Domestic Violence: On being a punchbag

Helen Thorne | 18 Mar 2014

There was a time when I barely even thought of myself as human. Oh don't get me wrong, I wasn't under some illusion that I came from an alien species, it's more that I didn't think I deserved to be treated like I would treat other people. I thought I was different, lower, less significant than those around me.

When I first met my husband, I was in a bit of a mess. My depression was bad and I had trouble making decisions. He was like a breath of fresh air. He was always so full of faith, so willing to take the lead, galvanise me into action and guide me on how to act and dress. I loved it. I loved him! Within weeks I went from a timid woman who rarely left the house other than to go to work to a well-groomed, socially-active person who could be confident in her boyfriend's words.

In the early days, there were times , I'll admit, when I felt he over-stepped the mark. Sometimes I didn't want to wear the outfit he would pick out. But he was so insistent, and, to be honest, usually right. I've never had much of an eye for fashion. Looking back, I guess the embryonic signs of his controlling nature were there but I paid them no heed. He had liberated me, transformed me and that was all that mattered to me and those around me.

When he popped the question, it wasn't hard to say "yes". He seemed a great choice - single Christian with sound doctrine and a heart for leadership.The wedding was planned with ease - I adored every one of his ideas. And the honeymoon he picked was just a dream. But it didn't take long for things to descend into a nightmare.

Everything was fine unless I tried to have a voice. If I complied with his desire for order, appropriateness and flawless appearance, he treated me like a princess. But if I let him down, things became very dark. He would become angry - bizarrely angry - at the way I had embarrassed him by putting on the wrong necklace or how I had ruined a potential business venture by saying the wrong thing.

At first the only violence came from his tongue but the lashing hurt nevertheless. According to him I was useless, pathetic, a real liability. He regretted marrying me but said that I could redeem myself if I tried harder.

I did try. I tried so hard to comply with his every whim - I tied myself in knots keeping our home tidy, my appearance spotless and my conversation flawless - but nothing was ever good enough. If something random happened, like a glass getting broken in the dishwasher, it was my fault for packing it badly and his fury would be unleashed.

It didn't take long for the downward spiral to speed up. A slap, a punch and then designated punishment times each week where the list of transgressions would be read and retribution meted out. He was methodical - every hit had a clearly articulated cause (making it "righteous anger") and he was careful, my body could be black and blue but never in places you could see ("so not to embarrass me in front of my friends"). My depression returned and with it an increase in clumsiness. As far as he was concerned, I had become the worst wife ever known. Though, in public, he still cared for me and at church spoke about how he longed for my depression to lift.

As I went around town, I saw ads for domestic violence helplines and I watched story-lines on soaps. But somehow they didn't resonate. They were designed for people who were people hurt unjustly - I deserved what I was getting. But thankfully, one day, a friend from church noticed.

They didn't notice the bruises. They noticed how meticulously I lined up the cups for coffee and how traumatised I became when I found a crack in one of them.

They weren't trained but they were wise. They simply posed one question with gentleness: "What's going on at home?"

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne is Director of Training and Resources at Biblical Counselling UK. She formerly worked with the London City Mission and has written Hope in an Anxious World, Purity Is Possible, Walking with Domestic Abuse Sufferers and 5 Things to Pray for Your City. She attends Dundonald Church in Raynes Park, London.