The aftermath of an argument, in an abusive relationship isn’t the same for every couple.
Some abusers deploy a “honeymoon phase”, consisting of apologies, promises, affection, romantic gestures, gifts to “make up” for the abusive behavior and “show” the victim that he’s still the man she fell in love with. I didn’t experience this aspect of the abuse cycle but I can only imagine how confusing it must be to see the Jekyll/Hyde switch.
In my relationship, conflict “ended” differently, depending on my abuser’s mood. If he was feeling particularly cruel, he would argue to the point of driving me to tears of utter frustration until I could no longer stay in the same room with him. When I cried, he offered no comfort and told me that tears “didn’t work” with him. I could usually tell, by his expression, when he was shutting off; his eyebrows would raise indignantly, silently asserting that he had done nothing wrong. He told me that I was the one with the problem. I often felt like there was an invisible filter between us which distorted anything I said to him and left me questioning my ability to verbally communicate. If he could blame me for being unable to articulate my concerns, he could continue to escape his accountability. If I didn’t leave the room out of sheer frustration, he would “leave” the discussion by doing something else or refusing to answer me; it was his way of declaring any ongoing discussions “closed.”
We would then lapse into a period of “silent treatment”, which made the atmosphere extremely tense. These periods of silence lasted for days and my abuser would use the time to his advantage by exploiting my weaknesses and dislikes. He chose subtle behaviors that he could easily explain away as “normal”, such as: disrupting my sleep pattern, whenever possible, to decrease my ability to function during the day; use copious amounts of cologne or aerosol deodorant, knowing it could trigger an asthma attack; yell at the children, knowing the effect their pain had on me; undermining my authority and/or refusing to step in when I needed support with resolving problems that arose. He never “broke the ice” after days of the silent treatment and he was quite happy to continue them for however it took for me to end the silence. I was the one who had to talk first and diffuse the tension, regardless of how daunted I felt. There were no apologies, no affection or opportunities to “make up.” We simply drifted back into conversation, without ever resolving whatever we were fighting about. Every argument we had was based on “recycled” issues; everything I said, he reflected back at me, along with more criticism and insults piled on. I tried everything I could think of to resolve our issues, from talking to him calmly to writing him a letter (which he ripped up without reading).
It took me years of counseling to realize that there was nothing wrong with my ability to articulate my feelings. It didn’t matter how I phrased things or chose to communicate with him, verbally or otherwise. He chose to not listen or hear or understand or resolve. He chose to always be the winner. He chose to always be right. I realized that, in any relationship with someone who always has to win or be right, talking is a waste of time. Engaging in a battle I can’t win is a pointless exercise that robs me of my energy and peace. Who needs the stress?
The absence of the “honeymoon phase” made leaving easier because my abuser neglected to give me much hope that things would get better. I didn’t experience the emotional tug-of-war that results when an abuser attempts to make up for his behavior with romantic gestures and affection. There were no desperate apologies or empty promises that he would never do that to me again. He remained devoid of any remorse and continued to blame me for feeling the way I did. He exploited my isolation from my family and used threats and scare tactics to keep me for as long as he did. I couldn’t remember how it felt to love him. My feelings for him eroded rather quickly and I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t be with him for the rest of my life.
Once I had escaped, he didn’t try to lure me back with empty promises/apologies and expensive gifts. When I filed for divorce, I became his worst enemy. He decided that he was going to make the divorce case as difficult as possible by causing as many delays as he could. He exploited all opportunities to fight dirty. For three years, I did whatever possible to conduct myself with dignity and grace (just as my mother raised me to do); I did what my legal team advised me to do and dealt with the pain, anger and frustration when and where he couldn’t see. The less he knew of the effects his “dirty fighting” had on me, the better.
If you have a story to tell, regarding a different “aftermath”, please share it with us. We are here to educate and inform, which helps other women recognize themselves in our stories and realize that they may need help. As always, we’re here to offer support, advice, resources or just a friendly shoulder. Feel free to contact us, should you need to.
God Bless You.