I have been with the same partner for 10 years and we have a young child. I am feeling absolutely desperate and don’t know what to do.
We argue constantly; he thinks I am incompetent. I try my best to end arguments, but even if I agree with everything he says he still gets angry with me. Almost daily it descends to the point where he calls me a horrible name. I have tried to tell him this is unacceptable, but he says he uses it to shock me when he thinks I am being really horrible.
He is always moody, no matter how hard I try to make him happy. He constantly makes remarks about how I’ve ruined his life. We have the most lovely, happy child, and I am so worried about what effect all this will have.
It has come to the point several times lately where I have asked him to leave, but he has said twice that he will kill me and our child before doing so. Most recently, and with this in mind, I packed our things so my child and I could leave instead. I told him I was frightened for our safety and he said it was just a joke and that he would never hurt us, but that if I took it seriously then that would make him take it seriously and then he might mean his threat.
He thinks it is ridiculous that I would take it seriously. He has never physically hurt me or our child.
I feel so trapped. I want more than anything for us to have a happy life, but even in the happiest situation he always finds some excuse to tell me how useless I am. If you have any advice on how I can make him see that the way he speaks to me is not acceptable, that would really help me.
I wish I could. But in order for your partner to see that the way he is behaving is not acceptable he would have to take responsibility for his actions and he is clearly not capable of that. Plus, with an abusive man, I would fear for your safety if you “stood up to him” or tried to make him see that it’s his behaviour that is at fault.
His threats to kill are not only unacceptable, but criminal acts (Offences Against the Person Act 1861) and your safety and the safety of your child must take top priority. If you ever feel in danger, you must call 999.
It is not acceptable for a partner to call you the names he does to keep you in line or to “shock” you, nor to taunt you about your past (in your longer letter, cut for privacy), nor to make you feel you are incompetent. You are also right to have concerns about your child: they will be increasingly aware of the abuse you are suffering.
Abusive men are often at their most dangerous when they fear losing control
I am glad he has never physically hurt you, but that doesn’t mean he is not abusive – abuse takes many forms. His behaviour falls very much within the definition of domestic violence (DV), specifically coercive control, which will become a criminal offence (section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015) by the end of 2015. You may want to look up the power and control wheel, which may help you to understand that what you are experiencing is abuse.
I realise that when you are in such a situation, you try to rationalise it and try to somehow make it “OK”, because facing up to the reality you are in is terrifying and painful.
Abusive men are often at their most dangerous when they fear losing control – at the point of separation. Please do not tell him about any action you may be about to take or are thinking of taking.
A good place to start talking things through is with the National Domestic Violence helpline (0808 2000 247), which is run in partnership by Women’s Aid (womensaid.org.uk) and Refuge (refuge.org.uk). They can talk you through what protection is available to you, both practical and emotional, and there is plenty of information on the websites. The organisations may put you in touch with a local refuge or support group and may also give you practical advice about keeping vital documents safe and out of the home.
You do not tell me anything about your legal or financial situation, or what support you have around you. It is essential that you find out what legal and practical protection is available for you and your child. Rights of Women (rightsofwomen.org.uk) has useful legal information online (you can also ring its helpline on 020-7251 6577, only open at certain times, and do try again if it’s busy), including how to get DV injunctions, including a non-molestation order and information on legal arrangements for your child, and a guide to family law legal aid.
Although there are organisations that can help to support men to address their violence (Respect and the Domestic Violence Intervention Project), these are best approached ONLY after separation, if you manage to separate safely and he can accept responsibility for his actions.
I would absolutely not recommend these as a first course of action because a) he has threatened to kill you both and b) it is not your job to fix him. I would also consider reporting his threat to kill you to the police, but I understand that you may not want to do this until you are safe.
This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 18 December 2015.