Life

Ask Fiona: My 'charming' husband beats me behind closed doors and I don't know what to do

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance to a woman who's afraid to leave her abusive husband, and another who's having an affair

Your husband's behaviour is domestic abuse and it must be stopped immediately
RP

EVERYONE seems to think I have the perfect marriage, but the reality isn't like that. My husband can charm the birds from the trees, we have a lovely home and plenty of money. The world sees this witty, charming man but once we're home, he's a completely different person.

He has an incredibly short temper, which I am regularly at the brunt of. When he loses it he becomes violent and aggressive and I've ended up in hospital twice in the past six months, both as a result of him hitting me. He's broken my nose, I've had cracked ribs and lost a couple of teeth, but he's always so sorry afterwards and says that he just can't help himself, so I end up forgiving him.

I know he had a difficult childhood and whilst I still love him, I am finding it harder to keep this a secret. I tried dropping hints to my mother over Christmas but she didn't pick up on them - perhaps because she only sees him in 'charm' mode. She just said all marriages have their ups and downs and you have to put up with the bad times as well as the good. I don't think she's any idea how bad the bad times are and I'm so frightened that things are only going to get worse. I know you'll tell me I should leave him but I'm used to having nice things and a lovely home so I don't know if I'd cope on my own. I'm so confused and unhappy.

Fiona Says

Your husband's claim that he simply cannot stop himself is nonsense. He manages very well to control his violent impulses when he's with other people – so why not with someone he's supposed to love? This is an intolerable situation for you and whilst you can feel sympathy for what happened to him as a child, it is his choice as to whether he lets that define him or not.

It's a cycle that can be broken if he's willing to do something about it, but you can't wait for him to make that choice. The violence he's inflicted on you is serious, so no wonder you're afraid. Having plenty of money and a nice home is all very well but if you're too damaged to enjoy it, what's the point? Managing on your own won't be easy but living with someone who you're in constant fear of isn't either. Of course, it's very easy for others to say, 'Why don't you simply leave?' But it's never that simple. You will need help, support and probably professional counselling in order to do so. Women in your position are often isolated – it's one of the ways in which perpetrators like your husband weaken your support systems and that makes it harder to seek help. Do reach out to your friends and family though, even if you've not done so for some time. Once they know your situation, they will want to help. Don't be afraid that others won't believe you because although your husband is a charmer. So many perpetrators are – it's part of the way in which they work to make you feel in the wrong. Increasingly, people recognise this fact and will look beyond the outward appearance of someone like him – even your mother, once she understands what he's done to you.

Do please contact the Domestic Abuse Helpline run, jointly by Refuge (refuge.org.uk) and Women's Aid (womensaid.org.uk) on 0808 2000 247. It's worth looking through their websites too, as you will find lots of advice and information including information on how to access a place of refuge, should you need it.

I realise it won't be easy for you but do please take steps to leave this man, and the sooner the better. He may beg you to forgive him but, personally, I don't think you should consider going back unless he can prove to you that he has learned to control his violence. For that, he will almost certainly need counselling himself and to attend a perpetrator programme where he will be helped to understand why he's so violent. If he's willing to do so, he should contact Respect (respect.uk.net), where he can find details of courses and speak to people who can help him to change.

GH

I'M HAVING AN AFFAIR AND SO CONFUSED

I'VE been having an affair for the past year with an amazing man who is interesting to be with and genuinely listens to what I have to say. It feels so good to have a two-way conversation with someone again, as my husband never seems to have any time for me these days – he's far too busy with his job. I still love my husband, even though I hardly see him, and I felt so guilty about this a while back that I went for two months without seeing my lover. It didn't last though and I am seeing him again, but how do I choose between the two of them? Is there is any hope for a happy future in all this?

Fiona Says

Someone is going to be hurt while this situation continues, but whether that is you, your husband or your lover I cannot say. Your current confusion and anxiety are evidence enough that you cannot go on like this – and if you believe that you can have both men, you're only hiding from the inevitable crisis to come. You are going to have to choose one of them and bear the pain of losing the other. The obvious choice is the man you are currently committed to (and the one you say you love), and that's your husband. For that relationship to work though, things are going to have to change. You need to get talking again and start rebuilding the relationship you once had. Your husband needs to understand that, if he values his marriage, he has to make time for you. If you find it difficult to start this process, I suggest you contact Relate (relate.org.uk). Nothing will improve in your marriage if you continue to rely on your affair to provide what is missing from it.

RC

WE'VE STOPPED HAVING SEX SINCE OUR SECOND BABY WAS BORN

WHEN I had my second child, 18 months ago, I went off sex completely. It was a difficult, forceps delivery, and while sex was uncomfortable for a while it wasn't painful – just nothing at all, to be honest. I struggled to explain to my husband how I felt, and he tried for a while to persuade me, but after one unpleasant row, he gave up. I never said that I would be like this forever and I hoped he would be patient but now he has stopped even mentioning it. Just recently he moved into the spare bedroom and I am worried that this means the end of our sex life for good. I do still love him and I'm sure he loves me too, so what has gone wrong and how do I put it right?

Fiona Says

I can understand why you are concerned – and I suspect your husband isn't happy either but you've both avoided talking rationally about the situation for so long, it's hard to restart the conversation. You really can't let this continue as it is, so one of you needs to take the first step - and as you're the one expressing your concern, I suggest it's you.

Tell your husband that you love him and that you don't want to be apart from him. Explain that you never intended to avoid sex forever – it was just what you needed at the time. To show you are serious, it may help if you could also arrange to see a counsellor to explore the reasons why you went off sex in the first place. That's something your doctor should be able to refer you to, so make an appointment and get the help your relationship needs.

DC

MY MISCARRIAGE HAS LEFT ME SO UNHAPPY

I LOST my baby in the fifth month of pregnancy early last year. My partner and I were both devastated and although we want to try again, it somehow feels wrong. It's not helped by the fact that I burst into tears most days. We've been trying now for six months but I'm still not pregnant which adds to my unhappiness. I'm beginning to think there is something wrong with us.

Fiona Says

Losing a child is heart breaking and, like any other bereavement, it can take a long time before you come to terms with your loss and feel ready to face life again. I am not surprised, therefore, that it is affecting your attempts to have another child. Seeing your doctor for a check-up would be a sensible move, to ensure there is no medical reason why you've failed to conceive again. It would also be worthwhile talking about the depression you're feeling to see if you could be helped with that – and maybe your husband could do with help, too. While your body may be physically fit again, it doesn't sound as if you're ready, emotionally. While there is no logical reason why this should stop you getting pregnant again, it does, sometimes seem to affect people in this way. You could also talk to SANDS (the stillbirth and neonatal death charity; sands.org.uk), where you could find support from people who understand your experience all too well.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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