themighty logo

I Never Thought I Would Be in an Abusive Relationship

I never thought I would be in an abusive relationship.

I grew up in a household where my mom and I were verbally and emotionally abused.  Knowing the signs and seeing what my mom had to endure, I thought I was somehow immune.

I’m 33. In 2019, I divorced my husband of three and a half years, whom I’d dated seven years prior to our engagement, because I was no longer happy. To him, it was out of the blue. To me, it had been building for a long time, and I’d been expressing my unhappiness for quite a while before I told him I wanted a divorce.

In 2020 during the pandemic, I realized that marriage and the relationship was not just toxic, but abusive.

I’m fortunate in the sense that I was able to leave of my own volition, and that he didn’t threaten me. The abuse I suffered was mostly in the form of gaslighting and verbal abuse.  My anxiety was at its worst during the last decade than it’s been my entire life; I always thought it was me — I was defective. Why couldn’t I just be happy? Why did I have to ruin everything?

A moment came when I realized my mental health had been used against me; it wasn’t just me. It never had been.

Marriage is about compromises, yes, but it shouldn’t diminish who you are. I’m just now in my early 30s experiencing many things for the first time that my peers did in their 20s, and I’m learning about who I am and what I want. It’s long overdue but never too late.

There were warning signs I ignored in my relationship with my ex-husband, even before the marriage. Huge red flags I wish I’d paid attention to.

Over time, I lost myself. I looked around my home and didn’t see myself in it at all. He didn’t like my ideas for decorating our home because they didn’t fit in to his “traditional” ideal. So we went with what he liked, and while I had some input, his tastes were reflected in every piece that sat inside the home, even outside — right down to the doormat.

I lost friends, mostly because my ex-husband didn’t like to go out, and when I did he would get upset that he was left home alone for several hours while I went to volunteer or spend time with those friends. So I became isolated, yet another red flag.

When I expressed an interest in going back to school to get a graduate degree in something I was passionate about, he would get angry instead of supportive; he wanted to go back to school for something as well but felt that he couldn’t afford it, so didn’t. If he couldn’t, why should I?

Over the years I felt often as if I was losing my mind. There were conversations we had in which I know certain phrases were said by him, or by me, and he would convince me otherwise. He’d ask me if I’d taken my meds or if I needed them adjusted, using my mental illness (anxiety and OCD) against me.

Once, just once, he followed me during an argument and slammed my hand in a door on accident. I experienced a PTSD flashback at that time and instead of giving me the space I begged for, he continued to follow me, put his hands on my shoulders and tried to snap me out of it. Then he got angry, yelled at me and left the house — leaving me as well, in a heap on the floor.  t took me years to remember what happened that night because I blocked it out. Why I didn’t leave then, I don’t know. Perhaps I believed it was my fault, that I instigated the argument and hurt his feelings.

My ex-husband doesn’t seem like the “abusive type” on the outside. He’s charming, intelligent, successful and well-dressed. He has a ton of friends, many of whom are mutual to this day. None of them would believe me if I told them how he treated me, or of the above example. He goes on with his life and relationships while I struggle day to day with healing from his abuse.

Self-care has been so important during this time, and there are days when I have to force myself to get out of bed. I’m happy to say I’m in a healthy relationship now with a wonderful man who listens to and respects me; things are going slowly and as they should, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult days, flashbacks or emotional landmines we run across.

I tell this story not to seek pity or be consoled; yes, I’m still hurting and going through the healing process will take time. But I want other young women out there to know that abuse is not always physical. There are, as I mentioned, warning signs (taken from the National Domestic Violence Hotline):

  • Telling you that you never do anything right.
  • Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them.
  • Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with friends, family members, or peers.
  • Insulting, demeaning or shaming you, especially in front of other people.
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about working or attending school.
  • Controlling finances in the household without discussion, including taking your money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses.
  • Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with.
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
  • Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions.
  • Insulting your parenting or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets.
  • Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats or mace.
  • Destroying your belongings or your home.

If you are experiencing abuse in your relationship, please seek help. Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or contact your local women’s shelter. You deserve to feel safe, loved and happy. 

Getty image via weerapatkiatdumrong