A thirty-four year old Maltese woman speaks to Lovin Malta about surviving domestic violence. Her story uncovers the often unexamined realities of spousal abuse – shame, fear of loneliness, single-parent stigma, and the permanence of the abuser-victim link
I met my ex-husband through work when I was nineteen. At first, he really did sweep me off my feet. He introduced me to his family after a few weeks – he suggested that my car needed a wash and we took it to his garage which was adjacent to his home. Little did I know that he would never wash my car or do anything like that after what I thought was our honeymoon period.
As time went on it became clear that all he wanted from our relationship was to live as though he was single, but with the benefits of marriage. There was never a concept of ‘us’. It was more of a parent-child relationship – with me being the child. Thankfully, in this case, the child found the courage to run away, but only after being verbally and physically abused for months.
“At first, he swept me off my feet”
In the beginning, he would shower me with small gifts. He would text and call – it was all very normal. But after we got married that all changed. He would never call, he wouldn’t even take a photo of me with our son. It was as though I was invisible. I felt neglected, rejected, and unloved. He would give me the silent treatment – living with someone under the same roof and not speaking for an entire week is like torture, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
The truth is it was his idea to get married – he insisted. And being raised as a Roman Catholic, I didn’t want to be the one to break the rules. So I agreed and we had a church wedding. Before that we would party all night long, go to all the ‘in’ places, we had fun. He was my first steady boyfriend and I was madly in love with him. I remember the first quarrel we had – I could hardly breathe I was so heartbroken. It was a red flag, but I couldn’t see it yet.
“I can still feel the shame I felt when I walked into the health clinic”
Back then I was naïve and I thought love could conquer all. I rationalized everything – I accepted that everyone had defects and that I could tolerate his. But this wasn’t just a case of someone having a moody personality.
Things escalated quickly. He would argue or mope whenever we had plans to meet our friends – eventually I became numb to his volatile mood swings. I even used to go out and meet my friends alone. There was one instance where he became verbally abusive and ended up smashing our car mirror. He would drive me up dangerous one-way streets at full-speed. It felt like he was crazy.
He first hit me a couple of months into our marriage. I can still feel the shame I felt when I walked into the health clinic to get a medical report. I didn’t use it – I rarely filed official reports. It was only one in five times that I even managed to pluck up the courage to go to the clinic.
It’s a gruesome experience, and not all doctors were compassionate. Although most were. I remember one doctor telling me that no one deserved this, and that made me feel somewhat empowered. But I wasn’t brave enough to leave yet.
“The bottom line is that no matter how strong and as healthy you are as a woman, you will never be able to compete with a man’s strength”
At this point I had stopped sleeping in the same bed with my ex-husband. I was so hurt and, honestly, he disgusted me. But he didn’t like this – he threw me off the bed where I was sleeping and hit me. My mind shut off – desperate to suppress these terrorising moments, like the time when he strangled me. I thought I would die.
The arguments never followed a pattern. They would come out of nowhere – instigated by the smallest, silliest things. The bottom line is that no matter how strong and as healthy you are as a woman, you will never be able to compete with a man’s strength. But it wasn’t just the physical abuse that hurt – the verbal abuse was what stuck. Certain phrases still resonate – “int bla ħbieb”, “int m’int kapaċi għal xejn…”, “ħa tispiċċa taħt it-trab”
At the height of the abuse he physically assaulted me in front of my two-year old son – who tried to defend me. He was just a baby, he could barely walk. He told his dad to stop and even tried to get between us.
I didn’t speak to my friends about the abuse. I was pretty much in my own world. My character changed dramatically – I became an introvert, and lost contact with most of my friends. I only ever really told two people until I decided to leave.
When I left my marriage I had to stop working for a while because I needed to look after my son. That made me more vulnerable in a way – less independent. It was very difficult. But when I got back to work I regained trust in myself, and I began to trust in the fact that I deserved a better life.
I was exposed to realities of other separated people. I told myself that life goes on even after separation. At that point I was unaware of the pressure of being a single parent, and four years down the line I still struggle with loneliness. And being a hopeless romantic – I still believe in love.
“I still believe in love”
I started talking to my friends about my abusive relationship after I filed my separation papers. I was indirectly asking for their approval. Because being a single parent still carries a lot of stigma.
My advice to anyone who is struggling to leave a marriage they shouldn’t be in is this: if your marriage failed, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. People invest so much into their relationships, so it’s very difficult to accept when they break down. But the truth is that people don’t change, and they never will. Sometimes leaving is the only option.
Get counseling, reach out to shelter homes, there are NGOs that do a great job. I remember parking next to Merħba Bik and not having enough courage to knock on the door, until I met a great lady there who helped me – I will be thankful to her for my entire life. She made me believe in myself. There are good people out there.
“The reality is that you’re never rid of an abusive husband when there are children involved”
All I wanted was love and respect and a beautiful family, but I didn’t get it. Being on my own now at times I am overwhelmed with responsibilities. Every night my son and I pray together – and he prays for his dad and sometimes his dad’s new girlfriend. And that does hurt. I still feel as though my ex tries to poison my son against me, and I sense that he is abusive towards him as well. I’ve asked my son directly and confronted my ex as well – but I feel a bit powerless. No mother should have to ask their child that.
The reality is that you’re never rid of an abusive husband when there are children involved. No one says it – but that’s the truth.
Now in my worst moments I tell myself this: meglio soli che mal accompagnati (better to be alone than in bad company). It keeps me going and reminds me of the reasons I left. I am no longer a married woman – but at least I have my dignity.
If you feel you are suffering from abuse and would like to speak to someone about it, call the Supportline by dialling 179. You can also contact the government domestic violence unit – Aġenzija Appoġġ on +356 2295 9000 or [email protected]. Dar Merħba Bik – an NGO which offers shelter for female victims of domestic violence and their children – can be reached on +356 2144 0035.