Friday, September 7, 2018

Hit a snag, but things are better now (Part 3, the single life)

For months, I was euphoric just being free of TE. While I still had to deal with him a lot regarding the kids and getting the divorce settled, his problems weren't my responsibility anymore and he couldn't tell me what to do. He would take the kids every Wednesday and every other weekend, and every other Monday night for dinner; I had so much more time! I went out with BB a lot, and started to get work done at a better pace after getting really behind while leaving TE (luckily, with the two grants, I felt pretty secure about tenure and was not overly worried about it--and this year I did get tenure!). Slowly, it became normal life, but still much happier and especially more calm than before (except for the thing with LP that I'll have to write about later).

After the divorce was final, which took more than a year because TE was dragging his feet, I made a profile on a dating website. I knew that BB would be a good dating option, but I decided that if I started really dating him, it would be serious too quickly. I needed more time and to think through what I wanted. Dating was really scary, but it was fun too ... the first date I went on, I was totally overwhelmed ... I hadn't dated anyone since dating meant going to the Homecoming dance or something! And obviously I hadn't been internet dating. A guy with a really nice profile, DD,  messaged me and sounded nice ... I spent most of the first date just trying to make sure he wasn't an axe murderer ... I decided he was safe, and made a second date. Then on the second date I was thinking, wait, what did he say on the first date? He was really sweet. He was very different from me, more creative and artistic, and he grew up in a more poor, rural area. He had nice friends. It was fun to talk, learn about his hobbies, and hear his perspective on things; I think I party understand pro wrestling now :). In the end, I decided I wanted someone more like me; more mathematical/logical in thinking and someone who loves kids. DD almost had me on the latter point, though, because he said that even though he never wanted to be a father (I don't think that's a bad thing in and of itself, but it's a feeling that I don't identify with), he thought he would make a good stepfather. I remember thinking so too; one night he came over and texted at the door instead of knocking, in case the kids were in bed, and I felt he kind of understood better than most single men what children are like. LP liked him. But I also didn't think he'd do better than BB, who is amazing with my kids. We had a pretty good break up, and stayed friends for awhile (hopefully still are, but I'm not sure we'll stay in touch as he said he is moving away).

I thought about dating one other person from the internet, who I had a huge percent match with, and who's very much like TE (a great engineer, driven to build things) except happier and kinder. But I was thinking that BB would be my choice, and didn't want to lead anyone on. I just became friends with him instead.

BB was single throughout all of my dating, and it kind of made him nervous. Finally deciding to date him was super fun. It was years that we were flirting then half dating during the divorce (at first not expecting anything to happen, then later thinking it was a possibility but very uncertain in the long term). So finally dating to see where it would go was nice, especially given that I already thought of him as one of my best friends (though it was a bit of a worry that it didn't work out, I could lose a friend, I felt confident that we could handle that eventuality). It went about how I expected, which was awesome. I'm not a loner and love having someone else around.

Speaking of not being a loner, in the middle of dating BB, I also heard from LP's best friend's mom that she was looking for a place to stay in our school district. She had lived near us before, but moved away, which was hard on LP (still saving that for another post). Having 5 bedrooms and needing help with the kids as a single mom, I asked her if she'd stay with us for awhile. She's been with us for over a year now and it's been really fun. Though there was some adjustment, I think the extra adult in the house and extra perspective with the kids, along with always having another kid to play with, has been great for my kids. It relieves some of the pressure of cooking and groceries and school pick ups for me too ... though we both do some of this for each other, overall it makes less work for each.

BB integrated into our family life really well. After about a year of dating, he asked me to marry him and I said yes! I didn't want to be the one asking this time, after it didn't work out for me the first time. I don't think he wanted to either, because things also didn't work out so great for him the first time he asked a woman to marry him. But he did it anyway. He got me a purple bike for a engagement present :)  The kids are super excited that he's going to be a real part of our family. There's a bit of tension with the fact that he's not their real dad (and he wouldn't want to take that place), but he has been doing great working through those issues with us and I am sure we can handle it. He even went to the parent nights at school while I was traveling.

Thinking back over the single period, I have been happy but also grieved a lot about my marriage failing. I probably always will have regrets about not thinking through the red flags before marrying TE. I wish it were covered better in pre-Cana; I feel as though my Catholic education failed me in this regard. However, I didn't understand sexism and domestic abuse in the same way I do now. Also, the biggest incident that happened before we were married I thought would never happen again because it was from when we were 17, and he seemed to get it and change after that. He really did change right upon getting married, though the change was slow. I also regret not pushing harder for him to seek help earlier, instead getting into the situation where I couldn't feel safe without leaning too much on BB and my other friends for help. I should have gone to the shelter the first time I thought of it, when he pushed me for trying to protect LP before we moved here. After that I didn't realize how much I treated him differently because I was scared of him, and how much the kids were getting hurt. After that, it was probably even harder for him to change because I was just trying to survive, and protect him from feeling bad, and that made it harder for him to understand how he was treating me. Not that it was my fault. But I've apologized to him for this part, and for not communicating even better about the situation with BB, and I apologized to the kids for not protecting them better. I even went to confession (not being Catholic anymore, I thought it would be silly to seek an annulment, but somehow I wanted to say some of this out loud). I feel pretty settled about my shortcomings in all of this, especially relative to when I first became single.

Overall, I have tenure and am about to get married, and I have a great housemate and two kids who are doing well. TE is doing relatively well also, in the sense that he's on medicine and seems happier than most of the time we were married. He's dating a really wonderful woman who also has two kids. There is no way I could have predicted any of this (except for tenure) 5 years ago.  I'd say things are pretty great over here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Hit a snag, but things are better now (Part 2: leaving)

I am sorry if this reads like a list. I think it will be good for me to work through again all the things that happened, but it feels like a ton of things happened in a short time; I definitely felt that way at the time also.

Getting back to the story, I finally got TE to go to counseling and he got on some medicine, and he was treating me better in many ways and treating the kids a lot better. But one of the weird things is that, even though he did some things (like stop screaming at me, mostly) that I was really proud of him for, it was worth a lot less than it would have been if he had independently wanted to make those changes (since I had to basically ask him repeatedly over 5 years). I wasn't sure how to tell if it would last, or how much change would be acceptable. Once he got into individual counseling, I thought it was going to work (though I was expecting it would take a lot of time).

But there were other new issues. It seemed that he felt that I didn't appreciate his changes or that I should just get over it already (he later put this sentiment into words, complaining that I shouldn't be so worried about his abuse anymore given that "I've only hurt you twice in the last 6 months" ... in this case hurt meant emotionally hurt by doing something really outside of the bounds of normal behavior, but not physically...I remember this well because when I was trying to explain the interaction to my sister, she just interrupted, uninterested in what the ways were or the number of months, and she said quite forcefully "no, we're not counting"...that clicked for me, hey, the number was supposed to be zero, and anyway I get to decide what is and isn't important to me).

He got more and more concerned about the time I spent with BB, and started to get possessive in a way I hadn't seen before. He said he only went to counseling because he was worried I would leave him for BB, which was sad for me because I'd been asking him to go for years and he was telling me that my asking him to do something without threatening to leave him wasn't enough. I was spending a lot of time with BB, and I talked with TE about it multiple times. I asked him what limits he'd want to set, what he felt comfortable with, talked to him about how I was feeling like I had a crush on BB. The last time I had had such a strong crush (which was about 5 years earlier), TE seemed to think it was cute. I used to update him about the crush, and TE said it would be fine with him if I kissed him. I felt like, with TE and I being together since we were kids, and having kids together, we couldn't really envision being with anyone else in the long term (I know I couldn't). So I thought if I talked about crushes he would get it that it wasn't about not being happy with him but about finding another person really interesting also. This seemed to be the perspective TE took regarding BB as well, initially. But then he seemed to switch, and acted like I was keeping something from him.

Meeting with my girlfriends once every couple of weeks an hour away wasn't enough, and I definitely leaned on BB a lot, probably even more so as TE became more possessive. The possessiveness was scarier than the other stuff. Before, if he yelled or restrained me it seemed like he had suddenly lost control and then would be better again later, and I had been learning how to deal with that for more than a decade. But the possessive stuff seemed more premeditated and cold, and it seemed like his overall message was that I wasn't allowed to leave him. Previously I always thought this had been a voluntary arrangement. I felt closed in, unfree, watched, trapped. I asked him if I could move to my own room, and he said yes. I remember that first night in my new bedroom--I was so happy! I felt like I had space to breathe; it was my safe space in the house and it helped a ton.

Still, I didn't feel very comfortable alone in the house with TE and I tried to have BB there for dinner and to help with the kids as many nights as possible. The kids had grown really fond of BB. BB had broken up with his long distance girlfriend, but after setting him up on a blind date that totally did not work at all, eventually I set him up with a friend of a friend (BB is an introvert and still didn't have many friends in town). It was really hard for me to see him less when he got more serious with his new girlfriend, but I was happy for him. He lived really close and I saw him quite a bit anyway, sometimes together with his girlfriend. Me and the kids really liked his new girlfriend, especially my daughter, who saw her as the girl version of BB. But something never quite clicked with him and his new girlfriend, and eventually he told me he had a crush on me. We started flirting a lot more, though at that time I thought I would be able to stay with TE. TE had said he didn't care what I did with BB as long as I didn't kiss him. BB broke up with his girlfriend a few weeks afterwards. A few months later, the grant that BB and I wrote started, and he began as a research scientist on the grant instead of a postdoc. The chair was his supervisor instead of me which made me feel more comfortable being close with him.

TE's possessiveness escalated. He logged in to my account and read my messages with BB. Of course, he was my husband and I am not a secretive person, so if he had asked I would have shared them--on principle, I would have told him every little thing I ever said to BB--I would have been a bit uncomfortable but also happy that he was interested in my thoughts and feelings. Instead, he secretly read them and then messaged me from my own account about it, apparently to intimidate me (he later claimed he didn't even notice which account he was using). He talked to me like a misbehaving child, and it seemed like he wanted to set all the rules rather than discuss what would make us both feel more comfortable. It was scary for me to watch him switch and start thinking the worst of me and my intentions, and it felt like he was hanging around watching me (I later found out he was secretly taping me).

If it were just about BB, maybe I could have understood it better (though it's still hard to understand when I would openly do something and talk to TE about it, and then later he would essentially accuse me of having done it in secret). But TE also got possessive with respect to my friends. Reader, my friends who live an hour away predate my whole adventure with TE by many years; we grew up together, and they are more like sisters. When TE asked me to talk less to them and instead talk to my sister and another friend (each of whom he called to talk about his case), that was a huge red flag for me. I am not sure why, but he thought my grade school friends were telling me to get divorced, and they were a bad influence. Actually, they were very supportive of me as a person, and wanted to make sure I was safe and happy, and didn't push me towards a particular decision. They knew it was my decision. The contrast with how they talked to me versus how TE talked to me was so stark, it helped me see how much TE treated me like a lesser person, or a child. TE even messaged my friend when I was out with her, apparently to check up on me, and said he wanted to call her father ... we didn't give him the number. I remain confused about how calling her father would have helped, but it sounded like he wanted to tell on us for discussing getting divorced? TE started tracking my movements on my phone and I felt even more trapped.

TE and I tried marriage counseling in the middle of all of this, but he used it as a way to make things worse. I think we got a bad counselor; she sort of followed up regarding the abuse I talked about, but I don't think I called it that, and I said he wasn't yelling at us anymore. I said I thought the kids were safe now (I thought that and also didn't want her to call anyone about the kids). The rest of the counseling didn't really take into account the history very well. TE said I wasn't being compassionate towards him (it seems like he wanted some huge praise for not yelling at me very often, while I was just busy trying to catch my breath and think about whether I wanted to stay with him and under what conditions). So we had to take that at face value in the session rather than reflecting on why, during a time when I specifically asked him for more space (explaining the reasons and getting him to agree to a plan), I might not be as physically warm with him. Later, my grade school friends reminded me how compassionate I am, and said it was compassionate that I was working to get TE the help he needed. One friend from out of town said that TE was using my best features against me (I tend to be optimistic about people and their intentions, and try hard to help everyone, and that was part of why I had always made excuses for TE and thought the best of him rather than acknowledging that what he was doing was unacceptable). I also got a counselor and I the kids each got one too. I'll have to write a whole post on the damage to the kids, which was especially severe for LP, someday.

Even with this possessiveness issue, it seemed like TE was really changing. For awhile I thought he may have stopped yelling at me and the kids for good. But I had lingering doubts, and somehow things felt off. In years past, I usually felt sorry for TE (in a certain way) when he got so angry and yelled at us; it didn't seem like something a reasonable person would want to do, and inside he was clearly hurting. Inside, he seemed like the one who was hurting more...even though the yelling and other things obviously hurt me quite a bit, I felt like I could handle it and bounce back. But he didn't seem to be handling everything very well, and I just wanted him to feel better. I thought some of it was coming from his stress at work, and I said he could quit and find something he loved to do like building things, even if he didn't earn income for awhile. I felt like I was the more resilient, happier one, and I had a responsibility to help him more because he struggled more. I felt like he generally appreciated my help, and, most importantly, he loved me and seemed to treat me better than he treated himself in his internal dialogue. However, I saw a big change after TE got into counseling. Besides not yelling at me, he was feeling better about himself. He seemed to think very highly of himself and was proud of trying his best, even if that just meant not screaming at the kids. He didn't seem to feel much better about me, though, only more suspicious. So while he was treating me ostensibly better by not yelling, he was now treating me worse than he was treating himself. It seemed like he didn't love me or appreciate me as much anymore.

There were some important exceptions to him treating me better, and each time it was worse because now it was in the context of him deliberately trying to do better, and saying that he would. People talk about the cycle of how they do something hurtful, apologize, then are nice to you, then hurt you again...I never felt like we were in that cycle until after TE got into counseling. Before, he usually wouldn't really apologize, or have a period of being nice; I would just kind of give up on getting him to understand and I'd move on. I felt like we could only handle this cycle a couple more times before we broke. I asked for a full rest from the marriage, a separation. We took our last marriage counseling appointment to discuss what it would look like I said I wanted space to think through what I wanted and who I am and I wanted to be free of marriage obligations, as though we weren't married. I said I would keep in mind that we were trying to make it work again after the separation so I wouldn't, for instance, sleep with BB. But I wanted to date and really understand what it would mean to be away from TE. TE, making everything tit-for-tat instead of realizing he had different issues that he needed to work on, clarified that he would be able to date also. That was fine with me. We were living in the same house but had separate days where we were taking care of the kids, and we could leave or keep to ourselves in our rooms on the other days. TE moved to the basement to be further from my room. We told the kids we weren't sure if we would get divorced, we were just separated for now.

I'll have to make a whole post about dating in my mid-30s after not having dated anyone other than TE since I was 16 :) But while separated, I dated a friend SS for awhile; he was moving out of town, and knew about my situation, so it kind of worked out nicely in terms of what we needed. I also flirted more with BB sometimes, and I even kissed him once while separated :)

It was really important to me that I didn't rely on TE; I wanted to be separated and know what it was like. So I never asked him to watch the kids for me on my days. Also, he wouldn't get up in the middle of the night when they woke up and needed something, no matter whose day it was (I had always done that). One day, I was going to a party to flirt with SS (we weren't really on a date); I put the kids to bed and asked BB to watch them in case they got up. Because my room was my safe space, which I had repeatedly talked with TE about not going into, even just to get something, and TE didn't like BB at this point, BB and I decided he would wait in my room with the door closed, and avoid TE entirely. He would be able to hear if the kids woke up and called for me, and that is where they would go if they were looking for me. But TE "forgot" again about my room being my safe space, and went in, supposedly to get laundry. When he saw BB, he lost it. I don't understand why BB being in my room meant to TE that I was involved with BB, or leaving TE for BB, since I wasn't even there at the time. TE, who is very muscular and good at martial arts, though he is a bit shorter than BB, was very intimidating, and stood in front of the door. Apparently he was ranting about me and BB ... BB messaged me to come home. When I got there, TE was still ranting. I was able to get him to calm down enough to go downstairs and talk to me. When I finally finished talking with him, I went to check on BB. I could tell he was really spooked; I called my dad for advice and decided I couldn't live in the same house as TE anymore; BB probably should have called the police when he felt threatened, but it's hard to know how that would have turned out; he told me he slept in his living room for a couple of days after that (which has two entrances so doesn't feel as enclosed).

I told TE the next day he needed to move out for the rest of the separation. He could still stay in the house when he had the kids, but when it was my day I needed to be in the house alone (because I couldn't leave otherwise during my day without taking the kids with me). He apologized a lot and asked to stay. It was clear he recognized he messed up and it was fair for him to go, because we had pretty clear boundaries we had set when we agreed to the separation in the house (which was not what I wanted anyway, but he had wanted to save money). It was clear that he was going to keep begging and panicking and it wasn't going to be a productive conversation, so I said I'd think about it to calm him down. Over the next day, I just became more sure that he needed to go. I made a plan to leave safely, to wait for my day with the kids and take the kids with me to a colleague's house overnight and email him about my final decision on him moving out. I knew he might get more upset when he thought I was really leaving. I called the national domestic violence hotline and talked through my safety plan. I packed what I needed and the kids needed for the night, emailed him, and took them to my colleagues. I said that I needed him to be not in the house by 4 PM the next day. I was determined to feel safe in my own fucking home. I thought he'd just go stay with his parents or friends or get a hotel room for the night, since he had seemed to recognize the fact that he may need to move out just three days earlier, and I was supposed to be think it over and get back to him. But he didn't go, and we had to stay another night at my colleagues. I hadn't packed for 2 nights. I taught 2 classes without going home for new teaching clothes (but I keep extras in my office). It was hard to explain to my kids why we were staying there (the first night, it was like a fun visit, but the second night, they were confused ... I said that my colleague was having a baby soon, and he wanted to know what living with kids was like).

Even when I asked him to move out, I still thought TE would keep working with his therapist and get better and we'd be able to stay together after the separation. But when I found myself lying to my children about why we were staying away from the house, when TE was deliberately refusing to let us come home (because he knew I wouldn't go home with him there and he was able to recognize it was fair for me to ask that), that's when I wanted to get divorced. And even though I waited to say it out loud to him until after the separation, and at times I thought I might be willing to give him another chance, I never really changed my mind. And TE later made it very clear it was the right choice (one more story to save for another day).

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Hit a snag, but things are better now (Part 1: living with an abuser)

I'm still around! I've been meaning to sort through some things and post for several years now, but it's hard because I accumulated a lot to say and much of it is hard. Things went great at work after my former post, and I had out 10-ish papers from here by the time I went up for tenure (-ish because which ones count and exactly what time "going up for tenure" is are both a bit of a grey area).

At home things totally fell apart, more than I would have thought was possible, and had to be put back together. I think it was not a coincidence that things started to get hard soon after my last post, because I finally felt really secure (both in terms of my work and in terms of personal self-worth) with two grants under my belt, and that gave me the courage and the time to deal with my (now ex-) husband's behavior. Before then, I just kept my head up, being optimistic about him (as I tend to be about everything, though I've lost some of that now) and focusing on how I could change to make things better. But things kept getting worse and I finally realized it was unsustainable and unhealthy.

To explain part of what was going on at the time, here are some excerpts from a letter I wrote to him in 2015 (keep in mind that below, while trying to be realistic and clear and specific, I am putting some of these examples in the best possible light because I was trying to help him change his behavior rather than make him feel bad, and because I loved him):

"I have been asking you to seek counseling for several years and first asked you to not yell at me anymore at least 15 years ago. The first few years we were married, I used to cry relatively frequently, occasionally for hours at a time, when you were inconsiderate or disrespectful to me and failed to apologize or acknowledge the problem. I tried to tell you and show you how much it hurt me ... I’ve explained how your words or actions were disrespectful and you’ve repeatedly turned the conversation back to the original issue that the discussion or minor disagreement was about, asking me why that issue is so important to me and why I won’t just drop it and move on. I’ve explained that the original issue was not the real issue and I have dropped it and moved on, but that your treatment of me was the problem that needed to be addressed. You seemed to hear and listen to that argument sometimes, but then a few minutes later you sometimes would bring up the original issue again; it is not clear to me if you had forgotten the idea I’d brought up about your behavior/words or if you simply didn’t believe me that that was the issue.

It has been very hard for me to keep having this same series of events occur, and I have been unsure about what to do to get you to listen and understand. I began to feel exhausted and frustrated each time this conversation occurred, and after the kids came, I felt I didn’t have the energy for it much anymore and tried to not let your behavior affect me so much emotionally. In other words, I have tried to “not be so sensitive”, both because I was exhausted and because you keep trying to convince me that I am “oversensitive” and I had begun to believe you. Mostly, though, the reason that I reduced my efforts to talk to you about your problematic behavior was to protect my mental health. Your repeated disrespectful, critical, and disparaging comments had gotten to me and I began to think that it was partly my fault. I felt that there were two sides to every argument and that I must be doing something wrong that was contributing to our problems, and I was always looking for ways to improve myself and thinking of ways in which your behavior wasn’t really your fault. I worked hard to feel sorry for you instead of angry at your actions, since I thought that your behavior against us was really a sign that you weren’t comfortable with yourself and that must be very hard for you.

I worked hard to try to work around your problems, such as making sure you were always well fed, since you being hungry seems to make it more likely that you will yell at us. These last few years, I didn’t cry much anymore and didn’t bring up most instances of your poor behavior since that often seemed to lead to you repeating your disrespectful comments or explaining why you thought it was my fault. Even worse, sometimes when I confronted you, you would admit that your behavior was inappropriate, and then you would say that you were a bad person; this would prompt me to tell you how good you are and how much I love you but still leave you in a worse mood than before and more likely to yell at us or otherwise disrespect us again in the near future. I developed many strategies, like trying to get you to eat a snack and taking over with the kids without hesitation whenever I felt you might be starting to become frustrated and at risk of snapping and yelling at us. I realized recently that these efforts were taking up a lot of my time and energy and you weren’t even noticing anymore. I still want to improve myself and I am sure there are many aspects of this situation that I could and should have handled in a different and better way. I am sorry that I didn’t know how to do that or I wasn’t strong enough to do that. I now realize that accommodating your needs at the expense of everyone else’s, making excuses for you, blaming myself or the kids for your actions, and generally enabling you to emotionally abuse us may help us all on a very temporary basis and may help mostly prevent physical abuse in the moment, but that this strategy is not a long term solution and in fact makes it worse in the long term. I am sorry for my enabling behavior and I promise to work as hard as I can to not to do it anymore. 

.... I think we can get past this, but we need you to understand. Thus, I want to share stories/examples of your behavior and how it affected us. ...

--> I want to first note that sometimes you do seem to listen, care, and do wonderful things for me, and I do appreciate that. ... However, you need to examine your attitude ... You seem to think of me as not being a regular, reasonable person with my own independent and valid thoughts. Instead, you seem to think that I’m trying to “maneuver” and “blame you” and that we are “playing chicken” (since you didn’t answer me when I asked, I’m still not sure what you meant by the latter comment but it fits in with my understanding that you don’t see us as equal partners working together). You have said you are doing things (like chores or helping with a child) so that I won’t be mad at you or so that I won’t “hold it against you” that you didn’t do it. ... You have told me that you are “done with the kids… generally” now, asked “why did we have kids?”, and said that you don’t understand other parents who said they cherish these difficult years with the kids ...

-- When [LP] was either 2 or recently 3, he did something that caused some minor problem, maybe he flushed something down the toilet, I am not sure but I remember thinking that even at that age he should have known better based on what we had been trying to teach him (though I was not really angry with him). You got very upset and started yelling at [LP]. I remember he was sitting on the mattress and you were also crouched down on your knees on the mattress berating him in a loud, very scary voice. You were very close to his face and you seemed very physically intimidating to me (I imagine even more so to him). I tried to talk to you but you weren’t listening and I feared that it was harmful to [LP]’s mental state to have memories like that. I tried to pull you away physically but you pushed me hard. Even though I started the physical interaction, that was scary to me. I thought that you would snap out of it if I just made you turn away but you didn’t. That was when I started to wonder what I would do if I had to live apart from you to keep us all safe. [Ed. note: I learned this in Catholic school, that you don't have to get divorced, you can just live apart if it's unsafe. While technically true and somewhat comforting at the time, I wish I had learned something more specific about how to deal with domestic violence rather than focusing on whether or not to get divorced.] I remember thinking of safe houses and I thought that was ridiculous, but I figured if I had to I would go to a hotel. However, an incident of that caliber never happened again (or at least not for a very long time) so I convinced myself it was an isolated incident. ...
Before this year, even though you had pushed me and restrained me and driven recklessly (you would characterize it as simply fast, but I indicated I viewed it as reckless and scary) with me and the kids in the car, which are all essentially acts of violence, I believed you would never actually hurt any one of us physically. I had felt there was a clear line that you had never crossed. (I didn’t see that the pushing and restraining and reckless driving were already across the relevant line.) That all changed several months ago, when you got very frustrated and angry at [ELP] for misbehaving. You yelled at her in front of me and [LP] in a very scary, threatening voice, making your face red and appearing to be out of control, and threw a couch cushion at [ELP] while she was sitting quietly on the couch waiting in fear for you to stop yelling. I watched that couch cushion squarely hit [ELP] and I felt helpless and scared and confused about what to do. I think I hugged her afterwards and tried to make sure she was okay but I was just hoping that the situation would go away and she would forget because she is young. ... That also made me notice or be more aware of other violent acts of yours both previously and recently, and I want you to be aware of the following examples.
-- Sometime last year, the kids were arguing upstairs and I thought it was well past the point where an adult was needed to intervene, but you did not. To prevent me from going upstairs, you wrapped your arms around me and held me in place. I said [Ed. note: shouted] “let me go, let me go” but you didn’t. After I struggled for awhile [Ed. note: trying to decide how I could kick him to make him let go, I thought I was really trapped and I began to panic] you began to take me slightly more seriously and let me go.
--> -- Sometimes you “hug” me when I do not want you to. The pattern typically starts when I first either say that I am upset about something you did, or I ask you in an exasperated voice to help with the kids or other tasks; therefore, you feel I am upset and in need of a hug. You keep hugging me even though I tense up and make it clear through both words and body language that I don’t want you to hug me and it is not helping me feel better."

Reader, keep in mind that I had loved this man since we were 16, and I was raised Catholic, and I am not a quitter. I thought that if he would only get some help, we would be able to turn it around. I started talking to my friends about all of this, and it took a lot of talking. One of my gradeschool friend's mother died, and her and I and another grade school friend started going out together more (though they live more than an hour away). They, and later my sister, helped me realize how serious it was. Meanwhile, my postdoc was in a long-distance relationship and never made many friends in the area, so he was free a lot, and I talked with him a lot. He became my best friend in town. For a long time he tried to only be supportive of the marriage, and not say much negative, though he did mention he didn't like it when he saw me being restrained one day. One day I told him that about a particular incident and how I had to make myself quiet and small to reduce the chance of getting yelled at or worse, and I asked him to help me. He spoke up more after that, though still supported me staying married, until I decided otherwise. They'll be more about that in the next post.

I am writing this post using mostly my old words because I want to remember how it was. It was so hard and confusing. When I would ask people for advice I would often get advised to do exactly what I was doing (thinking of what his feelings were, helping him more, not "overreacting"), which was what was making the problem worse. Before I wrote the above letter, I felt like an idiot, looking up what counts as domestic violence, emotional abuse, and physical abuse on the internet. I think that if he had suddenly done some of these things out of nowhere, it would have been clear that it was abuse. But it got worse so slowly, and there was so much context of what had happened before and so much baggage about what it meant if he was an abuser. I always thought that I should be strong because he was the one hurting the most (who would want to be an abuser on purpose, after all, that's worse than being abused). But eventually I realized how much he was hurting the kids (LP referred to the version of daddy that tended to go to the zoo with us as the "yelling daddy"--I had no idea LP knew the pattern that well, because I thought I was protecting him). That's when I realized I wasn't even helping him by trying to make things easier for him, because he needed to learn to do better, I was able to write the above letter. More on the results next time.