This is the most succinct way I’ve ever heard a painful, toxic, and deeply destructive marriage or intimate relationship described.
I don’t know of any women who enter into a romantic relationship with the intention of losing themselves, being monitored, controlled, or abused by the same man who once promised to love and cherish them for the rest of their lives.
Yet it happens. Unfortunately, more often than we think.
I know this to be true not only from the hundreds of brave and courageous ladies I’ve worked very closely with over the past few years, but also from my own very challenging first hand experience.
The whirlwind courtship… the textbook romance… I was well and truly swept off my feet.
I later learned that this intense love bombing phenomenon is all too common for a narcissist; a massive red flag that I totally missed at the time.
I fell hook, line, and sinker for all of the (false) promises, gifts, and what I now know was a carefully curated (false) personality. I couldn’t believe my luck and I genuinely believed I would be spending the rest of my life with my very own Prince Charming.
The globe-trotting, the diamonds, the steady flow of fresh flowers delivered to work, the surprise love notes hidden amongst my things. He was talking about marriage just a couple of weeks after we got together and my head was spinning. I felt like all of my dreams were coming true at a rate of knots and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
I later learned that a number of them were concerned about our relationship right from the very start.
On reflection, several family members and close friends did try to gently raise these concerns with me before I married my ex-husband, but I was totally love-struck at the time and I barely heard their words...
Within 6 months of meeting, we were engaged and 6 months later, we were married. Twice. Once in the UK and again a few weeks later at Whale Beach, in Sydney, Australia.
I remember getting cold feet just prior to our UK wedding and my gut was saying to me ever so softly “Please, don’t marry him...”.
I raised my last minute concerns with my soon-to-be-husband. He assured me that it was just normal pre-wedding jitters and I so wanted to believe that he was right. Big mistake.
On my wedding day, my mum took me aside before my dad and I left for the church and she asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to marry him? She told me that I didn’t have to and that it was totally ok if I wanted to cancel the wedding. I assured her that I’d never been more sure of anything in my life, whilst also trying to privately convince myself of the same.
It was only after I’d fallen pregnant that I started to see how very controlling and manipulative my husband was towards me. Almost immediately, he started to use the pregnancy and our unborn child to his own advantage. Suddenly things that I’d previously thought we were in agreement about were no longer agreed. It became very clear that it was his way or the highway when it came to any decisions being made about the baby or the pregnancy.
He was also now telling me who I could and couldn’t be friends with within our small local community on the basis of his social hierarchy preferences. I became increasingly isolated from my family and friends and more and more dependant on him in every aspect of my life.
I became accountable to him for the money I spent, where I spent it, and why I spent it, and I was rapidly losing my financial independence. My hard-earned savings were also being depleted while his remained untouched. For the first time in my life, I started to feel really stuck.
My husband started coming home from work at odd hours during the day to check up on me and he’d leave me lists of things to do while he was out.
He chastised me for not feeding our puppy correctly, and he told me on a number of occasions that he was recording our arguments on his work recording device for future reference, should he require it.
Having been an independent career woman before I met my husband, I felt like I was going crazy with all of these new restrictions, controls, and demands that he was placing on me and it caused a lot of conflict between us.
I started to spend more time hanging out at a friend’s home nearby to get a break from the constant pressure he was putting me under. I also spent a lot of time down in London couch surfing (pregnant) with family and friends, again to give the baby and I a break from all of the stress.
Just 6 months after we were married, I found myself silently screaming to be released from the nightmare my life had now become.
Marriage was NEVER meant to look or feel like this!
The insidious bullying, threats, intimidation, control, and false accusations; the constant pressure, the secrecy, the gas lighting, the lies, and emotional manipulation; the chronic stress, egg-shells, surveillance, social boundaries, and physical and emotional isolation; the loss of financial independence and decision-making authority; and a constant concern about the impact this chronic stress and conflict was having on the growth and development of our precious unborn child.
My husband made some awful comments about my mental health and I started to wonder if there really was something wrong with me? I’d never known conflict like this before. I took myself to the doctor for a mental health assessment and the doctor assured me that the only thing that was wrong with me was my marriage.
The doctor also introduced me to a lady who worked at the local women’s refuge and she came to visit me in our home a couple of times while my husband was at work.
The lady from the women’s refuge was the first person to alert me to the fact that I was experiencing various forms of domestic violence in my marriage. I was shocked and I really didn’t want to believe that it was true. She advised me that the non-physical forms of abuse can and often do progress into physical abuse over time. This really scared me as I was already struggling with the non-physical abuse I was experiencing and I couldn’t imagine things getting even worse. Even more so while I was pregnant. She informed me on a no names basis that there were a number of other women she was visiting in our small, gated community and that they were also struggling with similar challenges in their marriages. She actively encouraged us all to try and seek each other out for further support. Unfortunately, none of us did…
I was 28 weeks pregnant, driving home from London to attend a marriage counselling session in the regional town we were living in when I started to get excruciating pains in my stomach on the motorway.
I pulled into the emergency department of the nearest hospital fearful that I was about to go into premature labour.
Fortunately, this was ruled out, but I then spent the next week or so in hospital trying to manage the crippling pain with pethidine and self-administering morphine.
Eventually the doctors decided to give me an MRI to try and find the cause of my pain and they discovered 2 large kidney stones that were later surgically removed under a spinal block owing to my pregnancy.
The neo-natal unit was on standby in case I went into pre-term labour and I was really scared that I might lose the baby. It was a very traumatic couple of weeks and I have little doubt that stress played a big role in the formation of these kidney stones. [As an aside, did you know that fear is held in the kidneys, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine?]
My body was struggling to cope with the constant pressure my husband was putting me under in our marriage and I felt like my mental and emotional well-being were also hanging by a thread.
My baby was due to arrive 10 weeks after my release from hospital but unfortunately my marriage continued to rapidly deteriorate as the baby’s due date approached.
I was becoming increasingly aware that this was not a relationship I could or should stay in for the sake of the baby or my own mental, emotional, or physical health. Nor was it a relationship that I wanted to role model to our unborn child.
My parents and I started to make urgent enquiries with the Australian Consulate about the situation I was in. Everyone we spoke with told me to get on a flight home to Australia ASAP so that the baby would be born in Australia and therefore habitually resident there for future legal purposes.
This was hands down the best advice I’ve ever been given and I’m so glad I followed it. It became a total game changer and life saver for me after our marriage ended.
My husband was still in the UK, calling my new Australian obstetrician behind my back to confirm that what I was telling him about the baby’s growth and development was true. He was also contacting my Australian friends behind my back to check up on me and my whereabouts.
Meanwhile, I didn’t hear much from him at all... It was a blessed relief, to be honest.
My husband arrived in Australia a couple of days before the baby was due to be born. In the days that followed her birth, he barely left my side. He was constantly picking little fights with me and was totally pre-occupied with asserting “his rights” as the baby’s father.
One of the senior midwives took me aside a couple of days after our daughter was born and asked me if everything was ok on the home front. OMG was it that obvious?? The nursing staff had also noticed how controlling my husband had been towards both myself and our new baby and it was ringing alarm bells at their end as well.
He would not give me any privacy to make or receive phone calls, or to have private discussions with concerned family members or friends who already knew about the state of our marriage when they came to visit the baby and I in hospital. He followed me around like a shadow everywhere I went.
It was awful.
Fortunately, the midwives were aware of this and they kindly offered me a daily salt bath in the birthing suite so that I could have some much needed time to myself, make and receive private phone calls, and start getting my ducks in a row.
The hospital also kindly arranged for me to have an extended stay in the maternity ward, using the excuse that I was struggling to establish breast feeding (which I was; unfortunately my milk never came in…), but more importantly, to give me some much needed respite from my husband while my parents were in the US attending my sister’s graduation.
After I told my husband that our marriage was over, the very little financial stability I was afforded in our marriage evaporated and the insidious abuse intensified. My life was flipped upside down and turned inside out in ways I’d never previously imagined possible.
The year my daughter was born, I went from being a high-flying, independent, and financially secure lawyer and investment banker who was living a comfortable life in London to a mentally and emotionally broken, unemployed single mum sharing a tiny one bedroom apartment with my baby girl, lining up for welfare payments.
My first visit to Centrelink was the most humiliating day of my life and I cried, a lot. I’d spent my whole adult life working my butt off to avoid a financial outcome such as this. My mum stood beside me and helped me through the welfare registration process as best she could while her own heart was also silently breaking.
In the years that followed, I was crippled with anxiety, drowning financially, struggling to juggle single motherhood with a demanding full-time job whilst also being dragged through countless family court applications by an angry, bitter, and highly litigious ex-husband and his aggressive lawyers who were racking up my legal bills in the multiple $100,000’s.
How the hell did my life turn out like this? I would ask myself the same question over and over again.
My self-confidence and self-esteem were barely existent by this stage. I’d lost my home, my car, jobs, and as a result of the huge legal and other professional costs incurred by my ex-husbands persistent court applications, in 2015 I was declared bankrupt.
Having been a financially secure and independent career woman and home owner in London before I met my husband, the bankruptcy just about broke me. I could barely say the ‘B’ word without bursting into tears for a year at least. Maybe more…
I was prescribed pills help me manage my anxiety and panic attacks during the day and other pills to help me calm my whirling head and get some sleep at night.
I had hit rock bottom - hard, and my pain was constant and intense.
I avoided my school and university friends, reunions, and other social events like the plague. I isolated myself from everyone other than my immediate family and a handful of very close friends.
I was ashamed of what my life had become and I had no idea how I was ever going to put the fractured pieces back together again or survive financially on my own, let alone provide my daughter with the kind of life and opportunities I had long dreamed for her. They now seemed so far out of reach.
I fought desperately to save my tearful and fearful breakdowns until after my daughter had gone to bed and I tried very hard to maintain a brave front and a smiling face for her benefit during the day.
As you can see, I am no stranger to hardship, pain or suffering. I know what it’s like to feel like life has suddenly turned its’ back on you…
Several years on, I can now see how all of the challenges, losses, and personal hardships I faced both during my marriage and after it have helped shape me into the brave, wise, courageous, and resourceful woman I am today.
For that, I am truly grateful.
Since ending my marriage, I’ve discovered strength, courage, and resilience I did not previously know I had. I’ve also invested a lot of time, money, and energy into the healing of my mind, my body, and my soul.
An important part of that healing process was learning how to step out of victimhood and back into my own personal power with confidence, courage, and grace. This major shift has had a deeply transformative effect on all areas of my life.
I’ve also learned (the hard way) that self-care and healthy personal boundaries are 100% non-negotiables for all women, regardless of their relationship status.
I’ve been fortunate enough to share the separation, divorce, and single mum path with some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met. I feel so lucky to now count these beautiful ladies as some of my closest friends. We’ve been through so much together over the years and I know without a shadow of doubt that these ladies will always have my back as much as I will have theirs.
Several years ago, I also met and fell in love with one of the kindest, most gentle, supportive, generous, and deeply respectful men I’ve ever met. Both he and his family welcomed my then 3 year old daughter and I into their lives and their hearts in equal measure. He’s been an incredibly loving and supportive partner and a wonderful male role model for all of our children ever since (yep, we’ve also had two more children together).
I now call the beautiful Central Coast of NSW, Australia home.
I share my life and my love with my partner Chris, our 3 little love bugs, and our 1 year old black lab, Ruby.
Our kids are happy and healthy, and I keep a close eye on my eldest daughter, calling in the professional guidance of her wonderful child psychologists whenever she needs some extra support.
I’ve built a heart-centred, soul-driven business that I love and I’ve worked with hundreds of beautiful female clients who I love even more. I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to do meaningful work that not only makes a difference to other people’s lives, it also makes me smile from the inside out.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that the darkest and most challenging chapter of my life to date was also the most profoundly transformative.
It made me the strong, brave, courageous, resourceful, and resilient wise woman, partner, mother, sister, daughter, friend, and fierce advocate for other women that I am today.
I barely recognise the desperately broken woman I was several years ago. So much has changed since then and to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My life’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, whose is?
Regardless, I’m now wide awake, my passions are deeply aligned with my purpose, and my dreams continue to unfold in the most magical ways.
For all of this, I’m truly grateful.
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