By Amanda Browning Greensburg Daily News, Ind.
Domestic violence is an ever-growing problem that causes permanent emotional damage and takes many lives each year; one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
Many people believe such problems don't exist in their communities -- but they would be wrong.
Domestic violence can happen anywhere, to anyone. Though 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women, men can also be abused by their significant others. The couple that seems perfect for each other and is always smiling may be completely different behind closed doors without an audience.
One brave woman chose to share her experience in an abusive marriage in the hopes that someone else will have the courage to leave before it's too late.
The Daily News will be publishing her story in a series of three articles related to various aspects of domestic abuse.
This article will focus on how a relationship turns abusive. Subsequent articles will address how to get out of an abuse relationship and how to live with the aftermath.
When "Liz" met "Bill," she wasn't prepared to be swept off her feet.
That's exactly what happened, though. He was the life of the party. Bill was funny, outgoing and always knew what to say or do. Everyone liked him. Early on in their relationship, Bill wanted to know everything about Liz.
He wanted to know her favorite everything, who she cared about, what she liked to do and even the smallest details seemed to matter to him. Being the focus of such intense attention made it feel natural for her to fall in love. Surely a man who cared about even the tiniest aspect of her life would be an active and equal partner in their relationship.
"Abusers have a pattern of sweeping people off their feet," said Diane Moore, Executive Director of New Directions, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. "They also tend to get really serious, really quickly," adding that the abuser often collects information to be used as ammunition later.
Within six weeks of meeting, Liz and Bill were engaged. After six months, they were married. In the beginning, Liz said everything was great, though she was concerned that Bill seemed unable or unwilling to stop giving money to his adult children.
Immediately after the marriage, he wanted access to her money and insisted on a joint checking account. Any time Liz voiced her concerns, Bill used gifts and money to distract her. For a time it worked and Liz kept her concerns to herself.
Moore said abusive behavior often isn't constant, instead coming in waves. She compared the abuse to a slow drip. It might not be noticed at first, but over time, the victim will start drowning.
When they'd been married for two years, the couple had a particularly bad fight and Bill threated Liz. He screamed at her and told her that if she left, he would take everything, leaving her with only the clothes on her back.
Liz was scared and chose not to leave. She didn't know where she would go or how she would live. Over time, his controlling behavior increased, though slowly, making it difficult for Liz to see clearly because she was so close to the situation and she still loved him.
Threats were rare, but when they did happen, Liz would be left feeling lost and hopeless. Time passed and they built a house. Liz wanted to adopt a child, but Bill didn't. Bill thought Liz would divorce him unless he went through with the adoption. He agreed to do it, but told Liz that the child would only be hers. She would have to do everything for it on her own, with no assistance from him.
The small family moved and Liz started going to marriage counseling with Bill. They would go to counseling both together and separately. Bill became angry when he learned he was seeing the doctor more than Liz was. In the meantime, Liz was diagnosed with depression and began taking medication to deal with it.
Bill forced her to stop taking the medication and lashed out at the therapist when told she needed the medicine. He screamed at both Liz and the therapist, saying Liz was "defiant."
"At this point, I didn't even know who I was," Liz said.
Bill became so controlling Liz wasn't allowed to do anything without his permission. She wasn't allowed to go out or to see friends at all.
"You should have thought about that before becoming a parent," he told her.
Liz was required to keep a journal at home, logging everyone she talked to and everywhere she went. Bill told her she needed no one but him and their child.
By the last year of their marriage, Liz knew she was married to a narcissist. She was no longer in love with him and dreamed of escaping from his grasp. During the time they were married, he went from attentive and loving to controlling and angry.
The stress of the marriage began wearing on Liz, but every time she even mentioned leaving, he told her he would take their child and all their things and leave her with nothing but debt. She believed she was at least partially to blame, which Moore said is common among victims who are constantly told they are at fault.
Liz was trapped, scared and cut off from friends and family. Bill controlled every aspect of her life and she was never afforded the opportunity to escape. He agreed to let her visit an out of state family member, but when she purchased the ticket without his help, he became furious. When his anger wasn't enough to stop her, he tried begging and crying for her to stay. When that failed, he turned violent.
Moore said when victims stop complying with the abuser's demands, that is when force enters the equation.
Eventually, he calmed down and agreed to let her leave. He warned her that if she tried to stay away, she would return home to find everything she cared about gone.
Looking back, Liz said she knew she shouldn't have gone back to him, but she had an innocent child she wanted to protect.
She allowed her fear of him and his actions to overcome her desire for self-preservation for the sake of her child, something many domestic violence victims have reported.
New Directions is available 24 hours a day at 812-662-8822. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline is 800-799-SAFE.