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Domestic abuse – my partner’s father

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      Heulwen
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      In the past, when anyone mentioned ‘domestic abuse’ I immediately thought of two adults in some degree of romantic relationship. However, my personal experience of domestic abuse soon changed my perception.

      That’s why I’m sharing my story with you now. I know I’m not alone in what I used to think. I know there must be others out there who share similar experiences to me but who almost feel invisible or like some kind of fraud, just as I did, because the situation they’re in isn’t a stereotypical domestic abuse situation. I know first-hand that this can make it even harder to open up to others about what you’re going through. I hope that sharing my story changes at least one other person’s perception of domestic abuse and – dare to dream – that it gives at least one other person the courage to speak up, knowing they’re not alone and that there can be a way forward.

      I’m purposely writing this from my perspective. That’s not to make it all about me – you’ll all know that domestic abuse has a significant impact on so many people. I’m not in any way diminishing the experiences of other family members. What I really want to do is share a different perspective. One that people may not be so familiar with. I’m also extremely conscious that I only have the right to tell my own story, not anyone else’s.

      I was your typical 20-something-year-old when I met Rhys. It sounds so clichéd but the first time I set eyes on him, I knew (or maybe hoped) he was the man I’d marry. There was just something about him. His character shone through and we spent most of our time in fits of laughter. How on earth was this guy still single with a personality like his?

      Things moved quickly but naturally and comfortably; it didn’t feel rushed. I moved in with him after 8 months. He had his own place – very much a bachelor pad – and we soon started to make it our fun, love-filled home. I’ve no doubt that if things had stayed that way and been wholly down to us, we’d be married with our own little family by now. But, as we know, life is seldom a fairy tale.

      I realise how lucky I am with my own parents and I think it’s fair to say I took them for granted before I met Rhys. It took just over a year before I started to realise what his family dynamic was really like, despite his parents living next door to us. Up until that point, I thought that theirs was a fairly normal relationship. Ok, it was different to the relationship I have with my parents but that in itself is ‘normal’. We’re not carbon copies. There were always odd quirks that I started to notice and yes, I would’ve preferred that they weren’t living next door to us but being naturally laid back and reasonably open-minded, I didn’t think too much of it.

      I remember the first time that Rhys’ father reduced me to tears and physical shaking – not so much about what led to it, though it would have been something so minor that most other people would have just let it go over their head – but not Rhys’ father. The thing I remember most is how it made me feel for weeks if not months afterwards. As much as I picked myself up and brushed myself off, looking back I do think that’s when I first started to lose some of my confidence and my interest in some of the things I usually enjoyed doing – like exercising and socialising – started to wane. Rhys and I had been together around 15 months and had lived together for around 7.

      All of the other times kind of roll into one from there, though there are distinct things I remember about each occasion; there tended to be around 8 months of relative peace between each ‘occasion’, if we were lucky. I need to say here that I’m no pushover, in the sense that it takes quite a lot to crack me. I know that I’ve shown my strength (emotionally, not physically) time and time again over the past 6 years. I’m not easily offended or easily upset. But there are many times I’ve felt like my heart was breaking, like I didn’t have the strength to carry on, like I just wanted to shut myself away in the house, like I so wanted to stand up for myself and tell Rhys’ father exactly what I thought of him… but I couldn’t. I was too scared.
      The things that stick in my mind are Rhys’ father being right in my face shouting and swearing at me, blocking my car in so I couldn’t get away from him, shouting through the walls from the outside of the house, telling me I was basically a piece of shit and that there was something far wrong with me, throwing me out of mine and Rhys’ home, threatening to burn our house down if we didn’t do what he wanted – something I have no doubt he is capable of. The list goes on and a fair few of these things happened when I was alone with him. It was all about control, albeit over the most minor things many of you wouldn’t believe.

      Those who have experienced any form of domestic abuse will know that as much as you can tell others what happened, you can’t ever really do it in a way that makes people exactly understand how it happened or quite how it made you feel. It’s almost impossible to convey the anger and manipulation you were on the other end of, how threatened or scared it made you feel, or how alone. All I can say to you is that I vividly remember many things that were done to me, said about me and said to me, even after years have passed. I remember them as though they were happening right now. This wasn’t the odd falling out, telling off, raised voice or difference of opinion. I can hack all of that – I’m a big girl. This was intimidation, bullying, manipulation and control. This was abuse.

      It goes without saying that I wasn’t the only one on the receiving end of the abusive behaviour. Rhys and his mother got more than their fair share too. They just handled it so differently to me. It always seemed like water off a duck’s back. And they always went back – doing whatever it would take to appease Rhys’ father. What is it they say? “Anything for a quiet life”? I never used to understand that – why would anyone seemingly just put up with this kind of behaviour? That question doesn’t even cross my mind now. I completely appreciate how difficult it is to do anything but what you’ve always done. And I’ve seen how terrifying – frankly – it can be when things escalate. The top and bottom of it is it can so easily and quickly lead to a situation where someone’s at risk of being harmed. Why would anyone naturally choose to put themselves or others in that situation?

      After 5 years, I’d had enough. History had repeated itself too many times and I’d had enough of it. Having pushed the boundaries so many times, Rhys’ father crossed the line to the point that I reported my concerns to the Police purely so there was a record. I moved out and found my own place to rent – close by but far enough away. I know now that if I’d have stayed after that last episode, I’d have probably not been far off having a breakdown. And I’d have been no use whatsoever to Rhys. Taking that next step together wasn’t an option for various reasons – not without setting off World War III, and neither of us were prepared to do that.

      Needless to say, there were times when this really had an impact on Rhys and I. Time off work, feeling run down and becoming unwell, strained relationships with other family members and sometimes friends, having to leave jobs, live apart for periods of time, take pay cuts, our own mental health suffering – I could go on but you get the picture. Not quite how we imagined spending our 20s and 30s…

      The thing I find most sad is that Rhys and I should have spent all of our time together enjoying building a life. We’re both hard workers and naturally sociable people. We should have been busy making fun memories and planning our future. Instead, we found ourselves spending most of our time recovering from one episode before the next one began; processing a hell of a lot of emotion in between. Whilst we’ve made sure to fit some fun and adventures in between, it’s never left much time to truly think about our relationship, our future or us. The brutal reality is that many of the things other couples so look forward to, like getting married or starting a family, are the very things we dread because of all the complications they would bring.

      I know this isn’t all in the past, we’ve had situations to deal with since then and that we’ll be faced with more in the future. But the most important thing is that we do have a future. Whatever it looks like and whatever sacrifices we have to make, we do have a future and we’re increasingly realising that future is in our control. It might not be conventional, it might not be what we dreamed of and it might not happen as quickly as we’d hoped, but it’s ours and that’s all that matters. I know that if we can get through the past 6 years, we can get through anything – together.

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