'I Knew How to Keep Going Even When I Was Hurting'

February 1, 1997

You'd never have suspected Susan of being a battered spouse.

An ambitious, self-confident entrepreneur, she once owned a residential brokerage with five salespeople.

She is, she admits, the type of person who always tries to please others. When her second husband would disparage her and beat her, Susan (not her real name) blamed herself.

''Rejection is part of the everyday world of the salesperson,'' she says. ''I was a good little actress. I knew how to keep going even when I was hurting.''

Susan, 56, still works in residential sales. Although she left her husband more than six years ago, she told her story to Today’s REALTOR® in the hope of helping other practitioners who may be caught in abusive relationships.

''The key thing for battered women to remember is that help is available. It's possible to escape,'' she says. ''I did.''

Worked Up to Sales Manager

Susan grew up in the South. Her first husband was an entertainer who was frequently on the road. They stayed together for 21 years and had two children. Their relationship was happy and healthy.

She entered real estate in her 30s. ''I like people, and I like sales,'' she explains.

She joined a realty company and worked her way up to sales manager, overseeing 23 sales associates. In 1979 she quit to start her own company. ''We were on a roll,'' she says.

But then interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages soared into double digits. Housing sales took a nosedive. In 1980 her first husband ran off with another woman. The following year Susan's company folded.

For the next several years, Susan worked in a variety of jobs related to real estate. At one of them, she sold time-shares. The sales manager was a quiet, divorced man who asked her out on dates. In 1985 they married and moved to another state. Susan quit real estate and worked with her second husband in a new home-based business he started.

Everything went well for about a year, but then her husband started having temper tantrums. ''He'd scream over very minor things,'' she says. Their relationship deteriorated, and eventually she divorced him and moved out, intending never to return.

Her second husband, however, was a ''good con artist'' and pursued her, promising he'd ''never do those things again.'' After a 14-month separation, she went back to him, though they didn’t remarry.

For a number of months, everything went smoothly. But then the pattern of outbursts started again. Her ex-husband was over 6 feet tall and weighed more than 220 pounds. She's petite, only 5 feet tall. This time, violence entered the picture. When he was annoyed by some perceived error or shortcoming on her part, he'd throw her against the wall, knock her to the ground, or beat her with his belt.

One day while working in his home office, her ex-husband complained that he'd mislaid something. Susan helped him look for it, and some items fell off his desk. Blaming her, he knocked her to the floor.

Susan picked herself up and ran. Herex-husband chased her through the house and then threw her against a chest of drawers. As she reached for the telephone to dial the emergency 911 number, he grabbed it and told the dispatcher he needed help because his wife ''was acting crazy.'' When the police arrived, Susan was afraid to tell the truth.

Twice she had to be treated for injuries as a result of beatings. Once while holding her hand in front of her face to ward off blows, she suffered a painfully dislocated thumb. On another occasion, her head was injured so badly that she suffered a minor concussion.

Why did she put up with it? Her ex-husband was a skilled manipulator and made Susan fear that she wasn't physically or psychologically strong enough to leave him. Although she worked in his business, he didn’t pay her a salary. What money he gave her for groceries and incidentals was carefully limited.

''I had to prepare a grocery list and estimate dollar amounts, and that’s what he'd give me,'' she says. ''Then he asked for the receipt.''

He took away Susan's car, saying she didn’t need it--she could use his. Naturally, his car was always locked, and she didn’t have a key.

He cut her off from contact with friends and family. ''I later learned that my daughters had called many times but were told I was gone or busy,'' she says. ''Of course, he didn’t tell me they'd called.''

Help Was Elusive

Susan reached out for help but was repeatedly thwarted. She tried to talk to her minister, who did nothing more than give her a book to read. She tried to talk to a lawyer, but he asked her how much money she had. ''When I told him none,'' she says, ''he just about said, ‘There's the door.’ ''

She also went to the police station. A woman sergeant advised her that the police would have to witness the beating before they could help her. ''It's your word against his,'' the officer said.

A Shelter Counselor Intercedes

Susan tried to talk to a doctor, who referred her to a counselor. After she and her ex-husband had attended one session, he beat her and warned her never to ''humiliate'' him like that again.

After one incident, the police came to her house. Susan didn’t tell them what had happened, but they guessed. One officer placed a card in her hand with the telephone number of a local shelter for abused women.

When she was alone, Susan called the number. ''I found a caring person who believed what I was telling her,'' she says. She talked to a counselor for hours and gained enough strength to plan a getaway.

One week while her ex-husband was out of town, Susan called friends and borrowed money and a car. She packed and headed for a woman's shelter in another state. The shelter provided her with food, other necessities, and counseling.

''I took whatever jobs I could for the next two years,'' she says, ''because I didn’t have the strength, the money, or maybe the courage to reenter the real estate market.''

Today Susan is back working as a residential salesperson, with a sales volume of more than $2 million for each of the last two years. Her confidence and self-esteem have returned. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local shelter for battered women. She speaks and tells her story.

Susan is thankful for regaining life without fear and intimidation. ''I treasure each day of freedom,'' she says. ''And I know that if I could escape from a bad situation like that, other women can do it, too.''

Help for Domestic Violence Victims

The National Domestic Violence Hot Line provides help for domestic abuse victims 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The toll-free service operates throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

When you call the hot line, you speak to a trained advocate, who can offer crisis intervention, support, and referrals to local services in your community.

The number is 800/799-SAFE (7233). The telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD) number is 800/787-3224.

Walt Albro is a former senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine.

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