During October and November the situation carried on much the same. He was nearing the end of his PhD and became more stressed with work, for which he blamed me. He said he hadn’t worked enough during the year because we had spent too much time doing other things. He continued to offer to do things with me and then made me feel very guilty if I accepted. He made no attempt to stop drinking and I gave up asking him to. He also repeatedly told me he had been happier with his ex and regretted leaving her. When certain songs came on the radio or we looked at photos of us together he would say they reminded him of when I did things that upset him (such as driving him to harm himself) and make me feel guilty. I was always afraid to say the wrong thing and set him off, but nothing I did seemed to make him happy. I also caught him lying to me about little things and began to trust him less. Several times he threatened to commit suicide if I didn’t back down in arguments. (I now understand this is a common feature of abusive relationships.) He became even more controlling, getting cross if I was ever later home from work than I said I would be, even if we had no plans. He would get upset if I was ever on my phone at home, saying my attention should be on him. He also lectured me about not wanting sex often enough and said I wasn’t making him feel loved. In a desperate attempt to cheer myself up and make him happy, I started to focus more on planning the wedding, which only led me to feel even more trapped.
We went to my parents’ house one weekend and I snapped at him in front of them, burst into tears and ran upstairs. He acted entirely innocently and my Mum, unaware of what was going on, stood up for him. He was now succeeding in turning everyone against me. I tried to tell my Dad what he was doing but just couldn’t, I didn’t know how to explain it.
Things came to a head at the end of November. I was planning fieldwork abroad again in January, combined with a holiday with my parents in December. He had told me he wanted to join us on the holiday and be my assistant again on my fieldwork. Both my parents and I had asked him several times if he could afford to take the time off work and he said he could. I told him I had a friend who could come instead of him to do the fieldwork but he insisted he wanted to do it. So we booked the trip, my parents kindly covering the cost of the holiday part for both of us as we could not afford it.
Ten days before we were due to go, we had an argument which ended with him saying everything wrong with our relationship was my fault and that I was ruining his life. He then told me he was leaving me. When I begged him not to, he said he wasn’t going to leave me but that he was going to go to his Mum’s house and tell her everything I had been doing to him. While he was there, we had a conversation on the phone, in which he stood in front of his Mum and step-dad and loudly twisted everything I was saying (which only he could hear) into nasty things for them to hear. For example, when I tried to apologise for the things I had said in the argument, he announced that I was bringing it all up again and having a go at him. They then became cross with me and I felt completely helpless. So I decided to drive up there, to speak face to face with them, so my words could not be twisted. When I arrived, his step-dad shut the door in my face and wouldn’t let me in, but his Mum, who I had always got on well with, came to find me. The four of us then had a conversation in which it was explained to me that I was treating my partner badly. In particular, the fact that I was making him feel guilty for sleeping when I couldn’t and getting upset when he did things without me was brought up. I could see how this looked and apologised to them all. I couldn’t tell them the reasons for my behaviour.
Before I had driven up, I had spoken to his Mum on the phone and she had asked me why I had gone to my parents’ house alone for a while (after the assault in September). I said to her, “You don’t know what he did”, to which she replied, “What did he do?” I told her I couldn’t tell her, that it wasn’t mine to tell. I was hoping this would kick-start a conversation between them but I was being stupid to think he would ever tell her. While we were at her house I asked him to tell his Mum about the violence as I thought she would be able to help us. He told me “She will only think worse of you for driving me to it”. I believed him and kept quiet.
During those few days at his parents’, when we weren’t with them, he told me again and again that I had problems and had to let him and his parents help me. He said I needed to trust him, stop questioning him and that he would help me to change – that he knew what was best for me and how to achieve it. He demanded I have unquestioning blind faith in him and told me I was never allowed to be cross with him, that I should act as if I worshipped him and fully accept him as a part of me. He said I was mentally ill and that I was lucky he was staying with me, that no one would ever like me unless I changed. He told me he was a saint for being with me and that no one else would ever want me. He recited a list of things I was never allowed to say or do if I wanted him to stay with me, and explained which parts of my personality I had to change. He said if I worked hard to change he would let my behaviour go and forgive me. It was so easy for him to convince me I was terrible because I felt so guilty about having been so snappy. I didn’t recognise that it had all been in response to his attempts to control me. He told me that my Mum was poisoning me and I had to spend less time with her. He also told me he would only stay with me if I admitted to his parents that I was bullying him and that my behaviour was due to my relationship with my Mum. He insulted my Dad frequently too, saying he had brought me up badly.
I could not make sense of who was right and who wasn’t. I found myself desperately apologising for everything I could think of. I broke down multiple times with his Mum and told her I was doing everything wrong. I just couldn’t understand what was happening. I was trying so hard to convince myself and them that I was entirely in the wrong. I pushed down any feelings of him being in the wrong and told myself they were due to me being mentally unwell and that I had deserved the violence. His Mum comforted me when I told her how awful I thought I had been. She also told me that she had seen her son’s temper before and stuck up for me when he was shouting at me, but, having only heard one side of the story, continued largely to believe I was the problem. He also told me he had spoken to his Dad and step-mum and that they had tried to convince him to leave me, but that he had stood up for me. This confused me even more.
He then broke it to me that he was no longer coming on my fieldwork trip or the holiday, which his parents backed him up on, as he had told them I had forced him to agree to it. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I had asked him so many times if he was happy to come along and he had insisted it was fine. He knew I needed the extra pair of hands for my work and that it was probably too late to find anyone else. When I pointed this out he told me just to go and find someone on the street to help me. Fortunately, one of my friends agreed to take his place, which he seemed furious about (I can only assume he was hoping I wouldn’t be able to complete my work out there). The flights cost £600 to change but he refused to pay anything towards this. He also refused to pay my parents back for his holiday that they had paid for. When I tried to complain about any of this he would become furious, explain how in the wrong I was and make me state that he was the victim and that I had no right to complain about anything. He said any negative thoughts I had about him were in my head and that I was paranoid, but again, he was going to fix me. I was absolutely miserable and felt completely lost, but I felt so tied to him and too much of me believed he was trying to help me. I believed I had driven him to be nasty and now had to pay the price. Above all, I was terrified of him leaving me as felt I couldn’t exist without him.
Just before I left he told me he was broke because I had made him live in a flat where the rent was too high. In reality, we had found the flat together and both chosen it, but he convinced me I had forced him so, out of guilt, I loaned him the money to cover his rent for December. In addition I left my engagement ring with him as I did not want it to get damaged on fieldwork. I have never had either the rent money or the ring back.