When It’s an Abusive Relationship, but It’s Not Like He Ever Hit You
“You’re being crazy and jealous. Loosen up.”
“If you just did what I told you, I wouldn’t be mad.”
“You need to stop hanging out with your friends and spend more time with me.”
“You’re not being a good enough wife. I need more from you.”
“If you leave, no one will ever love you as much as I do.”
You heard these things all the time. Every day, every week, every month. And it broke you. But you convinced yourself it wasn’t that bad. It’s not like he ever hit you.
He was charming. Your parents loved how kind he was and how well he treated you when you brought him over for family dinners. He made you laugh and knew how to put a smile on your face. He bought you flowers in the beginning, showered you with gifts you could never afford on your own and took you out to fancy restaurants.
You had thousands of good times together. And it was pure bliss — until it wasn’t.
Slowly, things changed. He started criticizing how you acted in front of his family and friends. Told you that you couldn’t wear this or had to wear that. The arguments became more frequent and they kept getting worse.
He called you every name in the book — bitch, stupid, crazy, worthless, piece of shit. Then he threatened to break up with you and kick you out of your apartment. He said if you left, you’d have nothing.
So you stayed because every couple argues and goes through rough patches, right?
You broke up a few times, got kicked out of your apartment and learned he returned the engagement ring he bought for you. Then he started being nice. He gave you compliments, told you how beautiful you looked and made you feel special. He gave you butterflies and made you laugh. Things were starting to look up again.
When he got down on one knee and asked you to marry him, you said yes. Because he loved you, and you loved him.
But whenever you tried to plan your wedding, you fought. He wanted no part of it but hated every decision you made. The flowers were ugly, the wedding colors “didn’t work” and he hated the friends you chose for your bridal party. You spent hours crying, wondering what you did wrong. So one day, you asked why he was putting off planning the wedding.
“I wish I never proposed. I never wanted to do it. I only proposed because I felt pressure from everyone and felt like it was the next logical step in our relationship because we’ve been together for so long.”
He said this a lot, and it made you feel like your relationship was a giant mistake. You questioned why you stayed with someone who was only with you because he felt like he had to be. But how could you possibly break up? What would your family think? How would you survive on your own?
So you stayed, and you convinced yourself it wasn’t that bad. It’s not like he ever hit you.
Then, after the wedding, things just got worse.
The name-calling escalated, and you started to believe every awful word he said to you. You believed him when he said your career wasn’t going anywhere, that your friends were terrible people and your boss hates you. You believed there was something wrong with you. You believed you were crazy, jealous, overreacting, being a bitch, being unreasonable. Everything about you just wasn’t good enough, and he made sure you knew it.
He started manipulating you into thinking everything was your fault. Even if you were upset with him for not picking up food from the grocery store, not walking the dog or coming home at 2 a.m., it was still your fault. Because you were crazy, ridiculous, selfish and uptight. You needed to calm down and stop nagging. You were annoying and jealous. He never took the blame or responsibility, even when he made a mistake. It was never his fault, always yours.
So you apologized over and over again. But those apologies weren’t enough. Years later, you still found yourself apologizing for situations you couldn’t change. He hung every mistake over your head and used it against you whenever he could.
When you experienced a mental health relapse, he wasn’t there. He didn’t even notice anything was wrong. But that was your fault for not speaking up and telling him what was wrong. It was your fault for being sick.
When you stopped cleaning the apartment, doing laundry, cooking dinner and getting out of bed, you were lazy. When you started self-harming again, you were immature and crazy. When you were strong and brave enough to reach out for help, you were being stupid. Because, according to him, if you just stopped being so negative, everything would be fine. You were strong enough to get through it on your own.
Except you weren’t. You were dying inside, and you needed help. But because he didn’t believe in taking medications for mental illnesses, you weren’t allowed to take them either. So, when you went behind his back and saw a psychiatrist anyway, he said you weren’t listening to him. And that wasn’t OK.
Because he was your husband, and you needed to listen to him and do what he said. His opinion mattered the most.
You couldn’t get tattoos because he wouldn’t be attracted to you anymore. You couldn’t wear leggings because you looked better in jeans. You had to look put-together every time you left the house. You needed to smile more, wipe away that “resting bitch face” and put the phone down. You needed to make more of an effort with his friends and family. You needed to be nicer. You needed to be everything he wanted you to be.
You spent countless nights on the bathroom floor crying your eyes out because you were so hurt, sad and alone. You felt hopeless and stuck. You started isolating yourself from everyone (because he told you to), working late, sleeping on the couch and going to Target even when you had nothing to buy. You just needed to get away.
And even though you wanted to leave, you couldn’t. Because he loved you, and no one would ever love you as much as he did.
Instead, you justified his behavior. He was just stressed from work, not sleeping enough and drinking too much. He was overwhelmed, tired and needed more space. He was this. He was that. You told yourself all these things were normal.
Plus, it’s not like you were perfect. Your actions – like not keeping the apartment clean, cooking healthy dinners, putting on makeup before leaving the house or wearing what he asked you to wear – caused a lot of problems. You were awful. You were worthless. You were nothing. And you deserved all this.
You kept convincing yourself that all this was normal. No relationship was perfect; every couple fought and you weren’t the only one going through this. It’s not like he ever hit you, so it couldn’t be that bad.
One day, you stared into the mirror, and that girl you saw – you didn’t recognize her. She wasn’t you. You were independent, strong, ambitious, happy and beautiful. This person was weak, broken and bruised. This person hated every single thing about herself.
But you still couldn’t leave him. Because you loved him, and he loved you. But mostly, you couldn’t leave because you were scared to be alone. You moved across the country for him, changed your last name for him. Everything you knew was with him. You loved his family. They loved you.
What would you do if you got a divorce? Where would you go? What would you have left?
One day, you woke up, and you started seeing the situation for what it was. You saw the manipulation and how controlling he was. You saw how he would push blame onto you when it was really his fault. You saw how he belittled you, tried to minimize your accomplishments and made you feel like you were nothing.
When he suggested getting a divorce, it was an easy decision. You wanted out, and he was finally giving you permission to leave. You finally got the strength and courage to get out of that toxic situation. So you left.
Finally, you admitted to yourself that what he did to you wasn’t normal. It wasn’t because he loved you. It was mental and emotional abuse.
Although he never hit you, he didn’t have to. He inflicted so much pain, and he left the scars behind to prove it. You still think you’re crazy, worthless and a piece of shit. You struggle to see the beauty inside you. You still can’t see how amazing you truly are.
But today, you no longer feel guilty when you make a mistake, struggle to get out bed, forget to do the dishes, go to the psychiatrist, get a tattoo or wear the same leggings for a week straight. You no longer feel pressure to look perfect when leaving the house, and you put on makeup when you want to. Not when he wants you to. You do things on your terms.
You no longer spend your nights crying yourself to sleep, wondering why you weren’t enough and what you did to deserve this. Instead, you feel empowered. You feel free.
Now, you realize leaving and getting a divorce was the best thing you ever could’ve done for yourself. You’re stronger now than you ever have been, and you know that one day, you will rise again.
Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash