Not Dealing With Relationship Breakdown
Our Hidden National Tragedy
Australians are reeling from the recent horrible & tragic consequences of a relationship breakdown in Brisbane, where a husband and father brutally murdered his wife and three small children, before stabbing himself to death.
There can never be an excuse for this kind of act.
Police had been involved
Prior to this horrific incident, police had been involved in this couples’ relationship breakdown, and had advised both of them to seek support regarding domestic violence and an ongoing dispute over child access.
Soon after this violent incident in Brisbane, an obviously distraught police investigator, who was involved at the scene of the crime, stated in a media interview:
“Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband, or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues he’s suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?”
He has since been stood down for these remarks.
What is happening to the system
What has happened to a system designed to support both the people (and the children) involved in a relationship breakdown in a fair, humane and equitable manner, or has the system itself become part of the problem?
My own personal experience of this system
My own personal experience of dealing with this system as a man back in 2000 pushed me to the edge, where I was out in the paddock with a gun, ready to end it all.
I believe this recent incident has brought further to the surface, the ugly side of how the complex issues of relationship breakdown are poorly understood and handled.
Information available has limitations
In writing this article, I have spent many hours searching, reading and deciphering statistics, statistics and more statistics.
One thing from that search became very clear: relationship breakdown and domestic violence are not gender issues, but people issues. Yet they are being handled from a gender standpoint.
Finding an accurate picture is still very difficult, when (according to the ABS2017, Australian Bureau of Statistics) 87% of women don’t report domestic violence to the police and neither do 97% of men.
The reliable statistics we do have come from hospitalisation, coroner and police reports. The ABS2017 itself comments that their available data is limited, and are broadening their survey questions in an attempt to capture more of this picture.
Male suicide is barely the tip of the iceberg
Beyondblue survey has found Ambulance data indicates 30,197 attendances for men who attempted or had suicidal thoughts between 2015 – 16, yet hospital figures identified only @10,000.
“This study tells us that what we know about male suicide is just the tip of the iceberg” Beyond Blue Chair, Julia Gillard.
According to ABS2017, relationship breakdown is the common denominator for both men and women in exposure to violence, with 39% of women and 35% of men experiencing partner violence after separation.
An unpalatable truth
Surely these statistics show a perhaps unpalatable truth in the current social and political climate: that BOTH gendered partners are equally capable of unspeakable acts of violence and cruelty, in the common and highly volatile fuelled up and emotionally charged state of relationship breakdown.
See this next Link about the 2017 tragedy in Cairns, were Raina Thaiday murdered eight children in her care, aged from 27 months to 14 years, 4 boys and 4 girls. Seven of these children were her own, and a niece.
Police are forced to act
In my work as a Relationship Counsellor, I have regularly spoken to members of the police force involved in the hands on aspect of relationship breakdown.
They say that often they’re taking the wrong person ie. the man, away in handcuffs, where it is obvious that both people have been involved in creating the situation.
Making domestic violence a purely gender issue, and heaping all the blame and responsibility onto men, is I believe, making a bad situation worse.
We have a people problem, rather than a gender problem.
With partner violence, a woman is murdered every 6 days and a male every 10 days, yet when all other family members are included, such as children and siblings, victim numbers become relatively even.
My own experience of relationship breakdown
As a partner and parent, I went through my own relationship breakdown in 2000.
I still struggle to put into words the lasting effects of the systematic cruelty I experienced simply because I was a male. I lost my kids, I went from being full time with them to being ‘granted’ 4 days a month.
I was devastated, I spoke up and was simply told “this is the best things for the kids.”
How could I argue with that?
I still have those lawyer letters…
Under this system, my feelings were used against me
My emotionality, the fact I had feelings was used against me, I was devastated, deeply hurting and just plain lost didn’t matter.
My wife and her lawyer deemed I was unfit to have any increase in custody and even threatened an intervention order if I breached any of the ‘list of rules’, such as driving onto the property to pick my kids up.
I was forced to park out on the road, hundreds of meters away.
My solicitor was blunt when she cautioned me my actions or reactions were teaching and influencing my kids in how man treats women.
I had nowhere to go
My hands were tied with nowhere to go, but to suck it up.
Something died in me during this time.
My sense of loss and helplessness was, and still is painful even 20 years later.
Prior to our separation, as our long-term marriage faltered, we sought help.
During our couples counselling, I had my first gob smacking exposure to this undercurrent of bigoted ignorance towards men.
Why wasn’t I asked the same question ?
Our young woman counsellor asked my wife if she had ever been hit, or had experienced any form physical abuse or violence from me, to which she said no.
The counsellor moved on and I interrupted her and asked why didn’t she ask me that same question?
She just looked at me, as if I had suddenly contracted a contagious disease, then continued to move on.
I interrupted her and said that I had been hit on several occasions by my wife and what did she have to say about that?
Without a pause, she continued on with her diatribe and I lost much interest in couples counselling, even though we did try several others with even less success.
Some therapists make better truck drivers
Looking back, I see it now as total incompetence in relationship counselling, and I believe some therapists would make better truck drivers.
I see too that poor therapy is very damaging and that having no therapy is safer than bad therapy.
This is an article from ABC on poor therapy
Decades later, this whole event still saddens me.
My 3 children were also hurting and confused at that time. They felt then, and still feel, that I had abandoned them.
I didn’t want to end up in police custody
At their age, I couldn’t tell them what was really happening.
I wouldn’t say that I couldn’t see them simply because I was told by their mother and her lawyer that this is the way it is done.
And I didn’t say that any attempt by me to see more of them would most likely land me in police custody.
The local school could see what was happening, and suggested I come and sit with my children at school, especially my youngest.
My emotion was intense, my youngest just sat on my knee, clung to me and we both cried and cried. I only did this a couple of times, as it was too disruptive for everyone, including her class and teacher.
For me, losing access to my children, created in me a sense of powerlessness, overwhelm and pain that was and still is indescribable.
I am still shocked, decades later how cruel the system still is
I still shocked today, decades later, how heartless and inadequate our system was, and still is for vulnerable men who are hurting.
At no point during the first 18 months of separation was I given any credit or acknowledgement that I loved my kids or that I had a right to see them.
I was the token male whose sole function was purely for financial support and how dare I have feelings for my kids…
My access was measured and limited by financial reasons.
If I was allowed more than a certain number of days per year, the amount I paid would be reduced, which was determined by their mother and her lawyer.
My experience with the Family Law system was beyond belief, every step in this process took months and cost 000’s, with a greedy, heartless and extremely predatory legal system supporting it.
Meeting the Child Support Agency
After separation my ex’s legal genius advised her to remove all joint money and freeze all our bank accounts, in spite that I had agreed and supported her managing business accounts and finances.
On top of lost access, my cash and business accounts had gone or were frozen, despite having a business to run, to live plus child support to pay.
Now I just had to do it with no funds, business or other financial means.
I contacted the Child Support Agency explaining my situation.
They were very clear and stated that my next payment was due next week and they expected it to be made, otherwise there would be penalties.
There was no offer of support or guidance, just a simple threat “pay up or else, and it’s not our problem…”
That really pissed me off.
During the first 3-4 months of hell and indescribable agony of separation, I was slowly and steadily sliding into a deep dark hole.
I was in a bad way
I was unaware of my decline, I was in a bad way.
I remember a conversation at this time with my parents, about what was happening
They refused to believe it and declined to help me, stating that my ex “would never do a thing like that”.
I felt betrayed, I walked out and never had a conversation about that or much else with them again.
A few days later, I was out in the paddock with a gun, ready to end it all.
I held my breath and was about to pull the trigger, when the family dog jumped into the front of my ute with me and broke that spell.
I ended up out on the ground, vomiting, and I think I must have blacked out, as when I came out of it the dog was lying beside me with its head resting on my chest.
I broke into tears at the sheer helplessness of my situation.
From that point, I started to climb out my black hole.
I rang Lifeline later that day and a friend was on duty and I spilled my story.
As a current and active Lifeline counsellor, I knew Lifeline was absolutely brilliant, it is free, confidential & 24/7 for any phone call.
Plus, they have one of the most comprehensive computerised data bases of all local services available for people in crisis, like me.
My friends at Lifeline knew something was happening in my life, and after that call, my support really kicked in.
From that moment in time, I threw myself into every kind of self-learning and personal development I could lay my hands on so I could do better than just survive.
Some of this learning happened on weekends.
My ex refused to swap these weekends with me so I missed out on several with my kids during this healing phase, her routine was more important than kids seeing their father.
This meant sometimes four, and at one point six weeks between visits, even though they lived locally.
I will never get that time back.
If I was successful in my ‘attempt’ to end it all, nobody would have known my agony or my reasons, and most likely my actions would have been put down to a ‘mental illness’.
Even today, only a handful of people know my story and how I felt during that time.
It’s as if “men don’t have feelings, so man up and get over it…”.
Even life long friends bailed out of my life during that time.
From my own personal experience with this systematic form of ignorance, cruelty and torture, I understand (but do not excuse) how men take their own lives or, God forbid, act out something much worse.
According to the Australia Brotherhood of Fathers , 21 men in Australia commit suicide each week as a result of relationship breakdown and our Family Law System.
Out of a total of @ 2,700 Australian (ABS2017) men who suicide each year, that’s over 1000 lives annually, lost to systematic ignorance and cruelty.
Continuing a one sided approach in managing our national tragedy of relationship breakdown and domestic violence is clearly not working.
We have a people problem, not a gender problem..