When love hurts - literally

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Meekly asking his wife if he could please have his bus pass and some money to buy a coffee in town, Dave feels like a humiliated schoolboy as she counts out the exact change and hands it over to him.

It is just one of the many ways his wife, who is slim and small in stature, rules Dave’s life with a rod of iron and controls his every move, making him feel belittled and worthless.

She has even lashed out at Dave physically, but he has never hit her back and says the worst thing is the mental abuse he is subjected to on a daily basis.

However, since getting support from the new Men2 service at Preston Domestic Violence Services, Dave has learnt how to cope with her abuse and still wants to stay with his wife as despite everything, he still loves her.

Dave, 59, who lives in Deepdale, Preston, has been with his wife for almost 30 years and married for 15 of them. He says at first their relationship gave his confidence a major boost.

Dave recalls: “I do find it hard to socialise so I joined a computer dating agency to try and meet someone.

“I went on a few dates with some women, but we did not really have anything in common.

“Then I met my now wife and we hit it off straight away.

“She was very friendly and we went out for a few drinks and as we were walking down the street afterwards, she grabbed my hand to hold it and it felt so right and natural.

“When we were in a bar, she showed me a photograph of her young daughter from a previous relationship and she watched my face carefully to assess my reaction as her daughter was of mixed race.

“But that did not faze me at all and I told her that she looked like a lovely little girl and she was very pleased by my reaction and she chatted away to me as if she had known me for years.

“I was very flattered by all her attention. It gave my confidence a huge boost.”

Dave was so smitten by his new woman, he gave up his heavy smoking habit of smoking 60 to 80 cigarettes a day after realising she didn’t like smoking.

A month after getting together, Dave, who was in the armed forces, had to go to the Falklands, but the couple contacted each other daily by telephone.

On his return to Preston a few months later, their relationship blossomed and went on their first holiday together.

After three years, they had a child and moved into a home together.

It was then that Dave found his partner slowly start to erode his self confidence.

He explains: “She would just gradually chip away and destroy my confidence.

“She would say things like, ‘If you were a real man, you would do this, that or the other.’

“Just before I would go away with the armed forces, she would make me feel down by telling me that she would find a real man while I was gone.

“I have never been a handyman, but she would criticise me for not being able to do things that other men would do.

“She would always look for the faults in what I had done, never at the good things.

“She would even send me letters criticising me when I was away with the Army.

“Every time I got a letter from her, I would be scared of opening it as I knew it would be abusive and critical and blaming me for things I had or hadn’t done.”

Dave ended up feeling so low, he began drinking heavily to drown his sorrows.

The situation escalated when Dave went on a particularly heavy drinking session one night and spent all the household money.

Dave says: “In hindsight, I know what I did was very wrong, but she has never let me forget it.

“Even 20 years later, she brings it up on almost a daily basis and wants to live in the past, not the future.

“She does not forgive and forget.”

The emotional and mental abuse cascaded into physical abuse when Dave’s wife suddenly lashed out at him during an argument and hit him around the head.

Dave says: “She would hit me fairly regularly after that, but I never hit her back.

“But she has now got arthritis so she doesn’t hit me anymore as it got to the stage where it was hurting her more than it was hurting me.”

Two years ago, Dave was diagnosed with early onset dementia and because of this, he had to give up his driving licence.

He has to rely on his bus pass, but his wife keeps hold of it as well as keeping control of his money and bank cards.

Dave says: “I lost my bus pass twice – but once was because I got mugged.

“Even though it was not my fault, my wife punished me by taking my bus pass off me.

“I am not allowed money, my bus pass or any bank cards.

“I do find it demeaning the way she control my every penny and makes me feel like a child asking for pocket money.”

Dave’s wife began controlling everything he ate and told him he was drinking too much milk and even began counting how many grapes he was allowed.

Dave explains: “She decided I was eating too unhealthily so tried to control it.

“But because she was restricting my food so much, it made me crave sweet things all the time.

“It got so bad that I was getting a bag of sugar and pouring it directly into my mouth.

“I was even going into shops and stealing chocolate to feed my habit.”

Dave’s wife decided that he had an eating disorder and took him to the GP. He was referred to the mental health team who realised he did not have an eating disorder, but was comfort eating because of his restrictions to food.

They referred him to Preston Domestic Violence Service’s Men2 service and with their help and with counselling, Dave has learnt to ignore and live with his wife’s abuse.

Dave says: “When I first went to the Men2 service, I felt really low and it was a few sessions before I even responded.

He says: “I know it will seem strange to others, but you can’t help the person you love.

“It is like a dog. Even when it gets a kicking, it still goes back to its owner looking for affection.

“My wife is a beautiful woman and I know she is a nice person deep down.

“I keep hoping that one day she will be a lot nicer to me.”

Dave did not think of himself as a domestic violence victim until he went to Preston Domestic Violence Services.

He is now encouraging other men to seek help.

Kelly Bracewell, Men2 support worker at Preston Domestic Violence Services, says: “At first Dave was very withdrawn and blamed himself for everything.

“Over the course of the support sessions, we have discussed the dynamics of power and control within an abusive relationship and what constitutes a healthy relationship.

“Although Dave admits that he has done things he is not proud of in his past, ultimately responsibility for the abuse rests with the perpetrator.

“Sometimes victims, like Dave, believe the abuser will change. They might be afraid of what the abuser will do if they leave or they may feel guilty about ending the relationship or marriage, particularly when there are children involved.

“They may love their partner or they may not have anywhere else to go. The abuser may also be their carer or they may feel responsible.”

Dave’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

If you are a victim of domestic or sexual violence, call 999. Contact Preston Domestic Violence Services 24 Hour helpline on 01772 201601.