Jana Kramer on Surviving Abuse: ‘I Want to Show My Daughter What a Strong Woman Looks Like’

10/06/2016 at 11:00 AM ET

Jana Kramer
Jana Kruder

When Jana Kramer gave birth to daughter Jolie Rae on Jan. 31, 2016, she says she found her life’s true purpose.

“She’s the reason I get up and I will do anything for her,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

“I love music, I love performing, I love acting, all those things, but I’ve never felt fulfilled,” says Kramer, 32, who found success as an actress in 2009 on the CW hit, One Tree Hill, and then as a country music star. “But when I became a mom, I 100 percent knew what my purpose in life was — to be Jolie’s mom.”

Kramer adds, “She gives me so much strength.”

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Unfortunately, Kramer’s strength has been sorely tested over the years.

As she reveals exclusively in PEOPLE, Kramer was the victim of harrowing domestic abuse at the hands of her first husband, Michael Gambino, whom she married in early 2004.

Seventeen years her senior, Gambino developed a routine that led Kramer, then 20, to sleep in her car some nights or hide in the bushes until he calmed down. Easily angered and frequently jealous, “he’d come home at 3 o’clock in the morning and pick me up out of bed, throw me onto the ground and start yelling and hitting,” says Kramer, who hid bruises with makeup and kept the abuse hidden from family and friends.

Things escalated to a breaking point on Aug. 6, 2005, when he choked her into unconsciousness and left her bleeding on the gravel outside their L.A. home. Gambino was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to six years in prison. (Released on parole in 2010, he committed suicide two years later.)

Jana Kramer
Jana Cruder

While Kramer went on to marry actor Johnathon Schaech in 2010, they split up within weeks of the wedding. She wed former NFL tight end Mike Caussin in 2015, but they separated in August when she discovered he’d been unfaithful.

But her union to Caussin gave her the greatest gift of her life: Jolie.

“I’ve never felt more beautiful than I do now because I’m Jolie’s mom,” says Kramer, who is set on making her daughter proud. “She is the love of my life.”

Most of all? She says, “I want Jolie to know what a strong woman looks like.”

For much more on Kramer’s journey and her story of surviving abuse, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

For more information or to seek help for domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE, or go to www.thehotline.org

— Elizabeth Leonard

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Showing 11 comments

Anonymous on

This is such a horrendous story. Lets not even go near victim blaming on this one. Generally I am super-skeptical about celebrity sob stories, they all seem to had been abused, mistreated, bullied, etc. This is obviously a very real situation, and a horrible one. Hope Jana Kramer can stay strong and keep the faith. There are good men and good people out there. I with her the best of luck.

Dawn on

Sounds like she’s had a time of it. Hope she’s able to show her daughter how to be a strong, independent, single woman and avoid bringing a man into the picture. Seems like her picker is broken.

Robin on

I hope that if she finds another man she takes her time and makes sure to trust her instances. Don’t rush into things and make sure she doesn’t run into trouble a fourth time.

Amy on

Wow, it makes sense now why she’s had such difficulty with her relationships. It is so terrible that her abusive first husband wounded her so horribly; it has definitely impacted her life in more ways than one can imagine. It is great that she has found her purpose in motherhood and I hope she finds happiness in her life.

Really? on

Maybe she will concentrate on her daughter now instead of a man or heaven forbid another marriage geeeeze really!?

maryhelenc on

I feel for her because I’ve been her. I was abused by my former fiancée & jumped into a marriage because I was afraid no one could ever love me. Eight years, three kids & hundreds of bruises later, I managed to leave. Even now, I find it hard to date because I’m so afraid of making bad choices. I hope she continues to move forward and get the counselling she needs to be a strong mom for that sweet baby.

arabella17 on

She really should quit marrying these losers. If you date them long enough, they will eventually slip and you’ll see their true colors. She is terrible at picking men. Give it a rest. There’s more to life than the next man who promises you the earth, moon and stars….and is a good liar. Be secure on your own.

lottie on

Jana shame on you for bringing your personal drama to public life. You have become just like the rest of the overly dramatic sensationalized crappers out there.
You are no angel. You have abused many loved ones- will not comment on how i know this but many folks know your history -You have neglected others who have always been there for you for narcissistic reason. Stop blaming others for all your misfortunes. You have had some hard times but don’t we all. Why not really take a look into your past and see who you have been unkind too- sometimes emotional and mental abuse is much harder to deal with. Think about it- try to reach out to those you have shut out for no logical reason and maybe then you will find peace. You are a big girl now and high time you start acting like one and stop this senseless blame. You have the choice in how to act.

Mos on

Let’s hope she will be stronger surviving the abuse. Learn from the past experience

angel on

I am sorry that happened to you

Anonymous on

Who is to blame her for the mistakes she’s made. The reason her personal life is made public was because she is in the entertainment business. She has no control over it. Your life is always going to come up some way some how. That’s what the business wants and crave. Plus people out there need someone like her and others who have had a past with domestic violence to be their voice to spread awareness. Many are too afraid to speak up or leave their relationship due to being broken, physically and emotionally. Trust me I’ve been there and its hard. Someone can say oh its easy to walk away and report it, but its not in some cases. That’s what I thought at one point in time til you are actually in an abusive relationship you realize it. How do you expect to avoid men like the ones she ends up with. One was a all star football player. Really? Some who have achieve success can be hiding lies. Its really hard to find prince charming nowadays. You have to search and keep your guard up to weed out the bad ones. She is doing the best she can as a human being. She has a daughter that will look up to her to be the role model in her life. At least she is moving mountains and making a name for herself. There needs to be less negativity and more positivity in this world. Hating on someone’s past mistakes is ridiculous, move on with your life and let her live. You go Jana! Like they say you learn from past mistakes and move on.