Tell Me About It

My husband has beaten and raped me in his sleep

I don’t have the finances to move and I’m terrified of the impact it will have on our children

PROBLEM: I have been with my partner since my mid teens, and at 20 we had our first daughter. We felt that we were mature enough to get married eventually, but we refused to just do it for the sake of our child; it had to be for us. Fast-forward a few years to six months before our wedding, whereby he came home after working away for two weeks on the other side of the country, while in the shower his phone rang repeatedly.

Eventually I answered to another lady on the other end asking to speak to him. She asked was I his sister, to which I responded “yes”, then continued to ask how she knew him. She informed me how he had given her his number in her place of work and subsequently knew quite a lot about him. He got out of the shower to find me irate and hysterical. I gave him an ultimatum: if he returned to work on the opposite side of the country, the wedding was off. I found him an alternative job, in the same field but nearer to home, and told him to make his decision. He took the new job and the wedding went ahead.

Two years later, he started beating me up in the middle of the night in his sleep. It only happened occasionally but enough to drive a wedge between us. Then, in 2009, he raped me, again in his sleep. He had no recollection of it whatsoever. That was it; any love I had was gone along with all security. I had a one-night stand years later and instantly admitted to it because I felt so guilty. We have spent years in marriage counselling and it has resolved many issues bar one. I just don’t love him the way I should love him in order to stay with him for the rest of my life. I don’t have the finances to move and I’m terrified of the impact it will have on our children. I know deep down this is not right for me and I desperately need help.

ADVICE: Your marriage has been very traumatic, with incidents of deceit, betrayal, violence and insecurity, and this started even before you were married. You say that you have been in counselling for many years and that you have resolved many issues, but your letter does not suggest that. It tells a story of repeated difficulty and that your marriage has largely been about compromise and adjustment. It also seems that you have no hope for the future as you feel no love for your partner.

Since the 1950s, the expectation of marriage has been one of companionship and love. You chose to get married not because you were expecting a child but as a genuine choice, and so the disappointment of not having that closeness and love is all the more poignant now. It sounds as though you have continuously struggled to find that connection over the years, only for it continuously elude you. Your partner also suppressed his desires in pursuit of the higher goal of marriage, but even his body betrayed him when he became violent in his subconscious state.

While it is edifying that you both went to marriage counselling to address this crisis, the goal of complete trust and dependence on one another may be beyond repair. Your marriage has demanded huge sacrifice and suffering from you, and it may be that you have developed endurance and perseverance, but the question is whether this is what you want your main relationship to be about in 20 years’ time.

If we could look into the future and know whether the suffering would be worth it in the end, we would be able to endure in the knowledge of eventual reward, but this is not available to us. We have to make decisions based on the knowledge and information available to us now, and the indecision in itself can become a cause of grief and resentment. You have consistently chosen the relationship in spite of rejection, violence and unrequited love; you have a deep knowledge of the relationship derived from years in counselling, and you are now in a position to make a decision.

The future together is predictable but should you decide that the marriage is over, you can avail of the free expertise of Irish Mediation Services, whose knowledge of people in circumstances such as yours (financially stricken and deeply concerned about their children) will assuage your fears.

As a general point, when violence occurs in a relationship, it is a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately, as it is rarely a once-off and is often indicative of future behaviour. Both parties need help; inaction serves neither.

safeireland.ie has a list of support agencies