‘Manning-Up’ to Domestic Abuse: Why I Stayed and Why I Left

Leaving isn’t as simple as it sounds, not for women OR men who are caught in abuse.

If it was that bad, why didn’t you just walk out the door?

Sounds simple, right? The caller on the radio show had a valid point. I was caught in an abusive relationship, so surely if I’d have had any sense, I’d have followed a straightforward, 4-step plan:

Step 1) Phone my friend/mum and get some lodgings sorted.

Step 2) Pack the essentials.

Step 3) Put my shoes on.

Step 4) Walk to the front door, open it, walk through it, close the front door … job done!

But leaving isn’t as simple as it sounds, not for women OR men who are caught in abuse. There are complications which lock people in, leaving them with few places to turn to and limited options for getting out.

  • What would you say, if I told you, that instead of seeing your children every day as you now do, your time with them will be immediately reduced to every other fortnight at best, and that there may be long periods of time when you don’t see them at all?
  • What would you say if I then told you, that you will spend months in the family courts spending thousands of pounds just to establish some kind of contact with your children, because any kind of contact would be better than none?
  • What would you say if I then told you that your children will mostly be cared for and raised by someone who you know to be abusive, and who hates you?

These are the issues, which any loving father caught in an abusive relationship must consider if he is thinking about leaving … but there’s more!

What if that same father is in two minds over whose fault the abuse is?

On a rational day, he knows it’s not normal to feel sick every time his partner is annoyed: the late arrival home from work, the broken wine glass, the noisy children creating a mess … these are trivial issues and trivial issues shouldn’t cause; a dry throat, sweaty palms, rapid breathing, even chest pains. This just isn’t normal.

But on a less rational day, he’s a loser, a wimp and never measures up to the other ‘real’ men. If only he could be wiser and stronger, then the abuse might stop. Self doubt leads to self hatred and he starts to believe he deserves the abuse …

simply walking out the door isn’t so simple after all, is it?!

I was a traditional and modern man wrapped into one. I got married for life and divorce was unthinkable: any decent man fights for his marriage, for his family, for his kids, so I fought the only way I knew how… by serving my wife, appeasing her, and by trying again and again to be that better husband.

Then one day, a line was crossed and there was no way back. (Fidelity was important to me, I’m a traditional man, right? The more she tried to cover it up, the more the web of lies became absurd) I faced a life-changing decision: stay in the marriage as a shadow of my former self, (setting a lousy example of fatherhood to my daughters), or leaving, and recognising that life would be agonisingly painful for a while, but that ultimately, it would get better.

  • I left because I wanted to be a better father and I knew I couldn’t be that better father whilst stuck in abuse. I realised I’d see far less of my daughters but kept telling myself that quality trumps quantity.
  • I left because my fear of my wife had turned into contempt: there was nothing left in my emotional tank for her.
  • I left because like a light being turned on, I wanted better and truly believed that better was possible for me.

Ten years on and I’m blissfully remarried, my daughters were eventually moved to my care by the courts, we have 3 joyful young boys under 7 (who are also a bit of a handful) and I am a repaired individual. I’m not bitter because I take some responsibility for my part in what was a dark and destructive relationship. I was naive and had no sense of boundaries: these weaknesses were not my wife’s fault, they were my issues and they contributed to the grotesque partner dance which ensued.

If you’re caught in an abusive relationship and wonder what it would be like if you left: the grass really is greener on the other side of the hill, but if you want to get to the greener pastures, you first have to crawl through the stinking slime, there is no clear and easy path. So get crawling, meter by meter, never give up and don’t look back!

Previously Published on Medium