Short Stories: Living with Abuse

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abuse

Tiffany came down the stairs and stopped abruptly.  There, on the kitchen counter, she noticed a bouquet of flowers with a card propped beside the vase.  Hesitantly, she made her way to the flowers and stood staring at them for a moment.  After smelling the blooms, Tiffany tentatively picked up the card.  She stared at her husband’s handwriting on the envelope for a moment before she slowly slid the card out and read his quick note:

Beautiful flowers for my gorgeous wife! Love you very much, hon.

Dropping the card on the counter, Tiffany walked over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup.  As she stood by the kitchen sink sipping her coffee, she stared out of the window.  Lord help me, but I love him.  I can never stay mad at him.  Tiffany felt her heart begin to soften, thinking about how Marc could be so loving and extravagant even when she knew they really couldn’t afford niceties like flowers.  Even when he would probably be stressed and angry when the credit card bill came later that month.  It was a nice gesture though.

Tiffany thought about the fight they’d had last night and sighed.  She never knew what would set Marc off.  But when he came home from work yesterday, she just knew it wasn’t going to be a good evening.  Even the kids seemed to sense that and stayed out of the way.  It seemed that no matter what she did last night, he was critical and complaining about everything.  Nothing was right.  And she’d worked so hard to make a special dinner for him, knowing how much stress he was under at work.

I should have known better.  I shouldn’t have started in on him about the dryer needing to be fixed.  He already has so much on his plate, I shouldn’t have brought that up.  And I shouldn’t have gotten so upset when he threw his dinner into the garbage.  It WAS a bit overcooked.  I shouldn’t have left it in the oven to keep warm just because he was running late.  I know how much he hates his chicken to be dry.

Even while Tiffany was thinking about how she’d made Marc so angry, another voice was clamouring inside her head:  Yeah, but how come it’s never his fault? He never says sorry or admits that he did anything wrong.  And the names he called you last night really hurt.  Tiffany immediately felt guilty for thinking those thoughts and quickly pushed them aside.  Sorry, Lord, I know I need to forgive and forget.  I know he doesn’t mean what he says, he just can’t help himself when he gets so mad.  It’s the way he was brought up, he really doesn’t know any better. And it’s not like Marc yells at me, he just gets cold and says things I don’t like.  But jeepers, it’s not like Suzie’s husband who’s always yelling at her and pushing her around.

Shaking off her thoughts, Tiffany vowed to focus on all the things she had to be thankful for, just like her pastor preached last Sunday at church.  Having an attitude of gratitude would go a long way to helping her stay positive and loving.  She really had a lot to be thankful for:  a faithful husband who provided for the family, three great kids, food on the table.  Lord, thank you for my family.  Help me to be a better wife and mother. 

Just then, the phone rang.  Hearing Marc’s voice on the phone when she answered, Tiffany tensed as felt the flutters in her stomach.  Oh, no, what was wrong?   But after hearing the mellow tone of his voice, she relaxed and sighed with relief.

“Hi, sweetheart, I was just thinking about that pot roast you made for me two weeks ago.  Do you think you could make that for dinner tonight?  You know how much I loved that,” Marc said with a smile in his voice.  “You’re such an amazing cook, you know.  I’m the luckiest guy in this office.  All the other guys get sandwiches while I get the best leftovers.”

Tiffany laughed.  She loved it when Marc was so playful and charming.  “Of course, babe, I’ll go to the store today to pick up a roast.”  Even though she knew she would be stretching their grocery budget to buy a roast, she would do anything to keep Marc happy.  Maybe she could take some money from what she’d been saving to buy herself a new pot.  Even though their old one was falling apart, she could make do for another month or so.  She would just have to deal with him later on when they went over their monthly expenses.  Making him happy will be worth whatever grief he gives me about money.  And I’m sure he’ll understand.

They chatted for a few more minutes, when there was a sudden pause in the conversation.  Before she realized what was happening, Tiffany heard Marc’s voice change.  “I can’t believe that you haven’t said a single word of thanks for the flowers.”  Tiffany’s heart plunged, as she stuttered.  “Sorry, babe…I didn’t mean to forget…it’s just that we were talking about dinner…”

Interrupting her, Marc said coldly, “Never mind.  I can tell when I’m not appreciated.  After all I do for you and the stress I put up with at my crappy job so that you can stay home all day and paint your nails.  You’d think that you could say a simple thanks, but no, you’re so busy lazing around.  I can’t believe how selfish you are.”

Sensing that Marc was getting worked up, Tiffany tried to placate him. “No, honey, I love the flowers, I was just thinking what a great husband I have and how thankful I am for you….”

Not listening, Marc went on, “You can be such a bitch sometimes.  And you know what, I don’t know why I called you “gorgeous” in that stupid card I gave you this morning, when you’ve really let yourself go.  I hate waking up and seeing your fat butt every morning.  You know how important it is to me that you take care of yourself.  It’s not like you don’t  have time all day to exercise but no, you’re just so lazy that you can’t get yourself out of bed.  What is it with you?”

Silent tears began to slide down Tiffany’s cheeks as she listened to Marc’s rant.  She knew that nothing she could say at this point would make a difference.  When Marc hung up the phone with a resounding bang, Tiffany crumpled onto the floor, sobbing.  Her heart felt like it was breaking in two.  Help me, Lord, help me please!

——

That afternoon, after putting the roast into the oven, Tiffany sat down on the couch, exhausted.  Even then, she could feel the tension in her body as she worried about what would happen when Marc got home later that evening.  Not wanting to think about it anymore, Tiffany picked up the TV remote control and began to mindlessly flick through the channels.   Seeing that her favourite afternoon talk show was playing, she stopped flicking and settled down to watch, only half listening.  A few minutes later, something caught her attention.  Leaning forward, she turned up the volume.

The host was interviewing a psychologist who was saying things that made the hair go up on the back of Tiffany’s neck, even while she could feel the ache starting deep in her heart.  As the psychologist spoke, a list of the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship came up on the TV screen that made Tiffany’s heart start to  pound.

  • You’re afraid to tell your partner about an every day event because you’re not sure how he will react.
  • When you do talk to your significant other, he puts you down and makes you feel stupid.
  • You make yourself available to your partner no matter what the personal cost – just to avoid a confrontation.
  • You’ve begun to believe that you’re the crazy one — that you’re the one with the problem.
  • Your partner treats you like an object, like property, not like a person with real feelings.
  • Your partner keeps a tight control on all things: money, the phone, who you see and what you do.
  • If you fight back, your significant other blames you for their behaviour. “If you didn’t make me so mad, I wouldn’t have to yell at you.”
  • You’ve begun to see yourself as worthless — just like your partner says you are.
  • You’ll go out of your way to please your significant other, no matter how much you have to sacrifice.  Anything to beat the “lecture”.
  • You’ve begun to feel as though you deserve to be treated badly. If you were a better person, you wouldn’t make him so mad!
  • You find yourself making excuses for his behaviour regardless of the situation.

The tears began streaming down her face as Tiffany listened to the psychologist speak compassionately about the hidden torment of emotional abuse.  As the doctor implored viewers to get help if they were victims of abuse, Tiffany began to cry harder.  She could be talking about me.  Could this be true?  Even as she struggled to accept the truth, something deep inside her urged her to call the hotline phone number that flashed up on the screen.  Something inside of her urged her finally to get some help.

 ——

Emotional abuse is one of the most insidious and easily missed forms of abuse.  Hidden, subtle, and hard to label, it can lead to scars that are just as damaging – if not more – than physical violence, exactly because the scars can be so hard to see.  Victims are often unknowingly caught into a cycle of abuse, unable to break free, especially if their religion or faith teaches against leaving their marriages.

If this is you, please reach out for help.  Speak to your doctor or pastor for a referral to a shelter and/or counselling centre in your local area.  If you live in Canada, you can visit this website for more information, or consult this directory for information about supports elsewhere around the world.  Because the vast majority of abuse victims are women (or children), most resources are geared towards female sufferers.  However, abuse towards men does occur, so if you are a male victim of abuse, please speak to your doctor or pastor for a referral to a psychotherapist who can help you take the steps to break free.

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