Staying in an Abusive Relationship
We met when I was 19. He was tall, handsome, and controlling. That last part would come to the surface after a few months. It was my first real relationship. After a lifetime with a parent who made me feel like I wasn’t enough, I suppose it makes sense that I stayed. This is something I don’t think about very often at all, but – because I’ve shared some personal posts lately, I thought this might help someone else. And if I can use what I went through to help someone else break free or realize their worth, I have to do it. I can’t recall most of the details at this point but want to open up about staying in an abusive relationship and hope this might help someone who needs to read it.
Staying in an Abusive Relationship
So how did this happen to me?
It was the perfect storm of low confidence and growing up with verbal abuse as a norm. I cannot imagine a world where I would let someone treat me the way he treated me at this point in my life, but I did. I also no longer allow that sort of abuse, control, and manipulation from my parents. And maybe “allow” is the wrong word. I just got to a place where I couldn’t do it any longer. I was young and I was used to things being volatile with my mom. It was all I knew. And It took what feels like a lifetime (until my late 30s) to really separate from her, so I can see how I allowed him to stay in my life for as long as I did.
Months in, things started to unfold and we had our first of many breakups. But he did everything he could to make himself a victim and I stayed. And it wasn’t all bad – he could be sweet and made me feel loved when he wasn’t hurting me. By the time I started to see pieces of his brokenness and cruelty, I loved him. And I am not someone to abandon those who love and need me. We had a big fight (mostly just him tearing me apart) and broke up.
He apologized and begged me not to leave. So I gave him the first of many chances.
We did not live together (ever) but I spent most nights at his apartment. So we basically did, but I had a bedroom at my mom’s house so he could throw me out regularly. And he did. I can’t tell you how many times over the next (almost) decade, he would pile all my stuff by the door or say “pack your shit” and I’d leave. There’s some shame sharing that, but I’ve come a long way. I’d find myself feeling broken, sad, and alone. Then he’d apologize, make me feel badly for him, tell me he loved me, and I’d forgive him. It’s difficult to admit that I put up with verbal abuse, extremely volatile and unpredictable behavior, control, gaslighting, and shame. But it’s all I knew.
He did everything he could to keep me separate from others.
From not liking and not wanting to see my friends to keep me from his family. We found ourselves in a bubble and at times, it was fun. Even special. He wasn’t always awful, but that should never ever be the standard. The abuse would come out in little waves, all verbal, and he once pushed me. He slowly chipped away at me and I felt like I couldn’t leave. He would tell me that no one would ever want to be with me because of my family. Or he would put down my appearance telling me I wasn’t his type – that he preferred tan beach girls. I cringe typing that. If a friend or sister or one of you came to me and said you were going through this, I’d beg you to leave.
It was always somehow, my fault or he was going through something really hard that left him feeling broken. No one ever (ever) deserves to be hurt, disrespected, or cut down like that. Ever.
It all made me feel so small, and I continued to grow smaller and smaller until I didn’t know who I was anymore.
The lies he told me preyed on my family experiences. He made his parents sound like monsters, and who was I to judge someone for not being close with their family? His mom eventually reached out and shared that he was in fact, the monster. He lied about everything – his family, their circumstances, his friends, and even his age. And he made me feel terrible for him. The criticism was awful. The name calling, the tearing me apart, making me feel horrible any time I made the simplest mistake, like leaving a cabinet open.
I eventually decided to start over, moving from LA to Chicago.
In the back of my mind, I knew a move was my way out of this relationship. I’ve also always left this part of the story out because I give him zero credit in my move. We were still (sort of) together for a few months because of course we were. He came out to visit twice, both visits came with arguments and threats to leave early. Except now I knew I could make it on my own. I was doing it without him every day. I was stronger.
He eventually said he needed space and I told him to take that space forever. I hung up the phone and we never spoke again. He sent some long email about how hurtful it was that I moved away (more manipulation). I didn’t know what I was worth, but I knew it was more than him.
What I want you to know
If you find yourself in a relationship that makes you feel hurt, small or broken, talk to someone. Know that you should never be made to feel that way by anyone. Being treated in a way that causes shame is not ok. If you’re keeping secrets from family and friends, it’s time to walk away. If you’re with someone who tells you that you are worthless or worth less than they are, run. No type of abuse is ever ok and it is never warranted. And It is never your fault. You do not and should not have to take it, and the most important: it does not define you. You are not weak or broken, even though you might feel that way. And you deserve to be loved.