Eleni, a personal assistant from Athens, describes how her marriage descended into violence. This interview was carried out by Stella Kasdagli, deputy editor of the Greek edition of Cosmopolitan.
ATHENS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - My husband lost his job in January 2011, five months after our wedding. I braced myself for what I thought would be a difficult winter - I had lost my part-time job a few months earlier - but it didn’t occur to me that the problems we had as a couple would escalate much faster than our money woes.
I don't know if things would have been better if we hadn’t found ourselves struggling in such a difficult time. The only thing I can say for sure is that the hardships we faced worked like a magnifying glass on all our problems and shortcomings.
From the beginning of our relationship my husband had shown signs of being controlling, yelling at me when he thought I had done something wrong and always making me question my decisions. But I always saw these things as signs of over-protectiveness and even when he got aggressive during sex, for example, I would think that he was just being passionate.
I don’t know whether it was our marriage or his unemployment that let out his seriously violent self. But soon he was yelling at me every day and he was throwing things, first against the walls, then against me. And then he started hitting me and pulling my hair and kicking me all over my body.
Usually his reason was me being too sociable, too eager to find a job to support us both or being too close to my friends. Once he beat me for half an hour because I suggested that it might be a good idea for him to go to night school. Sometimes he used the argument of me not being a good housewife, not taking good care of the house. But now I can see it was all about me being independent – or wanting to be. He was anxious and for a while he definitely managed to cut me off my friends and my family and make me totally dependent on him.
At the beginning I would try to reason with him, responding to his attacks with logical arguments. I would do anything to settle things before they got out of hand, because I was so afraid of him beating me. But no matter how hard I tried, nothing seemed to work to stop him turning violent.
After some time, I stopped trying. I would just sit there and feel him hurting me and cry, which for some reason seemed to make him angrier.
I think the transition to physical violence made a huge difference for me. For as long as he was verbally abusing me, it never occurred to me that he was really being violent. But when he started beating me, I started thinking, “This can’t be right; there must be some other way for two people to be together”.
For two years I tried to focus on the good parts of the relationship. I kept thinking that he was a good man, that I had once fallen in love with him, that when he didn’t beat me he was sweet, supportive, fun even. My family reinforced that; in two instances when I tried to talk to my mother about what was happening, it seemed as if she didn’t want to hear what I was saying. She would tell me some story of an acquaintance who had suffered serious abuse by her partner, but who had held on to the relationship for fear of ending up a divorcee. So I kept telling myself that this was normal. that I had a duty to make things better.
And then there was the money issue. I had no job and no income of my own. He might have been unemployed but he usually managed to find something to do for a few euros every week and his parents always tried to help us financially. In my worst moments I thought that I could never support myself and that I would end up homeless, on the streets or in some refuge. It took me a while to realise that even a refuge would be much better that what I was going through.
One night he broke a vase on my shoulder and I had no choice but to go to hospital. I asked a friend to come with me, as I would never have dared to go there alone at that point. That was when I realised I had to leave. My friend was shocked to find out what was happening and her reaction made me see that I should be too. It wasn't easy. I have experienced a lot of shame in having to ask strangers for help to rebuild my life, but since I left, I have come to accept that what I‘ve gained is a lot more valuable than what I‘ve lost.