TW potential gaslighting, talk of emotional/physical abuse and suicidality.
Note: I am really unsure if any of this could be considered gaslighting, it’s still a relatively new concept for me. I don’t know if it’s gaslighting, or if my husband just seems to be a selfish person.
As you may be aware, I grew up in an emotionally abusive household and had an alcoholic father. My parents never seemed to be happy together and they never seemed to love each other, they always seemed to be having full on fights. I remember always wishing that my mum would leave my dad, they had so many problems with each other which made the lives of my siblings and I really difficult. As a child, seeing my parent’s relationship made me certain of my own future marriage.
I will never get divorced; my husband and I will go to couples’ therapy if we are having issues.
I will never be with an alcoholic, especially not one as aggressive as my dad.
If I’m ever in an abusive, I will leave straight away.
These are all wishful thinking, though – things that are easier said than done. As I’ve grown, I’ve realised that it isn’t as simple as that. You might think that you will never end up in an abusive relationship, that you’ll see the signs and leave straight away – but that’s not always the case. So often the abuse begins so subtly that you don’t notice the red flags, and by the time you do, it may be too late. You feel like you can’t leave. But, as a child, I had a very one-set mind when it came to abuse – I thought the only type of abuse was physical or sexual. As I only realised about two years ago that my parents were emotionally abusive, I’m not really surprised by the fact that I never knew it was a form of abuse. Another form of emotional abuse, one I only learned the concept of a couple of years ago, is gaslighting. Gaslighting is one of those subtle forms of emotional abuse that is hard to pick up; a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser plants seeds of doubts into a person that makes them question their memory, perception and sanity.
I’ve spoken before about when I first started dating my husband; I was 18/19 and in such a bad way emotionally because of my parents when I met him. He came along and seemed to be the only guy alive who would even want to be with me. Our relationship began as long distant, we lived three hours away from each other, and for the first ten months of our relationship most of our communication was done through Facebook messaging or Skype. His replies were always intermittent because of his sleeping pattern, he would switch between sleeping through the night and sleeping through the day, and other times he would be playing games with his friends and so was unable to talk. Sometimes when I was upset, he would talk to me and make me feel better, and other times, he would ignore me or tell me he was busy. In the first few months of our relationship, he acted like a different person – like a more confident, less socially anxious version of himself (he himself has admitted this) so that I would like him. It was only about six months into our relationship that his true self began to show through – our first argument was from being at a party with my parents and him complaining the entire time and insisting we leave, even though I didn’t want to.
About nine months into our relationship, I was desperate to move out of my parents’ home, the emotional abuse was awful and I felt like staying there any longer would kill me. This led to another pretty bad argument between my husband and I. We had agreed to go to the city’s carnival one weekend so I was staying at his house, and during this time we’d arranged to go and look at a rental property that I could potentially move into in order to get away from my parents. The morning that we were meant to look at the house, though, he told me he was feeling sick and didn’t want to go, and it felt like my world came crashing down around me. I was desperate to get away from my parents, I was in a city I didn’t have much experience in, I had no car, and we were going to catch public transport to get to the house – something I’d never done before. Him not going meant I couldn’t go. I was devastated, I felt like it was him saying that he didn’t care about how frantic I was to get away from my parents, he didn’t care that they were killing me. I admit I didn’t handle the argument well, I hadn’t learned just yet how to control my emotions and I think I may have said some hurtful things, because I was so upset (no excuse, of course). To try and make it up to me, he said, “I still feel sick, but we can still go to the show tonight”. I was still really upset throughout the night and in a general bad mood because of the amount of people there, and at the end of the night I told him I didn’t really enjoy myself because of this reason, which really upset him – “I was still feeling sick and I went to make you feel better, I went on a rollercoaster with you even though I hate them, crowds make me anxious too. It really hurts to hear that you didn’t appreciate any of it.” This was still something he held against me two years after it happened, every time he brought it up I felt like an awful person. Even now, I can’t remember it much, I can’t remember what I did to make it so hurtful for him.
Because I was so frantic to leave my parents’ home, he let me move in with him ten months into our relationship. I was finally free, and he was my saviour. He helped me with money until I was able to get a job. The first seeds of dependency were planted.
In our arguments, I was always the one in the wrong. Maybe I didn’t always word things nicely, but the things I would bring up in arguments were always valid. I was arguing with him once about his sleeping pattern, something that always really upset me. This time it upset me because I was wanting him to catch the bus with me to the university, since I’d never caught public transport on my own, I was just wanting him to do it this once and then I was sure I could do it on my own from there on. He promised that he would, but on the day he hadn’t slept the night before and told me he was too tired now and went to sleep. Later that night, I angrily asked him how he would plan to be there for his kids later in life when he’s always sleeping through the day. This was another thing that really hurt him; any time I seem to give criticism, he would be really hurt, and it was getting to the point that I felt like I could never discuss the things he did that I didn’t like in fear of him hurting him.
Skip ahead to a few years later, a year into our marriage, and his brother and brother’s boyfriend moved in with us. My husband always struggled going to work and took off at least one day a week, at times more – but a few months prior, he had taken a day off and then wasn’t able to go into work again because of his anxiety. At this point, he finally admitted that he needed help and spoke to his GP, got put on medication and began seeing a psychologist. I wasn’t working at the time because of my own mental health, and because of his extensive days off, we were barely receiving any income, which is why I reluctantly agreed to let his brother and brother’s boyfriend move in with us. I knew it was a bad idea because his brother had always been toxic to me – saying negative things about me with the ‘intention of helping’, saying nasty things, being controlling. I began struggling with my mental health even more as soon as his brother moved in with us. His brother quickly seemed to take over the household, rearranging things how he wanted without talking to anyone about it, leaving mess around and never cleaning up after himself, not helping out with household chores, always hogging the lounge room, eating food that wasn’t his, touching me without my permission. I was miserable and felt unable to talk to my husband about it, he never seemed to want to hear it because he was struggling with his own things, they were helping with rent, and he didn’t mind having them there. A couple of months after they’d moved in, his brother messaged saying they were going to start looking for their own place because they didn’t feel like it was working out – I was ecstatic, but my husband wasn’t, he wanted them to stay. Reluctantly, I agreed to change how we were living so that the brother and boyfriend would stay – giving up the good bathroom and basically letting his brother have control over how the things in the house were arranged. But a couple of months after that, things blew up in a terrible way. My cat came to me one day and I quickly noticed that all of his whiskers had been cut off. We tried confronting his brother about it, to which he admitted doing it and then walked off before we could take it further. After a long discussion with my husband, which I was saying we needed to talk to the brother about it otherwise I would just stew in my anger and my husband not wanting to, we finally agreed to talk to the brother about it. The brother quickly became very hostile, began shouting horrible things, and eventually punched me quite hard in the side of a head, through a cushion, and stormed off, though later sending a message with even more horrible things written in it. That was the end of our relationship as roommates and as siblings, and was perhaps the start of the first rifts in mine and my husband’s relationship.
After that, my husband didn’t want to live in the house anymore, it felt like a negative environment for him. I didn’t like the idea of breaking our lease, but my husband seemed to think this was a good idea. He got a new job so we moved to the suburb that his job was in. It seemed like maybe things were getting better, but it wasn’t long before he started taking more and more time off of work. He began putting pressure on me to get a job, and never acknowledged how hard I was trying to get a job or how difficult it was to even find a job. I’d already started seeing a psychologist to try and help me get into the head space to work and I was applying for jobs when I felt able to (which admittedly wasn’t often). Applying for jobs caused me so much anxiety and I was dealing with new traumas that were surfacing. But what I did never seemed to be enough for him. He blamed me for our financial issues, saying that if I was working, he wouldn’t be so stressed about money and so he would be able to go to work. He would shut me down any time I said we would be doing okay with money if he was actually attending his job, he would turn it around on me and say that he was the one that had been working. Although he wasn’t going to work, he refused to help out with house work – he would say me asking him to do something made him resistant to doing it so he wouldn’t, but if I didn’t ask him to do something he wouldn’t do anything. He didn’t care about any of the problems I was going through and would always make me feel like I was in the wrong for wanting his support. When I first started this blog, I was anxious to post my first blog post and I asked him to read it first to make sure it sounded okay, when he wouldn’t I got upset and then he got annoyed at me for being upset. Throughout our whole relationship, he would make me believe I was being unreasonable or selfish by asking him to do something with me or to go to the shop. I remember wanting him to come to my uncle’s funeral with me which he was refusing until I burst into tears. He made me feel like that was being manipulative. I felt like I was an unreasonable, manipulative person who would do anything to get my way. I was in the place where it felt like my only options were to stay with him or to kill myself.
Well, in the end, he left me. I know it’s no reason to stay with someone, but he ended our relationship a week after finding out I could have cancer, and a few days after finding out I was going to be having surgery to remove part of my thyroid. I went into crisis mode. I was making plans to kill myself and had plans to do it the night after we broke up. I ended up calling the Australian suicide hotline instead, and was admitted to the mental health unit in the hospital. My husband began texting me about paying my half of the debt we were in – “I need you or someone else to talk to me about organising you to pay half of the debt or I’m just going to take your things”. Unable to think straight and attempting to get him to give me some time, I told him I was in hospital, and his response was, “hope you’re okay, can you get someone to talk to me about the debt?”. Never had I ever felt so unloved and unimportant. He wouldn’t let up. In the end, I agreed that he could keep everything except my Xbox, computer, TV and bedside tables. The amazing TV we brought with our wedding gift money, our bed, the couch I got for my 21st birthday, all of our kitchen appliances we had – most which were from my family, the rug we’d recently brought, our Dyson vacuum cleaner, the microwave my Grandma gifted me, the fridge our parents went halves in for us, our washing machine, our wedding gifts – everything. I was left with nothing except my Xbox, TV, computer and thankfully my cat; I had no income, no home, and now no husband. In return, he took all on all of the debt – I’m not sure if it adds anything or not, but the debt was all in his name, and it had been his idea to take out a loan to pay off credit card debt (the credit card had also been his idea and in his name).
He said a lot of mean things after our separation, one that I’ll always remember is “I don’t love you right now”. I asked if I could have our TV and he acted like I got the better end of the deal, mainly because I got to keep our cat. He continuously said in subtle ways that I was the reason behind our separation because I made him too stressed to work, and he said if I wanted to get back together I would need to get a job and hold it for a few months and would need to agree to relationship counselling. A couple of months after our separation, we were getting on well when I had major surgery to remove half of my thyroid and I asked him if he would come and visit me in hospital, he said no and that he was too tired. I was disappointed and hurt, but I told myself it was understandable because we weren’t exactly together. A couple months after that, after finding out it was cancer, I had another surgery to remove the rest of my thyroid. After this surgery, I had breathing problems and had to stay in hospital for several days. By this time, my husband and I were sort of seeing each other again, but he had completely forgotten about my surgery, he hadn’t wished me luck beforehand and hadn’t texted to see how I was after. I rang him a few days after while I was still in hospital and told him about all of the post-op difficulties I’d had and asked if he would come in and see me – of course, he said no. I was disappointed, hurt and let down. During our separation, when we were talking about getting back together whilst still living separately, he said that he wanted to explore the waters a bit and explore what else was out there, just have a bit of fun while he was single. He wanted to experience sleeping with someone who wasn’t me. “Sorry if that hurts…”
Another time he told me that he couldn’t be what I wanted him to be, which made me feel like an awful person, once again. I felt like I was asking way too much of him and what I was asking of him was just too much – when in reality, I was just asking him to be more emotionally supportive. Throughout this time, he’s held the fact that he was the sole income earner over my head and made me feel awful about it – despite the fact my mental illnesses made it so hard to apply for jobs and that he wouldn’t acknowledge that I was trying. We’ve been talking about reuniting and moving back in together in a few months, and so I’ve tried talking to him about how we’ll handle money. His focus is very much ‘my money’ and ‘your money’, he wants separate accounts, separate savings, and everything split exactly in half. Of course, I’m not upset by the fact he wants everything split in half equally, it’s fair, and now that I have a job, it’s possible. But what does upset me is that we’re meant to be a team, we’re meant to share our lives together. He’s going to be earning more money than I will be until I finish uni, so it feels like his extra income and extra money he will have will give him extra power and control in our relationship. If we want any new furniture or household items, all of my money will be going towards bills so it would need to come out of his extra money, which puts me in the vulnerable state I was in earlier – all of our possessions will feel like his, and if we split again, he’ll get it all and I’ll be left with nothing again. He refused to understand this and instead took it as me being upset that he would have more spending money than I would, making me feel irrational and silly, and as usual, in the wrong.
Then, yesterday I was having such a terrible day. My car wouldn’t start and I ended up having to take it to the mechanics and get my alternator replaced, which cost money I don’t have, and then I was stuck at uni. I rang him and asked if he would pick me up after my class because he hadn’t gone to work, and he said no. I ended up saying I had to go before I started crying, because I was in a bad head space from the day so far. After class, I asked him again if he would be able to pick me up now and he said no again, so I decided I’d just walk the hour home. While on the phone to him, I tripped over a chain fence and fell onto the sidewalk, scraping and bruising the entire side of my leg, in front of cars driving passed. It was just the icing on the cake and I told him I had to go to gain my composure because I was about to break down into tears. Later that night, I apologised to him for asking him to pick me up, and he said “at least you accepted no as an answer and didn’t keep pushing – mostly”. It just made me feel like I was in the wrong again, like I shouldn’t have wanted him to take pity on me and come and pick me up, like I shouldn’t have wanted that bit of emotional support. I feel like he has a special talent for making me feel like I’m the unreasonable one that’s always in the wrong, that I expect too much from him.
And the truth is, as much as I hate to admit it to myself, in our time apart I have flourished a bit (psychologist, don’t you smile at that!). Without the pressure from my husband, I’ve been able to go to uni, to start building a support network and reaching out, to apply for jobs and even get a job and become financially independent enough to get my own place.
I don’t know if any of this is even gaslighting, but I feel like he’s manipulating me into a way that benefits him, someone who doesn’t ask for his support, someone who isn’t equal in the relationship because of money, someone who isn’t a priority or important, someone who feels bad about asking him to do things so that he won’t get asked to do things. I don’t know what to do. Everyone loves him, he’s really charming and good with people despite his social anxiety. And I love him.