Early days and warning signs
I met him when I was 16 years old and I was living in Hong Kong. We didn’t start a relationship straight away, because he just came to Hong Kong for a visit. He was seven years older than me. I thought: ‘he is handsome, he is tall, he is very attractive’. He was from Australia, which was somewhere unknown to me, so that was fascinating. We started off just writing letters or communicating to each other by phone call.
Then my parents sent me to Australia to study when I was 21. He asked me out. And after a few years of communicating with him I thought that I knew him, but actually I didn’t. When you are not living with the person, you don’t really know. I hadn’t have any experience of a serious relationship.
Even at that early stage, I sensed that he was a bit strange. The first time that I met him I felt that he was very arrogant because he was late to our meeting. My parents and I turned up to the hotel to meet him and didn’t turn up for one-and-a-half hours. Without saying sorry he just walked in and said ‘hi’. But as time went on, I thought he was great, he was really into the same music, and when we talked about things he would say like ‘oh, me too’.
I think the other thing that made me want to be with him, looking back, was being by myself in a different country and being really homesick. When I was with my homestay family I wasn’t coping well, and I was glad to see him because he was someone who was there for me, someone who knew where I come from, and knew my family. So I fell madly in love with him.
In the early days things were quite good. We did the usual things, like going out, catching a movie, going to the beach. Because I was new here, he showed me around and gave me lots of little gifts and flowers.
I was still a virgin when I came over here and did not want to have sex until I got married. We take relationships quite seriously where I’m from. He was actually the first one that I had a sexual relationship with. I tried not to have that kind of relationship but he kind of got upset and questioned why I was pushing him away. And eventually things happened. I was crying after the first time, and he just laughed. He said ‘what’s the big deal, eventually this was going to happen’. I just told myself, ‘okay, I love this person and I want to be with this person for the rest of my life’.
There were lots of early tell tale signs actually. One time we were supposed to meet. For some reason he thought that we were going to meet somewhere else. So I waited and waited and eventually I walked away. I just so happened to walk into the street where he was waiting. He got really, really upset and basically grabbed my school bag, chucked it down on the ground and was yelling ‘you’re so stupid, where were you, I was waiting for you for so long!’ I was so scared that I just didn’t know what to do. He just thought that he was right and I was wrong. He explained his reaction by saying ‘I love you so much, I worry about you so much, you are a stranger here in this city, if anything happened to you I would not forgive myself’.
So I suppose I believe it when people say love is blind. I accepted his explanation at the time. I thought ‘okay, next time I will make sure I will not be so stupid’ without actually going back and saying ‘Hang on a second’. I could have stood my ground and said ‘I clearly said this and if you love me and cared about me so much, maybe you would walk around and look for me. Or perhaps when you found me you would be overjoyed that I was safe, rather than yelling at me and blaming me’.
But with him, it was never his fault, I was the cause of his problems, or it was because he is under so much pressure from his work or study or whatever.
After a couple of years we separated while he went overseas for work. That was the golden opportunity to break free. But I then went to see him during New Year time. One day while I was staying with him, he came home and said suddenly for no reason said I was making a mess in his room. He picked up some object and threw it at me. It cut my knee and I actually had to go into the Emergency Department. I gave an excuse that I fell off my bike and hurt my knee. The excuse he gave me for his anger was that he’s overseas working and he’s not adjusting and me coming to see him was causing emotional upheaval. So he apologised. He actually took me for a holiday because he said that he was so under stress that he needed a break. Then I went back to Hong Kong.
After a few months he called me and declared he loved me so much that he couldn’t live without me, and would I marry him. So that’s how I got married quite young.
Being in the relationship
I fell for his promises that he would change, and I thought I could rescue him. We had our good times. I hoped he will change if I loved him enough and show him my compassion. I believed that he had some mental issue, like he was depressed or stressed, and he needed me to be there for him. He said he would commit suicide if I ever left.
What I’ve I found, is that we tend to want to glorify things and look at the good side – we try to block all the bad things. It’s easier not to think about the hardship, the pain, being hurt. You get so comfortable with this person and outside is such an unknown. And living away from home, I didn’t have that support network where I could go back and talk to my siblings, my parents, my best friends about things. I couldn’t say ‘this is what happened, do you think this is normal?’ I pretended everything was lovey-dovey and fantastic .
I did talk to him. I said ‘I don’t think we are doing well because I’ve been hurt and we have lots of arguments and often you just lose your temper and you throw things or you hurt me’. He said ‘What? Don’t you think all other couples are like that? It’s normal.’ So I believed him - he was older than me so I trusted that he had more experience and he would know.
Pride, shame and guilt
I felt ashamed in a way, because chose this person, I…it is a free world and I chose to be with him. I didn’t want to admit to other people that I had chosen him. I think it was my pride in me. I didn’t want to tell people and have them say ‘Wake up, he is the wrong person, stay away’. I didn’t want to hear that, because I truly believed that he loved me and told myself that I had found the love of my life. There was the shame and guilt, feeling bad that I was letting myself have someone treat me like that, and I still would go back to him.
I blamed myself, I thought because of my personality I would drive anyone up the wall and they would have the same reaction as him. So slowly, without me knowing, my self esteem was going downhill everyday. The more I stayed with him the more it destroyed my self esteem. I convinced myself that I was useless, I was dumb, I was a bitch, whatever he had been calling me. With that sort of brainwashing I became very dependent on him, thinking that there’s no way I would survive without him. I thought that only he would take me because I am such a horrible person.
If I talk to my friends from before I met him, my high school friends, they say how different I was before him. I have actually got an English name and the meaning is the rising sun, because I brought laughter to people. When my friends saw me when I was in the relationship they would say ‘you have changed so much’. I was down all the time, depressed, had no confidence, felt like I couldn’t do anything right. I ended up feeling like I fit that stereotype of the dumb female staying at home, you know, I didn’t go anywhere, I thought there is no way I can get a job, there is no way society can accept me. His attitude was like ‘you just let me look after you’.
Cutting me off from friends and family
He was very good at cutting off my friendships. Someone like this won’t stop you from calling or having your friends come to see you, but every time you have like a meeting or go out, you will know that he is not happy. He is not afraid to show it. It all adds up and then you think: okay if he’s not happy, then I’m not happy. And when he’s not happy, you know very well what will happen.
There was lots of criticism – no friends were good enough for us. He would say ‘I think she is dumb’ or ‘I think her English is no good’ or ‘I think he is on to you’. Gradually I stopped calling friends, or they wouldn’t call because they knew that I wouldn’t go out or if I did I would end up in arguments, with him accusing me of being late and wondering where I’ve been. He had a suspicious mind, he’d say ‘did you make out with some guy?’. So eventually I just couldn’t be bothered. I became a ‘yes’ person to him.
It was the same with my family. After we got married I tried to keep in touch with my family but he said ‘Now you have me, this is your family now and they’re not your family any more’. That really hurt because I value family a lot. Once my sister called and we were having dinner, and he just picked up the phone and said ‘we are having dinner, call later’ then put down the phone, without even saying hello. So I would call and tell them ‘don’t call at this time’.
So I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to others to find out what is a normal relationship.
Every now and then there would be a major, major episode. He would just go mad and become physical. He would throw things at me and broke my back, he tore my shirt apart and grabbed me by the neck , threw a chair at me, set fireworks in the house…all sorts of things. But it was not often, like I’d have a few months of quiet and maybe an occasional ‘you idiot’ or ‘you drive me up the wall’ or something. But suddenly he would just snap and get physical and that was like hell. All I could think of at the time was ‘I’ve got to protect my head’ because I didn’t want to get a head injury.
Marrying a chicken
I didn’t know it was domestic violence, or that I could go to and talk to a counsellor . One day I got chucked out of the house and I went up to see an elderly neighbour. Being an old fashioned lady she said ‘what do you want me to do? You are married to this person, I can’t keep you here, you had better go back’. Consequently I just had to swallow my pride and think ‘okay, I am stuck with this person for life because I chose him, I married him and that is for life’. This is a very stupid thing to think that once you are married, it’s for life. You shouldn’t disregard how he treats you. In my country there is a saying ‘You marry a chicken, you become a chicken’ – basically you follow him wherever he goes, and you stand by him. I hope that no one still thinks that.
Covering his trail
During the relationship he would be very quick to cover his trail. If people happened to call by and I was crying he would say to his friends ‘oh she is just upset because she is missing her family’. He would never punch me on the face, it would be on my back because I’m not going to show people my back. He would be so nice when people were around, he would be such a gentleman. So when the relationship broke down, none of his friends would believe me that he was abusive.
Why he treated me like this
Everything was about him – there is no-one in this world that was more important than him, not even his kids or his wife.
If he had that ability to think about others feelings, he wouldn’t have done what he did. Instead, he would have gone and found help, he would have accepted that he has a problem. But he thought the world owed him.
He took everything out on us. Sometimes it could be that he had been told off at work or he had done something stupid in front of his mates. The tension was building up and he wanted to get that sense of being in control, having power. Then he would come home and just snap. It could be an simple thing like me asking him, ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’ Anything could trigger an abusive episode, but he would have an excuse, like ‘What do you think stupid, of course I want a cup of coffee,’ and then I’d just cop it.
If he didn’t have a reason, he would just make one up. I felt like a punching bag – it was easy for him, he thought I’d never go anywhere, I’ll be there. I continued to let him manipulate me. My mistake was thinking love is like this, but it’s not.
Life in danger
I’d just given birth to our baby. I was tired, and he thought I was not so good in the bedroom any more, and he just didn’t love me. He came home one night and I was asleep. Suddenly he just jumped up and said ‘I am going to kill you. I don’t want to divorce you because I don’t want to give you all my money’. He tried to strangle me. It just so happened that at the time my brother was staying with us and he heard the screaming and he just dashed into the room. He witnessed what he was doing. I had already passed out. I couldn’t remember my brother coming in or the lights coming on or whatever, I was shivering. I was so lucky my brother was there.
I didn’t call the police because I was thinking ‘what would they do?’ and they will probably say ‘you guys just had an argument’ or whatever . Plus I was worried that if he was charged it would ruin his career. He had told me he wanted to get rid of me because I’d ruined his personal life, and I thought if I ruined his career as well he would try to kill me. So instead, I called the local community centre the next day. I was going ask to see a marriage counsellor, but they said ‘You don’t need a marriage counsellor, you need to come in. Your life is in danger and so are your kids’. So that is when I realised, because a professional person was telling me my life is in danger. So I left with a suitcase. I was so frightened I kept looking over my shoulder, worried that he would come back from work.
Escaping to a refuge
The community centre organised me to stay in a refuge with the kids. The refuge had a secret address, so my friends didn’t know where I was. He contacted my friends and people that I knew and threatened them if they didn’t say where I was. He also impersonated a police officer and demanded to know where we were.
I am really thankful that I went into a refuge, because that gave me time to be away from him and be safe. If I had stayed with my friends he would have found me, and I would hate to think about the consequences of that. In the refuge, it was the first time I got professional help from the workers, and leaflets and brochures. They said ‘we’re not here to tell you to leave ,but we can tell you what you have been going through is called domestic violence. He has been mistreating you. ‘We are here to help you, these are your options’. They helped me go to the Family Court and organise custody of my kids.
He challenged me in court. He didn’t really care about the kids, I think he only wanted to do it to upset me. He told the court that I was nuts: I was depressed, I missed my home, I couldn’t cope, I was always crying, I was never a good mother, and he said I’d tried to strangle the baby in the cot. When I read what he said in those affidavits, I realised that all those years that I spent, all that time thinking that I’d found the love of my life, and that he would change – that image was shattered. It was shocking, so hurtful to really see the true self of the person that I had been with. But I am glad it is shattered.
The effects on kids
I’m glad that he is out of the picture because now I can bring my kids up the way I think’s best. I look back and think ‘gosh, imagine the children growing up in that environment’. My kids are very happy, but if I had continued with the relationship it would be the opposite. They would learn manipulative habits and I wouldn’t be myself. I would be just like a maid who gets called to do stuff. And I would not have that loving relationship that I have with my children.
There are hard times as a single mum. My kids had lots of toys, then we moved into a rental property and it was empty. It’s never easy but it is much easier than having three kids, with him being a like a kid, and also a bully.
At the refuge one of the workers said to me ‘I’m so glad that you decided to leave the relationship because I can see that your son has already started to manipulate you’. He would call me and demand things. I didn’t realise it. If you have kids, it‘s very possible that they will learn from your partner’s behaviour. They may not become abusive, but very manipulative. And I definitely don’t want to bring my son up so that he can abuse other women.
We learnt to adjust because after a while the kids realised how fun and caring I could be without their Dad. Occasionally my son will remember how Dad pushed him and how he witnessed when we argued and Mum got hurt and cried. My ex used to tell our son off, he would push him around and yell at him. His favourite comment was ‘you’re as stupid as your Mum’ or ‘you’re as dumb as her, you’ve got her genes’. It’s awful for a child to think ‘I am dumb’ – they’re too young to think ‘hang on, that’s just bullshit’. Now they always come up and give me a cuddle and say ‘I love you Mum’. On Fathers’ Day they gave me a Fathers’ Day gift.
What helped me to recover
Talking and crying: It was very tough to get over, there were lots of nightmares. Getting over it involved lots of talking to friends and family, opening up, and lots of crying. Don’t be ashamed of yourself if you have an emotional outburst
It is very important also to have an accepting family. I felt sorry for my parents because being overseas they felt a bit powerless about what they could do from a long way away. I blame myself a little bit because I never opened up and talked to them. If my family had blamed me and said, ‘oh well you chose him, we told you not to’ that would be terrible. They just said ‘Well life is like this, you just happened to meet him, you fell in love and it was bad luck – but look on the bright side, you have two beautiful children, you can pull yourself back together ,and we are here for you no matter what happens’. I don’t think I could be here without the support of my family. They helped me financially because when I left I just had $50 and a suitcase of clothing. So they sent clothing at Christmas time, and money to buy household stuff and to fight the court case.
Learning that it’s not my fault: I had to forgive myself. It is so important to say whatever happened was not my fault, it is all him. It is his behaviour and I am not responsible for his outbursts, for his upset, for his anger. I am not the person that I’ve been told I am. He didn’t have to bash me, or tell me off, or be mean to me or whatever. So that is very crucial, to learn to accept who am I and accept that he is responsible for his own actions.
I’ve met other people who have been through domestic violence. I think we just happened to meet the wrong guy, a prince charming. Because we are kind and generous, they tap into that and manipulate us. They say ‘she is so loving and caring that if I say this she will not leave, she will be here to look after me
Looking back to who you were before the relationship. Looking back on the time before I met him, at what sort of person I was, I was not like that at all. I was open, I was happy, bright, I was not clever but I was not dumb. It helped to look back to who I once was, and try to build that up
Getting professional help: I went to a self help workshop, and I met other young women there. We shared our stories in a very caring and trusting environment, with two workers there as well. We slowly went through all the issues. We each wrote a reflective script to ourselves and to see how we have changed and moved on. I went to see a counselor at Uni too. I can just make an appointment to see her and she knows who I am. It’s good to have someone who knows what’s happened so I don’t have to retell the story fifty times.
Moving on and meeting someone new: Once I cut away from the relationship, I slowly found myself again. I realised I am a capable person, I am not useless like he says. I have gone back to Uni and then I got a stable job.
I recently met someone new. It took a long time. I didn’t really trust that anyone in this world would be kind and loving to me and my children, if even their own father would not. I was worried that I am very bad at judging people and people will just take me for a ride.
My new partner is great, he gives without wanting anything back. He treats me with respect and as an equal. I was so used to just giving, never getting anything back. Sometimes I still feel nervous, I still feel like I have to watch out. I had to explain to him that I was actually scared of going into another relationship and being hurt.
Number one is to accept what’s happened. Then go and talk to someone. It is so important to talk to someone, be it your close friends or your Mum or Dad, family or siblings. Open up to and tell them, ‘look, this is what has happened’ and see what they have to say.
Have a break away from that person. Then think ‘hang on, without him being there, am I worse off, or am I happier? Am I losing myself here?’ Look back at the time before you met him, and see if your life has changed since then.
Write it down. Write down on one side the good things and on the other side the bad things. Then weigh it up and be objective. I know it is hard because when you fall in love you fall so hard, and you really just want to look into his eyes and remember the cuddles and the kisses. But if you really like write it down you see ‘gee, this is what’s happened’ and also how that made you feel – not just what happened but how that made you feel. Like: you feel devastated, you feel depressed, you feel ashamed. Look at the good side, and then ask yourself: can I get those feelings from someone else? Can I get those feelings from my friends without having the horrible things as well?
Understand that there are many forms of abuse. Emotional abuse and being put down is terrible, don’t think it’s just nothing. If you suspect something is not right, tell someone.
Don’t ignore the bad things. If he really loves you he will not treat you like that. Don’t believe what excuses they come up with, particularly if he doesn’t accept responsibility and pushes it over to you.
Don’t be ashamed. Don’t feel that you are bad, that you are a bad person, silly, stupid, a bitch or whatever they say you are. You are not responsible for his behavior. You have to reestablish your self-worth. You are worth a lot to people around you, not just to this guy. And also you are worth a lot to yourself.
Focus on reality, not the dream: Remember that you can love a person but that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with his behaviour or you have to be there for him when he had a rage on him. Loving is not to take whatever comes your way. When you’re young there’s nothing wrong to have a dream of how your partner is going to be but when you are writing the fairytale story and something goes wrong, you have to stop and come back to the reality. If a relationship is good, you shouldn’t lose yourself, you should still be yourself. That is what we call love, accepting each other.
Find professional help: With the communication so advanced now, with one click you can just type in google and look at violence and family and find all these leaflets, fact sheets and also where to get help. Talk to someone- a counsellor at school or at uni. Go and tell them what happened.
I also found that there is help available at a desperate moment when you can’t find anyone and when you are really down. I wanted to commit suicide once because I was just…didn’t see any way out. Like, I thought I can’t leave him because he says he will kill himself, I can’t go anywhere and I don’t think I can cope any more. I took some tablets and was going to get the gas out. But just before that I said okay I need to talk to someone, and so I called one of those help lines, I think it was Lifeline. I just started talking and talking and the guy talked me out of it. He said ‘if you are going to commit suicide, it won’t solve anything’. He asked how many tablets I took and told me what to do. I talked to him over a few hours and I calmed down a bit, so that was good. So don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to talk to someone who never knows who you are. You can tell them whatever you like. I am so glad I didn’t go through with that silly act but I can understand why people will like seek that as a last resort because they are so at the bottom of the pit and there is like no hope, you feel helpless and don’t see any way out. You might think ‘I’m the cause of the problem, so if I am not alive, I am gone, it will make everyone happy’ but actually it is not true. I realised it is not my fault, it is him that is the problem – so even if I kill myself, it won’t change one bit.
Photo from Flickr by dcmaster