When he began to be violent, after a couple of months, it was directed at objects – he threw a book across the room and punched a bed frame. In doing the latter, he damaged his knuckle, which I felt extremely guilty for. This seemed to set off something in him, for he then progressed to directing his violence at himself. If we argued, he would punch himself in the legs, slap himself in the head and face and once scratched his own fingernails across his forehead. He would then blame me for it, saying “look what you made me do”. I became increasingly scared. As far as I could work out, I was driving this man to hurt himself and I felt like a monster. (Having since spoken about self-harm behaviour with Women’s Aid, I now understand it to be a common guilt-inducing tactic used by abusers.)
I began to feel very frantic and panicky during this time. I was struggling to understand what was happening and feeling very scared, but wasn’t sure what about. His behaviour also made me feel more insecure and clingy towards him, which he got annoyed about. I found myself feeling like I needed to be around him more than before. I struggled to sleep even when he did not disturb me, and had huge worries about myself and whether I was truly damaged. I thought about visiting a counsellor, but believed I could fix things myself. I was determined to make the relationship work.
I was due to go abroad for fieldwork in April 2016 and we agreed he would come along as my assistant. I could not work out why I was so unhappy and why this relationship was not working and I thought perhaps going away together would help. Instead, things got worse. Out there, the fights continued, the accusations of lack of trust continued, and I started to wonder if there was something seriously wrong with me. I had a wonderful PhD position and, I thought, a wonderful partner – why couldn’t I just be happy?
A key event occurred while we were there, when one day, after an argument, I asked him for some space and cycled off to a field site. He followed me there, however, and the argument continued. I became very panicked and asked him to go back to the house and leave me alone. He refused and kept coming towards me, shouting at me. I screamed at him to leave me alone and pleaded with him to give me some space. He ignored me and came towards me again, trying to grab my arms to hold me in place, at which point I slapped him. I immediately felt extremely guilty and apologised to him. He held me while I cried and said it was ok, that he could see it wasn’t me acting in that way but that it was my lack of trust in him and my inability to love properly that was the problem. I felt so relieved at being forgiven and angry at myself that I was acting in this way and unable to just be happy. (The fact that I slapped him caused me huge shame until only recently, when I confided in a member of staff at Women’s Aid, who told me it is very common for violence in a relationship to start with the abused lashing out at the abuser, who then uses it to increase feelings of guilt.)