The Mighty Logo

When You Don't Realize You're in an Abusive Relationship

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

This post might be triggering for women or men who have experienced abuse. This post might also be hard for my family and friends to read, but it’s important for me to write this. I want to share my experience so that, maybe, I can help others. I started to think about writing something the other day after an incident reminded me of where I was and why it was a bad situation, like when putting ketchup on bacon can make someone angry enough to cut you down.

• What is PTSD?

Sometimes, I wish he would’ve hit me. Maybe that would have made leaving easier, but he didn’t. He never laid a hand on me in anger, except for that one time when he pushed me out of the way because I had pushed his buttons just a little too hard. What he did to me was worse, because no one could see how he cut me down. My family had clues, but my friends had no idea. I didn’t have to hide how he treated me because it was so unbelievable, I didn’t believe it myself. I thought that’s how love grew. Eventually, I shuddered at his touch because the idea of being intimate was no longer exciting, but it scared me a little because he didn’t have boundaries. I thought that’s how love was supposed to be, that eventually “no” didn’t matter anymore. I pushed myself to the far edge of the bed each night, cranky, unlovable, and prayed he’d just fall asleep. Sometimes, it wasn’t always like that, but most of the time it was. Like when he told me my hopes and dreams were stupid and unattainable. I needed to be more realistic.

He turned my heart to stone. I wasn’t funny without him because I stole all his jokes. My five years at university didn’t matter and were a waste of time. I should learn to put my time in at a company instead of jumping from dream to dream with no direction. I hadn’t been told I was pretty in six years. I stopped spending time with my friends because he didn’t like them. He told me they were “wishy-washy.” Maybe some of them were, but I know now that was my decision to make. He told me my dad’s military accomplishments were nothing to be proud of because he never fought in combat, but he would never know what my mom felt like to raise two small children on her own while my dad was away providing for his family. And we would fight. About my family, the dog, the food I never cooked right or the dishes that still had spots.

He put ideas in my mind that I didn’t believe but eventually accepted because his personality is strong and mine is weak. I would forgive him and forget because I was comfortable, I could buy nice things, and I loved his family more than they’ll ever know. But this isn’t love. Feeling sad, worthless and lonely in the company of another was a warning sign I ignored because four years, six years, eight years is too much time to throw away. I watched friends get married and have children, with a tiny itch in my heart knowing I wanted that too but pretending I didn’t for him because when I was 20, I made the mistake of saying I didn’t want that, but at 27 maybe now I did. I was deceitful for changing my mind. I thought I was on the right track, and that I’d never find anyone who would treat me better. Who could possibly love me as much as him?

Control isn’t love. Changing someone to fit your ideal isn’t love. I was never the person he wanted. I think he simply saw someone who was easy to influence and manipulate. Maybe he didn’t know that’s what he was doing but that’s what he did to me. I spent so much time under his thumb that I still dread going home some evenings even though I know I’m going home to another. The drive home sometimes is just too similar that I slip back into those thoughts. I see small glimpses of my personality shine through, but I know I’ll never get it all back. I know I’ll never be who I was before I was abused. It’s difficult for me to say that word, but regardless of what anyone says or feels, I know that’s what it was. I know that now that I’m in a proper, loving relationship with a man whose dreams are bigger than mine and who tells me we can achieve anything together. I’m with a man who tells me I’m beautiful every day. I still feel shattered. He asks me from time to time if I can forget that other man, and I think I can.

It’s hard to imagine a time when I can erase all the bad things he did to me. They were often so small that the silliest things will remind me of that time, and I’ll get a pang in my heart — a shitty little feeling that maybe I’m ridiculous or not good enough. I start to question how this new, amazing man could love me as much as he says he does. I wait for the time when maybe he changes his mind or suddenly his personality will change. It hasn’t yet, and I don’t think it will, but it’s hard not to worry.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Richard Brutyo on Unsplash

Originally published: February 13, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home