“If you are an approval addict, your behaviour is as easy to control as that of any other junkie. All a manipulator need do is a simple two-step process: Give you what you crave, and then threaten to take it away. Every drug dealer in the world plays this game.” Harriet B. Braiker
When I talk to people (who didn’t know us) about my marriage I see the confusion on their faces. I hear the contradictions. I know I sound confused. Probably because it is very confusing.
I felt happy (the majority of the time, obviously we had arguments and hard times).
I felt content. I didn’t question the way we operated. It was a traditional family structure. Putting Ex and the children first was an automatic and natural thing to do.
I felt loved. Physically, Ex was demonstrative. We had a great sex life (he could always win me over with that). He made me feel desirable: he would tell me how beautiful I was, how nice I looked, how much he fancied me. He was charming and witty. He made me laugh so much. I yearned to be romanced (I rarely felt cherished) but I never questioned that he loved me (he just wasn’t the romantic type).
I felt safe and secure. I thought Ex was loyal, honourable, dependable, a man of integrity, a family man. It never, ever entered my head that he would leave me. That surety made me feel incredibly safe. Ex was a workaholic. He strove to provide us with best of ever. He was an excellent provider. Not having to worry about money added to the feeling of security.
Happy. Content. Loved. Safe and secure.
What more could you want from a relationship, right?
I didn’t want anymore.
I didn’t feel a lack.
I didn’t focus on the negatives, only the good.
But now I do see the bad.
The nasty, shitty and cruel things that occurred. The horrible things he said when I had made him angry. The terrible responses he had to our children.
So many incidences over the years.
Too many to detail.
I’ll give a couple of examples.
1. Our eldest child attempted suicide: I was beside myself, went with him to the hospital in the ambulance, stayed with him until the staff made me go home, held him, cried buckets, apologised over and over for letting him down and not realising things were so bad for him, told him how grateful I was he hadn’t succeeded, tried to make him laugh, not worry etc.
Ex’s response: our son was an embarrassment, he was attention seeking, what would the neighbours think about the police and an ambulance turning up at our house at 2 am in the morning, I was to blame for mollycoddling him, making him soft, for encouraging and perpetuating a victim mentally. He was adamant our son couldn’t come home after being discharged from hospital. He went to stay with my parents for a few days whilst I placated Ex and tried to talk him round.
2. A few Christmas ago (he really did have a thing about spoiling Christmas) I had over imbibed at lunch. We’d gone out to a five star hotel – all you can eat, all you can drink type of affair, where the waiters are continually topping your glass up so it’s impossible to keep track of how much you’ve consumed. After getting the children to bed, I fell to sleep on the couch… a sort of drink induced coma, nothing could stir me. Whilst I was out, Ex shaved my pubic area. I was completely bald. Obviously I was freaked out about it when I woke up. I felt violated. I couldn’t understand why he’d want to do such a thing.
He told me I was overreacting. That it was just an experiment to see what it would look like. That I belonged to him so it was not a violation.
Ex manipulated me.
He controlled me.
He emotionally (and sometimes physically) abused me.
But I didn’t see it at the time. He convinced me he was good and I was bad. He would give me what I craved, and withdraw it if I tried to question his decisions or actions.
Stockholm syndrome developed early on in our relationship. I formed an alliance with my captor. I thought I ‘understood’ him. I trusted him. I would defend him. I would not hear a bad word said against him. I would make excuses for his behaviour. Find reasons for his off days.
And even now. 18 months on, with all the knowledge and insight I have (re)gained. Even now. I find it hard to accept that he’s not a good person. I keep hoping that he’ll turn out decent. He’ll stop being selfish and cruel. Do the right thing by me and his children. Not leave us destitute.
I do this, partly out of learned behaviour and responses, but mostly because my children have to continue to have a relationship with him. And the prospect of leaving them open and exposed to the ‘real’ Ex, without me there to filter, mitigate and protect them, fills me with horror.