Writer and broadcaster

I’m being emotionally abused by my husband. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

I am a confident, independent woman who is being emotionally abused by my husband. We have been together for 15 years and have three children. It began when our first child was born over a decade ago. He would be kind and loving in public and then tell me I was crazy behind closed doors. He plays mind games and twists things I’ve said. Often our conversations, particularly about money or work, make no sense at all. He dances around subjects and lies constantly but when challenged he says I am crazy. He also thinks I am screaming at him when I am talking in a normal, calm voice.

I have tried to get help but because he covers his tracks so carefully, I can’t prove anything. I have been to the doctor several times but he has not been sympathetic, saying he cannot discuss another patient. My husband has recently stepped things up a gear and I think he is telling his family that I am ill and insane. He holds quite a senior position at work and my worry is that if push came to shove no one would believe me.

I am desperately worried about the effect this will have on the children, although at the moment they are very well rounded and happy. I am 100% dedicated to my children and strong enough to have bounced back from this abuse for many years and in all other aspects of my life I am happy.

I have stayed for so long because each time I thought I could fix things, keeping a constant glimmer of hope that I could keep our family intact. And I’ve lived by the “better the devil you know” motto. However, I fear I have had as much as I can take but I don’t know which way to turn.

It is a factor of domestic abuse – for that is what this is – that the perpetrator a) often begins when the woman has committed to him in some way (moving in together/having children) b) the person being abused is encouraged by the perpetrator to believe that they are imagining it or “going crazy” c) the perpetrator is kind and loving in public – they are often described as charming and d) the person being abused hangs in there, thinking they can make things better.

But you can’t make it better, because this isn’t your fault. Only the perpetrator can take responsibility for their actions. In order for your husband to fix things, he’d have to accept he’s doing something wrong. Whatever the reason he does it doesn’t matter.

All of this is all done – on purpose – to control the other person. In this case: you. What your husband is doing is a crime. I consulted someone from Refuge (refuge.org.uk) on your behalf who clarified that “the cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is: any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional.”

I don’t know what your options are (financially, what friends or family you have close and it’s safe to reach out to etc) because this letter is all the information you’ve given me, probably with good reason. But you do have options.

First, please contact the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 (run by Women’s Aid & Refuge). This is run by trained women who can give you lots of practical support. By telling them a bit more than you have been able to tell me, they can run you through your options and – crucially – they will believe you. They can put you in touch with an outreach worker who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of services and legal aid. Once you have some more information, you can then decide what to do next.

Refuge also advised you to keep a log of all incidences, which may help as evidence should you need it. Keep it somewhere safe. There is also a link on its website which runs you through other ideas for staying safe while you decide what to do.

Is there someone you trust who you can ask for support? A family member or friend?

I’d like you to read this “What happened next” (tinyurl.com/mblp5qo), which concerns a woman who wrote to me some years ago. I hope her story will give you hope. This article I wrote last year, How can we protect our daughters from abusive relationships?, also has some useful information in it and online links.

You might also like to read this book if you can do so safely: Power and Control: Why Charming Men Can Make Dangerous Lovers by Sandra Horley (chief executive of Refuge).

You are not going crazy and you have a right to live without being controlled. There will be many readers who recognise what you’re going through.

This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 26 December 2014.