For the first few days after the assault, he was hugely apologetic and talked all about how things would be different now, how things were going to change. But then there was a shift. He began to suggest that it was indeed my fault and that I was right to blame myself. He said I had damaged him and needed to help him to heal. He changed from saying he would stop drinking to saying he wouldn’t get drunk again. He also told me that I couldn’t be annoyed with him because I had been violent first – reminding me that I had slapped him when we were away. I tried to point out the difference between the incidents – that I had slapped him while in a state of panic, after begging him to leave me alone and him repeatedly coming towards me, whereas he had strangled and punched me while holding me down so I could not escape and that before he did that, I had not been physically threatening him in anyway. But he would not listen and continued to blame me for his violence. If I ever brought it up he would tell me I was damaging him further and that I had to let it go.
That assault had a strange effect on me. I had always thought that if a man ever hit me, I would leave him. Yet here I was, still in a relationship with someone who had hit me. I felt his behaviour was unfair but believed it was, at least in part, my fault. I felt that this huge thing had happened and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I knew that if I were to tell my parents, they would convince me to leave him and I didn’t want that. I loved him, I saw the good parts in him, and thought I could fix our relationship. But the assault had made me more insecure than ever, and also very fearful. I stopped sleeping almost completely, lying awake next to him each night feeling panicky. I sometimes would ask for one of us to sleep on the spare mattress we had on the floor, which helped, but caused me to feel even more like I was ruining our relationship.
We moved into a new flat, sharing with the couple who had been involved in the first assault. I thought moving would help and that things would sort themselves out but they became worse. He was more impatient with me, always cross that I wasn’t happy and cheerful. I remember he once had a huge go at me because I didn’t get up and greet him cheerfully enough when he came home from the office one day. He continued to be extremely volatile and would often shout at me, calling me a fucker, a cunt, a hormonal crazy bitch. The smallest of things would set him off. He would often wrench my engagement ring off my finger, saying I didn’t deserve it. Sometimes he would put his hands around my neck, not enough to strangle, but enough to make me feel scared.
I began to struggle to talk to other people and didn’t know how to relate to them. I became unmotivated in my work. I felt as though a glass screen separated me from the rest of the world and interacting with people felt very fake. I remember wondering whether life was just about ticking days off until you die. I knew something was very wrong but the only person I felt I could turn to was him. He agreed that there was something wrong with me and told me he would keep me safe and I had to trust him. He said that only if I truly trusted him and stopped fighting it would I be able to be happy. He would often buy me gifts, things to make me feel happier, but then if I annoyed him he would say I didn’t deserve them. I found myself desperate to please him and annoyed at myself that I seemed incapable of it.
Feeling dependent on him made me become very clingy and needy. I found myself getting upset if he did anything without me and panicked if he was away from me, which would cause him to say I was trying to control him. My sleep became even worse, as now I felt very fearful around him. Sometimes I would get upset with him, for falling asleep when I could not, having no care for the reasons I struggled. Often he would fall asleep while I lay crying next to him. He told me it was my problem I couldn’t sleep and I shouldn’t make him feel guilty. I saw the logic in his arguments and hated myself more. He continued to be very kind and sweet when not annoyed with me and I began to need his approval and affection. (I have since learnt that dependence on an abuser is a recognised phenomenon, called Traumatic Bonding. I understand it better now, but at the time I couldn’t make any sense of what I was thinking or feeling, which rendered me helpless.)
I felt as though I was going completely mad. He continued to make me feel guilty for things I had supposedly said and done which I had no memory of. He would offer to help me with things such as the bar work I did in College, but then if I accepted, would say I made him do it and was making him behind in his own work. He started bringing me lunch and working at the desk next to me in my office most days. As my dependence became worse, I began to feel I couldn’t go to the office without him and so would ask him to come with me, which he would use as another example of me trying to control him. In attempt to convince the world that everything was fine, I continually put happy photos of us on social media and told everyone how much I adored him. I felt too ashamed to tell anyone what was happening – to be defined as not only a woman who had been hit by her partner, but as one who then continued to stay with him. Also I was convinced that if I told anyone, they would believe I had driven him to it and think badly of me.
My reactions to his behaviour started to vary. I still felt hugely angry that he had assaulted me and that he showed so little remorse for it, but I blamed myself too much to leave him. Sometimes, because I wasn’t allowed to speak about the thing that was upsetting me, I would get frustrated and angry at him for small things, such as often forgetting to do things he said he would. He would make me feel so guilty and I would apologise. I kept telling myself to just be happy, but I didn’t know how. One day he came towards me, seemingly to pin my wrists and I pushed him away. He had such a look of hurt on his face and told me he had just wanted to hug me and I instantly felt guilty. Not long after, in another argument, he grabbed the front of my t-shirt and bra and yanked so hard that he tore them. I remember feeling annoyed, but didn’t bother saying much about it and instead made another mental note to stop winding him up. He was beginning to completely take over my mind.
The second assault on me occurred when we were alone in our College MCR (common room) one day. An argument started and he pushed me onto one of the sofas, and squeezed his hands around my neck. Rather than fight back this time, I went limp and lifeless, in the hope it would make him stop quicker. This seemed to annoy him more and he started screaming in my face. When that didn’t work he started pleading, still with his hands around my neck. I didn’t know what to do, so remained still until he gave up and let go. He didn’t apologise this time.