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"It's hard to recognise abuse when you're in a relationship, no matter who you are, and it's easier to deny it. But when you do recognise it and accept it for what it is - there is support out there."

For Sean (*name has been changed to protect the person's identity), who now works in Swindon in a role which involves helping to prevent domestic abuse, it took years for him to realise he was in a psychologically and emotionally abusive marriage. 

The controlling behaviour he experienced ranged from being prevented from spending his own money, isolated from his family, mocked in front of his friends and even prevented from sitting on furniture his wife had bought. 

"There was never any physical abuse," said Sean. 

"We very rarely even argued. It was what was said and done that amounted to emotional and mental abuse, and to a lesser extent, financial abuse. She isolated me from my family, many of whom lived abroad, and she would always stop me spending money on going to visit them.

"It was quite late on in the relationship that I recognised it as systematic, or as abuse. There were things that weren't good but I looked at them in isolation. The turning point was when I got a new job and my new colleagues would ask about my evening or weekend, and I would describe what had happened with no real thought that anything was wrong - for example she had bought a new chair but wouldn't ever let me sit in it because she bought it. There was another time where I had some friends round for my 30th birthday but she wanted me to cook her a dinner, so I spent the whole evening cooking for her while they all had a party elsewhere in the house, so I missed my own birthday. 

"When I put all the incidents together, it was overwhelming. She later had an affair - when I confronted her about it, she left but came back and we tried again. When we were with friends she would speak openly about the affair in front of me, joking about it and mocking my reaction to it. When I told her how small, weak and miserable it made me feel, nothing changed. She just carried on, and only really stopped because no one else was laughing. It shattered my self-confidence and I didn't feel strong enough to stand up to anything. From then on, the verbal belittling and humiliation happened more frequently until it seemed relentless."

At the time, Sean was unaware of the different forms of domestic abuse or the support services available. 

"When I talk to people about it now, all I get is support," he said. "No one questions the 'big man being bullied by smaller woman' part of this like people used to. There is support out there, whether it is from professionals or family and friends, or in my case, work colleagues. Having your thoughts and feelings ratified when your confidence is shattered makes such a difference. It's transformative."

Domestic abuse isn't just about violent or threatening behaviour - it can be psychological or emotional, sexual or financial, controlling and coercive. It can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, religion, race or sexuality. It can happen in short and long term relationships and partners, ex-partners and family members can all be involved.

Some of the signs that you might be in an abusive relationship are:

• Your partner is violent towards you, inflicts physical injuries to you or threatens you with violence

• Your partner verbally abuses you, criticises you, puts you down or makes you feel inferior or worthless

• Your partner controls where you are allowed to go, who you are allowed to see, what you can spend money on, what you can do and what you wear

• Your partner sends you excessive messages, emails or voicemails or calls you all the time to monitor what you're doing

• You avoid seeing friends and family and become withdrawn, isolated or reluctant to leave the house

• Your partner forces you to have sex or carry out sexual acts when you don't want to

• Your partner makes you feel afraid of them

• You think you are to blame for the way your partner treats you

• You feel embarrassed for your friends and family to see how your partner treats you

Some of the signs that someone you know might be in an abusive relationship are:

• They are reluctant to do anything with friends of family and become withdrawn

• They seem depressed

• They get anxious if plans change suddenly or they might be home late

• They have signs of physical injuries

• They get lots of phone calls, messages or voicemails from their partner when they are out

• They avoid meeting you when their partner is around

• They seem fearful of their partner

• Checking if someone has been in an abusive relationship before.

Call 101 to report concerns, or if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 999.

Support services available for male victims of domestic abuse:

Respect Phoneline
Respect Phoneline


National Centre for Domestic Violence

The Phoenix Project, Splitz Support Service

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