Having spent a significant part of this week being interviewed about the new UK landmark legislation regarding coercive control and the Domestic Abuse Bill that’s been discussed in Parliament I had no idea there was such a day as Spouse’s Day so when I found out that it’s today I just knew I had to write something about it.
Let’s face it, relationships are hard work. Even great relationships require a lot of hard work but when you’re in a less than great relationship, when you’re in an abusive relationship (and I’ve been in several) it’s continually hard work. No matter how hard you try to be the best version of yourself and be everything to your spouse, you’re a disappointment to them. You spend your life treading on egg-shells, fearing anything that may make your partner have reason to berate you, belittle you, ignore you or worse.
You learn to cope. You learn to put on a mask, a fixed face (I’m told my jaw and chin became ‘set’ for a number of years) and you trot out the words you know people want to hear and you’re supposed to say because society can’t cope with hearing the truth about the situation you’re in and if it could, probably wouldn’t believe you anyway. That’s the trouble with coercive control or psychological or emotional abuse. It doesn’t leave a physical mark therefore it’s obviously not happening! And that is why this new legislation is getting so much airtime.
To be stood in court and be told by the bench that you couldn’t possibly be a victim of abuse because you’re an eloquent, articulate and confident witness only makes the abuse you’ve endured worse. You stand there, having steeled yourself for that day, and realise that the very system that you’re taught will help you, actually doesn’t believe you. I refer to this as institutional abuse by proxy. This makes the perpetrator’s case stronger in their eyes and you become even further entrenched in that minefield of wondering if it really is all going on in your own mind and whether you have indeed imagined it. This despite the fact you’re an intelligent human being who deep down knows that it all happened and you’re not imagining it.
You question your own ability to think clearly. You wonder if you’re going mad. You think you might have early onset alzheimers.
And the legal system, until now, helps perpetrate that myth.
What is required is education. Education of those we trust to implement our laws. Education of social care professionals who are often the first points of contact for those in abusive relationships. And education of each other.
We need to learn that it is not OK to belittle, berate or ignore each other. It’s not OK to manipulate situations for our own gain. And it’s not OK to walk on by when we see or hear unacceptable language or behaviour being used against someone else.
We need to stop calling those who have strong, healthy, equal relationships the ‘smug married’ and we need to learn from them. We need to understand how a healthy relationship works regardless of sexuality and model it.
We need to demonstrate it to our children and show the same respect to all in our sphere. By treating each other with kindness, respect and understanding, slowly, very slowly we can stop domestic abuse from becoming an epidemic.
Until then, I will be forever grateful to my previous relationships for teaching me how NOT to have a relationship and use those lessons to continually strengthen the relationship I’m in.
And I will raise a glass and thank my partner for enabling me to experience such a healthy, equal, mutually respectful relationship.
To all those amazing spouses and partners out there – Happy Spouse’s Day.