I can’t change what happened, but I know it doesn’t define me.

Tanya's story

Tanya’s first contact with Aviva was through the 0800 support line when she reached out for help for herself and her children. Little did she know that several years later family violence would again become part of her life, and she would need Aviva’s support a second time. Tanya tells her story, in her words about what happened.

“Matt* had been my first-ever boyfriend, so when we found each other again in our 30s, we thought our fairytale reunion was destiny and got married quite quickly. I already had a child, and before long Matt and I had children together. 

Most people thought of Matt as a quiet, calm person, but I saw a different side of him at home. Outside of work, he spent all his time on the couch, gaming. There was very little help with the children and a lack of interest in doing things as a family. I felt frustrated, and that I was carrying more than my fair share.  

When I expressed my frustrations, Matt would get aggressive. He’d throw things in a rage, slam doors, and yell at me and the children. It was intimidating and we grew scared to approach him about anything. My intuitive parent style, of sitting down and talking things through, didn’t fit with his either. He didn’t like to think I knew any better than him and refused to reflect on the appropriateness of his actions. In his mind, he was faultless. 

I began feeling afraid of where things were going, and of the impact it was having on the children. I didn’t want them surrounded by anger and aggression. A friend suggested I ring Aviva, and in that first conversation I realised I wasn’t imagining things, violence comes in many guises, and this was an unhealthy relationship, for me, and for the children. When Matt eventually got physically violent with me, I drew the line. I decided to leave. It wasn’t the home children should grow up in.

Aviva supported me through one-on-one sessions with an amazing social worker. I also did a Courageous Steps group programme for women. The children did the Tamariki Rise programme. I felt proud when I saw them gaining the confidence to listen to their inner voice if they found themselves in a situation where they didn’t feel comfortable. I’m very hopeful that gaining these skills at a young age will help them to navigate other relationships in their lives more positively.”

Tanya was experiencing verbal and physical violence whilst struggling to raise her children in an environment she recognised wasn’t healthy for herself or her children. With Aviva’s support, she found her way out of that abusive situation.

She was hopeful of a better future but, despite her strength and determination to break free from the cycle of abuse, she found herself once again facing the harsh realities of family violence in her new marriage.

“I thought I’d had a lucky escape from family violence, but it seems life still had things to teach me about it. After 6 months on my own, I met someone online. He was older, and already had children. He was very attentive to me, something I’d never experienced before, and lavished me with expensive gifts (which I later discovered were paid for with his child support payments due to his ex-wife.) However, I was dazzled. After 2 months of dating, he moved in and we were engaged and married within 2 years.”

Love bombing is a stage in the cycle of abuse, common in the early stages of some dysfunctional relationships. Grand gestures make the other person feel important and desired, but the love bomber’s ultimate goal, is not love, but to gain control and make the person feel dependent and indebted.

“It wasn’t long before I realised that what he described as “caring” was actually very controlling. He’d call me multiple times in the day, wanting to know who I was with, and what time I’d be home – “. . . because there are bad people out there and I’m trying to protect you” he’d say. I wasn’t “allowed” to work, and he threatened divorce if I applied for a job. He got very sulky if he didn’t get his way.  He critiqued everything I wore and wanted me to cover up “. . . because you’re mine.” he said. He didn’t even want me to do aqua aerobics at the local pool as I’d have to wear a swimming costume. He went berserk when he later found out I’d gone to aqua aerobics anyway.

He wanted things done his way. He was also very suspicious of men who talked to me. I recall one day at the supermarket when he verbally threatened to ‘kill’ the disabled trolley assistant for being too friendly to me. The last straw was when I began feeling uncomfortable about the way he was interacting with my eight-year-old. I had a gut feeling it wasn’t right. 

Ending things was messy and hard, but I didn’t want the children growing up in this environment, or thinking this was a healthy relationship either. It wasn’t.

I went back to Aviva and did another women’s group. The support I got from the group facilitators, who had a lot of life experience, was amazing. One of my biggest takes from the group has been to learn to slow relationships down; there’s no rush. I’m learning to recognise red flags and to set boundaries. That’s huge for me.”

Many clients participate in the Courageous Steps programme a second time, as it can be difficult to grasp everything in one term. For instance, a woman might be particularly triggered or overwhelmed by a discussion, lose concentration and miss what comes next. Aviva’s group facilitator says participating a second time is ideal and doubly beneficial for strengthening learning. Many women also undergo life changes between groups, such as having children or a new relationship; a second Courageous Steps programme can help them recognise abuse, and learn more about creating healthy relationships and safer futures for children.

“Family life’s a lot calmer now, it’s less stressful when there aren’t any monsters in the house. We’re all learning to move on, and the children are embracing new stages of life as teens.  I’m doing a certificate in Social Services at Ara where I’m hoping my experiences can be turned around for good. I want to do meaningful work to help others. I can’t change what happened, but I know it doesn’t define me. I will live a life free from violence, and thankfully now, so will my children.”

*not their name