KiranMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 31-May-16 14:17:15

Guest post: "When children are involved, there is no true escape from domestic abuse"

(Trigger warning: upsetting content) More than four years after she ended her marriage, The Archers storyline takes Colette Snowden back to a place she'd tried to close the door on

Colette Snowden

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Posted on: Tue 31-May-16 14:17:15

(39 comments )

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"It's an insidious abuse that is hard to articulate, not least because the abuser is adept at encouraging you to doubt your own perspective."

No-one ever used to ask me if I'd listened to The Archers, but these days I get asked a lot. People are interested to know if I think the Rob and Helen story is true to life. They ask me why Helen hasn't left sooner, as though I'm a bone fide expert in domestic abuse. I'm not. But I am someone who has experienced it first-hand and understands how hard it is to leave, especially when you have children.

I've been delighted at the amount of talk around the Rob and Helen storyline in The Archers. The way that Helen has been trapped by her need to protect her son and the vulnerability of being pregnant has built on the slow drip feed of malice and nuances in expression that characterise emotional abuse. I've also found it a hard listen: it takes me back to a place that I've tried to close the door on. But when there are children involved there is no true escape.

Following the birth of her baby, Helen faces the struggle of sharing a child with a man who will continue to use that fact to exert control, enabled by his supportive mother's willingness to turn a conscious blind eye. Over four years after I finally ended my marriage, I still receive abusive emails telling me what a terrible mother I am and I still have to remind myself that his version of me is not who I am.

It will be interesting to see how The Archers plot unfolds from here; whether Helen will manage to break free from Rob with both of her children and what the long-term impact will be. Her last attempt was an act of violence, which has received much criticism, despite the fact that it's often a natural progression for emotional abuse.

Over four years after I finally ended my marriage, I still receive abusive emails telling me what a terrible mother I am and I still have to remind myself that his version of me is not who I am.


It was certainly an act of violence that finally gave me the means, the courage and – as I perceived it at the time - the valid reason I needed to end my marriage. I had asked him to leave before but he'd dismissed it with a 'don’t be silly, we're married' or a 'you can go if you like but you're not taking my children.' I'd even made an attempt to leave before, de-camping with three children to my mother's house. He'd disappeared to some unknown location and it had snowed like an Alaskan winter. After a week trapped in the house with three young children I asked him to come back for fear I wouldn't cope as a single mum.

I resigned myself to being trapped in that life and wrote my novel, 'The Secret to Not Drowning' as a catharsis. The book is not my own story, but a fictional account of emotional and psychological abuse that maps out a pattern of behaviour some will recognise in their own relationships.

Like Helen, my main character, Marion, is not a battered wife. Like I was, she is controlled, manipulated, bullied, undermined and chipped away at, until she loses the ability to look subjectively at her husband's behaviour and has been isolated from the people who could otherwise tell her, 'that's not right', 'that’s not normal'. It's an insidious abuse that is so hard to articulate, not least because the abuser is so adept at encouraging you to doubt your own perspective and feel responsible for his behaviour.

I might still be in that anxious state of constantly doubting myself if my husband hadn't pushed me down the stairs, hitting me in the face in the process and kicking me as I lay in the hall. I called the police and he told me they'd never believe me because they have 'drama queens' ringing them with false allegations all the time. They did believe me. They let him out with a caution the following day. He'd left his keys in the house. I've never given them back.

When the police called to say they were releasing him, they also told me they'd offered him alcohol and mental health support and he'd declined both. I called a friend. I gathered a bag of his stuff and when he arrived on the doorstep I waited in the kitchen while my friend handed him the bag, along with the spare keys to his sister's flat. He assumed things would blow over a few days or weeks later, but a line had been crossed. Instead of asking how I would cope on my own I wondered how I'd coped with him for so long.

He's still in my life though. We have children in common and regardless of my successful career, my network of friends and my new relationship he still tries to exploit my vulnerabilities.

These days I can just press the delete button on his emails but the reality is that emotional abuse is a very easy situation to get into and a very difficult one to break free of. Leaving with children is never simple, and neither is staying strong when he continues to use your children as fuel for his vitriol.

By Colette Snowden

Twitter: @colette_snowden

springydaffs Tue 31-May-16 15:49:00

I seriously considered doing a runner with my kids. Just disappearing. Finding somewhere far, far away. AWOL.

I so wish I had.

IdrisElbasWife Tue 31-May-16 16:03:25

I threw my ex out 7 years ago. It didn't stop the abuse though. I got phone calls, emails, text messages. Threats to kill me. Attempts to manipulate my children and abusing them via threatening me.

Four years ago he was back in Court, yet again with another conviction under his belt for threatening behaviour. Another peaceful year followed where he was not allowed to contact me. Then his probation was up and it started again.

I left the area and took my children and we moved over 500 miles. A few months later he followed. The whole merry go round started again but without the support I'd had via the Police DV unit in my old town. They didn't take things seriously and I ended up having to pay out a substantial amount of money getting a solicitor to get me non-molestation order keeping him away from me and my children. That was two years ago and the order ran out last year but he's stayed away. We've moved house yet again and I hope and pray that finally he leaves us alone.

In the meantime my oldest has been diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety because of all the violence and abuse she witnessed. My youngest has major issues which we are still trying to get diagnosed. My own PTSD had been worsened and basically we are all three living with the after effects a long time after he was removed from our lives.

I have a new partner who is loving, kind and gentle and a better father to my children than their own dad could ever be. He certainly doesn't tell them that if they don't do what they are told he will kill their mother.

ilovemilton Tue 31-May-16 16:26:14

I never had any proof, so it's like it never happened...

Cue abuse via the courts and the children. For three years and counting.

sunnytrip Tue 31-May-16 16:28:08

I left my violent exP a decade ago, when I was still pg. I didn't tell him I was leaving or where I was going, and the only contact I've had with him was a few letters he sent to the last address he had for me, but I never responded. I know without doubt that if I'd continued contact he would have taken advantage of the opportunity to abuse me and my dd further, and would have manipulated us both in a vulnerable situation.

DD has never had a father figure or any relationship with that side of her family, but she has had stability and peace, and when I read about stories of abusive exes continuing to manipulate and make threats, I feel so relieved that I took us out of that situation. I suffered PTSD from all the abuse and I'm sure that DD would have suffered if she'd experienced any contact with him. I feel sad for women who are forced to suffer further abuse due to courts insisting on contact. It has been better for us to put the terrible past all behind us, and I have a lovely, kind and generous partner who is now my DH who treats DD as his own.

FreeFromHarm Tue 31-May-16 16:57:02

I have escaped, took two years of planning , there is so much help out there if you need to go. He is now seeing another lady who is totally unaware of the danger she is in, its in the honeymoon stage, gifts outings buying her things and treating her like she is his world to win her over it will not last, little does she realise, the house has to be sold because of all his depts and he needs somewhere to live.... so scared for her, he has probably told her nothing of what he has done, we are safe, but just worries me so, another person will go through what we have had to endure . My children have been so brave so proud of them.

Hissy Tue 31-May-16 17:11:25

I agree, even if they are dead, the abusers leave a stain behind somehow if you're not careful to be age appropriately truthful with the kids.

This is why I advise all those pg to abusers to not continue with the pg. I know it's a heinous thing to suggest, but I will never forgive myself for saddling my son with a shit dad. I will never forgive my ex for the evil he's perpetrated against me and the fact that every time I have to have contact with him, I have to watch out for the bear traps he lays. A part of me hates myself for giving my son a bad dad. He's amazing and deserves better.

This is why I'm trying to date, to not allow my ex to be the last partner in my life, and to hopefully show my ds that men are good. I want him to see how a good relationship looks. I know what to look for and what to avoid now, and there is no compromise on this for me.

Thankfully my ds has seen his dad for who he is and doesn't admire him or aspire to be him. He doesn't even want to spend time with him as ex makes it all about himself and bores ds to high heaven.

FreeFromHarm Tue 31-May-16 17:11:59

IloveMilton, did you not ever go to your gp with any issues, or approach anyone .... just go to your gp and get him to make a report, this should help in court surely x stay well

FreeFromHarm Tue 31-May-16 17:15:50

Hissy I feel the same, I look at my two and sometimes it is so overwhelming that you do not want them feeling like dirt because of what ex has done. I totally agree about dating... I am no way near that presently, but there is a site called hidden hurt with all the tips about abusers, the signs and things to look out for it has helped me xx

Hissy Tue 31-May-16 17:48:48

My ex is gone over 5 years. I've done the freedom programme, private therapy and free group therapy. I've read books and posted on here for years. I've dated on and off, and learnt so much along the way.

Even if mr perfect came along 5 years age, I wouldn't have been ready, as I wasn't fixed. I'm not saying I am fixed 100% now, but I'm in a healthy place where I don't worry about every detail, because I know I can deal with it, or walk any time. Having this confidence creates a force field that Repels would be abusers. they are abusive through weakness, not strength, so if they can't bend you with their oh so subtle inroads, they will move on to the next potential feed for the black hole that is their soul.

They won't beat us, not ever, because we we were always better than them, it's why they tried to wear us down in the first place.

Even our worn down is better than their peak. To be better than them all we need to do us be ourselves.

FreeFromHarm Tue 31-May-16 17:58:09

Amen to that Hissy xx

BungoWomble Tue 31-May-16 18:01:45

You want to look at this thread (hope the op & others doesn't mind) www.mumsnet.com/Talk/relationships/2649709-Ex-husband-shouts-and-scares-children-What-to-do for how even now these borderline violence cases are dismissed and women's hands are tied around abusive exes despite the very real harm it does to the kids. I thought things had got easier but evidently not. It's shit.

Claraoswald36 Tue 31-May-16 19:04:12

4 years on and then bollocks is still going on. I'm another with little proof so he has chucked his weight around in court and yes I get the messages defaming my parenting. His last police warning was December and he hasn't adhered to it.
Obviously his behaviour escalated when I got serious with dp including trying to get me kicked out of my house and sacked at work.
The only thing that's changed is me. He still believes I give a flying fuck what he thinks about any of my choices/parenting/whatever. Like he's some yardstick of morality. Ha ha ha

UnderTheGreenwoodTree Tue 31-May-16 19:39:02

Excellent post, and so true. A friend of mine (really, not me) has been going through this, and despite this man currently serving a jail sentence for what he did to her, has had to fight him through the family courts to stop him gaining contact/access to the children. His crimes make it very doubtful indeed that he should have access to the children. She has spent over £15k on legal support and barristers for this.

Every few months, he will raise something else to do with the divorce/children and drag her into court, and he continues to use the court to continue his abuse of her - and there doesn;t seem to be a damn thing she can do about it. Before this happened, I wouldn't have believed it possible that an abusive husband, and an imprisoned criminal to boot, would be able to do this.

Ohb0llocks Tue 31-May-16 21:54:27

DS dad is currently doing this. He hasn't seen DS in 9 months, and has applied for mediation which I rejected on the advice of my solicitor. We wrote to him offering contact supervised 2 weeks ago, and that he is to arrange this through a third party and not directly contact me and have heard absolutely nothing back yet. My DS is a clever, sweet, inquisitive little wild one, a million miles away from the anxious, clingy baby he was when Ex was around.

Never looked back since we split when DS was 8 months old. Surprising what effect this had on DS though. Even now he very very wary of men which is so sad.

FV45 Tue 31-May-16 23:12:39

sad I will finally be buying my EA STBX out of the home soon. I know we will always be connected through our children and it depresses me.

In fact I have not allowed myself to think of the control he may still exert over me as it's too much to think about while I am in the throes of theft or the divorce.

Froginapan Wed 01-Jun-16 09:56:57

More needs to be done to protect vulnerable victims.

The courts need more education and move from a presumption of contact is always preferable (which contradicts the assumption that the welfare of the child is paramount) to a presumption of no contact is better if a parent is abusive to child or parent victim.

JonIrwin Wed 01-Jun-16 11:03:23

I have found this book incredibly useful even though divorce proceedings have only just started, following Hague proceedings on Intl Child Abduction charges against my wife:

www.willieverbegoodenough.com/divorcing-narcissist-book/

Being out from under the cloud of control is a massive step forward. More understanding, compassion in society at large is part of the bigger solution. Am reluctant to say more at this point in time.

BungoWomble Wed 01-Jun-16 12:16:38

Lest I forget, there was a man on the feminist chat pages a while ago who was trapped in much the same way with an abusive wife. He didn't want to leave his son alone. Domestic violence disproportionately affects women but there are some men caught too.

Have we truly not progressed at all since the 90s? It seems we're in social regression to me.

Froginapan Wed 01-Jun-16 12:26:43

Who's forgetting?

The title refers to 'domestic abuse' not 'domestic abuse perpetrated by men'

eternityleave Wed 01-Jun-16 17:02:35

Knowing that we could never be free of my ex (another here with not enough proof) was a major reason why I stuck it out for so long. When I finally made the jump for freedom and subsequent PTSD I used to consider committing suicide (and in my darkest moments, taking the DC with me, I'm ashamed to say) as a way to finally free us from him.

As it is, he has fortnightly contact and even now the DC come home teary and upset. And I'm totally powerless to stop it sad.

springydaffs Wed 01-Jun-16 19:10:31

The continued, and continual (for 15 years), abuse resulted in me suffering repeated 'breakdowns'. I was unable to work in any sustained way, I was constantly dragged to court; legal aid eventually refused to represent me (too many court cases) and I had to represent myself. I tried to study 3 times but had to give it up because I was a shell with bringing up my kids, working, court cases and studying: the studying had to go as it was the only thing that could go. All hopes of a career have been destroyed.

After yet another breakdown (off work for 5 months), I counted the cost of all he had done to me - and I accepted it. I'm not saying I forgave him but I accepted that was how he was, he would always be like it, he had the power (aka £) to indulge every control fantasy - which he used to the hilt - and he would never change. I came to a place of peace about it. Or I was beaten. 6 months later he was killed in an accident. I was free.

springydaffs Wed 01-Jun-16 19:13:47

I honestly thought the only time I would be free was when I was dead - I genuinely thought I would be the one to die.

Quelle surprise.

Abusers make you think about death, one way or another...

Fairhair Wed 01-Jun-16 20:52:57

After leaving my EA marriage of 26 years, I made a list of what I would and would not want in a future partner. I stuck to it and am now married to a lovely kind and gentle man. All the same, 20 years later, I still find myself affected by the mental training of my ex husband. I have to remind myself that I'm not in that situation any more, so I can relax.

I wish now I had left him earlier. while my children were young - three of my four children are, or have been in EA relationships, and that includes one of my sons. They have been the abused, not the abusers.

kesie123 Wed 01-Jun-16 22:32:51

If you have children with these men the reality is there is no end to the abuse - they just have to try to keep control and the easiest way is through the children. It's 10 years now since I left him and both children realise now how damaging he is and neither see him - but he still sends all of us all nasty emails (and gets his latest GF/victim to do so too). All of us who've suffered EA have to remember that it was never us and always the pathetic and sad individuals that we left - and never forget that however hard life might be now financially or otherwise it is a million times better then living with them!!

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