at the time, seemed far worse than married and fighting parents.

Toward the end, I worried about how my husband would treat our children if I wasn’t around to get in the middle and try to “manage” his behavior and mitigate any bad judgments he had regarding our kids. When our first child was 2 years old, my husband showed the first sign that his temper could get out of his control around the children. The two of them were sitting on our front porch bench just enjoying the afternoon, when my son smacked my husband in the face with his little toy dog. It was an accident, but my husband grabbed the dog and threw it with all his might into the yard. It was so  fast that it scared my son,who didn’t understand the reaction. I knew what it was, because I had seen it so many times before.  Staying with him seemed like the only way that I could protect my kids from their father’s temper.

In the end, thankfully, I finally left. I just couldn’t take it anymore. My husband and I got into an argument about his travel schedule, which of course led to other issues, mostly that I felt he was lying to me about why he was leaving again. He took the same dismissive, “you are such a witch” attitude with me and I kept up the fight. I bent down to open his suitcase to illustrate some point I was making that I can no longer remember, when he shoved me away from the suitcase and pushed me onto the sofa nearby. He jumped on top of me and grabbed my wrists and stomped on my feet, nearly breaking my foot. He screamed at me to leave him alone and how much he hated me, continuing to attack me as I curled up on the sofa to protect myself.

When I finally got up, I screamed at him that I hated him and how little respect I had for him. He got into my face, about two inches away and screamed that he hated me, and then spit into my face. I left the room and wiped my face. I don’t remember the details of the rest of the day, but that was the moment that I was done.

He left for a work trip and was gone for weeks. In that time, I went to attorney and began the process of leaving, one that I had already begun emotionally months before.  After I met the attorney, my husband and I had a brief reconciliation that did not last long. He had made a promise that he would never do it again. That we owed it to our kids to try one more time. But it was short-lived and before long the tension was building again and the communication had completely broken down and I knew it was only a matter of time before he would attack me again.

I went to another attorney and began the process of divorce. It was the beginning of my life. Because one thing that I knew, if I hadn’t gotten out, the odds that I would have been killed were increasing rapidly.

And yet, I still don’t know why I stayed and I still try to figure it out. I read one woman’s experience with domestic violence and she said that her unwillingness to throw people away was the reason she stayed.. I could relate to that. I’m a pretty loyal person. But in the end, I think the truth is more about what I wanted for my life and leaving meant that I wasn’t going to get it.

I wanted that 50 year marriage and grandchildren at my house at Christmas and children who spoke about their loving parents. I wanted to know that my mate had my back and completely loved me and I him. I wanted a trusting, caring relationship that meant everything. I was clinging to the imagine of my marriage that my friends and family had of us, that we were the couple that was going to make it. I wanted that so much that I was able to bury years and years of being attacked, lied to, manipulated, abandoned and basically treated like chattel by the man who was suppose to love me.

I stayed because to leave meant that I had to give up my dream. To think that I was willing to risk my life for that dream is truly unhealthy. And even though I did finally accept that my dream was not going to happen and some of my fears have come true in divorce… for example, financially it is hard, my ex-husband’s judgment and motives with the kids are suspect, and he has not taken one step toward healing or accepting that he has a problem… I am still so very grateful that I did leave. I know that is was the right decision and that I gave me a chance at a life.

The double live of a bruised woman

In the years that I was with my ex-husband, I lived two completely different lives. In one life, I was part of a respected couple, a stay-at-home mother, former newspaper journalist, and a good friend to many people. I chaired volunteer committees after committees. I was a hostess to many parties. I gave others advice on many subjects, including marital advice. And I was there for my girlfriends when they wanted to complain about their husbands latest acts of selfishness.

I would commiserate and find humor and basically play right along about how men are from another planet and we women had to just find a way to tolerate them. In other situations, I would speak about the importance of working on your marriage and finding solutions to differences.

And my ex-husband lived a double life as well. In public, he was the typical husband and father. Seemingly trying his best to handle the responsibilities of home-life and a demanding job. He played the laid-back hubby just trying to make his demanding wife happy. In that public life, was the only time that he would hold my hand or show me affection. He was willing to run to the store during a party, or put on a Santa costume at Christmas.

But behind the scenes, we had a much different picture. From the start of our relationship, my ex was always very comfortable lying and withholding information about himself, his actions and his life. I have always struggled with this so the lying took its toll on me.

When the last people left the party and all that was left were empty cups and bags of trash, our marriage became real and it wasn’t pretty. My ex stopped all affection and talking to me the minute the door closed behind the last guest. He withdrew from our life pretty quick.

But the real story to our double life, was the dance we did in private. I would have some sort of expectation or request of him, and he would have another idea. And that was the start of it. For example, my ex loved playing fantasy baseball. He spent hundreds of dollars on it and other forms of gambling before I met him, so it was not a big surprise to me. I knew it going in. When we got together and began to make spending decisions together, the idea of our limited budget going to such an expensive, time consuming and frivolous “hobby” seemed a bit odd to me. I asked him if he could limit his spending and time and cut back on the many leagues he was playing. He said he understood and that he would. Sounded like a compromise to me that we could both live with.

However, I didn’t count on my ex’s double live. He told me one thing and did another. He kept playing, but just didn’t tell me about it. One day I found out and was terribly hurt. We had a long conversation in which I tried to express that I was really feeling hurt that this man who was suppose to have my back wasn’t really caring about the hours he took away from his family with 80-100 hours a week on work to begin with. On top of that, he wanted to spend what little time he had left on himself. He didn’t “agree” and felt that I was being controlling.

Throughout the years together,  I tried to express this to him in some long conversations that I had hoped would “sink in” and he would understand how hurt this made me. Instead, he understood that I would be mad if he played, so he decided its was best not to tell me he had continue to gamble our money and play the game. Some of his friends were even in on it. This was a pattern that he lives with today. (I have watched him spin the truth to his new wife and withhold information because he doesn’t want to make her mad.)

The dance went back and forth for years. When I would catch him, a blow up would begin and most times I would end up being hit, pushed, left, spit on, lied to some more and generally blamed for being a controlling wife. He was the victim and I was the one who didn’t understand him. And honestly, this debate should have been handled with compromise and mutual understanding, but our debates too often ended with my ex going to his coping skills of abuse: violence, abandonment and lies.

The last time we argued over this particular issue, was a turning point for me. My ex had told me that a friend I didn’t know was coming into town and he would be spending the evening with him. I was fine with that. But there was something strange about it and I couldn’t put my figure on it. That day, we got into an argument and my ex stormed out of the house. After a while, I tried to call him and he wouldn’t answer his phone. That went on for hours until finally he picked up the phone about 2 a.m..

I asked him where he was and he hedged… finally he said he had been driving around after he met his friend. That didn’t make sense and I suddenly started to think, “Maybe he is having an affair” and I asked him. “If that is what you want to think, go ahead and think that,” he said and then he hung up the phone. He came home a little while later and we didn’t see each other until morning. I was pretty upset and he told me he wasn’t having an affair. He was just driving around because of our earlier fight. But I honestly didn’t know what was going on.

Until a few weeks later when, during a heated discussion, he confessed what he had been doing that night. I was incredibly hurt when I found out and not because he was with another woman. He was with his friends playing fantasy baseball. Sure I was glad that he wasn’t having an affair, but I couldn’t believe that he was completely comfortable letting me believe that he was having an affair just so he could play a game, a hobby, for fun and not have to deal with me on it. I still have trouble understanding how his conscious works. And after that, I really began to realize that he would never have my back. His desires, wants, needs would always come first and at any expense to me and the kids. This was not a giving man.

It also highlighted to me the state of our dysfunction. Why was I still doing the dance with this guy who clearly didn’t care about me enough to think about how letting me believe he was having an affair would kill me. I realized how little I meant to him. How absolutely fake our public life was and how hopeless I felt that it would ever change. I so wanted to be with a man who cared about me that I had been willing for so long to take the crumbs of our fake public life and settle for the garbage of our real life. It was shameful.

The truth was that the issues that my ex and I fought over were really not too far off from what many married couples argue about and eventually compromise over, but in my marriage, my partner would do anything, even hit and lie, to protect what he coveted… his own desires. And that made me so ashamed in so many ways. Though I treasured honesty and loyalty, I was lying to everyone I knew about my marriage. I would actively paint my ex as a much better husband and parent than he was. I was hiding at nearly all costs the truth about what was going on behind closed doors. If I did commiserate with the girls about men, I took safe topics that wouldn’t lead to the truth of my marriage, which was that I was married to a man who cared so little about me that he would hit me, spit in my face, choke me, attack me, corner me against a wall, grab me, throw me against a wall, stomp on my feet, slap my face, pack a suitcase and leave me and the kids for days sometimes weeks at a time, ignore my phone calls, let me believe he was having an affair, spend very little time with me, show me little affection in private, call me names, swear at me, yell at me, give me only backhanded compliments, withhold information, play mind games with me and generally throw me under the bus to anyone at any time that it made sense in his world of control. He was the kind of man who told me over and over that the reason why he did all these things was because of me and how I treated him.

I didn’t want to face that I was staying with a man like this. I didn’t want to face that this is who I picked to be my children’s father. I didn’t want to face that this was who I promised to spend the rest of my life with and love unconditionally. I didn’t want to tell everyone that I was this stupid and see the looks on everyone’s faces. I didn’t want to tell my children that their father had these kinds of problems. And somehow, my ex-husband knew this about me and played on this completely.

I didn’t call the police. I didn’t tell my family or friends. I didn’t even tell some of the therapist we saw to fix our marriage. But the day I finally confessed to the couple’s counselor  just what was going on, was a beginning and was the start of getting out and saving my life.

Just what is domestic abuse?

For nearly 15 years, I was involved with a man who was controlling me and I didn’t even realize it. I didn’t think that my bruises were the result of a controlling husband. I didn’t think that my depression was the result of a controlling husband. I didn’t think my incredible weight gain was the result of a controlling husband. I didn’t even think that our horrible marriage was the result of a controlling husband.

I believed a lot and sought a lot of psychological help, but no one ever told me that I was married to man who needed to be in 100% control his world and if he felt out of control, then he was dangerous.

It wasn’t until the very last months of my marriage, that I finally got the help that I needed to see just what I was dealing with and exactly what I had to do. And it wasn’t until years after my divorce that I learned how it all works.

When Tom and I first met, he used to tell me sincere stories about his hard life. He would tell the story through trembling lips and slowly unfold the tales as if it was the first time he ever had the courage to share the stories. I would comfort him and hold him. I did notice that he didn’t seem to actually cry, but he seemed to act like he was.

The theme of his tales were always the same. He was trying to do right but there was someone who was getting in the way, misunderstanding him, disrespecting him and he was left with no choice, but to try to navigate his living hell.

These events in his life were the reason and explanation for many of his actions, it would turn out. For example, he was sorry that he was out until 4 in the morning without calling but he was an only child who never had to answer to anyone before, so he didn’t think about me at home worried sick.

The first example, the first red flag, he told me that he couldn’t just break it off with his girlfriend. She needed him so much and wanted just one last holiday with him. So could I just hold on until after Christmas, which he would need to spend with her, one last time. I was hurt, but I understood. Afterall, I was the “other woman.” But then Christmas came and went and January ticked down and still no break up. Ummm.

He wanted to, but just couldn’t break her poor heart. Funny, this was the girl who had treated him like garbage and now, she was a needly, crumbling child he needed to protect. What gives? Finally in February I didn’t think he would do it, so I broke it off with him. The next day, he came to my house with flowers and tears as he described how awful he felt that he hurt another human being as much as he just hurt her.. they broke up and he did it because he loved me so much. But that was all he wanted to say about it.

So, I believed him. And for the next year or so he had on and off communication with her behind my back. She was now the other woman and I was the girlfriend getting screwed, I just didn’t know it then.

I also didn’t know that I was being completely controlled by an abuser.

The power and control wheel of domestic abuse is well documented. However, I had never seen it until about three weeks ago… just about 20 years from when I was first emotionally abused. It sure filled in a lot of gaps when I read it.

The abuser is trying to constantly maintain power and control by any, all or any combination of the following tactics:

Using intimidation with looks, actions gestures, or worse.

Using emotional abuse by playing mind games, lying, making her feel guilty, putting her down, making her feel bad.

Using isolation by controlling what she does and who she sees and where she goes.

Minimizing, denying and blaming her by making light of abuse, her feelings and concerns, denying the abuse, shifting responsibility for abusive behavior or saying she caused it.

Using children to relay messages, threatening to take the children away, using visitation time as a time to harass her.

Using male privilege by trying to be the one who makes all the “big decisions” or acting like the master of the castle.

Using economic abuse by controlling the money, withholding financial information, giving her an allowance, making her ask for money, or threatening to withhold child support.

Using coercion and threats to get her to do something by threatening to leave her, commit suicide, hurt her or report her to the authorities.

There are many other ways of saying the above list of ways that abusers use to control their own world and maintain a sense of power.

When I learned that power wheel, it finally put clearly into words the kind of manipulation my ex was and still does do to me. He doesn’t do all of them at once and doesn’t always use the same tactic. They are all in his toolbox of control that he uses as he sees fit to maintain his world.