Here, Helen*, tells the story in her own words.
I ￼moved my day around so I can make it to Blake*’s hockey game,’ my partner, Mark*, smiled.
In the few months we’d been an item, he’d been so romantic, showering me with gifts. What really mattered though, was that he loved me and my four young kids. And unlike my ex, Mark knew how to express himself.
‘The first time I saw you I knew I wanted to marry you,’ he’d tell me. So, when Mark proposed after six months, I said yes straight away.
Marrying in an intimate ceremony, I felt so lucky. ‘I do,’ I beamed, vowing, for better or worse, to love and cherish him. I had no idea just what that would mean though…
Four months into our marriage, I was made redundant from my job and my colleagues organised a farewell. I drove my workmate Neville* to the pub, then at the end of the evening, I dropped off another colleague, Nat*.
Back home, I was telling Mark about my day when his cheeks flushed with fury. ‘He only wanted to get in your pants,’ he sneered. ‘Neville?’ I asked.
So surprised, I even giggled at the absurdity of the accusation. But not believing that I’d dropped Nat off, Mark made me drive us back to her place. ‘Go on, knock on her door – prove it,’ he urged. ‘Snap out of it!’ I said, refusing to budge. After that, I realised my perfect, caring husband had a dark side.
If I spent any time out with my friends, he’d accuse me of cheating. When he hurled insults at me, I flinched like he was wielding a whip. ‘Whore!’ he’d shout at me, with enough venom for the entire street to hear. I hope the neighbours don’t believe him, I’d cringe.
It became easier to just let my friendships go. Now, Mark’s mates became mine and he always knew where I was – with him. He also accused me of favouring my boy Blake, 13. It was a lie – I loved all my children equally.
The bedroom became a battlefield, too. If Mark and I weren’t having sex at least three times per week, he said I had to be having it with someone else. Then, when we’d been married for a decade, he let me go on holiday with our close family friend, Sue.
Out sightseeing, I’d often leave my phone at the hotel, only to return to a barrage of text messages, emails and missed calls. P*ssed off, one read. The emotional abuse was relentless and suffocating.
For six weeks after the trip, I slept on the couch until he agreed to see a counsellor, and for a short while after that, I had the old Mark back. But it was just a glimmer. I thought about leaving, but Mark threatened to get my kids taken away if I did.
Then, in 2016, my childhood sweetheart Greg* sent me a friend request on Facebook. Now happily married, he lived on the other side of the country. There’s no harm in it, I decided, accepting.
Always looking at my phone, Mark saw a message flash up on the screen from Greg soon after. ‘As soon as I let you out of my sight, you’ll be shacked up with him,’ he taunted. ‘For God’s sake Mark, I dated him when I was 17!’ I replied.
When I got home from work that Friday night, Mark wasn’t home. No arguments, I thought gratefully.
I was watching TV when Mark suddenly appeared. As he grabbed for my phone, I hid it behind my back. ‘Leave me alone!’ I said. Enraged, Mark gripped me around my throat. I can’t breathe! I panicked.
Kicking my legs, I forced him backwards and he fell over the coffee table. Standing back up, he slapped me across the face, and I felt my mouth fill with blood. ‘Let go!’ I tried to choke out, as he strangled me again.‘You’re in love with him!’ he ranted. I’m going to die, I panicked, as I began to pass out. ‘I’d rather kill you than let anyone else have you,’ he hissed.
I couldn’t leave my children without a mother. So, somehow, I found the strength to push Mark off. When the police arrived, Mark was charged with assault and hit with a temporary domestic violence order.
After 15 years of emotional abuse, finally he was gone. Late last year, Mark appeared in court where he pleaded guilty to assault. His lawyer was angling for a fine rather than imprisonment. He thinks it wasn’t serious enough, I thought. Each and every taunt, nasty word, manipulation and mistrust had been a slap to my spirit though.
The judge sentenced Mark to a suspended jail term, meaning he wouldn’t serve time in prison for the attack. I was angry that he was still walking the streets, but a year on, I feel free. I’ve even rekindled friendships with old pals. You can see a split lip or a bruise. But emotional abuse leaves its own scars – and I’m doing my best to heal.
*All names have been changed. Photos posed by models
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Operation CO CO
Operation Co Co is a that’s life! initiative that aims to raise awareness of the danger of emotional abuse in domestic relationships.
Coercive control (Co Co) is a non-violent form of belittling, putting down and controlling a partner. If you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, there is help available. Call RESPECT: 1800 737 732 (Aus) Call It’s not OK: 0800 456 450 (NZ)
The Salvation Army can also help you to create a Safety Plan – a guide to protect you and your children. For more information, search the internet for Salvation Army Safety Plan or call 13 72 58 (Aus).