True Stories


For six years, Sheila*, 35, was physically and emotionally abused by her husband, Rick*. But no one close to the couple knew. Here, she shares why she kept the violence a secret for so long

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“My wedding day was the happiest day of my life. My husband, Rick, was handsome, smart, charismatic, and hardworking – everything a woman could ask for. My girlfriends were envious of the fact that I was dating such an amazing guy, and even my parents, who are usually critical of people, thought that Rick was perfect.

Our first year of marriage was problem-free. Rick and I worked a lot but still found time to start a family. Our son was born in our second year of marriage but from that point, things just started going downhill.”


From mild-mannered man to monster

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“I’d never known Rick to be abusive or mean. If he had been anything other than good to me, I would never have married him. But after we had our son, I noticed a change in my husband. Gone was the patient, understanding and compromising person; instead, I found myself stuck with someone selfish, impatient, arrogant and rude.

At first, Rick would make snide comments about my looks, my spending time with friends and my shopping habits. He would say things like ‘if you want to spend that kind of money on clothes then we can forget about saving for our retirement’, ‘you’re getting fat, maybe you should do something about it’, and ‘your friends are stupid, I don’t know why you hang out with them'.

Soon, Rick was accusing me of being a lousy wife and mother. If I didn’t have dinner on the table by the time he got home from work, he would yell at me and be in a bad mood the rest of the night. If I forgot to pay a bill he would call me irresponsible. He picked on my cooking, forbade me to wear certain outfits, and even demanded to know how I spent my salary.

I don’t know how my sweet husband transformed into this cruel monster, but pretty soon his verbal insults progressed to physical abuse.”


Too proud to ask for help

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“On occasions where I attempted to defend myself or argue with Rick, he would get so mad that he’d slap or kick me. The first time he hit me I was so shocked that I told myself I must have imagined it. Subsequently, I stopped arguing with him and would actually apologise for being a bad wife or mother. Looking back, I can’t believe I took his abuse lying down. Once, when I suggested that we attend relationship counselling together, he replied: ‘you can go on your own if you want, I’m not the one with the problem’.

A few times, Rick pinched me so hard that he left bruises on my arm. And once, he’d slapped me to the point where my cheek swelled up. Oddly, as much as I knew that the abuse was wrong, I felt that I deserved it. I even remember telling myself that the abuse was bearable. ‘At least he didn’t break my legs or beat me till I bled’, I would say silently.

My mum and sister noticed a change in my personality and demeanour but I denied that anything was wrong. I was too proud to ask them for help, and I loved Rick so much that I even went out of my way to protect him. My son, who was a pre-schooler when he began noticing that Mum and Dad weren’t getting along, would ask me why his father yelled at me all the time. My response: ‘I was a bad Mummy and I made Daddy angry’.”


Living a lie

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“Another reason why I found it so hard to leave Rick was because the abuse wasn’t constant. Plus, he was only horrible to me behind closed doors. In the company of others he was always kind, attentive and loving, and in those moments, it was hard for me to contemplate leaving him. In fact, if you’d seen us together in public, you would never have guessed that Rick and I had problems.

My friends would even comment on my seemingly perfect marriage, saying, ‘Rick and you are perfect together, he knows how to take care of you’. I would always greet their comments with a smile and agree. I guess in the back of my mind, I tried to believe the very same thing about my husband. A part of me believed that he still loved me and that we could make our marriage work.

Whenever Rick and I fought, I never threatened to leave him. The way I saw it, I was going to stay married no matter what. I told myself that every marriage had its ups and downs and I just had to accept the problems that came with it.

I must admit, I was also concerned about how Rick and I would come across to others if we split up. To everyone else we were the perfect couple and I didn’t want to shatter that illusion. Secretly, however, I was suffering and didn’t know how much more I could take. Towards the end of my marriage I would cry myself to sleep at night and wonder how I ended up in such a bad situation. Rick had completely eroded my self-esteem and confidence. I felt emotionally broken and defeated.”


Enough is enough

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“Finally, after more than five years of being treated badly, I decided that I had to do what was best for myself and my son. I confided in my sister, who told me that staying married was pointless if Rick wasn’t interested in turning over a new leaf. ‘Remaining married for the sake of keeping up appearances is not the right thing to do’, she said ‘you need to reclaim the power and strength that Rick stole from you’.

I thought long and hard about what my sister said. She was right. For the longest time I had clung on to this idea of the perfect marriage and convinced myself that the way Rick was treating me was normal. I’d grown to accept his verbal, emotional and physical abuse, thinking that I somehow deserved it. And I was so afraid of being on my own that I would rather have continued to stay with a man who didn’t respect me. I also hated the word ‘divorce’ and was so afraid of the stigma that came with it that I did everything I could to avoid it, to the detriment of my emotional health and the happiness of my son.

I eventually mustered up the courage to leave Rick. By our seventh anniversary I realised that I didn’t love him anymore, which made leaving him easier. He took the news badly. He begged for my forgiveness and promised to attend marriage counselling with me, but it was too late. I told him that I’d grown tired of his constant put-downs and emotional blackmail, and that I was sick of him slapping and kicking me every time he got angry.

It’s been a few months since I left Rick and I’m feeling stronger. I’m slowly trying to move on with my life for the sake of my son. I wish I could’ve made my marriage work or at least been able to tell that Rick was a monster before I agreed to marry him. Maybe the signs were all there, but I was in such a hurry to say ‘I do’ that I missed them. My friends and family were all shocked to learn of my impending divorce; now they know that my marriage wasn’t perfect after all, but I don’t care. I know that I was the best wife I could be and that’s all that matters.”


*Names have been changed