'He controlled everything': Leeds woman shares her experience of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is not always physical. For Charlotte (not her real name), her now ex-husband was never violent but drove her to almost breaking point before she gathered the courage to ask him to leave.

By Joanna Wardill
Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 4:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 5:01 pm

She is among the 71 per cent of people admitted to Leeds community domestic violence team over the past 12 months, who reported abuse which was psychological or emotional.

Charlotte has shared her experience with the Yorkshire Evening Post to give an insight into life with an abuser and to hopefully help others who may be in a similar situation.

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*Stock image. Credit: AdobeStock

She said her now ex-husband’s behaviour changed almost as soon as they were married.

“Things like I wasn’t allowed to open the post on my own. He would say ‘We are married now, it’s nice to do that together.’

“Just little things. Like I didn’t stack the pots right when I washed up.

“I was walking on eggshells all the time. I never knew when I was going to do something wrong.

“My self-esteem was low. I just blamed myself all the time and tried to make myself better.”

Things got markedly worse once their daughter was born.

“That’s when it got really bad,” she said. “It was like he wanted to control that relationship.”

Their daughter had to be handed over to him as soon as Charlotte had finished feeding her.

“Like I had had my turn,” she said. “She had to be shared equally. He controlled everything.”

Charlotte was forbidden from buying anything for their daughter and baby classes and groups were also banned.

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“If I had gone to a baby group or tried to do something nice, I couldn’t tell him or I had to say it was rubbish. If I suggested I might have had some fun, he would be really moody and his moods would go on for 24 hours, showing his displeasure at my behaviour.”

She said: “It was a really miserable time, really tiring. Mentally exhausting, just trying all the time to think ‘Have I got this right? Am I going to get into trouble for this?’”

A stint at marriage counselling backfired when her husband then used Charlotte’s admissions - about feeling anxious, low and opening up about her own parents’ divorce - to throw more blame at her.

“Everything that came out of counselling just became more of a weapon to use against me. When you’re vulnerable it’s really hard to hear that stuff.”

Christmas, and any other family event, was “always a disaster,” she said, with numerous arguments “but it was always my fault”.

It wasn’t until she reached out for counselling on her own that she realised something might be wrong.

“That was the first time I started to reflect and think something is not right here. And instead of defending myself against accusations I just started to observe them.”

She said her mum had also mentioned the term ‘gaslighting’ - a form of manipulation and emotional abuse - and urged her to look into whether she might be a victim.

In the end, Charlotte asked her husband to move out.

“The relief was massive. I felt guilty but it was just such a relief to have that oppression out of the house.”

“But that was just the beginning,” she said, as even now as the barrage of abuse continues, with the pair tied together in co-parenting their daughter.

Charlotte still receives text messages berating her and her parenting; Covid "ramped" up the "nastiness", she said, and her savings - and those of her family - have been spent fighting various custody battles in court.

But she credits the vital tools and support she has been given by Behind Closed Doors and the Leeds Domestic Violence Service with helping her to cope.

The charities provided her with a solicitor familiar with domestic abuse and staff also supported her at each court hearing.

“For me it really helped just knowing there was someone there to talk to. It’s been a huge relief to know that people understood.”

But she said it took a while to acknowledge she was a victim of domestic abuse.

“I was like ‘this doesn’t happen to me. I’m well educated’. I considered myself normal and average. It was like ‘things like this don’t happen to me and my friends. It doesn't make sense'."

She said: “I had that whole - and I’ve read about this since - ‘I wish you would just hit me then I would just know’. You can’t question that.

“With this, you are just having this grinding, winding down of everything. Your whole being. It’s so hard to put your finger on it.”

She said, thanks her support network, she is now feeling stronger every day.

“I’m tied to him forever.

“And he knows that. They described it to me as he gets an electric spark when he makes that connection with me. Every time he reels me in and says something hurtful, he would get a kick out of it - a spark. And that’s what keeps him going.

“My approach is not to give him that spark. I don’t react to a single accusation. I don’t defend myself, I just ignore it.

“[But] even if I just ignore it, it still sits in my head. But I don’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how hurtful it is.”

She added: “It’s like a lifelong condition. It will be here forever - like a chronic illness.”

*Leeds Domestic Violence Service (LDVS) 24 hours helpline number is 0113 246 0401.

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