Katy Ward 30th November 2018
“One night I was in a deep sleep and she woke me up by punching me in the face.”
Tony*, 50, is recalling the abuse he suffered from his wife of 18 years. Outwardly “strong and capable”, people like Tony don’t fit the stereotype of a domestic violence survivor.
“She said she’d had a dream I was cheating on her and was convinced it must be true. I was never unfaithful.
Domestic violence campaigns usually focus on women, because they are far more likely to be sufferers, with a quarter of women affected during their adult lifetime, according to 16 Days of Action, a national campaign to end domestic violence which takes place between 25 November and 10 December
While women are usually the victims, they can also be the perpetrators and when the abuse is directed at men, there is an enormous stigma.
Like 26% of men in abusive relationships, according to ManKind, Tony was living in a home with children and the former couple have twin daughters who are now 16.
She went mad, grabbed me by my hair and tried to smash my head against the living room wall
“We were never a match made in heaven, but the physical violence didn’t start until we’d been together about five years,” he says.
The first time his wife hit him was when the couple had come home from a Christmas party at about 3am.
“She was totally wasted and wanted to carry on celebrating so she started playing Christmas songs full-blast and downing shots of tequila.
“When I told her she’d wake up the neighbours, she went mad, grabbed me by my hair and tried to smash my head against the living room wall.
“The next morning she was full of apologies, insisting it would never happen again and promised to lay off the booze, so I let it go. The girls were three at the time and the last thing I wanted was a nasty atmosphere at Christmas.”
After that, things got physical about once a year, Tony says, but emotional abuse was much more frequent as his wife would find ways to belittle and humiliate him.
“A couple of years ago, I had an operation on my back, which meant I couldn’t have sex for a month afterwards. I expected my wife to keep this between us, but later found out she’d joked with her mum about how I wasn’t the man I should be.”
Tony is trying to move on after the end of the relationship but is struggling because his abusive ex has control of the children.
“I can accept the end of my marriage, but not the effect it has had on my relationship with my girls.”
Since Tony moved out, his daughters are refusing to speak to him and he doesn’t know why.
“All I can think is my ex has lied about the reasons for the break-up. When I tried to talk to her about the kids, she told me I couldn’t see them unless I paid two-thirds of my salary in maintenance.
At a certain point, I stopped noticing our relationship was so fucked-up
“Since the split, I’ve started to see a counsellor who asked me why I stuck it out as long as I did. I think that, at a certain point, I stopped noticing our relationship was so fucked-up.”
It’s a different story for Ben*, 37, a plumber living in Nottingham who feels trapped in a cycle of financial abuse with his girlfriend of five years.
“During the first few months, our relationship was amazing and I told her secrets I’d never dared to confess to anyone else,” he says.
“When I was in my twenties, I had a problem with cocaine and, at my lowest, even sold my mum’s TV and used the money to buy drugs. At first, my girlfriend seemed to understand I’d never do anything like that again, but now, she uses my addiction as a way to control things between us.”
The relationship has never been physically violent, Ben says, but the financial abuse can be humiliating. Ben works full-time and his girlfriend has been unemployed for more than six years.
“She won’t let me have access to any money even though she sits on her arse all day after I leave for work at six in the morning. She tells me I can’t be trusted and that I’ll just waste money on drugs.
“A few days after I moved into her flat, I couldn’t find my wallet and tore the place apart searching for it. A week later, I found it tucked away in her bedside table.”
My brother called me a pussy and said I should keep quiet for the sake of an easy life
Ben says his girlfriend refuses to put his name on the tenancy for the flat the couple share, even though it is Ben who pays the rent and bills.
“If we have even the smallest argument, she tells me she could kick me out at any minute,” he says.
“I’ve always considered myself a tough person so I find it hard to talk about emotional stuff. I tried to confide in my brother and he just didn’t understand. He called me a pussy and said I should keep quiet for the sake of an easy life.”
Ben says leaving is his only option but he says he has nowhere to go. He’s on the waiting list for a council house but a man on his own without children is not a priority for overstretched councils.
“I worry they won’t take me seriously if I tell them about the financial abuse.
“I’ll feel like a grown man throwing a tantrum because my girlfriend won’t give me any pocket money.”
Is my relationship abusive?
Domestic violence charity Refuge describes domestic violence as the systematic pattern of behaviour on the part of the abuser “designed to control his partner”.
The word “his” suggests the abuser is invariably male, which is not the case, but the rest of the definition is more helpful.
“The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual. Anyone forced to alter their behaviour because they are frightened of their partner’s reaction is being abused.”
How to get help
Despite the differences between Ben and Tony’s stories, they have one thing in common — neither considered reporting their partner to the police.
Their reluctance is not uncommon. According to Mankind, only 10% of male and 26% of female victims report their experiences to the police.
As well as the police, a number of organisations can offer support if you don’t feel safe in your relationship, including:
*names have been changed
Katy Ward 30th November 2018