Kate (co-founder of Putu and Pickles) and I went to school together. Of course back then being in different school years meant something and so, whilst our paths certainly crossed and I’ve noticed a status update or two, it was only recently I became aware of the abusive relationship she suffered through and the amazing way she’s chosen to channel this negativity into a force for change. The sad reality though, Kate explains, is that even her best friends were none-the-wiser. Years of manipulation and consistent bullying left her in fear: fear that one day the bullying would become physical, fear that no-one would believe her, fear that everyone would take his side. After all, who would support her walking out on a charming husband, a doting father to their two boys, a man loved by all around her? Yet a series of events, stretched over the course of 5 years, did eventually force her to find the strength to leave Steve*.
Today, alongside best friend and business partner Ali, Kate runs Putu & Pickles a children’s clothing brand passionate about empowering children to find the courage to speak up, whilst donating 10% of their profits to Women’s Aid.
KF: What troubles me is that whilst emotional abuse is common it’s rare for people to talk about it, but it’s so important that we do talk about it. Since I’ve opened up about my experience I’ve had a load of messages from other women saying they’ve lived through, or are living through, the same. I don’t think people are aware of what goes on behind closed doors, it could happen to anyone regardless of background and we need to be more aware of what to look out for.
As young girls were encouraged to look for ‘Prince Charming’, fundamentally, that’s so wrong! Prince Charming’s usually an arsehole, let’s change that message.
SB: So tell me about what you experienced, where did it all start?
KF: I met a guy travelling, six years ago, he was an Australian who told me he’d just got out of the special forces over there. We ended up doing a lot of travelling together, he met my family and friends and we later married. We lived all-over: Bali, Australia, and Ireland. He said his mum and dad were dead and his brother had committed suicide. None of which, it transpired, was true.
When we met he was the most charming man, everyone was drawn in. Quite soon that character started to disappear. It started when he was drunk, he became verbally abusive but then apologies would follow; this behaviour continued until the slightest thing would trigger it, for instance, me not being able to park the car right, he’d blow up. He would always use his parents or brother’s death to justify this behaviour, he also said he had PTSD from the army. He’d spit on me, throw things at me. He’d accuse me of being cold for not being there for him when he was grieving the loss of his parents.
SB: Was he ever physically violent?
KF: He pushed me once and once threatened to “knock me out”, but it was never really physical. He never punched me and so I always said to myself if it got to that I would have a bag packed ready to go. I thought ‘when he hits me I’ll leave’. Which seems ridiculous I know but that’s why it’s so important for me to share this because when you’re in that kind of relationship you can’t see it. I didn’t realise my whole life was controlled. It was so gradual. If someone were to ask me at the time ‘, are you in an abusive relationship’ I would’ve said no.
The thing with emotional abuse is you’re not physically feeling that pain, you’re not getting hit, but it hurts. Having all your insecurities and everything thrown at you in one attack, it’s painful and so you’ll do anything to avoid that. Like getting rid of your phone or cutting out friends. You completely lose yourself.
SB: Is there anything to look out for in such relationships?
KF: The characteristics are often the same in an abusive relationship, the abuser will be incredibly charming: to begin with. Personally, I was always waiting for that person, that person I truly loved, to come back. But that person never existed and so he never would come back. Following periods of aggression, he’d be so apologetic and loving, I would see glimpses of the old person I loved and I clung on to that.
There were times I wanted to leave him but I felt I couldn’t tell anyone; I didn’t tell a single soul. My friends all loved him; I felt no one would believe me. He would repeatedly tell me that all my friends preferred him, my family, too, he’d continuously tell me I was boring. If someone says something often enough, you believe it, especially if it’s coming from someone you love and you trust. From the outside, we seemed to have the perfect relationship, no one would have ever imagined what was really going on.
In terms of any warning signs, I would be wary of anyone who repetitively excuses their bad behaviour. Whether it be alcohol-related, a bad past relationship or a bad childhood. Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t make you compromise who you are as a person. If you start to blame yourself for their wrong doings then it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship.
SB: So when did you find the strength to walk away?
It was when we moved to Ireland Steve’s behaviour became really erratic; I could tell something wasn’t right. I began digging around and came across his family, including his (supposedly deceased) parents, sister and brothers. I was completely numb. I was able to make contact with his sister who was really calm and said he had a history of this sort of behaviour.
I spoke to my dad, we were in complete and utter shock. Luckily he was in Ireland too and was able to help me, and the children, get out of the house.
SB: Two years on how are you doing today?
In some ways, the after effects are worse than being in that relationship. I spent every moment with him, there were only a handful of times I went out with my friends without him, and even then I would get constant texts and emails. When you no longer have that, someone telling you what to do or commenting on every decision each day, when that’s gone? Well, I started having bad panic attacks. The sad thing is once you’re in that kind of relationship it’s almost easier. You get used to having someone dictate your every move.
When I walked out I had no money, no house, he left me with nothing. If it wasn’t for my mum and dad I would have ended up in a refuge, which is why I’m so passionate about helping Women’s Aid. I have to turn this negative into a positive, to help other women that may be going through a similar experience, that’s what drives me now and that’s where Putu & Pickles come in, 10% of our profits go straight to the charity.
Ali has been amazing. She was the one that said let’s do something, she gave me the confidence and distraction from everything I so needed. It was such a positive thing for me to throw myself into. From the get-go, we wanted to send out the message ‘be strong’ and ‘be rebellious’. It’s how I feel and it’s how I want my boys to be; I want them to grow up having a voice; to stand up for themselves.
I’d like to thank Kate so much for sharing her experience. I’m sure many of you reading this, at some point in your life, have felt the agonising pain that accompanies the breakdown of any relationship. So to discover that the one you love, the father of your children, the man you’ve built a life with turns out to be a liar, fabricating an entire existence to your detriment and their advantage. It’s unthinkable. The fact Kate has lived through that reality and surfaced with the strength to, not only build a business, from scratch but give away a percentage of the profit to support others is nothing short of remarkable.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse or are worried about a friend who might be the Women’s Aid website provides loads of helpful information at www.womensaid.org.uk
Kate would also like to point people in the direction of her counsellor who specialises in victims of domestic violence www.wolfurban.com