Picture, if you will, the scene of a domestic argument between a 210 lb, 6″ man and his 90 lb, 5″ wife. One — call them A — has just come home from a night out drinking and is in a volatile mood; the other — call them B — is sitting quietly in front of a laptop.
A is obviously agitated and immediately approaches B, addressing them in a raised voice. B becomes defensive and tries to respond reasonably. A does not appear to take any notice of B’s words and becomes increasingly aggressive. B asks A to step back, give them space, but A only responds by becoming more threatening, hurling insults and accusations of infidelity.
A notices that B has made a change to their appearance and takes this to be evidence of being under the influence of another party, giving more force to the accusations that B is having an affair. B withdraws, turning up the volume of the music on their earphones and tries to remain calm in the face of this provocation.
A responds by moving closer to B — within inches — and shouting: B cringes away, hands raised around the head in an attempt at protection. After a while A leaves the room and B closes the door, leaning against it to try to prevent A re-entering. B is trembling from shock and fear, levels of stress and anxiety going through the roof.
A tries unsuccessfully to gain entry a few times, continuing to shout insults and accusations through the door. B is in a total state of fear, unable to move away from the door in case A manages to get through. Eventually B does move away from the door and sits down; shortly after this A enters angrily, demanding that the door remain open.
B cowers, asking A to leave the room. As A continues to berate B, B becomes desperate and starts shouting at A to get away. A insults and verbally threatens B before eventually striking B on the head and walking out. A continues for hours afterwards to direct insulting remarks and threats of violence at B from another room. B feels trapped and threatened: hands shake and the whole body feels tense. It has taken B hours to calm down enough to write this account.
I have condensed the events somewhat: in reality this went on over a period of about 3 hours, a considerable portion of which I spent feeling terrified. Me, a physically large man, intimidated to that extent by a small woman. Some men in my situation would feel ashamed to admit it, or fear that they would be disbelieved. After all, in the majority of cases it is the man who is the abuser. But regardless of the sex of either party, abuse is never acceptable.
I really thought I had gotten through to A the importance of my safe place, my need for space and peace while I focus on dealing with my depression. A told me she understood, but I now believe they were empty words.
As time goes on I feel more and more strongly that I’m in an abusive relationship. And yet I remain here, too afraid of the unknown to break free and run away despite my suffering. Even though I strongly suspect that this is the root cause of my depression. I hope I can overcome my fear enough to get away to where I can feel safe.
Updated to make the identities of A and B more explicit and to expand a little on domestic abuse (thanks to suburp for the feedback).
24 thoughts on “Run Like Hell”
😦 I’m sorry. There’s another reason I’ll probably never be in a relationship again. I wish she could understand…I guess I know how it is to have someone tear into you because they don’t understand, but not to that extent. We were only engaged and she ditched me because I’m autistic. Then again, I consider engagement a time when you work at the relationship as if you are married and only call it off in cases where you’d call off a marriage (file for divorce). But what do I know. Apparently engagement is a time when you can back out whenever you want for any reason, never mind what you promised.
I don’t even know what I’m saying. Maybe that on some level, I can sympathize. There were so many things they brought up as reasons I shouldn’t be in a relationship, things that are just my natural self, that now I spend all my free time alone in my room. Who wants someone like me?
Someone like me, apparently. Because the only person I could imagine being with is another autistic person.
I don’t really know you well but what I’ve seen is awesome, a sensitive, caring guy who is so much like me it’s crazy. Never mind what anyone else says. You’re awesome how you are and I wish it wasn’t so hard for “normal people” to understand how we think and what we need.
Not sure if you’re religious or not, but I’m a “Christian” of sorts and praying for you. Hope things get better.
I am finding it very confusing because she can be caring and understanding one day and making my life hell the next, so I don’t really know where I stand. But I’m coming down on the side of believing that repeated behavior of the kind I described above is abusive, whether it is intentional or not.
Thank you for your understanding and kind words.
Further thoughts: like you I have an idealized view of engagement and marriage in terms of commitment and working together to understand each other fully. I don’t know how it was in your case, but I have never gone looking for a relationship: they just seemed to happen and I woke up one day realizing I was in one.
It is bad when the hurt experienced in a previous relationship affects your self-esteem: I also tend to internalize a lot of feelings and find it hard feel much of a sense of worth. Associating with supportive people helps a lot. People who don’t judge you but understand you and accept you for who you are. That is something I have found in the online autistic community.
I haven’t found anything of that community in everyday life, only on the internet. Thus, why I work with computers on weekdays (often overtime), and then come home and spend evenings and weekends alone in my room, either reading, watching shows, trying to write, or on the internet.
I grew up quite sheltered and with a good family. Good parents. As you might expect, I definitely had an idealized expectation of friendship and relationship. Over the past seven years, I came to realize that people will just walk out, start ignoring you, or find something wrong with you as a reason to stop spending time with you, once they discover that you’re not as good as they think they are; not as good as someone they’d want to hang out with.
My MBTI personality is INFJ, which I think makes it even harder. Not only am I autistic, but I have the absolute rarest (even rarer for men) personality type, I’m more “feminine” by many standards, and I just can’t understand guys. All my closest friends have been girls.
And almost two years ago I made the biggest mistake ever and asked my closest friend if she would consider being more than a friend. We talked about it very logically…in fact, she has an autistic brother about 12 years old (who I LOVED hanging out with and he actually expressed to me that he really liked hanging out with me), and she and her family were the ones who helped me find out what was wrong with me. I’d never heard of Asperger’s until they brought it up.
So I thought they’d understand, but apparently they didn’t because when I moved 2,400 miles away from home in order to live near them, I was told that taking a month to settle down and get used to living in a totally new place was “ridiculous”. They kept bringing up things we’d talked about, over and over again, saying “we’re worried about X”, and I’d tell them what I thought about it and we’d discuss it and they’d say it was all good, and then two weeks later, bring it back up again.
Their whole treatment of me was, to use their description of me trying to adapt to life in a whole new world…ridiculous, uncomfortable, manipulative, and strange.
I no longer have any desire to be with anyone, at all, in any way. Friends, relationship, anything. I don’t like talking, I don’t want to have close friends anymore, I just want to be left alone.
And apparently being like this nine months after a breakup is ridiculous, as well, but I don’t think it’ll change. I don’t change easily.
Sorry to rant. It’s just been weighing on me recently and your post kind of brought it all out. 😦
I do find it hard to meet new people. What usually gets things going is shared interests — such as computers, which is how my school friendships started. As much as I enjoy communicating with people online, I do find I have a need for some “face time” as well. I’m not what anybody would call the life and soul of any social gathering — I tend to be quiet and reserved — and I usually stick to one-to-one interactions because it’s difficult to cope with anything more. I don’t get invited to parties much, but do visit with people now and again, and also meet them in a local bar (I usually don’t drink).
I wouldn’t read too much into MBTI types: a 1991 review concluded that only the E/I scale has much statistical validity. I myself tested as INTJ. The fact that the division on each scale lies at the median of a normal distribution means that there is not much difference between a T or an F for most people.
Sounds like your experience of moving away was awful: you expected understanding and support and instead got pressure. I can see how that would make it difficult to open up and trust somebody to that degree because there is a fear — even an expectation — that something similar will happen. There’s nothing ridiculous about these feelings persisting as long as they have: after a traumatic experience it is possible for such negative feelings to last rather longer.
I apologize if reading my post brought up unpleasant feelings and memories.
Well it’s not your fault. 🙂
Yes, the thing that a lot of people don’t realize about MBTI types is that it’s made of four spectrums, not eight possibilities. I’m highly intuitive and 100% introverted, but on the T/F and J/P scales, I’m close to the middle, as many people are. Therefore I have some typical characteristics of the INTJ and INFP types, as well. Every INFJ will be different, because there are so many more factors to personality than just four little spectrums…but we can get at least something out of it. There are ways in which strongly introverted and intuitive people think that are generally different depending on whether they are more structured (like you and I, the J’s), or more spontaneous (the P’s). I’ve found it easier to understand certain friends when I was able to start with a concrete guideline (their MBTI type) and consider how they respond and act based on that. I think it’s pretty cool, though definitely not clear cut or definitive, any more than IQ is.
I think people have to learn to connect on the things we have in common and appreciate the differences instead of obsessing over how “different” someone is from what is generally considered normal and trying to fix them. I have friends ranging from ultra-conservative fundamentalists to liberal atheist feminists. If they want me around I don’t have a problem being a friend.
I’ve decided not to move away again. I’m staying right here. I’ll write stories and drive my cars and take care of my cars because they’re more loyal than people are. They don’t just leave when they get tired of you. They don’t “need space” (read: go far away from me and don’t come back) when they break down. They don’t ignore your existence and stop responding to you when you accidentally hurt them.
Can I just say that with the introduction, big man vs little woman, then A being the abusive party in the conflict one could easily misinterpret this for the usual man abuses wife situation. Of course I know this is not the case, not your case, from former posts and also the end of the article. But while I usually hate it how some men try to lessen the fact that its mostly women who worldwide are being routinely abused like this (and worse) from the very person they are supposed to be able to feel safe with, by pipping up that there are also men and that its all a bit exaggerated (it is not, it happens all the time, everywhere) – when you write about your very own, very stressful situation, you should make very clear for the uninitiated reader, that yes, you are in fact the victim of this abusive situation. For yourself, and for others, I think it has to be clear that this is Not OK, not just a fight, and yes, a big man can be terrified in a situation like this. I hope it helps you to write about these things.
I recommend you to look up ‘pattern of abusive relationship’ or the like.
You will see that although your situation is particular, with you being a man and autistic, these things are basically ‘textbook abuse’, including the sweet ‘honeymoon phases’ in between. It was a very sobering experience for me to find that my ‘passionate lovestory’ was actually just the cycles of abuse and co-dependancy..
I was intentionally playing on expectations in this post, which was why I left it to the end to reveal. I guess it’s a good idea to make it as clear as I can who is who — thanks for that feedback. I’ll edit it after I’ve finished this comment. Domestic abuse is severely under-reported, and you make a very important point that there are some men who try to use the fact that occasionally it is a man who is the victim to try to somehow excuse abuse against women. As you say, it is Not OK: abuse of any kind against anybody is never OK.
I looked up “pattern of abusive relationships” and you are right that it does fit what I am experiencing. The ironic thing is that A was abused (physically) in a previous marriage, but then abused becoming abuser can happen in some cases. This has been a painful (emotionally, not physically) learning experience for me. I appreciate your understanding.
I actually thought it was very powerful to play with readers’ expectations like that. You’re setting up the scene and then turning it around. Definitely had an impact on me. But I can see how for someone who doesn’t know a little bit about the background, it can be very confusing.
The worst thing about abuse is that somehow, you start thinking it must be something about you that’s triggering them. Because there’s the sweet moments, too. So what makes them so changeable? Maybe by thinking that, we’re even trying to impose some control over the situation, that if it’s us we can change it or at least make it more predictable. But we can’t. So we constantly live in fear, that maybe today is a day where it all goes wrong again. Walking on eggshells.
Nobody should have to live like that.
Has your wife ever had help dealing with being abused in her previous relationship?
You’ve hit the nail on the head: I do feel that it must be something I’ve done that has caused it, and getting blamed so often reinforces that. And “walking on eggshells” is exactly how I feel so much of the time.
She did have counseling but didn’t feel it helped. And there are issues such as PTSD. Not that I’m trying to make excuses for her. Not any more.
I just wish I’d had the courage to stay away when I left before, but I let her convince me to come back. Well, you learn from your mistakes.
I didn’t mean my question to be an excuse for her behaviour… I meant it as the complete opposite. If you have had a traumatic experience and you respond by making other people’s lives a living hell, then it’s your responsibility to seek out help and not say “well it’s just not working for me”. It’s your responsibility to keep on looking until you do find help that works. Because making others suffer is NOT acceptable.
i was actually thinking you might have played on that, you are an excellent writer and this form of creativity might be cathartic for you. in any way, i would recommend you to write down, write all these things down without holding back, all those things that happen, how you felt and REREAD it all too. it does not have to be public but sometimes, removed from the situation, the banality and absurdity of it all makes it more apparent that those conflicts have no real causes (ie problems that cause stress but can be solved) but are the result of almost compulsive behaviour – on both sides by the way.
i am NOT excusing your wife’s behaviour either but if you have been in an abusive situation with break of trust, loss of control, it’s not uncommon to become very angry, controlling, abusive yourself.
I think you are indeed in a particular situation through your autism and the handicap you already might feel even in conflict-free communication, and – while only you can know that! – as it looks like you need to get OUT of the situation. If that’s the case, i will give you advice again, i hope you don’t mind.
– be honest with yourself. writing things down and asking others opinions can help a lot with that. you are doing the right thing here. also: NO shame!
– find a real ally who you trust but who is able to be neutral to your wife too, in case there has to be confrontation (getting stuff, paperworks whatever)
i know that you are not religious but even the local church or salvation army will do if you have no friends handy or do not want to burden them..
– find a safe place to stay first. now, you are a man, there is a bit less ‘risks’ out there for you, but i don’t know your financial situation. i recommend you to clear that up before taking any action.
– prepare and beware. often the abuser FEELS that you have shut a door inside and are preparing to leave. i wouldn’t tell or menace about it unless you are really ready to go BUT be aware that this is often when the abuse intensifies. again, you are a man, and the risks might be for your psyche more than for your physical wellfare but it.can.get.ugly in the end.
I hope you get through this, either way, maybe a separation and therapy can actually save your marriage too, who knows. i have obviously experience with similar situations and people from the internet helped me then.
I might drop out and just watch from the sidelines if it stirs me up too much though, ok. doesn’t mean I stop to care, just might not want to be as involved.
Thanks for your advice & sorry it took me so long to reply: obviously my routines are a bit disrupted right now.
Sorry to hear this. That sounds absolutely terrifying. I really like (well, “like” is almost definitely the wrong word, but you know what I mean) suburp’s comment above; the “honeymoon phases” often seem to trick people into thinking they’re not *really* being abused. The thing is, if you don’t feel safe, you don’t feel safe, and clearly that needs to change. Hope you can feel safe soon.
Thank you. Yes, the periods when everything is going fine do color your judgment and make you doubt whether it could really be abuse.
I want to say you have to get out there now, but I realise how scary that is, even if you hadn’t said it explicitly.
“too afraid of the unknown to break free and run away despite my suffering.”
That’s why so many abused stay with their abuser so long. (well, that and the feeling that it’s all their own fault or it’s not really abuse, discussed above)
But there are organisations who may be able to help you with that, like http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/families_and_relationships/domestic_abuse/domestic_abuse_against_men
Breaking free very practically means having to find a new place to live, having to carry on a household by yourself, someting you have discussed before is difficult. You’ve been able to rely on this marriage as a way of coping with the executive function problems and all that. It could be a good idea to take small steps towards an exit, though. Find a home coach, if it’s financially possible. Look around for another place to live, see how it could work out financially. Write task lists to make a structure in your new life, based on how you do things now (practically household-wise).
You don’t have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with, but maybe it makes you feel better if you take small steps preparing for independence. Maybe you can decrease the fear by making the unknown situation slightly more known. I know fear isn’t susceptible to these kinds of rational things, but it tends to make me feel better if I feel more prepared for any eventuality.
I also think your wife needs some serious counselling. If she is going from abused to abuser, she needs help. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until she deals with things.
Thank you so much for that link: I’m in such a state that I couldn’t think how to move forward at all.
Agreeing with Autisticook: “Walking on eggshells.” This is not an acceptable way to live your days – exceedingly unfair and stressful to say the least most likely adding to depression.
I’m also in agreement with Petra: “You’ve been able to rely on this marriage as a way of coping with the executive function problems and all that.” This is something I have done my entire life whether through parents as a child, friends through young adulthood and then eventually marriage. I’ve always called these people my Navigators because, while I am quite capable of handling the big things: going to university, working, raising a family, it’s the executive functioning that tends to stop me up.
And being afraid to leave, I completely understand that because there are too many unanswered questions, too many unknown variables. I so get that (remember my last post about no future?), because I can’t see it either. With that, maybe it’s time to begin considering, in small doses, what your next moves might be.
It’s so hard to think about, but I’m sure my first move has to be to just get out of there. Work out what essentials I will need, pack them up and go. Hell, it can’t be worse than were I am right now, can it?
It depends on you and how you feel. My home has always been my safe place. Without a home to call mine, I feel ungrounded, untethered, insecure. When I ran out on my ex in the middle of the night, I spent more than a year sleeping on the couches of friends, staying with my parents, paying a crazy rent for a single room in a nearly demolished house with a very creepy flatmate, staying in Australia with a very abusive woman and her sociopath son, staying with conspiracy theorists, then back at my parents, before I finally found an apartment. I think if I could have gotten my shit in order before I ran, I would have had a much easier time finding something to call my home. Because looking back, the uncertainty of the situation was screwing up my executive function no end, which is why it took me so damn long.
I don’t want to scare you off from leaving, but I do want to warn you that if you have executive function issues, it can be damn hard crawling back up. And autistic people often end up on the street when the patience of others runs out (which can happen after a couple of days or a couple of months, but it will happen eventually, because nobody seems to understand that you don’t simply DO something about it). I don’t want that to happen to you.
The backup plan could be similar to what another abused friend of mine did. She picked a date a month from then, and planned her moving out in secret. Apartment hunting, arranging moving van, making lists of assets (his and hers), getting an idea of her financial situation, and informing friends who could be trusted of her plans in case something went wrong and she wouldn’t be allowed to leave.
But. This is your life. Your decision. Your emotional safety. You will need to figure out what you can handle. And I do agree that you need to get out.
I am sorry to hear things are not working for you and your wife.
The main thing I have to say is that it sounds like a classic case of communication not working. I only say this because I know I can get exasperated when my wife shuts down – although she does not have aspergers – and I know I just have to leave it and come back to it, but I have made the mistake in the past of keeping on banging away at it, which just does not work. Would I guess correctly that your wife will not be feeling so good and is handling it in her way which just will not work for the both of you? This may be difficult to hear, but I would take a guess that you are both doing the best you can in what are difficult circumstances. But if you cannot get communication happening then something needs to change. But that is your call.
In terms of leaving I have found that giving a number value to how good/bad I feel now (say 1 to 10) and then visualising forward to leaving and then ‘measuring’ how I feel in the visualisation. If the latter number is better than the former then you know what you feel.
I found that when I left my first wife the communication got better just by being away from each other. Also it has certainly worked in the past for me and my wife now to have a more ‘distant’ relationship. It changes the ‘system’ which immediately changes the communication. Of course it could get worse, but luckily that has not been my experience.
I hope that makes sense. But please, please ignore if it doesn’t. You are the one on the ground and will know better than me.
Being away for a couple of days has altered the dynamics of our relationship and we have been able to talk. You are correct that her way of responding to stress is something I find immensely stressful myself, so we end up with escalating tension that hurts both sides. We are considering counseling, something that my doctor suggested last week: I’m going to raise it when I next see him.
Ben, I don’t know much about your situation and honestly I don’t know much about handling abusive relationships at all, but I want to let you know that I think this post is exceptionally well written. You hear (just generally) that anyone can be an abuser or a victim regardless of gender or size or anything else, and you kind of go “yeah yeah definitely” but you don’t actually consider what that means. While I certainly never would have argued to the contrary, I think maybe in the back of my mind there was a voice saying “but that’s just a catch-all, it never actually happens like that.” I don’t think I’m the only one either. It’s not that I would doubt anyone with an unusual story, it’s just that it’s hard to imagine. This post really let me see the reality of that kind of unusual (maybe more accurately would be “less than usual” because I don’t mean to imply that it’s rare, just that it’s not the most common) situation. What you are dealing with sounds incredibly frightening and unfair. Thank you for showing what this type of thing can look like and I sincerely hope there is a way to protect yourself in your not-at-all-distant future.
Thank you Nattily. Yes, it was very frightening and difficult to handle because of the sensory and anxiety problems I have. It means that what might just be a heated argument to some people has me wanting to run for the hills.