The problem with trying not to react to the daily abuse of the perpetrator pushing your buttons is that you may at some point inevitably give them the firework display of reactions they have been waiting to see. I had dealt with the occasional bully at school, but if anyone had told me that one day I would be so frequently angry that I would always feel on the verge of lashing out physically, I would have felt deeply insulted and deigned to give them an answer. I never had an anger management issue until I met Mr Impatient.
He was walking away from me after an argument about something. It was customary for him to be irrational, authoritarian, divisive and controlling whenever we had a quarrel. It was the first time I snapped. A volcano can only restrain the rising pressure within for a certain period of time. I wanted to scream but the words wouldn’t come. He was being beyond unreasonable and I was at breaking point. The already wonky fan was right next to me. In total vexation I slammed it to the floor. He turned around surprised by my reaction. He smiled at me and said that he expected me to replace the broken fan. Then he simply left the house.
One Sunday afternoon I went to visit my family, I had also planned to plait my sister’s hair during my visit. From the moment I made the announcement Mr Impatient started to behave in a strange manner. He was very placid, tactile and warm towards me. His playful manner made it obvious that he didn’t want me to spend time with my family but I was determined to go. When I said that I was leaving he pretended to be surprised that the time had already come. I left anyway.
My family and I all engaged in chatter as I cornrowed my sister’s hair. Afterwards, she and I completed one of her easier 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. I realised then how much I missed genuine adult conversation, just being relaxed, not walking on eggshells and not feeling anxious.
It felt good to be in the company of my parents and sister. It had been far too long since I had spent time with them or visited, but as I walked home I became apprehensive. What would his mood be like? He had hinted all morning that he wanted to spend time with me, but I knew this wasn’t genuine. I knew that he was hoping that I would reschedule with my family and spend the day with him with the implication that he and I would do something special like spending it at the river or beach. He would most likely wait for some time to pass then casually announce that he didn’t feel like going anywhere. Once you’ve learned to distrust the ‘niceness’ of a toxic person, you improve your ability to grasp their predictive behaviour. You get the knack of determining why they are being amiable.
I took a deep breathe as I went up the steps. The door suddenly flew open. He was standing there with a warm, handsome winning smile on his face. Something is obviously wrong. Red flag. I mustered up a smile that matched his and said hello.
“Come, come! You must be tired. Did your sister like the hairstyle you did for her? Come, I want to hear all about your afternoon”. The fact is he despised my family so why the sudden interest? Red flag. He led me to the bedroom. We lay side by side.
“She always loves her hair once its done! We all had so much to catch up. Lisa and I did one of her large puzzles. She chose the Africa one”.
“Details, details. What did you all talk about?”
I mentioned one of the general topics we had spoken about.
“Ok, but who said what? You are still holding back from me. What exactly was said?”
“You want me to give you a detailed account of my families conversation?”
“But when you go to your mum, I don’t ask you for an account of your visit. It’s none of my business, you don’t have to give me an account of that. That’s between you and your mum.”
“So you’re lying to me? If you are not lying you’ll be able to give me a detailed account of your time at your parents home.”
I sensed yet another long stupid drawn out nonsensical argument. I swallowed my rising frustration and played along. I tried to recall as much as I could and be specific about my recount. I even managed to smile graciously though I felt far from gracious. I was being micro-managed and I hated it.
“. . . and that was it pretty much. Is that ok?”
“You’re lying to me.”
For the second time in my marriage I snapped. I was offended that he would call me a liar, outraged that he didn’t accept my account and irate that he had manipulated me. Again. I flew up and straddled him. I hit him with my fists. Pent up rage erupted from me, each blow issued with a scream of sheer exasperation. Within the fury my senses returned. In a split second I got off him and went to the furthest part of the bedroom. I felt sick. Sick because I, the self composed Byooti was capable of pure fury. I was ashamed because I had beaten my husband. He was still laying on the bed. We just stared at each other.
“Are you ok? Did I hurt you?” I asked.
“I’m ok.” He quietly said.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I was so angry, I’m sorry.” Tears poured unrestrained. He held out his hand to me, and I went to him. I cried until I fell asleep.
One Sunday morning I was in the kitchen doing a cooked breakfast. Mr Impatient needed some information. A work colleague I knew would have the answer. Since it was Sunday, I offered to get the information at work the following day. He wanted it that day. I pointed out that though the information was important it wasn’t urgent. It could wait.
“Do you have his number?”
“But you know how to get it?”
“But you won’t get it for me?”
“It’s Sunday. He deserves to have his weekend, besides the information isn’t urgent. It can wait till tomorrow. “
He disagreed. He needed the information right away. He ranted and raved about the virtues of a good wife and how I didn’t fit the bill. Naturally he added some choice insults and put downs. I saw him grab some clothes and head through the door. I was angry but at least he was gone now. I shrugged my shoulders and continued frying the plantains. Some time passed and I wondered why I hadn’t heard the car start. The front door opened, he announced that I was right. It could wait. I didn’t bother to say anything. I put his breakfast on the table and with my own in hand, I headed to the bedroom.
“You’re not going to eat at the table with me?” He asked.
“No. I don’t wish to be in your company right now.”
“How come you have so much food on your plate? You eat like a pig.”
Without giving it a second thought I aimed the plate (food and all) towards him. Fortunately for him it slipped from my hand and smashed not to far from my feet. I glared at him then hurried to the bedroom to get dressed and leave. I was not putting up with him today.
Shortly after that incident I took a long look in the mirror. I didn’t recognise myself. I was becoming someone despicable, violent. I was neither of these things before I met him. I was loosing my identity. His toxicity was changing me. I didn’t like who I was becoming. It had to stop. I prayed and asked God to forgive me for becoming this ugly person. I had to find a way to manage my frustration without becoming physical because no doubt the tables would turn. What would I do then if he hit me back? I made a deliberate and proactive decision that day to never give in to the rage in a physical way again. I could not let my anger control me anymore.
If you are in an abusive relationship, retaliation always seems justifiable. In some ways it may feel like that because your perpetrator deliberately and systematically pushes those buttons to control your emotions. The problem is that physical retaliation will most likely escalate an already volatile situation. It really is time to leave. It’s that simple.
Write this at the top of your list: Get Understanding! Throw your arms around her- believe me, you won’t regret it, never let her go – she’ll make your life glorious. Proverbs 4: 6&7, The Message Bible.