“My ex-husband abused me but I miss him” – how to deal with stockholm syndrome

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(PHOTO: Getty/Gallo Images)
(PHOTO: Getty/Gallo Images)

Leaving an abusive partner is the hardest thing to do when you’ve become co-dependent with your abuser.  What is even harder, however when you’ve finally left, is fighting the feelings of loneliness when your partner is no longer around.

24-year-old Thando Dlamini* was in such a relationship. She met and quickly fell in love with her ex-husband who proposed to her within two months. Their relationship then took a dark turn which involved physical, emotional and sexual abuse that eventually led to their divorce. Although it is good that she got out before she was hurt any further, she says she still struggles with feelings of missing her abuser.

This is her story.

“We met early at the beginning of 2018 and he was all that I wanted in a man. He treated me right and was committed to making our relationship work. Two months later he proposed, and this took me by surprise because even though I thought we had a good thing, two months was a short space of time to be proposing marriage. I told him to give me time to think about it and I took that time to ask my friends and the people in my life what they thought about the proposal. The answer I got was that, when a man knows what he wants, he knows, and I said yes.

Six weeks later he asked to initiate lobola [bridal price] talks. During those few weeks I began to pick up that he was very temperamental. He would lose his cool over the slightest of things, but I thought this was just how men are, and convinced myself that it would get better with time but it didn’t.

He isolated me from all my male friends, I couldn’t have any of their contact details on my phone, and the girl friends whom I was allowed to have, he always looked through our conversations to see what we talked about. He would go as far as retrieving archived conversations just to know what we talked about in the past.

The day he came to pay my bridal price was the happiest day of my life. I was someone’s wife, in a different time that would have made me a complete woman, however that was also the day my husband stopped speaking to me.

While driving home he told me to keep on the left lane, I didn’t obey that order, and he was livid. He told me I did not respect his authority as a man, he used some swear words as well to tell me how useless a woman I was.

The next day was his birthday and I was feeling bad about our previous day’s fight.  I wanted to apologize for the way I had spoken to him because at that point I already felt like I was the one in the wrong. I got him a card and cake, tried to make the day special. He told me I was giving him the worst birthday ever. At that point I started begging him, telling him “I know I can be a stupid woman sometimes I am very silly and I am sorry.”

That kind of behavior quickly became the norm in our marriage. I would constantly have to put myself down, belittle myself just so he could feel like a man.

This one Sunday, I had just came back from church and we were chilling at our apartment. I told him I was going to get some stuff from the store for supper, he was okay with that and I went. I made a detour and stopped by his mom’s house without informing him. He called me as I was having tea with his mother. I told him where I was and he snapped at me yet again. He called me a ‘loose girl’ who likes gallivanting, I was shocked at how upset he got because I was not just anywhere, but at his mother’s house. What shocked me even more was that his mother did not condemn his behavior, she just told me to finish my tea and get back to the apartment.

That was the day he began physically abusing me. I got back to our apartment and he wasn’t there. I called him and he wasn’t picking up my calls. He sent me a message saying I should pack all his clothes for him because he is leaving. I did not pack, he came back and gave me the silent treatment. I had seen this before, it was something he used to punish me. My one-year-old son was sitting on the coach as I was pacing up and down the sitting room. When he [my husband] walked past me toward the kitchen I threw a soft toy at him to get his attention, and he snapped.

He started choking me, I thought I was going to die. He pinned me against the wall so hard that my jaw started hurting, I tried to get him off me, but he pushed me to the floor and started kicking me. While hitting me he called me whore and told me I am loose woman. He pulled me by my hair, like I was a dog. My son watched all of this happen. He was just learning to walk, but he got off the coach and waddled toward the kitchen and started screaming because he did not understand what was going on.

He let go of me, picked up my son and went to sit on the coach with him as he tried to calm him down. As he was calming him down he kept telling my son, ‘your mom is a whore.’

The next day it was as if nothing ever happened, he apologized, told me he doesn’t know what came over him and in that moment I looked into his eyes and I believed him.

The next few weeks I was back in my dream marriage and everything was going well again. Until one day he saw a conversation I had with my friend about a guy I commented that the guy was cute. I didn’t know he had seen that conversation.

In the evening he told me to go to our bedroom and take off my clothes as if we were going to make love. He came into the room, took off his belt as I stood in front of our bed and he beat me. I had bruises on my thighs, legs and behind. After he beat me up, he had sex with me. During the sex he choked me and was very violent towards me.

His abuse was intertwined with sex in most instances, one can call it being kinky, but it wasn’t because I never enjoyed it.

Six months into our marriage I decided I had enough. I told our families that I was leaving him, and I eventually told him. He couldn’t believe it and the abuse did not end when I left the house. He publicly came for me on social media, he tried to hack my bank to take all my money. He cloned my number and reached out to my ex-boyfriends impersonating me trying to get naked pictures of me. He even  harassed me at work.

Now, that I haven’t spoken to him in a year the feelings of withdrawal have gotten stronger. I got used to the chaos that a part of me even today still believes that he can change, that someday he will come back and we will be okay again. On days when I really miss him I shut the rest of the world out, I detach from everything and I even start crying. I have no one to talk to about this, because my family won’t understand how I miss someone who used to abuse me.

It is considered taboo to miss your abuser, but it happens. We tell woman to leave their abusive relationships and neglect to teach them how to deal with missing their abuser. I started doing my own research about this and found that 7/10 women go back to their abusers. I discovered that it was called Stockholm Syndrome. It helped me to put a name to what I am feeling. I wrote about it on my Twitter page and the response I got from a number of women was astounding. We have become a support group for each other in my DMs. I realized I wasn’t the only one dealing with such feelings and finally putting a name to it has set me onto a path of healing.”

Thando’s name was changed to protect her identity.

Educational Psychologist and head of The Family Life Centre’s Youth Services Claudia Abelheim weighs in on stockholm syndrome, the phenomenon that often draws women back to their abusers.

“Abusers are often very charming and manipulative individuals who can make their partner believe that they really love them.  In this case, the victim will believe that they truly love the person that is abusing them and will find it hard to leave.  Furthermore, the relationship will often be one that has lasted a long time, and the victim could feel a sense of loyalty to their partner and/or marriage itself.”

According to Good Therapy, someone suffering from stockholm syndrome should always seek professional help from a therapist or close family members.

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