‘His temper was sexy. The strength of this man, MY man, made me feel safe. I couldn’t have been more wrong.’: Woman ‘lets go’ of anger from abusive relationship after husband dies by suicide

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“He was charming, unbelievably handsome, smart, rugged, an athlete, a great friend, great teammate. The kind of man everyone wants to know because being around him somehow made you feel what it was like to be in the presence of a super hero. To anyone who encountered J seemed to feel this way, including me, his wife.

Husband and wife smile in selfie as husband wraps arm around wife's shoulder
Courtesy of Becca Ratliff

We met when we were young-ish. Early twenties. We were both ego driven, athletes who could basically ‘have our pick’ of companions. I think we loved that about each other. I know I loved that about him. He was a ‘player’ a ‘bad boy,’ you know the kind of guy your father tells you to stay away from. Yet his charm could captivate anyone, including me obviously, and my parents whose opinion I held so dearly. I remember how many girls came up to me to tell me to stay away from him – that he would only break my heart the way he had broken theirs. I ignored them, we were special, we were different.

Young boyfriend and girlfriend stand hugging and smiling
Courtesy of Becca Ratliff

We were the age when you feel invincible and have so much hope for what your future holds. We were in love, the all-encompassing, passionate and at times a roller coaster ride of emotions. He asked me to marry him 16 weeks after we met. I had taken J from all the girls who wanted him. I will admit it felt amazing to be his woman, and at the time and my life experience thus far I didn’t realize just how dangerous this was.

He always had a quick temper. I will be the first to admit, in the beginning of our story when he would lose his temper his anger was scary, yet for some reason also sexy. The sheer strength of this man, MY man, made me feel a sense of safety. That he would ‘defend my honor’ at the drop of a dime, or at some stranger’s wandering eye towards me. This would come to be one thing I regretted as time passed.

Husband kisses wife on cheek while she smiles for selfie
Courtesy of Becca Ratliff

Did I mention J was an incredible athlete? Such an amazing one that some of his teammates that ‘worshiped’ him would feel his wrath if they even looked in my direction or spoke to me the wrong way, and yet none of them stood up to him. J rarely showed his abusive side towards me in public but on the rare occasion… not one of those teammates or so called ‘worshipers’/’friends’ stepped in to help. Part of me places no blame on them for this. It wasn’t ‘their’ business, and I’m sure as grown men they won’t admit it, but I have a feeling they were afraid of him too. I grew up with a bipolar father and brother (both of whom I loved and adored), so I took pride in the fact I thought I ‘understood’ my husband. I thought if I could help him recognize that he had a some form of a mental disability or chemical imbalance that he would seek the help he (and I) both needed. His pride, or in my opinion, his ego, kept him from seeking such help. These are the issues in a marriage that if left to their own devices can be catastrophic.

Man stands smiling beside car with open door
Courtesy of Becca Ratliff

Fast forward 8 years, we’d been through hundreds of punched holes in walls, over 25 replacement doors, (no seriously, we had them on hold at Lowe’s we had to buy so many), new appliances, countless dry wall patch kits, replacement glass frames, etc. all because of my husband’s uncontrollable temper.

The older we got, the worse it became. I would try and ‘change’ my behavior, walk on egg shells, try not to poke the bear so to speak… it just got worse. I begged him to at the very least allow me to seek professional help which caused louder, more abusive arguments. My mindset during these outbursts of his rage was to remove myself from the situation. This only caused more damage. He would hold me captive in my own home, not allow me to call friends or family and punch through everything that got in his way. After one of the really bad ones, I remember him holding his head, sobbing and telling me he ‘sees black’ in these moments of rage and that I am the only woman strong enough to fight back, so why didn’t I fight back? These were the types of questions he would ask me. What was my response to this? How does someone react to such terror, from the person they love? After years of therapy I still haven’t been able to truly know if I had Stockholm’s syndrome or I was just that in love with the one human who hurt me incessantly.

Looking back, the worst part of this time was that I was on an island.

To everyone else he was bigger than life, meanwhile I’m constantly in a state of shock not knowing where to turn, how to feel. The human body and mind is a remarkable thing. You can become a completely numb shell and yet smile on the outside. No one would believe me anyway. Why would they? Their ‘hero’ wouldn’t dare be a monster to his wife. The wife he is constantly buying gifts for, and to others ‘puts on a pedestal,’ but that’s exactly what was happening.

Picture frame of husband and wife with note beside it that says, "you are the love of my life" written by husband
Courtesy of Becca Ratliff

I finally had reached my breaking point 2 years and 8 months ago after my husband who ‘loved’ me so much he choked me, crushed my larynx (to this day I still sound like a raspy man) and caused me to miscarry what would have been our first child. I decided we were going to get help, or I was going to leave. He had gotten worse, so much worse. As a direct result, so had I. I had gotten worse at lying, hiding behind the facade that was created by the monster of a man I was still so in love with. That is one of the hardest parts. As I sit here writing about these events and thinking ‘WOW this was awful,’ I still also remember all the good times, the glimmers of hope when I thought everything was going to be ok, and that I was thankful I hadn’t given up on him. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What transpired from the most tragic moment in our marriage became a catalyst for events I wish no one ever has to endure. The two months after that last horrific fight was what I now consider the calm before the worst storm in my life.

April 29th, 2016, my husband killed himself, in our bedroom. The day had started like any other. I got up, ran errands, went to work and even stopped to grab us a quick dinner on my way home. Everything seemed normal, everything seemed fine. We actually had been getting along so well. We seemed to be doing better, we were working on our marriage and J had even agreed to get help the Sunday before (mind you, he agreed after he punched through our glass door).

While changing clothes in our laundry room I heard what sounded like a dumbbell dropping, for some reason this really didn’t even cause me any type of alarm. We had a weight set in our bedroom, and both of us lifted weights all the time. I was wrong, the kind of wrong you have no idea you could be. I called to him when I got upstairs and heard nothing. Our dogs were outside of our bedroom and nothing in the world should or could prepare you for what I found. My husband, lying on his back between our bed and that very weight set, bleeding. Now mind you, I was not thinking, ‘Oh he just killed himself,’ I just went into panicked wife mode, took the shirt off my back and found the wound on the side of his head and pressed my shirt on it. All of this while I am trying to process this situation. Blood, husband, gun. Wait gun! He’s shot himself. Between the anguish of trying to scream (but again, this very man is the reason that to this day I still can’t raise my voice from when he crushed my larynx), I was going to do it too. I was going to join him. I can’t live without him. If he is gone I should be too.

My dogs are the reason I didn’t. While I was trying to hold my shirt on his wound and reach the gun, our dog, the dog we both loved so much, was staring right into my eyes, and my thought turned to ‘who would take care of them, I can’t do that to them.’ My second thought was my mom. She knows she was my second thought, and she is completely ok with that. His phone was sitting on the weight bench and I called 911. I have no idea what I said, and I don’t ever want to hear that call played back to me. The rest of this night was a blur, except I remember having to sit on my front porch while police and detectives processed ‘the scene.’ My marital bedroom and the rest of my home, while not being allowed to even make a phone call. I was in a jacket (no shirt) because I had used it to put pressure on his wound, with blood all over my hands, my husband’s blood, for hours. When the scene was processed they left. Empty. Emptiness is all I can remember feeling.

Woman smiles in selfie beside husband who is now deceased
Courtesy of Becca Ratliff

To lose a spouse or anyone that matters in such a traumatic way is devastating.

Regardless of the emotional and physical trauma this man had inflicted, I was traumatized. No one can prepare you for this trauma. There is no manual, there is no ‘here’s what to do next,’ there is silence. There is crying, there is being ostracized, and stigmatized, accused and questioned by the same ‘friends’ that can’t believe their ‘hero’ would do this to himself. But he did.

Welcome to my new ‘normal.’ His death taught me so many things and continues to teach me new things every day. I chose after being shown the very ugly sides of human nature that I was going to ‘thrive,’ not just ‘survive.’

In all of these unbelievably tragic events, I discovered two very, very real things.

  1. Pain is pain. No one’s pain is greater than another.
  2. Humans are hard. Through all of this pain, I have chosen to be the best version of myself. The person I always was inside but was never allowed to be. I get to be a real human. With feelings. I hold my head up high even though I still get questioned about what happened to J and hear they just ‘can’t believe’ he would have killed himself. I smile, but it’s a real smile because I am grateful. I am grateful that I survived this tragedy, I am grateful that by some amazing grace of God I am a happy human.

I wanted to share this story because I genuinely feel that when you are in any form of an abusive relationship, you can’t see the walls closing in. In my opinion your human instincts kick in and you just try to hold your head above water for as long as you can. I have let go of any anger I have felt toward my late husband for doing this to me, doing this to ‘us.’ Now I try and remember that I have an extreme appreciation for what he did. I am free. Most people might not think that’s a good way to look at it, but most people haven’t been through what I have, and no one is allowed to tell you how to feel. Feelings are for you, and everyone’s version of normal is different. I will continue my journey while thriving. My story isn’t over yet.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Becca Ratliff of Kentucky. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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