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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 02-Dec-16 10:55:55

Guest post: "When you have an abusive partner, Christmas is a nightmare"

The festive period is particularly difficult when you’re in an abusive relationship, says survivor and refuge manager Charlotte Kneer - but there are people who are ready to help

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Charlotte Kneer

Survivor & Women's Aid refuge manager

Posted on: Fri 02-Dec-16 10:55:55

(53 comments )

Lead photo

"For years I couldn’t see a way out. I just carried on day by day, Christmas by Christmas, trying to keep it running smoothly."

Let's get something straight right from the start. Domestic abuse is awful all the time, not just at Christmas.

But the festive season does bring its own set of issues if you have an abusive partner.

You will be spending more time with him as you'll both be off work. If you have children, they will also be at home - and kids are notoriously unreliable for maintaining calm at all costs.

You may have to spend time with relatives - but he doesn't want you seeing your family. And the alcohol will be an ever-present threat; you're trying not to focus on how many drinks he's had, but it's difficult because you know you'll probably pay later.

All of this adds up to a nightmare scenario for the survivor who is trying to keep everything together to make sure he doesn't lose his temper.

"Keep it all running smoothly": that used to be my mantra. Try to anticipate any problem before it arose. But that's impossible because he wants to lose his temper; you're fighting a losing battle. And at Christmas, you're even more under the microscope – because he's there all the time.

Where are you in all of this? Nowhere, is the simple answer. You're so busy pre-empting problems, you're exhausted. You wouldn't mind a drink, but it's too risky. Going out with friends or having friends over isn't safe. A sparkly Christmas dress is off-limits, because if you dress up you're trying to attract another man. Don't think you can go out on your own either, so you will have to come up with an excuse for not attending the work Christmas party. If you decide to go regardless, he'll give you hell – and you won't enjoy it anyway, as he'll text and call you incessantly and invent problems with the children to make you feel guilty.

Guilt is a looming shadow at Christmas. You want to make it nice, but you never seem to do a good enough job. I always felt guilty. Guilty for putting my kids through it, guilty for never keeping it all together. It was only later that I realised that the guilt I was carrying wasn't mine to bear.


Guilt is a looming shadow at Christmas. You want to make it nice, but you never seem to do a good enough job. There's always an argument that the kids might hear, tension in the air that makes your friends and relatives uncomfortable. On top of that, you push his buttons. But it is your fault, so it's no wonder you feel guilty - right?

Wrong.

I always felt guilty. Guilty for putting my kids through it, guilty for never keeping it all together. It was only later that I realised that the guilt I was carrying wasn't mine to bear. This was HIS fault. All of it, every single little bit. The tears I cried were created by him, his actions and his desire to completely control me until there was no ME left.

To all the women out there who are scared of Christmas, I want to put my arms around you and tell you there will be a Christmas where you can relax. Where you can laugh and have a glass of wine while playing some ridiculous game. Where your kids will laugh.

But this will only happen when he is not in your life. He won't change, he doesn't want to - believing otherwise is just a way of momentarily giving yourself a break. I get that though. For years I couldn't see a way out. I just carried on day by day, Christmas by Christmas, trying to keep it running smoothly.

Imagining a life without him in it seemed impossible - he'd made sure of that. I was scared for my life and couldn't see how I could solve it all. The best advice I can give you, if that's you, is to take it in tiny steps. Don't try to solve it all at once. Make a start. Pick up the phone and call a local domestic abuse service or the National Domestic Violence Helpline.

That first phone call is all you need to think about for now. I have great faith in the women like me working in refuges, helplines, outreach services. We'll help you: trust in the process.

Without wanting to sound cheesy, let us help you find a Christmas miracle. It can happen. I'll be sitting by my tree this year thinking about you, and knowing you can do it.

By Charlotte Kneer

Twitter: @C_Kneer

ZoeZombie Fri 02-Dec-16 11:06:02

Great post. Well done on getting out and supporting others to flowers

toptoe Fri 02-Dec-16 14:51:59

Yes, each Christmas got worse for me and we only had 4 together. The alcohol. My ex was abusive in a different way - he wanted me to do everything whilst he drank and drank. That included buying all the gifts, stealing my money, forcing me to work. One year I asked him to wrap the FC presents. He couldn't or wouldn't, not sure which. He would laugh everytime I got upset. It was a joke to him. He'd vomit everywhere, and get very aggressive if I tried to ask him to do anything to help. Christmas became the season of rowing, hiding money, cleaning up sick and urine, trying to provide a happy time for our dc, and hiding it all from them. I lived not just a double life but a triple life: my work life trying to be professional when I'd had no sleep and been kicked that morning for 'nagging', my relationship with him trying to avoid rows and clear it all up, and then my relationship with my dc trying to laugh it all off and make out I was happy

The dc saw some of the pain, my family knew he was difficult, work saw me come in with sore eyes but no one had any idea of how bloody difficult holding it all together was. I just put a smile on my face for them all. Even him, because if I didn't he would be sneery and find my tears amusing.

I thought it would just be better if he realised what he was doing. Only now I know of course he realised, he just did not care. I just couldn't believe that at the time and thought I just had to try harder next year.

Sad times.

This christmas I have a partner who loves our dc, and wouldn't dream of seeing me as anything less than his equal. He shares my values on family and we share all the tasks as best we can. No one gets shitfaced. No one steals all the money for presents or urinates on the baby's cot.

AndNoneForGretchenWieners Fri 02-Dec-16 15:20:04

This really resonates. My ex was abusive. I got pregnant unexpectedly (was on the pill but it failed) and forced me to have an abortion. I remember going to his works Christmas party, the day before the abortion, and can remember every aspect of that meal from the dress I wore to what we ate - bear in mind this was nearly 20 years ago now. I must have displeased him somehow so when we got home, I was beaten and had the dustbin emptied on top of me, and then my head rubbed into the he rubbish to illustrate that I was worth the same as a bin bag. The next day I was threatened that if I made one false move or said one thing to make the abortion clinic suspect I hadn't decided to have an abortion of my own free will, I would expect more of the same.

Two days later was Christmas Eve and he took me to stay with his family, still bleeding after a surgical abortion and extremely traumatised. He raped me under his mother's Christmas tree when I refused his demand for sex because of the bleeding.

For years after this I hated Christmas. Even after meeting my now husband and having a family, and all the years that passed, it has only been in the last few years that I have been able to put those feelings to one side and participate in Christmas without being overwhelmed.

I confided in my mum about the abortion about 5 years ago when she was critical of me not being very happy on Christmas Day - she hadn't known and I had hidden the extent of the abuse from everyone as I was ashamed that I had been in that situation, felt like I was to blame and like a PP, carried the guilt with me that I had ruined Christmas.

peaceloveandbiscuits Fri 02-Dec-16 17:25:35

I have PTSD from growing up with DV. Christmas is a really difficult time for me because, like you say, it really does feel heightened compared to the rest of the year. In my family's case it was any time he had occasion to be off work and in the pub, and drinking seems so ingrained in the fabric of Christmas that it's seen as normal to get plastered. Never mind that there's a woman and children at home waiting for him to come home and beat them because his team lost at the football.
I hope you and your children are safe now and working on resetting your feelings around Christmas. Now I have my own family I am keen to create our own traditions and memories to fill up the space in my head that was taken by my childhood Christmasses.

HermioneWeasley Fri 02-Dec-16 19:06:32

Dear god. What truly awful stories.

Suburbopolis Fri 02-Dec-16 19:14:36

peaceandlove it's not a hierarchy I know but it often occurred to me that I walked away from a partner (with great difficulty) but it was having a dad who wasn't an aggressive, selfish, critical, blamer on a short fuse that allowed me the clarity to walk away eventually. But how do you walk away from earliest memories and what became normality. brew flowers for you.

My x ranted and shouted at me for being too friendly to the rest of his family one Christmas day! But I would have been blamed if the atmosphere hadn't been bad. He was a blamer. I could do nothing right.

So relieved I left him. 8th Christmas without his negative, critical, abusive face.

Suburbopolis Fri 02-Dec-16 19:19:55

flowers brew GretchenWeiners omg. Words fail me. What a monster.

EElisavetaOfBelsornia Fri 02-Dec-16 19:35:24

Wow I'm in pieces reading this thread. OP I could have written your post, that's exactly what it was like for me. peaceloveandbiscuits you have really underlined for me why I decided to leave, and how right that decision was for my DCs, however much I occasionally wobble. And AndNone - I hope your mum gave you the biggest hug and told you you are not to feel guilty, and cope with Christmas however works best for you. flowers for everyone who has found it hard, and here's to better Christmasses from here.

peaceloveandbiscuits Fri 02-Dec-16 20:31:06

Sorry to read so many sad stories.

TheJunctionBaby Fri 02-Dec-16 20:55:19

I've never been in an abusive relationship but reading this makes my heart break for those suffering through this and their children

Frith2013 Fri 02-Dec-16 21:13:30

Yes. I left for a refuge on 7th January 2005.

Devonsent19 Fri 02-Dec-16 21:23:34

A few Christmases ago,my recently ex partner phoned me up to say I should'nt have sent Christmas cards to his family (his mother & 4 siblings) after we had split up 6 months before.I had been close to his family & they'd always been nice to me even after the break-up.My ex ranted that I should've signed the cards from all of us i.e. Me,him & our DS.It was then I realised he was in denial about our break up & hadn't told his family.Later that same day he texted me to say he wouldn't be able to pick our DS up from school.There was less than an hour till pick up & I worked over an hours drive away.There was no one else to pick up my DS.I didn't think he would follow through on his threat & I couldn't leave work so I ignored the text.At 3.30 I got the dreaded call from school-"No-one has come to pick up your son".I couldn't believe my ex could be so cruel as to use our own son to get back at me just for sending a harmless Christmas card.Domestic abuse isn't always violent & can continue even after you have left the abusive partner.When you have children,unfortunately,there is no way of getting away from the abusive partner because he is still your child's father & continues to be in their life & by default,in yours.

peaceloveandbiscuits Fri 02-Dec-16 21:36:04

I remember the first Christmas I spent with my now DH's family and thinking, shit, is this how it's supposed to be?

heyday Fri 02-Dec-16 21:53:09

I wonder just how many people are just 'keeping it together'? How many partners live every minute of their lives in total dread and fear? How many children cower in their beds at night listening to their beloved parent being beaten?
I was a child victim of growing up with a violent, drunken, psychopathic father. The fear, the anger, the guilt I felt then as a child still remains with me many decades later. The terrifying feeling of being so scared of angering my father with my childish antics knowing that my mother would later be beaten for it systematically destroyed my self worth, confidence and wrecked my mental health.
To all of you out there who may be a victim of domestic violence please stop believing that it's your fault - it isn't OK. Stop believing that it will get better....it won't OK. They won't change. They don't want to and perhaps can't even if they did want to as their anger issues are so extreme.
Please, please try and stay safe and do everything you safely can to escape as soon as you can.
There may be difficulty and disruption for your children for a while but those problems can be overcome. The flashbacks of a violent childhood won't. My brother committed suicide because he could no longer cope with the painful memories of his childhood.
Phone one of these amazing agencies and get some advice, cover your tracks, make solid plans and escape.

Yourarejokingme Fri 02-Dec-16 21:56:40

I remember how fraught Christmasss where years back when with my abusive ex

I remember him saying I wasn't to visit relatives I normally did and if I did I'd have hell to pay one year and I thought he wouldn't at time of year. Well he did and bite me all over my arms and breasts when I returned and covered my mouth so I couldn't scream. Afterwards he walked away saying look what you made me do.

It took me years after I left to enjoy Christmas and this was also over 20 years ago.

Suburbopolis Fri 02-Dec-16 21:57:59

heydey I'm so sorry you lost your brother.

Suburbopolis Fri 02-Dec-16 22:02:16

The aftermath can be terrifying too which is why women stay. I knew my x would make my life hell when I left and he did try his best.

There is an Iris Murdoch book that starts something like this
"Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him. She returned to him six months later because she was afraid of him."

I nearly dropped the book!

Seeyamonday Fri 02-Dec-16 22:48:41

Good luck to all of you,my heart goes out to you all,christmas was the worst time for me,trying to keep him happy,trying to keep my boys from realising what was happening. The best day of my life was when I decided that I couldn't let my boys think that this was normal life, within a fortnight I had left when he was at work with my boys, I owned my house but that meant nothing compared to my sanity, of course he found out where we were but by then I was strong and he couldnt(or so I let him believe)intimidate me! I'll never forget one night coming downstairs after putting my boys to bed, I picked up a book for the first time in 7 years and thought to myself, no one is demanding anything from me, I am at peace!! Love to you allXxx
F

AdoraBell Fri 02-Dec-16 23:22:51

I grew up hating Christmas and as soon when left home, and moved in with an abusive boyfriend -surprise surprise- I thought I would start enjoying it. But there is always something at the back of my mind reminding me it will never truly be enjoyable. I do my utmost to ensure my DDs have a relaxed and happy Christmas.

MNHQ, well done matching donations. I already donate to Refuge on a monthly basis.

SmileAndNod Sat 03-Dec-16 06:36:09

Dear God. What harrowing stories and what brave women. My heart goes out to you. Wishing you and your children a peaceful festive seasonflowers

Thattimeofyearagain Sat 03-Dec-16 07:14:46

Many years ago I called in unexpectedly to see my bed friend. She was a sobbing mess & the house was wrecked.
Bit by bit she told me that her "d"p had come home drunk the day before, pulled down all the Xmas decs & the tree and told her that her Xmas present ( of money, she wasn't allowed to work) was gone- he'd put it all ( £100) into the slot machines.
Until that day I had no idea that someone I had known since we were both 6'years old had been going through this. Friend wouldn't acknowledge that he was abusive at first but by Easter she was ready to act.
She has now been happily married to an amazing man who adores her . Love to all who have been through/ are going through any sort of abuse. Please speak out, you will be listened to.flowers

Miserylovescompany2 Sat 03-Dec-16 08:57:16

I hope that those still trapped in the perpetual loop of sufferance, utter dispair and fear find the strength to start planning their escape.

The damage inflicted by the abuser stays with a person for life. Some woman (and men) never escape. Some are killed by their tormentors hand and some of their own hand. (Because they see no other way out)

If you are one of the ones still trapped. Please I implore of you, start to plan your escape. You don't have to merely exsist anymore. Fight for the life you deserve.

Abuse isn't JUST hitting/beating another. Emotional abuse doesn't come with bruises that are visible to others. Just because your abuser doesn't hit you, it doesn't mean you are not in an abusive relationship.

Excellent post OP

Ledkr Sat 03-Dec-16 09:09:35

Really good post.
I have some hideous memories of Christmas. He once tore off all the paper from our sons presents which I'd just wrapped. He then stuck the scissors in my arm.
My next Christmas after that was alone.
Well not alone. Just without him.
My lovely friend joined me and her son and my two all had Thomas train sets which we set up all over the house. We were loud, a bit pissed and I remember sat having dinner laughing like drains as we all had a squirty cream moustache grin
Nobody has ever ripped open my presents since, or stabbed me.
I agree. Look forward to a time when you can relax and let your guard down, at all times not just at Christmas.

Adala Sat 03-Dec-16 09:24:07

flowers to all going through this.

I'm sure statistically it's more likely to be men, but for me the abuser was my mum, not my dad.

Christmas was actually a slightly happier day than most because she was on her best behaviour for some reason and wanted us to play the perfect family.

In some ways it was a relief and made it a time to look forward to - but we were also on absolute fucking tenterhooks to see if she'd kick off, and knew it wouldn't last long.

After I moved out I realised Christmas didn't have to be a big deal and I don't care as much anymore, we just celebrate quietly however we like, no spectacle involved.

My dad's still with her. We don't speak much.

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