Tricia had been married to Nick for five years. When they met, Nick was kind, attentive, sweet and generous. Tricia believed that after a difficult childhood with an alcoholic abusive father, she had found someone wonderful. She had been so excited to leave her parents’ home and start a life of her own she failed to notice the subtle warning signs. Used to outward physical abuse, she did not notice the possessive streak which made her feel special, was actually a little extreme. Neither did she see that she hardly spent any time with her friends anymore. She told herself Nick needed her. She felt happy and fulfilled in her role as Nick’s wife. He didn’t even want her to work. It was his job to take care of them, he said. Tricia couldn’t believe how lucky she was.
Slowly, after the first year however, things began to change.
Nick would yell at her if his dinner wasn’t ready when he got home. He complained when he learned she had spent time at her mother’s home during the day. It was her full-time job to take care of the house and ensure things were the way he liked them when he arrived home. He vetted her wardrobe, criticised her hairdo, told her she was fat even though she was smaller than when they were married.
Over time he eroded her confidence, isolated her from the people she loved and let her know she was incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful husband when she was so stupid. And she believed him.
Then one day, everything in her world came crashing down. In the heat of the moment, Nick lashed out and hit her. Suddenly in that moment she recognised the truth – she was married to a man just like her father. He may not have been an alcoholic, but Nick treated her in the same way her father had treated her mother. It was only because he was so much more careful and subtle she had not seen what was happening. The man she loved was systematically destroying her, the man she believed loved her in return.
For Tricia the truth was that in some part of her she recognised Nick’s controlling behaviour as love. Based on her childhood, and with no other model to observe, her beliefs had been formed from her dysfunctional environment. Even though Tricia was determined never to end up like her mother, in the deepest level of her mind, patterns of behaviour had been formed of which she was totally unaware. It took a physical blow to wake her up and realise she had married a man just like her father.
Once she understood the truth, she left the relationship. Nick did not make it easy for her, and she spent some time in a woman’s shelter, but little by little she became aware of the fundamental beliefs which had formed her experience. She took responsibility for her life and as she did so, everything changed.
Tricia has since trained as a social worker. She puts her own experiences to use in helping young women from abusive homes to recognise their own core beliefs before they too find themselves trapped in an abusive relationship.
In Tricia’s case, the abuse she experienced during her marriage to Nick allowed her to understand other women who had been in a similar situation. She was able to move past her own pain as she began to understand that, as a result of her childhood, she had formed certain beliefs which attracted Nick into her life. It was not a conscious invitation but her experiences about life had been coloured by her upbringing – and believe it or not, so had Nick’s.
From his perspective, his father was a man who never seemed to stand up to his wife. She yelled at him constantly, ordered him around and told him how worthless he was. As a result, Nick vowed never to let a woman tell him what to do. He would be the man in his household. He had seen the dysfunction that had been his parents’ marriage, and in his bid to be stronger than his father, he had mirrored his mother’s behaviour. It wasn’t until a long time after Tricia left that he began to acknowledge his abusive behaviour toward her and get the help he needed to live the life he truly wanted.
Neither Tricia nor Nick was to blame for the situation they found themselves in, but they were jointly responsible.