Content note: describes emotional abuse and suicidal thoughts. If reading this article brings up issues for you, call WIRE on 1300 134 130. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
As a Community Development Worker with more than 15 years’ experience, I am well-educated in recognising the signs of violence against women. Being a lesbian, a mother, a feminist and a known advocate for human rights, I have never been one to shy away from speaking out against injustice or advocating for those who struggle to stand up for themselves. I would never have imagined that I would end up a survivor of family violence.
The perfect partner?
When our relationship began, my partner treated me so well. She put me on a pedestal, showered me in compliments and gifts and made me feel so lucky to have someone who adored me. She charmed her way into not only my life, but my son’s, and my extended family and friends. She made sure that everybody, myself included, believed that she loved me, and that us being together was meant to be.
Within six months, she had moved in with us — it ‘made sense’. It was closer to her work and it would help me out, as a single mother, to pay the rent. It also meant she would help look after my son and we would get a lot more time together.
As time went by, my defences were lowered and she slowly started chipping away at the pedestal she had put me on. Financially, she had taken over — she controlled all the money, and I would have to ask for money for anything my son or I needed. She began to insult me and lie about anything and everything. When I would question her about it, she would convince me that my reality was all in my head and what she said was happening, actually happened.
We bought a house together that was further away from my family. This only gave her more and more control. She would stand over my son when he spoke on the phone to make sure that the façade of our ‘happy family’ was maintained for those on the outside. Behind closed doors it was a different story. She manipulated my son and turned him against me. He was too scared to disagree with her and her reality became his. When I threatened to leave her, my son refused to come with me, and blamed me for all our problems as that was what she had led him to believe. I wouldn’t leave without him.
Opening up and asking for support
Life got so bad… I was suicidal. I sought support from a psychologist but was too scared to tell any family or friends, as she had me convinced I was going crazy and needed hospitalisation.
Along came a new friend. I took a chance, opened up and told the truth about my relationship. What did I have to lose? My friend suggested that I was being abused —
Abuse does not just have to be physical, she told me. Emotional verbal and financial abuse are also real and serious issues.
Having finally opened up to someone, this set the wheels in motion. I spoke with my psychologist who further assured me I was not going crazy.
At the time there was not a lot of information on violence against women in same-sex relationships. I looked on the Domestic Violence Resource Centre website and also phoned the Women’s Legal Service Victoria for advice. They reassured me that I was not imagining things and that the situation was unlikely to improve. They told me my partner was a ‘narcissist’ and I was encouraged to take my son and leave the relationship. They gave me a list of documents and other items I should try and gather for when I left. I also made a Safety Plan. I had to be very careful not to make her aware that I was planning to leave. I know she noticed a difference in me in those last few months before I left. She became more secretive herself and would sometimes ‘surprise me’ by coming home early from work.
I gathered the necessary documents and stored precious valuables elsewhere that I knew she would not notice were missing. I arranged for my son to go away with his Grandma in the school holidays and set the date to leave whilst he was away. I told a select few people, including my parents and my workplace, that I was leaving and why. They were all very supportive.
Moving out and moving on
On the day I left, my partner went to work early without any knowledge that today was the day! My friend had organised a band of ‘helpers’ to pack up our belongings, and within four hours of her leaving, I was OUT. My half of the house was packed into a truck and although my heart was pounding, I was free. She didn’t know where we were. She made so many phone calls pleading for us to go back to her — they varied between abuse, threats and more love bombing. She called everyone we knew to try and find out where we had gone — they either would not tell her, or didn’t know themselves. I had to stay strong. I took one week off work and while we were sharing with friends in their home, I turned my son’s bedroom into a comfortable space for him.
Within two weeks of leaving, my son never wanted to see her again.
Six years on, I have to say my life is great! I am in a loving relationship, where things are much more equal. I am genuinely happy — although sometimes those same doubts and fears still creep in, and I need reminding that I am out of there and safe. The impact of emotional, verbal and financial abuse on my son and I cannot be underestimated. Having supportive family and friends when I left as well as that one person who opened my eyes to what I was going through, and naming the violence — ‘narcissistic abuse’ — ensured I would be able to tell my story. I heard that my ex went on to abuse her next partner too.
Leaving was not easy but it was the best thing I ever did — for myself and my son. What really helped was having a great support team made up of friends and family, as well as professional support.
If you’re in the same situation right now, my advice is to do it — leave — you will not regret it. It is scary, but so worth it to stand in your own power once more!
Please note that leaving a violent relationship can increase risk, so a safety plan is vital. If reading this article brings up issues for you, call WIRE on 1300 134 130. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Note that since the experience of this author, there is now an organisation in Victoria which specialises in LGBTIQ+ family violence. You can contact w|respect on 1800 LGBTIQ.
This article is part of our Lived Experience collection and the author was paid for her contribution. If you would like your story to be considered, please complete the consent form and submit your story via our online form.