Abuse relationships rarely begin with abuse. They start out with all the same warmth and butterflies of happy and healthy relationships. Then comes the falling in love and creating a life together. There may be signs of abusive tendencies, but those are just flukes or signs of how deep and true that love is. The abuse begins to creep in though, growing slowly over time. As it becomes more confident, it reaches further, taking up more space until abuse is all that is left in a relationship. Abusive partners are charming in the beginning, but they have a way of escalating steadily, sometimes slowly, sometimes very quickly.
My ex-wife, Irma, had problems with jealousy. She had been in previous relationships where men had cheated on her and betrayed her trust. By the time we met and fell in love, she was incredibly jaded and distrustful. Jealousy may not seem like an abusive aspect in a relationship, but for Irma, it lead to controlling, manipulating, attention seeking, lying, and many other abusive traits in our relationship.
Jealousy is the reason Irma decided we needed to work together, or, more aptly put, she decided she needed to work with me in order to keep tabs on me during the work day.
In her new role, Irma made the decision to hire an attractive young woman. Her reasoning was that it would be financially beneficial to the firm having an attractive woman to retain and attract new clients. Irma found Sylvie* working at a jewelry store, having success after success at making sales with every male customer who walked her way. At twenty-three year old, Sylvie had a natural way and personality that made her excellent at her job. She wore low cut blouses and outfits that hugged in all the right places. Irma hired Sylvie into a position at the firm, and there was no question, Sylvie knew how to use her looks to benefit the firm, but she was still being exemplary in her role. She was able to speak with and convince clients in a way no one else had been able to. She was born for this role It became apparent, quite quickly, that Sylvie was a younger and prettier version of Irma.
Sylvie became a constant source of disharmony in my marriage.
Irma's jealousy and obsession started to creep into the office as Sylvie continued to be successful in her position. Irma could think of nothing else. She began making up lies and speaking ill of Sylvie. Yet, Irma would praise Sylvie and tell her she was wonderful to her face. Irma would buy beauty products and makeup as a work incentive for Sylvie. The more successful Sylvie became, the bigger and nastier the lies became. Irma would constantly tell me what a whore and slut Sylvie was. She even lied saying she found a pregnancy test in the bathroom and confronted the young woman who confessed to having slept with two men sans protection and worried about pregnancy.
As an employee of the firm, it was necessary to speak with Sylvie. She was in charge of scheduling all my appointments and completed any translations for Spanish speaking clients when necessary. But every interaction we had became an explosion and an issue for Irma. It was unacceptable in her eyes. I could not be trusted with a woman in any capacity. I stopped looking at Sylvie during our conversations. I would focus my gaze on my desk or a file I was holding, anywhere but on Sylvie. No matter what I did, Irma would never be satisfied. She was jealous and controlling; the situation was only getting worse and worse with every passing day and moment.
Firing Sylvie became Irma's solution and obsession. She would go on long tirades about firing her and making her leave the firm over and over and over again. She would always relent because Sylvie had become so financially beneficial to the firm, we couldn't let her go without also losing all that revenue.
Instead of coming to terms with her personal issues, Irma began taking it out on Sylvie. Irma would constantly criticize, telling Sylvie to work harder, make more money, do better. It became so hostile and uncomfortable for Sylvie, that she left and took a position in another law firm in 2017. Before she left, she warned other employees, the ones who would replace her, to be careful of Irma. Sylvie explained how toxic Irma's jealousy could be, to the point, I wasn't allowed to look her in the face anymore.
Those conversations triggered Irma's insecurities about her jealousy and started an enormous fight between us. It was important to Irma that I call and reprimand and tell off Sylvie for speaking ill of her. She wanted me to humiliate Sylvie, even though she was no longer an employee of mine. Sylvie was gone. She had left. But Irma's jealousy remained and haunted the office and our marriage. I was forced into choosing between keeping my marriage and making a phone call. The guilt and shame filled me knowing what I was about to do to an innocent woman.
One day, I called Sylvie on speakerphone with Irma in the room, of course. My voice shook as I made the call. I yelled at Sylvie. Telling her all the things she had done wrong, what she had said, what she had put Irma through. Sylvie hung up on me, rightfully so. Shortly after that phone call, I received a letter from her current employer. They asked me not to call or contact her again because she had been quite shaken up by the call and the experience. They also admonished me for my unprofessionalism. They were not wrong to do so.
Making that phone call was a horrible thing to do, but at the time, I didn't feel like I had a choice. I felt so guilty for what I had done. I still feel bad. Bad enough, I have never apologized for that mistake.
In my marriage to Irma, there had been incidents of domestic violence. They were all before the phone call with Sylvie. I brushed them off. I made excuses for Irma's behavior. I told myself they were minor, excusable, part of married life. I made myself believe it was normal.
On Thanksgiving Day, Irma had done cocaine and was quite high. She decided to start quizzing me on my feelings for the female staff. She went down the list of every single woman I worked with in my office while asking me if I was attracted to them, how I felt about them, anything she could to trap me into saying something she could latch onto and start a fight over. I found ways to credibly deny or at the very least minimize any kind of physical attraction there could possibly be for the women on the list. Sylvie was still on the list. I could not obfuscate or deny how attractive she was. It would not have been credible because I am not blind. Sylvie had been hired, almost solely, for her sex appeal. She was an attractive woman.
Irma told me there would be absolutely no repercussions if I would just be honest with her. Tell her that I thought Sylvie was attractive. I wanted to put an end to the interrogation, and I knew in that moment that this was the entire point of the questioning and quizzing. I relented eventually and told Irma that yes, Sylvie was attractive. It was not a deniable fact and just a part of life. It was too late, I had admitted it. I was trapped.
Irma started asking question after question after question in rapid fire sequence, trying to get me to answer all of her questions without thinking. She asked me, “What do you find attractive about her physically? Is it her age? Is it because she's younger than me? Is it the way she walks? Does it have something to do with her voice and how she speaks? How long have you been attracted to her? Do you think about her? How many times a day do you think about her?” With every question I answered, there were a dozen more questions asked. They kept coming. There was no stopping the questioning. Irma's questions pushed me deeper and deeper into a quagmire of unanswerable questions. It was a hellish day. I felt like it would never end and the questions would come forever.
The day did end, though. It was a turning point in my marriage. I knew I would never be free to be myself with Irma. That her behavior was not coming from a place of love or a healthy mind. It was abuse. That day marked a shift. Before that, the abuse had been mostly emotional with intermittent moments of violence. The violence began to escalate in frequency until violence was a regular part of my life. I was living in hell with my wife. The woman who was supposed to love me more than anyone else and protect me was the one person causing far more harm in my life.
Abuse creeps in. I didn't fall in love and marry a woman who was violent and emotionally abusive. That all came later. In the beginning, Irma had been hurt, and I could excuse some of her poor behaviors to that. In the end, there is no excuse for abuse. She continually made poor choices to endanger me, and she is the reason our marriage ended. I could not live in an abusive relationship anymore. I deserved better. It took years for me to realize the reality I was living in, but I did eventually leave.
*Name has been changed.