How Phil’s behavior fit the signs of abuse–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–August 1994, Part 2

Phil feared my parents didn’t like him so much anymore.  I didn’t want to believe it, but they did complain about him at the dinner table while he was off at work, and grumble about something he was doing or not doing. They seemed more and more irritated with him all the time.


Once, Phil admitted that he didn’t like to be wrong, said that men don’t like to be wrong, even when they are wrong.  But my dad wasn’t like that, and Phil acted as if he should keep being right.  He projected this onto me, accusing me of doing it.

Of course, I had faults of my own; I was still young, and did not understand many things about men and effective arguing.  But this did not excuse Phil’s emotional, verbal and sexual abuse.

Though it took some time for me to recognize it, his treatment of me fit the necessary traits for abuse, not just “borderline abuse” as I called it for a few years.  It wasn’t everything on these lists, but a good share of them:

What is abuse?

(I also give many more links here.)

Remember the traits listed in these links.  They will come up again and again over the next several chapters, and you will recognize them.  All the articles list various things Phil did, but to simplify, the last article’s section on Overt Abuse is a basic list of what he did, bolding the traits I remember:

The open and explicit abuse of another person. Threatening, coercing, beating, lying, berating, demeaning, chastising, insulting, humiliating, exploiting, ignoring (“silent treatment”), devaluing, unceremoniously discarding, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are all forms of overt abuse.

Going further in that article by Sam Vaknin, Impossible Situations can also fit the tricks he played, pretending to talk and act in his sleep and the big “subconscious” hoax, fitting the requirements I bolded:

Impossible Situations

The abuser engineers impossible, dangerous, unpredictable, unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is sorely needed.

The abuser makes sure that his knowledge, his skills, his connections, or his traits are the only ones applicable and the most useful in the situations that he, himself, wrought. The abuser generates his own indispensability.

After all, if you are intrigued by supernatural, psychic or psychological phenomena and your significant other begins displaying such things, you won’t want to leave him, because any other guy seems boring by comparison.

I don’t know if Peter did this, too; I can’t say one way or the other, because he did believe in UFOs, ESP and other psychic phenomena, and could have actually believed what he told me about his psychic abilities, our Link, and his ninjitsu training.  Or it could all have been an elaborate fabrication, as some people believed.

Another means of Phil’s Impossible Situation is obvious: our secret marriage.  Since I believed in the lifelong bonds of marriage, he had an easy way to hold me: Every time he screwed up, I decided to forgive him, so I would not divorce him and “commit adultery.”

I was the one who came up with the idea for a secret marriage, not him; for him, the idea and the means of control dropped into his lap, just the same as Clarissa throwing herself into Lovelace’s protection when her family tried to force her to marry the “odious Solmes.”

(As an aside, the last link‘s sections on Impossible Situations and Control by Proxy are the basic plot of Clarissa.  Also, the Abuse of Information section matches the character Scott in my novella All Together Now, part of the Lighthouse collection.)

The Control by Proxy section also applied in September, when Phil used his friend Dirk as a tool to control me:

If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers – in short, third parties – to do his bidding.

He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target.

He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.

In 2006/7, I found an article which discussed the reasons why women stay in abusive relationships.  It’s not about low self-esteem or lack of assertiveness, as many people might think.

I disagree with the advice given out by some of our advice columnists and popular TV counselors (like Dr. Phil): It’s false that you “teach people how to treat you,” that continued abuse is your own fault for staying in the relationship.  That’s victim-blaming.

No one is to blame for abuse except the abuser.  If it were so easy to pick up and leave, the abused spouses would have done so long before.  Sometimes, the abuse worsens if you try to leave, and you could end up dead.

In my case, it was a combination of the marriage vows and “honeymoon periods,” or times when the abuser apologizes, the abuse stops and everything seems wonderful.  According to this website, “the moral courage of targets is demonstrated by their ability to withstand abuse for months, and sometimes years, but still remain determined to resolve the conflict.”

Many of the reasons listed here are similar to why a spouse will stay in such a relationship.


Over the months of our relationship, Phil often said he was a woman trapped in a man’s body.  One Sunday afternoon in the van on the way to church, he started talking all macho.  I don’t remember now what he said, but I said in disgust,

“You don’t sound like a woman trapped in a man’s body.”  I said he sounded more like one of those macho men he always harangued against.

He said in a temper, “Okay, maybe I am one.”

I didn’t like that, of course, because I didn’t want a macho man.

At least once when I wanted to get something I needed, or that we needed, he refused and chided me for not driving there myself–no simple task for many of us with visual-spatial and other learning disorders: Driving and its visual bombardment scares me.  I get lost easily, and then panic, especially going somewhere I’ve never been to before.

It seemed that practically every day I was in tears.  Mom sometimes noticed my red eyes, but said nothing.

More and more often, Phil yelled at me, I defended myself, and he disappeared into the guest room, stonewalling me.  This bugged me to no end.

It seemed like, in his eyes, I could never be right or disagree with him over anything.  It was like he thought he had to be in control and I had to submit, and he’d get upset if this didn’t happen.

During the spring semester, Candice heard him yelling at me in Krueger lounge, and didn’t like that one bit.  (She told me this a couple of years later, after I’d long since forgotten what he yelled about.)  Now it happened more and more often.

Of course I don’t remember now what we argued about, but I do remember arguing at least part of the time about sex, whether or not to have it some night, whether or not it would be anal or oral, and that we’d also argue about religion.

He didn’t like that I refused to convert to Catholicism or say “obey” in the marriage vows.  (When we said them before in our secret wedding, he tried to prod me into saying “obey,” but I didn’t do it.  And I wasn’t going to do it legally, either.)

We probably argued about moral issues as well, and underage drinking may have been one issue.

There was the issue of when he was to get up in the morning: He slept until two p.m., so he had no time for breakfast (besides a Little Debbie snack cake), a shower or brushing his teeth before work.

We had no time together before he left, and he wouldn’t do any of the things he could only do in the afternoon (like getting his brakes checked).

I’d want to be with him after a long evening with my parents, and he’d want to be alone.  I expected that he wanted sex every night, just as before, and he seemed to want it all the time.  But how did he tell me different?  Not with some gentle, loving explanation, but with a spat-out, “Not every night!”

I’m sure there were other things, things I no longer remember.

St. John Chrysostom said “a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.”  While “the husband giving orders, and the wife obeying them” is “appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage” (p. 72, On Living Simply).

Chrysostom says they are obedient to each others’ needs and feelings.  He also said that a harsh master, using angry words and threats, causes obedience but not attachment in a slave, who will run away the first chance he gets.  “How much worse it is for a husband to use angry words and threats to his wife.”

Chrysostom goes on to describe the situation that, even in our modern age, still plays itself out every day: a husband shouting, demanding obedience to his every whim, even using violence.

But this treatment turns wives into “sullen servants, acting as their husbands require out of cold fear.  Is this the kind of union you want?  Does it really satisfy you to have a wife who is petrified of you?  Of course not.”

Such behavior may make the husband feel better for the moment, “but it brings no lasting joy or pleasure.  Yet if you treat your wife as a free woman, respecting her ideas and intuitions, and responding with warmth to her feelings and emotions, then your marriage shall be a limitless source of blessing to you” (p. 74).

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992:Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: