Sister night. Girl’s night. These were impossible to have with my sister while she was still in her abusive marriage. He always had a reason for keeping her from spending time alone with me or her friends. The only chance we had to hang out was if we went to her home, unable to speak candidly or even relax because she was still the one to have to watch the kids. I didn’t understand it at the time. I thought he was just being selfish and lazy, not wanting to have to deal with the kids once we left. I thought his reasons were more innocently mean. I thought he was just a jerk. Until I actually lived through an abusive relationship, I never realized his underlying motives.
On the surface, isolating a partner from friends and family may just seem like an act of selfish disregard. And at first, the abuser may disguise this type of control as flattery . . . “You look too sexy in that dress, I don’t want any man lusting after you . . . I don’t want you to spend time with your friends tonight, I want you all to myself . . . You’re too smart for those friends of yours, how can you hang out with them? . . . If you stay in tonight, I promise I’ll make it up to you this weekend . . .” Early on, this type of possessiveness may seem a compliment. But as the abuse continues and worsens, the isolation is a way to maintain that control. By destroying the victim’s support group, by breaking it down, it increases the victim’s dependency on their partner. This is exactly what the abuser wants, he has her right where he wants her.
Eventually, with the loss of a support group, the victim loses their individuality. My sister was able to be molded into the wifely drone that her abusive husband desired her to be. She could not express herself outside of his manipulative grasp. This is vital to obtaining complete control over someone, because they will have nowhere or no one to turn to.
I felt my sister slowly slipping away from us. She was no longer the bubbly, optimistic and loving woman I used to know. I attributed it to exhaustion, to taking care of the kids and cleaning and working all on her own. I had no idea she was little by little forfeiting her identity over to her abuser. I had no idea she was having to keep the peace in her marriage at such an expense to herself. And then one day, after I left my own unhealthy relationship and began researching patterns of abusive behavior, did my eyes truly open to the reality of my sister’s situation. It was heartbreaking, but it was like suddenly stumbling across the cure to a disease. I knew she had to leave him. He was the tumor. He was the cancer destroying every cell in her life. I knew it was a life or death matter.
Years later, I have my sister back. We now can unabashedly drink wine and eat chocolate and drunkenly sing as many Phantom of the Opera songs as our little tipsy hearts desire. I will cherish these sister nights for the rest of our lives, because there was a time when I truly thought we would never have a chance to spend time together again. There was a time when I thought her husband would keep her from us. And there are those who have lost family members to an abusive partner. Verbal abuse most often leads to physical abuse and physical abuse most often leads to death. And if verbal abuse does not lead to physical abuse, it can lead to serious depression or suicide. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, please go to our helpful links section of our blog, there is plenty of material out there that helped us learn how to best help our loved ones. If you have a sibling or a loved one, treasure your time together.