As I walk up the path to my friend Millie’s* home for her 50th birthday party, the familiar nervous butterflies swarm in my stomach. My husband Dan* is at my side. He squeezes my hand as the door opens and we enter the throng. I’m still on edge as we sit down to dinner. Soon, Dan will take centre stage and, as usual, I’ll be the butt of his jokes.
Within seconds, he’s at it. ‘Sorry we’re late, guys. Liv* only started getting ready yesterday morning. It takes her a good 24 hours to get that face on.’ Everyone titters. I smile through gritted teeth.
After 15 years of marriage, I dread going out with Dan. Whatever the occasion, he’ll find a way to undermine me. There’s no point in challenging him – he just gets defensive. And while I used to call him out afterwards, I’ve given up. He always insists he doesn’t mean to upset me, that it’s just banter – but the joke really has worn thin.
It first happened during a family barbecue at his parents’ New Forest home, 18 months after we’d met. I was nervous and had made an effort, treating myself to a blow-dry. But listening to Dan harp on about it, you’d think I’d booked out an entire salon for a head-to-toe makeover. Eventually, Dan’s father put an end to it by lightheartedly suggesting I douse his son with fizz. I was sorely tempted.
Since then, it’s become worryingly frequent. At one party, his put-downs were so cutting that a woman said, ‘You’re a saint for putting up with him. Why don’t you give it back?’ I was mortified that a stranger felt the need to advise me. I replied that I hate making a scene. And yet, I do have my limits.
We were on a plane recently when he told a man in our row what a terrible flyer I was and that I’d be needing the loo the entire flight. ‘Did you really need to say that?’ I hissed. We didn’t speak for the rest of the journey.
I sound like I am married to a dictator. But I’m not. Nor am I a doormat. I run my own marketing company and, if you saw me at work, you’d never think I’d allow anyone to undermine me the way he does. Plus, at home he is loving and thoughtful. He cooks romantic suppers, plans exciting holidays, does more than his fair share of chores and rubs my feet if I’ve been for a run. He often tells me how beautiful I am and how lucky he is. When I first met him at a friend’s party, I thought he was incredibly handsome (as I still do) and, ironically, was attracted to his shyness as he clumsily chatted me up. But when we’re out socially, this all goes out of the window.
A few years ago, he agreed to couples’ counselling. The therapist suggested Dan is insecure in social situations, so this is how he copes. I suspect there’s truth in that (though Dan denies it), but it doesn’t make it OK.
He probably gets this boorishness from his father, who behaves this way to Dan’s mum. A few expletives in her mother tongue (she’s half-Spanish) normally shuts him up. I tried doing the same but it doesn’t come naturally.
Instead, I’ve spent years trying to explain calmly how much it upsets me, but he accuses me of being too fragile. There was a spell after therapy when things improved but, 18 months on, he was back at it. I’ve accepted that it’s part of our marriage.
There are days when I think about walking away. If I’m feeling hormonal, the endless chip-chip-chipping away at my confidence gets to me even more. Once, I hid money and spare car keys in my underwear drawer in case the day came when I’d had enough of his lecturing and wanted to get away for a couple of days with minimum fuss. But months can pass with him being perfectly lovely.
However, as a summer of social events looms, my anxiety swells. I know that at every one, I’ll be the punchline to his jokes.
Would you stay with a man who undermines you? Join the debate in the comments below or on the Telegraph Women Facebook group
As told to Samantha Brick. *Names have been changed