This article represents one woman’s struggle living in an emotionally abusive relationship. The subheadings represent the many stages of experience, red flags, adaptation, and truth, as the phases that one goes through in progression of the abuse, as we dismiss the signals, try to change ourselves and our partners, and eventually make discoveries that lead us to the next step. While they may look a little different in each situation, These are the feelings we have, the obstacles we face, and the changes we make, desperately trying to accommodate bad behavior, but ultimately learning as we go along. Whether we blame ourselves, blame our partners, or endure years of imprisonment, turmoil, and hardship, eventually one recognizes that our attempt to mitigate the problem, is futile. As every relationship is different, it is up to each of us, individually, to examine our feelings and understand that our pain comes from something real. Emotional abuse can wear many faces; sometimes what may not seem so bad, is our attempt to minimize a bad situation. Sometimes the reality of a bad situation does not become apparent until we are on the outside looking in. But years of turmoil will wear a person down, as a slow and insidious process. The themes of isolation, minimizing, and constant states of upheaval are also inherent in the story as known characteristics of an abusive relationship, and I urge you to identify them. My sense is that many reading this essay will, unfortunately, relate with some of the details, but my hope is that the story serves to empower those who have been affected by emotional abuse, to share and learn from the story, as a way to bring about hope and to remind us that, life can be different.
It took the strength of an army and the courage of a true warrior to leave my abusive relationship.
People will judge you, ridicule you, and scoff at the woman who stays, enduring abuse, time after time. Some are ignorant to the reality of abuse, to the power of emotional terror, many differentiate this from physical terror. But I am here to tell you, they are one in the same.
Experience is by far the best teacher. But what’s ultimately better is the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience. In the end, I was helped by both.
I was just eighteen when I met my husband; he was nine years older. In the beginning, he was charming, and sweet. I loved his sense of humor. I loved that he worked hard and enjoyed his passion as a chef. I loved his kindness, his generosity, and what I saw as great potential.
Things moved rather quickly once we began dating. I started a caregiving job and we moved in together after a few months. We had many friends and shared a healthy social life. He was well-liked by many. Things were easy and somewhat normal back then.
The first red flags
Though it would all unfold gradually, it was in the first of four years that I began to notice his unusual temper; followed by other quirky personality characteristics. He could explode at the mildest offense and by the end, he was something of a loose cannon. I tried to change myself as to accommodate his unpredictable moodiness. His behavior became more pronounced, more frequent, and controlling.
Sometimes his rage manifested as a silent muttering, a muttering under his breath that became a hallmark of his rage, that which could quickly escalate.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing, for two years he managed to control himself well enough to stay pleasant around others, but over time this changed, too, and his true colors began to surface. Eventually I feared being alone with him in a restaurant or social venue. He would explode into a fit of rage and desert me. One by one, friends would slowly dissipate, leading to my eventual isolation.
A year and a half into the relationship, I discovered I was pregnant. The circumstances brought me dread and confusion. I convinced myself to make it work, and despite the nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, I squashed my ambivalence, and we were married that July.
The fights would always start with his pointing out something I had done wrong. I didn’t set the table right. I didn’t get home in time for dinner. I chose a bad parking spot. He felt slighted. I didn’t love him enough. I didn’t make enough time with him, and so on, but I somehow learned to change myself as to keep the peace, and accommodate him.
Even so, adapting to the abuse was futile. I grew so weary of his hostility and efforts to control me that I would ask him to leave me alone for a night. But he always refused. So I would gather my things, and leave on my own. Sometimes he would follow me; try to hold me back physically, and sometimes he would let me leave, but not without locking me out for the night.
When I could leave I stayed at my father’s house. By the third year I would stay away for several days at a time.
And the truth, shall set you free
It was in the fourth and final year of our relationship, when I began to make discoveries that stood to destroy everything I thought I’d had.
We applied together for a first time home loan and began to look at homes for sale, but gave up when I realized that his credit was too poor to qualify us for a decent mortgage.
Still, I would give him large amounts of my savings, paying off his bad debts, to make him a better man and to improve our situation. But ultimately he took it for granted; our future plans and his business goals generally withered, as he embarked on one half-hearted project, after another.
Then, things got even worse. The fraudulent charges on my credit card. The disguised gambling and drug addictions, that would lead to him squandering our rent money. Or he would tell me he had squandered it, and beg for forgiveness, but was only working me for cash.
One by one, more of the falsehoods surfaced I found out he had given up rights to his son from a previous relationship; when I’d been led to believe he was actively fighting for visitation rights – something I had urged him to do.
Then there was the time I learned the truth about his past – he had a felony rap sheet a mile long; filled with DUIs, Hit-and-Runs, Driving while suspended charges, harassment and theft, and several incarcerations.
Time after time, I would leave to my father’s. I wasn’t running away from “our problems”, what I was really running away from was him – the constant nagging, yelling two inches from my face, following me around as I’d try to evade his continuous harassment and denigration tactics. In the final year, I promised myself to leave him forever. But each time he would come back, cool and collected, presenting me with flowers, gifts, and favors, apologetic, and begging for another chance.
One woman’s wisdom
One late afternoon at work, I happened to be in the nursing office gathering supplies. The head nurse was the only one there. She was a grumpy older woman who barked orders and always had a chip on her shoulder. Needless to say I found her quite intimidating. But the events that followed would change me forever.
My husband had been calling me frantically at work that day. Bothered by all the messages, I used the office portable to call him back. Immediately, he started screaming at me through the phone, yelling obscenities over some minor thing. I had turned away and talked quietly back to him, urging him to stop, and quietly hung up.
In spite of my humiliation, my beaten self esteem, and tears that I couldn’t withhold, it was at this moment the nurse approached me. Her callous expression softened, as she said,
“Young lady, let me tell you. I have been married five times.” She raised up one hand, enumerating with five outstretched fingers. She continued,
“I’ve had plenty of wretched men in my life.,plenty of heartache, and I have been where you are now. They will try to control you, intimidate you, and make you feel worthless.So do not let him do it. Gather your strength, and get rid of him. You’ll be a better woman for it.”
And just like that, she turned around, and returned to her desk.
I stood there, empowered and frozen, struggling to process this unprecedented event. It was the first time she’d spoken to me like a person, and her doing so transformed me, lifted my self-esteem just enough to give me power.
I wiped away the tears, and pressed on. But for the rest of the day, and many that followed, her words rang through me, permeated me like church bells.
That night represented the last time I would take the abuse. I focused on my strategy, and that evening, after a usual fight, my experience culminated with the words of another woman’s wisdom. And the power in that otherwise inconsequential event, saved me. I left my old life behind that night, and I have never looked back.