I never thought an abusive relationship would happen to me

Guest post by Jes

TRIGGER WARNING: Emotional abuse.

By: Nicolas Raymond - CC BY 2.0
By: Nicolas RaymondCC BY 2.0

I never thought it would happen to me.

I was strong, independent, and confident in my sexuality. When I read books I could not empathize with the characters that could not leave abusive relationships. “Why don’t they just go?” To be honest, I thought I was “stronger and better” than them.

I wasn’t.

The end of my senior year of college was a maelstrom of emotion. The economy crashed. I started looking at the Navy because there weren’t any jobs left in my field, and I had four years of enormous student loans waiting in the wings. I got involved with guys who were only using me because they could not get the girl they really wanted. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing with my life. Frankly, I was a mess.

Along came “J.” I had known him for the past several years; we were in the same theater. He had just gone through a messy breakup and needed a friend as badly as I did. Friendship grew into something more, and we started dating that summer. It was blissful in the way that all new relationships are for the first few months. Then my roommate got a job in Texas and left almost overnight, leaving me struggling to pay the rent alone. It was a mistake to move in with J so early in our relationship, but it made sense at the time. We were sleeping in the same bed almost every night, and it seemed like a waste to pay for two apartments.

I can look back now and see that we rushed things; that moving in together triggered a lot of our later troubles at the same time that it convinced us that we had to just work through them. It created a commitment that neither of us was ready for, and it led me to become emotionally dependent on him.

The fights started almost immediately after we moved my stuff. They were little things at first, the sort of thing that an hour of space and some make-up sex could fix. Soon, however, they were big enough to interrupt my job — a data-entry position that I loathed. We decided that the job was to blame, and I quit. The freelance work I was able to pull in at the time was only enough to cover my loan payments, but J said he was happy to help. I was now financially dependent on him as well.

The fights did not stop. I should point out that they were never physical fights; they were screaming matches, mostly. Because I was raised in a household where you had to raise your voice to be heard, I usually walked away from these fights feeling like the bad guy because I had been louder, more aggressive than he.

Meanwhile, we moved several times, got a cat, and got close to a group of my friends from college. We met each other’s parents, talked about the future, called our apartment a home. At least, that’s what we showed the outside world.

Behind closed doors, we were a mess. We fought. He withheld sex. I lost jobs. I lost contact with my old friends. I even began to see hanging out with our local friends as an ordeal. We were both convinced that our shared misery was my fault because of my depression.

The few times that I considered leaving, I thought better of it: Our friends preferred him over me, as did my parents. No one would believe me if I told them the truth, and I was convinced that no one would help me otherwise. I started referring to myself as “broken.” Any self confidence that I had was wrapped up in how he saw me, and I was convinced that he was only with me out of pity, and that I should have been grateful.

I know when the turning point was; the point where I realized that it wasn’t all my fault…

I can pinpoint it exactly. We were hanging out with old friends after a wedding, and I found myself constantly pushed to the outside of the group so that J could flirt with an ex-girlfriend. I would have written it off to keep from appearing jealous, but the groom, who had been a close friend of mine in college, noticed it and asked if everything was okay. It was the first time anyone had noticed that anything was wrong. I said everything was fine, of course, but the moment stuck with me, and on the car ride home the next day, I confronted J about it.

I don’t know why I stood up for myself that day, but we had never had a fight so big. At one point I got out of the car and walked aimlessly off into some Connecticut suburb, just knowing that I had to get out. But nothing was fixed that day. He apologized, so I apologized, and we went home, presumably where things were going to get better. I really believed that they would get better from that point.

They didn’t.

Then things hit rock bottom. J took four days off of work to “try to mend things between us,” and spent them trying to passive-aggressively crush me back into the subservient little broken thing I had been before that wedding. I did not have any emotional energy left to fight with, which, consequently, meant that I didn’t have any emotional energy left to fear calling up my parents and asking to move home. Even then, I could not bear to tell them the truth.

I’m living in my old bedroom in their house now, trying not to fall back into high school habits after having an apartment for the last eight years, and trying to come to terms with the past four and a half years of mistakes.

Five years ago, I would have scoffed and said “I’d just leave a relationship that was not working out, never mind one where I was being emotionally or physically abused.” Back then, I was confident in myself and my judgement. No more.

You never realize just how thoroughly your world can be turned on its head, how easy it is to find yourself willfully trapped in a position that you swore you would never get taken in by. I never realized it.

In a way, writing this is an affirmation of sorts; it’s forcing me to admit the truth, despite the parts of me that would rather just bury it and start over. I’m lucky that the scars will be emotional instead of physical. I’m lucky that I was able to get out, lucky that I was given a chance to heal. There are so many other people who don’t get that chance.

You hear so much about amicable breakups, or the angry ones where everyone moves on with their respective social circles… but this? This is the sort of thing you expect to see on Lifetime original movies, not in real life. Not in your life.

I never thought it would happen to me.

Comments on I never thought an abusive relationship would happen to me

  1. Thank you for writing this, and “saying” it out loud. I went through much of the same that you did (although not the exact scenarios), and to this day I am so thankful I took the leap and left. It broke me down until I was nothing, not even a shell of myself. But today? I am stronger. Getting stronger every day. It’s been over 5 years, and the scars are still painful, but they are stronger. I hope that you continue to find the strength.

  2. I’m not really sure what to say but I wanted to let you know that I read this article and thought it was interesting, illuminating and may be incredibly useful for anyone who experiences this type of circumstance

    And also, I’m so pleased to hear that you have been able to leave and let yourself be whole again 🙂

  3. I also thought it would never happen to me before I got involved in an abusive relationship. None of my friends or family liked him: he was jealous and petty. He lied to me about small things, big things, and possibly everything but his name. Soon I found myself upset with him but I thought I couldn’t leave because no one else would want me. Fortunately, the whole relationship lasted only 6 months. Unfortunately, the abusive phone calls and threatening letters continued for months after the breakup. The phone calls/IMs weren’t just from him but from his friends and even his mother. Once all contact was broken I felt like I had emerged from some crazy nightmare. That whole mess is over a decade behind me and I am in a happy healthy relationship now. One good thing the abusive relationship taught me was how to respect my instincts and not to settle.

    Glad you made it out and are beginning the healing process.

  4. Thank you, Jes, for sharing this. Been there. All the signs that might be obvious as emotional abuse to an outsider are not so obvious when you’re in the midst of it. Or even when it is obvious, you make excuse after excuse. It’s a weird and sad and horrible thing and I’m glad you’re doing better now.

  5. I feel like people frequently don’t understand abusive relationships until they’ve been in one.

    I went in and out of a handful of abusive casual relationship when I was young, and vowed that I would never again be a victim. I found a nice guy, we dated, we married. We were married 11 years, and in that time, he slowly but surely crushed my spirit. He was very skillful in the way that he manipulated me; he took away a tiny piece of me at a time. I told myself it was compromise. As the years progressed, I found myself the only one holding a job, the only one cooking, the only one doing housework. He convinced me that nobody liked me. He stole my car and told me he’d fix it “soon.” Soon turned into years of isolation as I worked at our rural home. I would literally see other people two or three times per year. He made me stop doing some holidays with my family. He started stealing money. He lied to me about everything. He disappeared for days at a time. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. He faked a mental illness to cover his erratic behavior and what I later learned was a couple of addictions. The abuse was physical, it was psychological, it was verbal, it was financial, it was even sexual in that he withheld sex to punish me any time I even so much as thought of defending myself. It had all happened so gradually that I barely knew what was going on. My friends urged me to leave him. “He’s sick,” I explained. “He can’t help what he’s doing. I have to be here to take care of him.”

    I finally threw him out when his girlfriend at the time — with whom he’d been living part-time in his apparent double life — discovered that I existed and called me one night. That was the last straw. But it was hard. I quit eating. I looked into methods of suicide. I didn’t go through with it because I had animals — all that I had left to show for my life — that relied on me. My family came and stole us from the house and took care of me until I recovered. But it was hard. I should have been happy I was free, but I was just devastated beyond words. And the damage lingered. It took time before I could even do so much as to make eye contact with anyone, because my ex-husband used to fly into rages whenever I dared do so. I didn’t even realize how badly I’d been manipulated and reshaped until an incident in a local deli in which my sister demanded that I look her in the face when I spoke and I had a breakdown right there in front of everybody because I literally could not do it, and the thought of making eye contact put me into a state of sheer terror.

    The years have passed, and I’ve since remarried. Life is good. I look back and wonder how I ever could have let things get as bad as they did. I realize now that he was cheating on me almost certainly the whole time, only coming back to me when things didn’t work out between him and his fling. I was just a paycheck and a housemaid. Why didn’t I leave? I’d encouraged friends to leave over far less. I thought I was being noble. I was just being stupid. But it is what it is, and I’ve come out stronger for it.

    I post this here in the hopes that anyone else caught in an abusive relationship, particularly those twisted, manipulative relationships involving real sociopaths, might recognize that they, too, can get out. It can get better. You are stronger than you know. You are worth the effort of leaving and recovering.

    • You are stronger than you know. You are worth the effort of leaving and recovering. – if only everyone in an abusive relationship could hear these words – really hear them.

      Both of my sisters have been in abusive relationships and no matter what anyone said about it, they could not hear it. Thankfully, society has become more educated about abuse and more people are getting help.

  6. I too went through a relationship like this, except we were married and had children together. It took a very long time for me to recognize exactly what was going on, I had never really thought that a relationship could be considered abusive if it wasn’t physically so. Good for you for having that moment of clarity and eventually leaving!! My biggest regret is not doing the same – it took him leaving me to get out. Thank you for sharing your experience. Perhaps your bravery will help someone else in a similar situation get the help they need.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. Emotional abuse often happens SO SLOWLY that you just adapt little by little, and people don’t realize what has happened until they are so far into it. I think it’s important for people to share stories like this to help others understand “why they don’t just leave.”

    One of the terrifying things about relationships (in my opinion) is the level of vulnerability and trust needs to be SO HIGH. When you are so tangled up and involved with someone, you know that they could emotionally crush you if they wanted to. But at the same time you trust them that they won’t. And you know that you could also emotionally crush them, but they trust that you won’t.

    • Mine didn’t.

      Due to a variety of difficult life circumstances, communications between me and a former partner broke down to the point where they stopped respecting me, and I stopped trusting them.

      It’s easy to get into an abusive dynamic when you stop seeing the other person as your partner, and start seeing them as your jailer, your burden, or the thing holding you back.

      It’s not that my former partner was a bad person, or that I was a bad/weak person for putting up with that dynamic. Our relationship was completely dysfunctional, and needed to change dramatically before we could rebuild trust and respect.

    • Yes and no. I think there are three different types. Those who go into it intending to dominate/control/abuse the other person, those who do it unintentionally, and those who do a bit of both.

      Intentionally: self-explanatory
      Unintentionally: Usually victims of abuse themselves and unload onto their partner. They don’t do it because they want to but because they were raised in an abusive environment or had abusive relationships themselves, and it’s all the know. Usually they don’t want to behave this way and sometimes intervention and therapy can help change the behaviour
      Both: This was my abusers situation. He was raised by an abusive parent, and unloaded a lot of his anger onto me as a way to vent, however, he was also taught this behaviour and understood that if he did these things he could control a person.

    • I don’t know if the abusers see themselves as being evil, or go into relationships consciously intending to torture and manipulate their victims (maybe a few of them do). I think some people just feed on certain weaknesses of the human psyche, and they don’t see what they’re doing as wrong, because they’re able to justify it. My sociopath was convinced he was helping me by continuously putting me in uncomfortable situations, and he had convinced himself that he loved me even as the relationship deteriorated into constant hysterics and self-loathing. I think some abusers actually see themselves as the do-gooders, which blows my mind now, from a safe distance of 8 years and 2,000 miles.

      • This is similar to how my ex was; everything he did was right and good and he was never wrong. Even when someone had a problem with what he was doing and confronted him on it they always had the problem, never him. I bought into that for six years until the final fallout–which resulted in sexual abuse along with his usual flavor of emotional manipulation of me and others to make me look bad and him like a saint just trying to “help” me. In his world, he was never, ever wrong.

      • Yeah, my ex (who I was with for six years, three of which were living together) was like that. He actually was convinced that he was the one holding me together, that I was too fragile to handle the world without him, that he was my strength… etc. In reality, he constantly lied to me (about EVERYTHING… both big things and small, inconsequential why-would-you-lie-about-that things), cheated on me, flirted with other women right in front of me and then told me that I was delusional, would regularly stay out till four in the morning without any warning and ignore my phone calls the whole night, etc.

        Ironically, when I finally worked up the strength to leave, he was the one who completely self-destructed and couldn’t handle taking care of himself. I feel like my life began after that breakup… I became a whole new person. He had a complete meltdown, stopped being able to pay bills, alienated all his friends, and eventually went to jail multiple times. I never really realized until I left that I was holding all of his broken pieces together and that trying to do that was completely destroying me.

    • I think it varies. In my case, I know he did not start out with the intent, but he was smart enough to realize what he was doing and how to get what he wanted through that manipulation. He was also smart enough to know to hide those behaviors and patterns from friends, family, etc. and to do so effectively.

      A part of me still instinctually wants to defend him (he never meant to fall into these patterns, my depression was a trigger that no one should have to deal with, etc), and I think that’s true with a lot victims, at least initially. We’ve essentially been conditioned to respond that way, which makes the question a little dangerous. At what point do we stop blaming ourselves anyway?

      But here’s the thing, as far as I can tell: At some point, if it continues, they ARE choosing to continue it, however it started. And that choice is wrong.

      • There’s a quote by Carl Jung I find interesting, especially in cases like this: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

        Obviously, to a certain extent this is really simplistic and doesn’t take into consideration a lot of factors, but at least for me it acts as a nice little reminder that no matter what has happened to me or to anyone else in my life, that I have a choice. I can choose to take the lessons I learned through my ex- and continue the cycle of mistrust and manipulation, or I can choose to learn how to more effectively communicate with my partners, friends, and family and ask for the type of treatment I deserve. That doesn’t make it easy, it’s very hard to unlearn something someone has (sometimes literally) beat into you, but I find the thought reassuring at the very least.

    • I think in our case, we worked together to create an incredibly unhealthy relationship. I don’t think he did it on purpose, and I didn’t let him do it on purpose. I don’t think either of us saw it happening until one day I woke up and realized that I’d stopped being a person with opinions and feelings of my own.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. I had a similar relationship that was full of emotional abuse. In mine my former boyfriend passed away and that is what ended the relationship. It was incredibly difficult to deal with, at first just with the grief over my lost boyfriend but also the relief that it was over and then the anger that I didn’t end it sooner. We were together for six years when he died and even now that I have moved on and gotten married I still get angry over those “wasted” years. And I get angry that I didn’t stick up for myself the way you did. That takes tremendous courage.

  9. I’m so glad you hit that turning point and got out. You did the right thing.

    All abuse is terrible, but it seems like emotional abuse is so much harder to recognize. It’s very different than “he/she hit me,” which everyone will (hopefully) immediately understand as abuse. “He/she slowly manipulated me and crushed my self-esteem” is a lot tougher to explain, both to yourself and others.

    • When I wrote this article several months ago, I had moved back in with my parents and was living hours away from both my ex and “our” circle of friends. Since then I’ve gotten a job and moved back to within a 30 minute radius of the city and have run into a problem I probably should have expected, but didn’t. My college friends (whom I had introduced him to) have decided to remain friends with both of us.

      “Emotional abuse,” I’ve been told, “is almost always mutual. We don’t want to cut him off from his only social group because of what you say happened.” I don’t agree with their stance, but there’s little I can do other than just walk away entirely myself (and it’s difficult to leave your only physical support system, even if they aren’t as supportive as you had hoped they would be). People just don’t seem to comprehend the concept of emotional abuse as opposed to the physical (which they seem to have a visceral reaction to). I’m still trying to decide how to handle it.

      This past Sunday marks the first time I’ve seen him (we were both invited to an event and neither of us backed out) since we broke up in January. It was harder than I expected, but I’m still intact. Hooray progress, right?

      • That sounds really, really hard. If you’re open to advice, I’m going to borrow an idea from Captain Awkward and say that you could use a Team You: people you can trust to have your best interests at heart and believe you. It sounds like that might be remote, non-mutual friends in your case. You can try to explain what happened to your mutual friends, but you don’t have to if you’re not up to it and they don’t seem to be getting it. (At least it sounds like your groom friend picked up that something was wrong?) If that’s too exhausting, though, maybe you can develop some new friend circles? (I know, easier said than done, but there are some other articles around here about finding friends as an adult.) I don’t agree with what they said at all either, and hope you stick to your guns. You are under no obligation to pretend that everything’s okay and to sacrifice your own well-being for the sake of keeping the peace in that friend group.

        • Jes, I noticed that you went to a school near me (I went to RSC) and you’re nearby. In a completely not-creepy way (which I understand it kinda is), I can be part of Team You.

          And, yeah, there’s no way to word that without seeming like the creepiest person on the internet. I am here for you though.

      • I understand how tough that must be. In my case, I actually lost almost all of our mutual friends (which were all I had left after he isolated me), who decided to side with him simply because they’d been friends longer. It hurt. Not just losing most of my social group, but knowing that otherwise decent people arbitrarily picked the side of someone truly terrible. I accepted it, though, and moved on.

        Trust me, you’re better off without those kinds of people. Make new friends! It will help with the healing process.

        • It’s tough, because if you’re not in a romantic relationship with someone you often don’t see that side of them, and then people tend to exaggerate how terrible their exes are (which is, for some bizarre reason, this totally embraced and encouraged thing). If all you know is the good parts of someone’s personality, it can be hard to believe the bad parts, especially if they’re coming from an (arguably, possibly) biased source and without any concrete incidents like “he hit me.” When you’ve got two parties each accusing the other of being awful, it’s hard to know where “mutually unhealthy relationship” ends and “one-way emotional abuse” begins.

          Which, of course, just makes everything crappy and harder for people who have been abused. Making non-mutual friends is a good idea, but I know it’s hard to do :-/ I don’t plan on ever separating from my husband but it’s tough knowing how few friends I have that would be firmly on MY side no matter what- they’re almost all mutual, and he’s the more charismatic one.

      • This happened to me when I walked out on my emotionally/psychologically/verbally abusive marriage. All our friends were pretty much mutual friends. They were very quick to call me and tell me that they “couldn’t take sides,” because in so many geek circles, demanding that people not put you in social situations with an abusive ex means you’re the bad guy and you’re at fault. So I put up with it for a year and a half or so. I put up with going to parties where my ex and his mistress showed up. I put up with people talking excitedly about my ex’s wedding while I was still struggling to pay off the debts he had wracked up in our marriage in my name. I put up with people thinking my ex was the fun one.

        And then I fucking snapped. My grandmother died, my then-best-friend was telling me how lucky I was that everything worked out for me and my ex and that we all had gone on to be happy and shouldn’t I want to see him happy? I lost it. I just fucking lost it. I walked out of that apartment, got my current partner who was my then-friend to come help me get my stuff, and I have never spoken to anyone in that social circle again. I didn’t deliver any dramatic flounces, I didn’t tell anyone what was up. I just stopped taking phone calls or messages from people, defriended all of them on Facebook, twitter, all social media, and got on with my life. I felt terrible about it at the time — I felt guilty, like I was the horrible person for needing space from my ex (and the student of mine who he had been having an affair with for the last year of our marriage who he was marrying). I felt like I had no right to have emotional needs of my own.

        But I tell you now, some three years out from the decision? It was the best decision I ever made for myself. The people who are really my friends have stuck with me — my own Team You. I’m happier than I was trying to balance the drama of the college friends. And I’ve realised how important it is to make decisions that are the best for me, period. I’ve stopped consulting my friends about life choices that don’t impact them. I should have never been asking permission of my friends to get a divorce from a man who was manipulating me up to and beyond faking suicide attempts to get attention. But I had been so ground down under it all that I couldn’t do anything without a stamp of approval from someone else.

        I’m not saying you need to do that. But I am saying that if you decide to do it, it is incredibly empowering and can be really healthy. Especially after years of being manipulated into putting everyone else’s needs above and beyond your own in all matters. The people who really love you will stick with you. The people who are friends with you because it’s convenient or because you’re fun will not. You don’t need the folks in the second category — there’s always more of them out there. But knowing who is in the first category is fucking priceless.

        So in short: I hear you, I’ve been there, and getting through it sucks balls, but it’s possible to do it and find yourself in the process.

  10. I don’t know if it’s my pre-period hormones kicking in or the fight we had last night, but something about this triggered an attitude shift in me regarding my husband. I love him and I know he loves me, but I think I’m going to keep a diary for a while to see if there’s a pattern to his outbursts and if I’m caving as much as the angry me thinks I am.


  11. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Seriously. It inspires me to share my own…

    I was in a relationship for three years, the last two of which were emotionally abusive. I was finally able to get away when I was 20, back in 1995.

    At my 20 year high school reunion last summer, I ran into my ex, and he smiled and said, “Man, we had some really great years together, didn’t we?”

    I was completely stupefied.

    “We remember those years very differently,” I said, and he looked all confused. I decided what the hell? It’s my 20 year high school reunion, let’s just lay it all out: “Those years were some of the worst of my life. You yelled at me constantly. You insulted me regularly in front of your friends. I spent years in therapy getting over things that happened during our time together.”

    Amazingly, he nodded (!?!) and then offered to get together for lunch sometime.”So you can tell me all the awful things I did back then.”

    A few days later, I decided that I wanted to take him up on his offer, and we had a lunch together. Long looong story short, I told him that I considered him emotionally abusive, and that by the time I was finally able to leave him, he’d reduced me to someone who could barely say anything without apologizing first. “I have never been less myself than when I was with you,” I said. “Because you told me daily that I was worthless.”

    He listened. Then he apologized. Then he told me that it wasn’t just me — he’d been awful to his best guy friend too, and both of us had essentially left him around the same time. He did some therapy, and said he felt like he had a better handle on the way he treated people. I’m not sure I believe him, but that’s why I’m no longer partnered with him.

    Moral of the story? Pretty sure he’s still a dick and I have no interest in being friendly with him, but it was pretty gratifying to see that 20 years later, he at least sorta understood what he’d done, and understood that due to his controlling, critical, degrading nature, he’d lost both a girlfriend and his best guy friend. It was closure, 20 years later.

    • That’s amazing that he admitted it!! My father is very emotionally abusive, and he would never admit it. His response would be something along the lines of, “No I wasn’t/ you’re wrong/ you’ve misread the situation.” The fact that this ex of yours actually admitted that he had, in fact, been a horrible person is pretty incredible. Even if he hasn’t changed at all, at least he knows who he is (and you don’t have to deal with him anymore anyway!)

      • Dude, it was completely amazing. He’d done some therapy himself in his late 20s, so he’d definitely gained a lot of self-awareness about how he’d mirrored his father’s emotionally abusive behaviors. Over the course of our lunch, he shared some stories that made me think he’s still a difficult person (needless to say, I do not envy his current partner), but the fact that he was able to just sit and listen to me and acknowledge that he’d been awful? It was pretty fucking astounding. I’m still very happy not to have him in my life, but that lunch was an emotional closure that was so amazing that it seems almost mythical.

  12. Thank you for your story. Gets the gears going and one thinking and tracing the steps in their previous relationships…. Perhaps I’m not as introspective as I should be, but I think I once dodged a bullet with an abusive partner.

    Under pressure from his family, he dumped me to teach me a lesson. I guess I was far too obtuse to *get* his lesson and I called his bluff. Never went back despite several attempts he made to reconcile, and I never spoke to him again.

    It was not so much strength that kept me away, but a sense of dread of a repeat of the same if we reconciled. I had also just seen several crazy relationships bomb around me and was not interested in all the drama.

    That while situation was a ticking time bomb. 🙁 Thank god for small graces.

  13. Having two years ago left an emotionally abusive relationship myself, this resonates with me on a personal level. Thank you for having the courage to write this article and share your story with a blog full of strangers (even if we are usually very nice strangers). It’s hard enough to admit things like this to yourself, let alone friends, family, or anyone else, so I applaud you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    I would also like to gently remind you that there are resources available to you right now. I’m Canadian, so my information will be a bit different than what goes on in your community, but there are places which hold support groups free of charge to those who have left an abusive relationship (sexual, physical, as well as emotional). If a formal support group seems too drastic for you, you always have friends and family (as I am sure you know) and strangers on the internet who are more than willing to help dust you off and get you on your feet.

    Thank you again, and my thoughts and love go out to you :)!

  14. I always felt/thought the exact same as you: I pitied those women in abusive relationships. I would never put up with that crap. I’d leave! I thought I was stronger than all of them, better than them. I was wrong. Nobody knows until they are actually IN an abusive situation. I was in an abusive relationship for 6.5 years and engaged to marry him. He was emotionally abusive very early on in the relationship, but I made excuses for his actions and continued seeing him because I loved him. Immediately after we moved in together about a year after we began dating he became sexually abusive by withholding sex as punishment for any ridiculous little thing that he didn’t like, or verbally/emotionally punishing me if I didn’t do what he wanted sexually. The emotional abuse got much, much worse. For the first couple years I thought that my love could help him become a better person and be happier. After that I just felt trapped. After years of him belittling me, lying to me about everything, and just being a terrible person in general, I started realizing that HE was the problem, not me. He was the one doing all of these awful things. I started being more introspective and realized that I actually like who I am. Everything he hated about me I liked and I wasn’t going to keep changing those things for someone who should appreciate me for me. When I found this strength in myself, he became physically abusive. And yet I still didn’t leave him. I was officially the most pathetic type of women that I always thought I was better than. I tried many times over the years to leave, but when he’d break down and sob until he couldn’t breathe, or threaten to hurt himself, I’d end up caving and accepting his half-ass apology and I’d stay. I’m not sure exactly what the final straw was, but I eventually I grew strong enough to walk out of the house when he was sobbing and begging me to not leave. I look back and can’t believe I stayed and put up with all of that for so many years. I have always been strong and independent, but for that period of time I lost who I was. I am so happy I finally was able to find that strength again to leave.

  15. Thank you for writing this, I was also in an abusive relationship for about 20 years. I say about because when we first got together, got married and had kids it wasn’t abusive but I was 19 and madly in love!

    Although the signs were there, he once punched a door so hard it broke the panelling and I threw him out when he’d been out for one drink, didn’t come home until 4am & I had work in the morning & had to leave him with the baby. I came home at lunchtime to find him still asleep & the baby screaming with a dirty nappy & hungry.

    I took him back, he worked on his behaviour, we had another child and whilst we had problems, it wasn’t bad although I took on the burden of all the bills because his way of dealing with things is to scream at the company who sent the bill or to throw a strop.

    Then his Father died and about 18 months later his best friend died and the two things together became a perfect storm. He started drinking every single day, accused me of ruining his life, blamed me for all our financial problems. He’d got twitchy about me being at my parents before then ringing to see when we’d be back or if my Mum rang to speak to me he’d suddenly decide that was the moment to shout at the kids or animals.

    My Mother died in 2008 of a long term illness.

    By September 2009 his drinking was horrendous and whilst away at a big Pagan gathering he got very upset with me, absolutely steaming drunk outside the family tent my children and my friends daughter were sleeping in, decided to pull out his penknife & threatened to kill himself there and then because I made him feel worthless because I wouldn’t agree to have sex with him in the tent.

    That was the real beginning of the end. My friend moved in with us at the start of December that same year because her relationship had broken apart & she didn’t want to spend Christmas with him, early January I fell and broke my leg on the ice. I then discovered that said friend & my husband were actually having an affair and had been for quite some time hence his strange behaviour at the gathering as she’d gone off with someone else.

    That was my breaking point, after a weekend away from the situation at some other friends I gave him the simple choice, his life with me and the kids or her, he chose her because apparently I made him feel worthless.

    I made them leave that night.

    From that point onwards he tried to demonise me, accused me of taking everything from him, refused to pay towards his children and I’ve had to find the courage to pick myself up, realise he had spent years making me feel like I would never find anyone else and learn to live again. He’s never apologised for his behaviour even though I can just about manage to speak to him now without loosing my temper.

    I am now engaged to the sweetest daftest guy in the world, he makes me laugh, he validates me in ways I never thought anyone would, he thinks I’m hot despite being plus size and I’m happy but there is still that part of me that deals with stuff in our relationship the same way I used to, it’s taking a long time to undo the learned behaviour of the past.

    • Also I never even recognised I was in that sort of situation until about I was 6 months out of it. He never hit me or even threatened to, he didn’t exclude me from our friends, infact he was Mr Sociable, loved having people round and on the surface we looked like the perfect couple.

      I didn’t see myself as a victim, I’m strong, clever, made my own decisions and had a good job which pretty much paid for everything. How can you be a victim of domestic abuse? Well you can when you deliberately avoid difficult conversations because you don’t want a screaming match, you modify your behaviour so he doesn’t get upset, you don’t call him out on his drinking and smoking in front of the children because it’s too difficult a subject to face and you come home from a full days work with a 2 hour commute each way and you have to start cooking, tidying up the house and making sure everything is ready for the next day despite him finishing work at 3pm because you are made to feel guilty for working so many hours even though it’s the only job you could find at the time.

  16. well that was a pts trigger. i know there was a warning.

    i have a similar story. i was already running from my home life and i would have picked anyone. I was broken from the start and he just added to it and managed to crush me down to a living doll that pretended to be a normal person. I started to hate him for it but couldn’t leave because of my home life. I told myself that being raped every week (because i withheld sex) was better than having my dad try to kill me. It got to the point where was trying to decide if suicide was better or murder, since being in jail meant i wouldn’t have to go home.

    The turning point came when he had me do Japanese lessons so could be useful to him. I actually made friends, slowly, i was flirted with, talked to, complimented and it helped. it took 6 months before i regained enough personality to start avoiding him. i remember mum asking why i hadn’t gone to visit him and i snapped, i threw what i was holding at the wall and started yelling. She took me over to break up with him, by the time i got home i didn’t remember the details of the two years we were together. I repressed it. 3 years later the memory came back and i had a mental break down and ended up in therapy for 4 months. Now i have ptsd and some days all i hear in my head is “fucking you is like fucking a corpse”

  17. I’ve typed so many responses to this and then deleted and started again. This happened to me too. 9 years ago I was in a 9 month thing with someone. I was an independent girl, with a good group of friends and a fairly decent job. It started off nice enough but by the end I had no confidence in myself or others, had lost a lot of weight (stress and cigarettes diet), was having panic attacks, I stopped going out and stopped seeing my friends and family. He on the other hand was having the time of his life, girls, parties, not having a job (but not having to because, well, me).

    He ended up finishing with me. But then a month later asked if I wanted to marry him. I thought I was still in love with him up until that moment. At 23 this could be my life for the forseable. It definately gave me some amount of satisfaction to know I was inconveniencing him (however small an amount) for saying a big fat HELL NO!

  18. Ahhhh man…I was a naive kid who always mouthed off that I’d never let a guy hit me, when I got into my first abusive relationship. I was so immature and naive that I didn’t even know there were other kinds of abuse, and it actually took the relationship ending for me to realise just what a hell I had been living in. I fell into another relationship that was utterly awful, filled with the exact same mind games, just minus the sexual abuse of the first. That guy left me tormented and broken, and it has taken the love of a very good man so help me find peace with my past and forgive these men for what they put me through. Ironically, he was in a very toxic relationship himself, which I feel has given him a unique understanding of what my child and I have been through. While I understand that forgiveness might be too hard for some, it has allowed me to look forward, and co-parent with one of these men without it killing me inside. It’s more about saying ‘I will no longer allow your past actions to have an effect on my present and my future’.

  19. Your abuser has a name, beyond ‘J’ – he is a sociopath. (Not a PSYCHOpath, although psychopaths can be sociopaths, as well.)
    I am still in the throes of fallout … from a relationship which ended over a year and a half ago. My scenario is much like yours: a bit aimless and needy, I fell in love with someone whom, I thought, adored and loved me. I adored and loved him right back.
    The fact that you couldn’t say his name in town without invoking a collective “ugh” from other people made no difference to me. I knew he was a tough character, but I was going to heal him, and therefore, heal me.
    Quickly in our relationship, I was always at fault. Trying to show “no, that ISN’T what I meant” was deemed as ‘arguing’ and ‘adding more drama.’ I was to take what he said as law, and shut up about it. He would stop speaking, brood, withdraw, and lash out, only to withdraw again. The only way to “get him back” was to come to him quietly, admit my guilt, BEG forgiveness, and admit “yes, yes, you’re right – something must be terribly wrong with me. I need help. I will heed yours, I promise.” He’d take me back and I would be astonished at his capacity to forgive such a wretch as myself. He’d be sweet; tender and romantic to the point of tears in both our eyes. The grace period was bliss: soul connecting, continual love making, oaths of devotion … we needed each other, we’d say, so we have to make this work. In other words, I had to stop f****ing it all up.
    When, after months and months of this pattern, he broke it off with me “for good” I was wrecked. I couldn’t sleep, eat, drive a car, etc. He refused to speak to me, saying he had to “protect himself.” So, I let him be. He called me a stalker, said I was arrogant, rude, creepy, crazy … he even called my brother and told him I was harassing him.
    Amazingly enough, one of his exes reached out to me. We shared stories, and found we could finish each others’ sentences. She’d stayed with him much longer, had married him, had had a business with him. He’d put his boot to her neck, too. She, too, had been called names: stupid, ugly, crazy, bossy; she, too, had been “punished” – locked out, ignored, made to confess her sins before forgiveness could take place.
    I got more help through a counselor. I expressed how sick and ashamed I was over this, that I would allow someone to treat me this way. That I would bend to someone who thought not making the bed was an act of aggression and hate. And I learned this:
    It’s a proven FACT. Please don’t doubt this. They’ve been abused themselves, and understand wholly how to create a “need” in you for their “love.” You cannot think rationally, because your rational mind LEFT you in the first or second abusive episode.
    And I learned: VICTIMS OF ABUSE ARE MORE LIKELY TO FALL INTO ANOTHER ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP, and not recognize the signs. Because it all starts out sooooo good, doesn’t it?
    It feels wonderful. It fills up that big hole in us.
    And, I also learned: everytime I went back to him, I TOLD MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD SELF, “YOU DON’T MATTER. HE’S WORTH ME ABANDONING YOU.”
    I’m better, but not healed. I still shake at the sight of an e.mail from him, or a call. I will NOT answer. I delete his messages. And while I don’t advocate nor advise violence or the threat of it, my brother had had enough, and 2 days ago, left him this message, saying, “The choice is yours, my good man. I mean, they’re YOUR kneecaps.”

    Thank God for family.

  20. Any suggestions for how to handle and support a friend that is not ready to leave a similar situation?
    By handle I mean: sometimes as much as I love her, I cannot spend two hours on the phone listening to her go on and on about how horribly he treats her, then to have her call two days later and tell me how they stayed up all night talking about building a house/trying for a baby/planning a vacation.
    By support I mean, how can I support her in her decisions without it seeming like I am giving my approval to the abuse?

    • As someone else who went through this, express any concern about HER and not about him. Tell her if you’re concerned for her well being, and that you’re there for her. If you confront her about the guy, you will likely lose her as a friend, and she will have one less person to run to when she is ready to leave.

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