How It Feels to Be Labeled the Abuser When You’re the Survivor
It’s a uniquely cruel twist of the knife to be betrayed & vilified by the one for whom you gave everything
Mr. Perfect, I am not, nor ever will be.
Sometimes I wipe my boogers underneath my desk when no one’s looking.
When my emotions are triggered, sometimes I yell at the people I love and it takes me several minutes before I give them the apology I immediately know they deserve.
My sense of humor is occasionally offensive & immature.
I’ve been known to fart in the car after hitting the window lock to punish my sons for not doing the dishes the night before.
I constantly forget the birthdays of friends I have known since I was five.
My omelets still fall apart in the pan one-third of the time (okay, two-fifths).
But I am Mr. Sincere Effort. My grandfather always said, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right, and I applied this mantra to my marriage. I didn’t excuse myself from the domestic responsibilities. I did the grocery shopping & the cooking. I made the arrangements for holidays, birthdays, camping trips, vacations, & special occasions. I bought the picture frames and hung the family portraits in ascending chronological order along the staircase in our home. I did my best to make decisions together, to view a marriage as a partnership of two equals, and to always create an environment where my wife felt comfortable speaking her mind. I valued my wife & my family, and did my best to express that in every way I could.
I took breaks when I had to, made mistakes because humans do, and sometimes pouted more than a grown man should, but I was always authentic & sincere with my words & my actions. I wore my heart on my shirtsleeves. When she spoke, I truly listened; when she felt, I truly cared; when she smiled, I rejoiced; when she cried, my world stopped. If my wife told me she wanted something, she got it. If she said something wasn’t right, I changed it.
I never placed any other woman above her, I told her she was beautiful and that I loved her as many times each day as I could, and I sought out as many different ways to show her as I could. I was quick to forgive, slow to give up, and the first one to give in & apologize after a disagreement. Everything I owned belonged to her, and everything I did was for her. Throughout our divorce, I continually told her, “I have no problem with you getting half; I was planning on giving you everything, for the rest of my life.”
We had numerous conversations where we had agreed if ever we did get a divorce, we would conduct ourselves with dignity and mutual respect — not to disclose each other’s secrets, to share custody of & responsibility for our children, and to allow each other the freedom to find happiness with another person. I kept those promises even after she broke them, because to me, they were promises I made to myself — not to her. Too late, I realized that silence only benefits the abuser. When deciding whether to disclose something personal, I have learned to ask myself whether remaining silent or being honest would be more harmful to myself and to others… once I applied that rule, it became readily apparent that remaining silent about her abuse & her lies is no longer tenable.
I was so loyal to her, I betrayed myself.
All the way until the end, she knew that she was still my first choice, and I would have done anything she asked — if only she would commit to the only two things I ever asked of her: to be honest, and to be faithful. Looking back, I’m ashamed of how weak & desperate I appear; while living through it, I saw it as exhibiting Christ-like forgiveness, turning the other cheek, responding with love no matter what.
As Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” If any one of the chances I gave her had resulted in her making that commitment and saved our family from brokenness, it would have been worth any potential loss of pride. I didn’t care about what the world thought of me… until she started to turn the world against me. It was only once I accepted that our relationship was doomed from the start that I began to regret all that I had invested into it.
It’s easy to cast judgement once we know all the facts and how things end; it’s not so easy living through it, hating yourself for loving someone who is no longer the person you loved, burying yourself deeper into the delusion as the reality of your situation becomes ever darker & more terrifying.
I went from a world where the most beautiful woman in the world was my ideal lover & my best friend forever, to a world where I had sacrificed my dream job, my career, my potential, my wealth, my friends, my reputation, and two decades of my life for nothing. Knowing firsthand the pain of divorce, the shame of admitting to being abused by your intimate partner (particularly as a man, where showing weakness is emasculating and a loss of one’s very gender identity), the devastation caused by a narcissist’s smear campaign, the loneliness of life as a single parent, and the difficulty in rebuilding one’s life from the ashes, I no longer question why people find it difficult to leave abusive relationships.
When she cheated on me, I tried to understand why and asked what was wrong with our relationship rather than condemning her for seeking to have her needs met outside of it. I prayed for the strength to forgive her, and struggled through the grieving & the healing that I had to do without her because I believed it would be worthwhile if it resulted in our family remaining unbroken. I kept an optimistic heart, and gave second (and third) chances when I should not have, out of hope, love, & loyalty.
Her on-again, off-again affair had lasted over twelve years by the time she chose to take advantage of the trust shown to her by myself & my parents and engage in illicit, overtly sexual, & clandestine conversations with her lover while on our family vacation, after promising it was over and pretending to send him a message ending things between them once and for all. She had heard me say repeatedly that I did not want to be with someone who did not want to be with me, and if she wanted to be with him, then I was willing & ready to work together with her to divorce in a manner that placed the least possible amount of stress upon our finances and our children.
Yet she consciously and with undeniable intention chose to deceive me, to violate every agreement we had made, to weave a false narrative that presented her as the victim rather than as the instigator of the illicit activities that had occurred behind closed doors in the privacy of our bedroom, and when her deception threatened the financial stability of our family, the professional reputation I had spent a decade and a half nurturing, and the educational opportunities available to our sons, she chose to remain silent rather than confess to her crimes… sacrificing her own children and the man who had loved her selflessly for nearly twenty years rather than accept any threat to her perfect self-image. It was then that I began to understand the true depravity of narcissism: once someone has sacrificed their most valuable possession — their inner child, their light, their divine spark, their soul, their True Self — on the altar of their ego, there is nothing they will not sacrifice.
When she falsely accused me of being abusive, having not yet learned this lesson, I was beyond shocked & hurt. The most unbelievable thing of all to me, however, was how quickly her false accusations were accepted as factual, despite numerous, well-documented evidence of her alcoholism, drug use, affairs, false statements, and mental health issues — including attempting to seduce an on-duty police officer while severely intoxicated, just moments after falsely accusing me of abusing her.
As much as I attempted to view the situation with detachment from my own perspective & consideration for their points of view, I found the incompetence & bias exhibited by the local police department to be simply staggering… not to mention the ease in which they were able to subvert the process of justice to serve their own agenda and avoid ever being called out for their grossly unprofessional and in some instances criminal misconduct.
It’s considered to be in poor taste to question the statements of a woman claiming to be a victim of domestic abuse, so no questions were ever asked of her. It’s disrespectful to accuse a police officer of lying, so none of their lies were ever called out in court. All the evidence that did not support what they wanted to believe was ignored, and their imaginations filled in the gaps in their knowledge with a reality so twisted & far from the truth that it says more about their own demons than mine.
When I found out later from someone who worked in the county corrections department that one of the officers had gotten divorced after his wife caught him in bed with another man, and that another officer’s wife had shown up at the hospital covered in bruises a few months after giving birth to triplets (everyone in the department knew what happened, she told me, yet the officer never suffered any consequences for beating his wife), and that the police chiefs in the surrounding community all considered the chief of that department to be chauvinistic, arrogant, and impossible to work with, the pieces started falling into place. What we refuse to see in ourselves, we see in others.
All I have left is truth, love, and hope.
The truth I cling to as a drowning man to a piece of the ship that failed to hold together against the storm and left him adrift in a dark & uncaring sea.
The love I have for my sons keeps me getting out of bed when I feel I have nothing left to look forward to, happiness is a shore upon which I will never rest, and all my dreams are now forever out of my reach.
Well, I hope that I am wrong.
I do not share this in hopes of receiving sympathy, or pity. I do not write this to collect readers or followers, or to change anyone’s perspective on anything, or to give hope to others who might be in similar situations… if I do, I am glad, but such is not my intention.
My motives in writing this are purely selfish… to be able to look at myself in the mirror.
To hold my head high when the world wants me to be ashamed.
To be able to say that, come what may, I spoke my truth.
To grow more confident in telling my story, and to defy the fear and the voice that would have me fade silently away, leaving it all unsaid.
Fuck that fear.
Fuck that voice.
And fuck narcissists.
Thank you for reading.