Abusive Relationship

Let me start by asking you to describe, in your head, the characteristics of a typical domestic abuse victim and a domestic abuser.

You probably came up with a victim who resembles a mousy character, probably a stay-at-home mum, quietly spoken, low self esteem, jumping at the slightest noise. Your abuser was probably either a tattooed thug (nothing against tattoo’s myself), or an alcoholic corporate male type.

Would you be surprised to know that your victim is just as likely to be your high powered female or male boss, and you abuser is the guy/woman who volunteers to coach the kids soccer games and seems so humble and nice?

Those men and women who appear strong, even successful, with their shit together, can be trapped in an abusive relationship. Those men and women who are always volunteering on the PTA, or seem meek and humble, can often be the abusers, projecting the image they want the world to see from outside of the domestic door.

Men and women in caring professions often find themselves waking up one day to the realisation they are in an abusive relationship, because they are often empaths and self reflective. Both character traits abusers use to manipulate and twist, leaving you feeling confused about yourself and what just happened.

It is so important that we all change our stereotypes about men and women, who are either the abused or the abusers, in domestically abusive relationships, because these stereotypes make it so hard for victims to reach out and be believed. These stereotypes help the abusers continue to abuse even post separation, through the very systems that are meant to help (legal system, child support system, etc.) because people in those systems are not trained to recognise abuse dynamics and even for those who are trained (counsellors, psychologists, etc.) the dynamics can be so hard to see unless you have experienced them for yourself, and so hard for victims to explain.

For example, one abusive partner would leave a red rose on the door step of his victims house. When challenged, he put on his usual act of the charming devoted father and husband just trying to win back the affections of his wife, by leaving her flowers. Friends, family or outsiders, would think, “How lovely. Clearly he is trying hard to save his family. How could someone doing things like that be an abuser. What he says is obviously right, his wife must be just emotionally unstable and depressed. She must be the issue.

But what they don’t know is he is playing a conscious abusers game. By placing a flower on her doorstep (despite a protection order in place), he is letting her know he is still there, he can still enter, what is meant to be, her safe space. He is letting her know he can still get away with things and deceive others into believing he is the good guy. He can terrorise her with a flower, and show he still has power over her, power to effect her mood, effect her day.

It's even more important that we don't place the different types of domestic abuse (physical, emotional, sexual and financial) into a false higher achy, because they all do damage. They all exert control, power over another and fear.

However, the one that usually keeps people trapped, unable to leave, more than all the others is FINANCIAL ABUSE, particularly if you have kids, and/or you are an immigrant and don't know the countries systems and supports.

If your partner has all the family assets and finances in there name alone (and often have created debt in your name, maybe also destroyed your credit rating, etc.), and you have not been able to get access to any of your accounts, not even knowledge of what those accounts are and how much is in them, then you have no access to money to pay for even one nights accommodation for you and your kids. You have no access to money to pay for lawyers to help you access your half of the relationship property and fight to keep your kids.

The decision people are often faced with is do I leave, but leave my kids behind, or do I stay and try to protect them and be with them.

If your an immigrant, you might not know about social welfare, but even if you do, it doesn't pay enough to cover rent, let alone bills and food, and where are you going to get the bond from?

You might not know about women's refuge, and god forbid you are a man being abused, because men's refuge's are extremely rare. If you have a son over the age of 11, some women's refuge's wont take you, then what do you do, leave your son with a violent partner? Even if your partner isn't violent, only emotionally and financially abusive, would you leave you child/children, because you have no money to pay for a room or food for yourself, let alone them?

It costs around $20k to get going with divorce and separation here in New Zealand. Trying to find a legal aid lawyer to take on a really messy divorce is near impossible. Therefore, the "justice" system is only available to those who can pay for it.

The system is extremely broken and contributes to the animosity, drawing it out for a very unreasonable two years before you can divorce.

If the only property you owned was abroad, that often means you can't even start the fight to settle your assets until you get your dissolution of marriage papers from the New Zealand courts, so they can be filled in the foreign courts and a lean placed against the property. That can only start two years after your official separation date. Without access to your assets, how do you fund the legal battle for your assets, especially if you have given up 10 or 20 years of your career to raise the kids and are now having to start back at the bottom?

Usually, the abuser is spending and hiding all the assets during this time. Often they close down businesses, quit work, work "under the table" or take low paid jobs in preparation to avoid spousal maintenance and child support. They may even seek spousal maintenance and child support from you! And boy, does the child support system help them continue the abuse, because it only works when both people are honest about their income and expenses. Asking a financial abuser to be honest about finances is like asking an alcoholic to be honest about how many beers they just drank, it's madness!

Separating from an abusive partner will be a long and drawn out process because abusers often get worse after you leave them as they try to claw back control over you anyway they can. They will tie you up in legal documents and battles that will take all your free time, energy and money. If you try to have minimum contact, they will start to use the kids to draw you back in to engaging and frustrate you. They feed of your struggle and pain, and drain the life out of you like the Dementors in Harry Potter suck the souls from their victims.

Now, I have painted a pretty grim picture here, that may seem really hopeless and soul destroying, but there is hope. There is a way through this nightmare. How do I know for sure?

Because I was a highly educated, strong independent woman who woke up one day to the realisation that I was married to an emotional and financial abuser, and I got away.

I lived in denial for a while, making excuses for him, blaming myself, thinking I just wasn't skilled enough to break through to him and change the behaviour (rescuer mentality with the shame of failure thrown in for good measure, for not being good enough at my job, not being a good enough wife, not being loveable enough for him to stop for me, etc.). I thought I could prove I wasn't all the negative things he was telling me I was, and I wasn't thinking and feeling all the things he insisted I was thinking and feeling, if I just worked harder, loved harder, gave more of myself, changed more of my self to be something he would approve of, someone he would trust, someone he would love.

When it all finally came to a head and I finally had to accept the relationship I was in, I was an immigrant, with no idea what help was out there to get my kids and I away from the abuse. Isolated from family. Not able to explain what was happening to friends, because I didn't have bruises to show for what he was doing to me. In my effort to prove my devotion, support and love for him, I had gone around blowing his trumpet, telling everyone how amazing he was, inadvertently supporting the false image he projected to others. So, who would believe me now, if I told them the truth of what was really going on. It was incredibly isolating and scary, and I felt completely hopeless and trapped, because there was no way I was ever leaving my kids.

Yet, I escaped (with my three kids) and I found a way to fight back and reclaim my life.

I wont pretend it was easy, I wont pretend it was cheap and I wont pretend it isn't still an ongoing battle when you have kids with them, but there is a way through this and I really want to help both men and women experiencing this nightmare to wake up and take back control of their lives, to reclaim their voice, their power and themselves.

And I don't just work with individuals to help them escape abusive relationships. I have worked with many abusers who are ready to acknowledge and take responsibility for their behaviour and break, what is often, intergenerational cycles, rescuing the relationship and the family.

Here's what a couple recently had to say about working with me to end the abuse that had been going on for years:

Her: "If you had told me 6 months ago that we would be where we are, I wouldn't believe it, because when we first came I was done. I was more than done! Today, I am so happy, he is my "king of the world"!

There's no more violence, no abuse. A lot of his male friends are looking at him and saying, "Wow". Everyone is asking us how we did it.

Him: There's no drama. What I love most is the kids are at peace. The family unit is great. Everything is ironed out. If something goes wrong we can deal with it together."

I have so much respect and admiration for survivors of abuse because of the strength and resilience it takes to get out.

However, I have just as much respect and admiration for abusers who get help to change their behaviour, because it requires incredible courage and vulnerability to face our demon's, own them, take responsibility and change.

I know how amazing a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship can be and I know how much everyone deserves to experience that kind of love.

I will be running some information workshops for people needing some guidance and hope throughout the year, so check my web site regularly to see when the next one will take place.

These will cover practical information and well as techniques to help you manage the abuser and start yourself on the path to recovery and freedom.

They will be run by donation only. If you can’t make a donation that should not keep you from coming, but for those who can contribute, every bit helps to keep these workshops going.

My website also has a list of resources that you might find useful:

Final note: You are not alone.