When couples marry, they don’t envision divorce. They especially don’t anticipate divorce due to domestic violence. Most people who get married do so on a positive note. Statistics complied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 indicate in 2014 a ratio 46.4% divorces to marriages. This means for every 100 marriages 47 will end in divorce. For intimate partners “One in 4 women (22.3%) have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner while 1 in 7 men (14.0%) have experience the same.”2
Last year I learned that a friend Gwen Hughes (name changed for her protection) was separated from her husband after over 40 years of marriage. One reason was due to infidelity on his part but the greatest reason was due to domestic abuse during the duration of the marriage. Gwen did not fit the demographic of a domestic violence victim…at least in my mind. I now know that domestic violence or violence against an intimate partner spans across gender, race, and socio-economic status.
I asked Gwen if she would be willing to sit down for an interview. She gladly agreed in order to share her story and maybe help another person in a similar situation. Below is our conversation.
PaisleyPerspective: First I want to thank you for sitting down with PaisleyPerspective to share your story.
Gwen Hughes: You are welcome. I am ready to tell what happened to me, mostly to help another woman or even a man. No one should suffer with being mistreated.
Paisley: How many total years were you with your husband including prior to marriage?
Gwen: I was with my husband two years prior to marriage. We were married almost 44 years so just about 46 years. We met in high school.
Paisley: So you were high school sweethearts?
Gwen: Yes, yes, we were high school sweethearts. Even though I should have known something back then…but we will save that for later in the interview.
Paisley: When did physical abuse occur, before or after marriage? Hindsight is 20/20 but were there any signs of possible abuse?
Gwen: We had gone out on a date to a little hangout for teenagers. We were standing and I remember asking, if we would just stand around or would we sit down? He completely flew off the handle and started yelling at me. I thought it was odd but brushed it off.
We graduated from high school and then were married after high school. I was at school [college] and he was home this particular day. I recall coming home and asking why he hadn’t taken out ground beef to thaw. He became very angry and slapped me. I got very upset and called my mother at that point our daughter was an infant. I went and stayed with my parents and even called his parents. His parents were upset as well and explained they didn’t raise him to be that way. Eventually with him calling I did go back home, mainly because we had a child together. That was the very first time but it was very early on in our marriage and like you said hindsight is 20/20.
Paisley: After the first occurrence how often was the frequency of physical abuse?
Gwen: The abuse was intermittent. Not always physical, it wasn’t like he would beat me with fists but there was shoving and threats…where he would threaten to hit me. The emotional and verbal abuse was on going. He would say things like, “I was naïve, I was stupid, I didn’t know what was going on.” He accused me of sleeping with other people even our pastor and high school friends. He even said our daughter wasn’t his child and she looked just like him including his baby pictures. In addition to the verbal abuse he was a serial cheater and he knew how that affected me. It really impacted my self-esteem and mental well being.
Paisley: So he was accusing you of the things that actually he was doing?
Gwen: Yes, he was very deceitful but accused me of being a liar. There was a time when he came home from college to surprise me but of course my mom told me. And he learned that I knew and when I acted surprised to not spoil it, he later called me a liar. Even when sometimes I would tell someone I was busy, he would say I lied. But he was the liar because he lied to me the entire time we were married. I got married very young.
Paisley: How old were you when you got married?
Gwen: I was 18 years old when I got married. Part of the reason, why I got married was because I was pregnant. There was somewhat a sense of shame on my part when I became pregnant. I was smart and did well in school. My parents never made me feel bad even with all that was happening; but I wanted to show my parents I was not a screw up. They always showed they loved me. Looking back, I know now getting married was a mistake. However, I was determined to make the marriage work.
Paisley: Then and now how would define your socio-economic status during your marriage…on average?
Gwen: I would say we were middle class. When were first got married we did struggle like any young couple. He was a good provider and hard worker. However, with him in the military and us relocating often I always made sure I had a job as well. So we had a nice lifestyle. I took care of the home like any military wife being mom & dad when he was on duty. Our daughter had a severe medical condition so I would get calls from school; and had many emergency room visits. In addition to his salary, I made sure I contributed financially to our family.
Paisley: Are you still working and if not what was your profession?
Gwen: No, I am no longer working…I am a retired educator.
Paisley: You have partially explained what kept you in your marriage. However, were your family and friends aware of the abuse?
Gwen: No they didn’t know. My sister was shocked when I told her. I smiled on the outside and kept it all to myself. I just kept thinking I could try harder and plus I stayed because of my daughter. I figured also no marriage was perfect.
I realize now that he has personality disorders, he is a nacreous and arrogant. He is very self absorbed and he doesn’t have empathy for other people. Looking back, I always knew there was something about my husband that was not quite right; I truly believe he has mental disease.
Paisley: There is a book titled “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout. In the book it has a statistic that 1 in 25 people have sociopathic tendencies. That is a scary statistic.
Gwen: Yes my husband definitely fit into that category. When he was younger he used various substances to check out and to self medicate. I was always the designated driver during our marriage. Eventually he had to stop use of all substances which escalated the sociopathic tendencies.
Paisley: Sadly he probably had similar sociopathic tendencies as a child?
Gwen: Ironically his mother did say he was very much like this as a child. He was even mean to his is sibling.
Paisley: Well at least learning that you realized it wasn’t your fault how he was acting?
Gwen: No it wasn’t but I did have some fault in staying with him. There were signs early on even before I became pregnant. But I kept thinking things would get better and he would grow up but he never did.
Paisley: What ultimately made you leave your husband?
Gwen: What ultimately made me leave was finding out about the last affair. I was willing to stay if he was willing to go to counseling and work through or issues but he wouldn’t. I realized that he just wasn’t capable to give me what I needed and things weren’t getting any better.
Then there was the final physical altercation where I could have been significantly injured. This was after I realized it is over but before he moved out of our house. In addition other discussions lead me to know it was truly over and through a court order he moved out and now we are doing divorce proceedings.
Paisley: Did you have an opportunity to record any of the altercations?
Gwen: I do have recordings and photos, so there is audio & visual evidence.
Paisley: So what advice do would have for a woman going through a similar situation?
Gwen: All I can go back to is what Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are believe them the first time.” I look back now and there were so many signs I chose to ignore. Don’t make the same mistakes that I made, don’t stay with someone who doesn’t honor you as his wife. Or honor the vows that he made. Don’t do it. It doesn’t get better; it only gets worst.
Also wait before you get married. Make sure you really know the person you’re marrying…don’t rush into a marriage. Make sure you understand how the person interacts with his immediate family.
Paisley: I was always taught how a man treats his mother will help indicate how he will treat his wife.
Gwen: Yes it really does matter because my husband is so disrespectful to his mother and looking back he was always mean to her.
Paisley: Are you still concerned for your safety?
Gwen: I don’t think he will track me down. But he is very angry so I am concerned if I see him outside of my home. He doesn’t understand because he says he provided me with a luxury home and car as well as other material things…he really doesn’t understand why it is over. He has tried other little things to bother me but I don’t let him get to me. He really does have some major issues and seems like he has all his life.
Paisley: Were you raised in an abusive home?
Gwen: My parents had arguments but there was never any physical altercations.
Paisley: Would you consider getting married again?
Gwen: I don’t know if I would get remarried but I would like a nice companion…a retired professional like a retired doctor or lawyer. I no longer have tolerance for dealing with foolishness or any type of abuse. First sign and I am done.
Paisley: This is similar to an earlier question but what advice would you give to people before they get married?
Gwen: Really get to know them and see how they interact with their family. Pay attention to their habits if something doesn’t seem right trust your gut. Don’t get so deep into a situation that you can’t get out. And don’t be in such a hurry take your time no matter the situation.
Paisley: Well that concludes my questions. Again thank you for sitting down with PaisleyPerspective to tell your story. I wish you well in the next phase of your life.
Gwen: You’re are welcome. Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
Your next door neighbor, child’s teacher, favorite grocery clerk, or your best friend may be in a violent relationship or marriage. Like Gwen Hughes many women as well as men are suffering in silence. If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence seek help today (The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224 http://www.thehotline.org). Ensure it is safe before calling the hotline or accessing the website. If you are able do so use a public computer, such as at a local library. Gwen was lucky that she was never seriously injured during her marriage but many women & men are not so lucky.
“In 2010, 241 males and 1095 females were murdered by an intimate partner. Apart from deaths and injuries, physical violence by an intimate partner is associated with a number of adverse health outcomes. Several health conditions associated with intimate partner violence may be a direct result of the physical violence (for example, bruises, knife wounds, broken bones, traumatic brain injury, back or pelvic pain, headaches). Other conditions are the result of the impact of intimate partner violence on the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine and immune systems through chronic stress or other mechanisms.”3
Again if you are in an abusive relationship, your life and well-being are at stake please seek help today.
Sources: 1 Centers for Disease Control Prevention. (n.d.) National Vital Statistics System. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/marriage_divorce_tables.htm
2 Centers for Disease Control Prevention. (n.d.) National Data on Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs-fact-sheet-2014.pdf
3 Centers for Disease Control Prevention. (n.d.) Intimate Partner Violence: Consequences. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/intimatepartnerviolence/consequences.html
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