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Stephanie's Story

20 August 2019 — Esther Sweetman — Survivors’ stories

I met K when I was 30, he was unlike any man I’d met before – he was charming, made me laugh, and was very attentive. He told his mother that I was ‘beautiful and clever’.

One or two aspects of his behaviour, early on in our relationship, should have set the alarm bells ringing in my head, but they didn’t. He’d get angry at the slightest thing, for instance, but would soon apologise and make some excuse – he was tired, or he’d been under stress at work. I found out that he had also overspent on his credit card, but he said that he was paying it off little by little. I believed everything he told me.

Things moved very quickly and just a few weeks after we met K asked me to marry him. We wed six months later and moved into the home that I owned. Life was good, but the warning signs were there, if only I’d taken notice. For example, he seemed to worry if I was home from work later than usual and he’d often ring me at work to check I was okay and ask what time I’d be back. I thought nothing of this behaviour, believing it to be the concern of a good, loving husband.

A year or so after we married, K persuaded me to move – hadn’t we outgrown my small house? We bought a new home together and spent years transforming it. Not once did it occur to me that I’d gone from 100 per cent ownership of my home to 50 per cent ownership and that K had gone from 0 per cent ownership to 50 per cent.

K also had a penchant for cars – the more powerful, the better – and we changed cars every few years. We were in debt, but K always had a way out – remortgaging the house, taking out loans. He took control of the purse strings. He was very fond of spending money we didn’t have and always had an answer whenever I expressed my concerns that financially, things were out of control.

Fifteen years into our marriage I began to notice significant changes in K’s behaviour. He became secretive, going behind my back and then becoming angry when I found out and challenged him about his behaviour – which usually involved other women. He would pick arguments with strangers in the street and he managed to alienate most of our neighbours. Throughout all this, I continued to support him. The vows I had made when I married him weren’t meant to be broken; I was a loyal, faithful wife who accepted my lot in life. Some people had happy marriages, some not so happy.

It was just a few days before our 24th wedding anniversary that I discovered K was having an affair. When I confronted him, he denied it at first but then admitted it, saying that it was my fault and accusing me of pushing him away. I told him that we all have free will and that we are responsible for our own actions. He appeared contrite and promised to end the relationship. We went on holiday.
However, during our time away, it became clear that K was still in contact with this woman. It transpired that he’d joined an online dating site for married people looking for an extramarital relationship and had used one of his credit cards to pay for his membership. More debt. Instead of the holiday being relaxing, it was fraught with tension. One evening, K was in one of his now quite regular moods and he locked me out of the caravan. I decided I’d had enough.

When I told him I was leaving him, K became very emotional. He said he couldn’t live without me and he threatened to commit suicide if I left. I know now that this is typical of emotional abuse, but at the time I was afraid he’d go through with it and that I’d have his death on my conscience for the rest of my life.

I subsequently discovered that he joined dating sites at least three more times and that while I was at work he was meeting other women.

Things became so bad between us that I took time off work and went to stay with my sister. While I was with her, K pestered me nonstop, again threatening to kill himself if I didn’t return. I was emotionally drained, and returned to a supposedly repentant K. I told him that I saw only a few options, one of which was divorce. He said he didn’t want a divorce and that if I’d take early retirement we could move away and have a fresh start. I agreed.

We bought a new-build detached home in a different county; I put my entire retirement lump sum into it. But I became incredulous when I found out that whenever K drove over to check building progress, he was meeting another woman he’d met on that same dating website. He promised one final time to change and to take on more wholesome activities. He joined a walking group, though his behaviour at home still left much to be desired.

All I can say, with hindsight, is that he was good at putting on an act. Whenever I became angry, he’d accuse me of backing him into a corner and would grab hold of the kitchen surface, saying it made him feel safe, or he’d take hold of a knife and make as if to hand it to me, inviting me to tell his doctor that he was ‘mental’.

A year after moving into our new home, he told me he’d met someone else and was leaving. He left that day. Only the evening before (Christmas Eve), he’d knelt next to me in church for Holy Communion. I knew that the time had finally come to divorce him. K couldn’t believe that I’d had the ‘audacity’ to contact a solicitor. He was uncooperative for most of the proceedings – clearly, he wanted control. He lied to his solicitor, making me out to be the one with the issues. It was only thanks to my excellent solicitor and my own negotiating skills that I got a very good settlement.

People have asked me many times why I didn’t divorce him much sooner. I don’t have an answer to that except to say that I believe God led me out of the marriage when He felt the time was right. Had I divorced K years ago, I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met in recent years, nor would I have had some of the opportunities I’ve had. I now have my own home far away from K. It will take me a long time to heal, but I know that with God’s help, I’ll make a full recovery and that I’ll be able to help others. I’m gradually making new friends and I have a new church where for a while at least, I can be anonymous. I also pray that anyone in the same situation as I was in will end the relationship far sooner than I did.