In early 2007, I left an emotional and verbally abusive relationship.
Like most Januarys, I catch myself reflecting on how much I have or haven’t changed and what I wish for the next year. I often find myself giving myself a bit of grief for not accomplishing more by this stage in my life.
I suppose that’s frequent and familiar feeling that I am not unique in struggling with if I asked around. It has got me thinking about how different my January of 2007 was. Ten years ago (at time of this post originally) I was suffering silently in a controlling and emotionally abusive relationship. I am breaking my silence to let you all know the warning signs.
Heads up, these stories might be uncomfortable to some, but I am sharing with the notion that it might help someone in an abusive relationship, or help someone spot when their loved one is in one.
This post was originally published in January 2017, but I’ve updated it to be more relevant and with more backstory.
“You’ll get asked why you stayed so long. The misunderstanding that you’re aware of the abuse while it’s happening is a common one.”
January 2007 had me in a miserable state. I was in a relationship that I was aware was unhealthy, with someone I not only didn’t love, but didn’t even like anymore.
It didn’t start that way though, as many who’ve been in an unhealthy relationship will tell you. Once you get out, you’ll get asked why you stayed so long. The misunderstanding that you’re aware of the abuse/neglect/manipulation while it’s happening is a common one.
There were warning signs of course, and looking back they are so obvious to me now, but I was young, naive and quite honestly intimidated by the man I was involved with.
There’s your first clue you might be in a controlling, abusive or gaslighting relationship:
You should never be intimidated by the person who supposedly loves you.
“I was already in deep and had tunnel vision when it came to the man I was spending my time adoring.”
I remember when we first started dating he had wanted to keep it a secret from his friends, telling me that he wasn’t sure I would fit in with them intellectually.
There’s your second clue:
The person who supposedly loves you would never want to hide your relationship.
By the time I was deemed worthy enough to fill the position of full-time girlfriend it was 9 months later and I was already in deep and had tunnel vision when it came to the man I was spending my time adoring.
This was around the time his ex-girlfriend came to town for a visit. I was told that he was going to invite her over for a BBQ with his buddies and I was not to be there so that I didn’t make her feel uncomfortable. Days later one of his friends let it slip she had stayed the night, and not on the couch either if you catch my drift.
I was crushed and he knew it and used it against me. I was told that I was paranoid (he didn’t realise one of his friends had spilt the beans about his cheating ways). I was told I was, “too young to understand” since it was my first long-term adult relationship.
There’s your third clue:
An emotionally abusive person will use something like your age to make you feel inferior.
There’s your fourth clue:
A verbally abusive person will attempt to get away with inappropriate behaviour by causing a scene about something you supposedly did to sway the focus.
There’s your fifth clue:
A controlling person will project their own paranoias on you to distract you from the hold they’re forming over you.
“Emotionally it was so much worse; I remember feeling completely helpless.”
Let’s fast forward a year and moving in together, and he was now judgemental and critical both privately and publicly. Suddenly I was being told I was lazy if I spent my day off doing anything other than cleaning our apartment and grocery shopping.
I would be reprimanded like a child if I left crumbs on the counter after making a sandwich; A sandwich that, according to him would, “make me fatter”.
I walked on eggshells in my own home at all times, worried about any little thing that would set him off.
There’s your sixth clue:
The person who supposedly loves you should never control your eating.
There’s your seventh clue:
A controlling person will isolate you from your friends, because your friends love who you are, and that isn’t who he/she wants you to be.
It also became clear to me around this time that cleanliness and my physical appearance was an obsession of his. He came home one day after work to find I’d gotten my hair dyed back to my natural colour. The next day or two he refused to talk to me because I hadn’t been considerate enough to ask him permission first.
I was also to shower before work, after work and sometimes before bed if he felt I had gotten dirty somehow. As a result of this, I developed horrible eczema on my legs and elbows. I was left with unsightly red scaly rashes that itched so horribly it sometimes kept me up at night.
I was told what colours he liked best on me, and what attire I should wear to bed at night.
Physically it was agony, but emotionally it was so much worse; I remember feeling completely helpless.
There’s your eighth clue:
A controlling and abusive person might never hit you, but they will still manage to physically control your body.
“My friends no longer were inviting me out anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to join them, it was that it was frowned upon.”
At about two and a half years in, my friends no longer were inviting me out anymore; They’d given up trying after I constantly declined their offers.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to join them, but the ripple effect it caused at home caused me even more emotional strain. According to him, my friends, “brought out the worst in me” and that his friends should be enough for me.
The thing was, I also wasn’t allowed to go out with his friends often. He would go out for so-called “boys nights” only for me to find out the other girlfriends were invited. When I would ask him why he had lied I was told I, “Don’t have anything interesting to add to the group”.
I was an embarrassment to him; Someone he “couldn’t be proud to bring home to his parents”.
There’s your ninth clue:
An abusive partner will shame you, humiliate you and degrade you to strip you of your independence and keep you submissive.
“I made the mistake of trying to talk to him about how unhappy I was and as one can imagine, it didn’t go well.”
It was around this time I met up with one of my old friends for dinner. I remember apologising profusely because I’d spilt my beer; I told my friend I was sorry for embarrassing him. He, of course, thought this was no big deal and questioned why I felt this profound need to apologize.
And I took a chance and opened up to him.
I confided about my now ex’s cheating ways, and the things he would say and hold over my head. In the past my friends had mentioned that my boyfriend was a “bit of a jerk” but this was the first time someone ever said to me, “you know what you’re talking about is emotional abuse, right?”.
There’s your tenth clue:
An abusive person will have you apologising for everything all the time as if you owe them something. It’s a way to keep you in line and continue controlling you.
After my moment of clarity, I knew I wanted the relationship to end, but I was completely terrified to leave.
I made the mistake of trying to talk to him about how unhappy I was and as one can imagine, it didn’t go well. The next week I was surprised with a ‘vacation’ away (see clue #7).
The 9 hour flight away had me feeling isolated and homesick for the first time in my adult life. I was alone, thousands of miles from home with someone I now hated. I snuck down to the sports bar in the hotel lobby and emailed a friend and told him that I was miserable. The relationship was over, but I needed a way out.
Over the next month, I began to think about where I could go, and how I could leave.
One night I knew he’d be out late and was planning on staying at a friend’s. I packed a bag at midnight with necessities and called my mum. I remember saying, “Hi Mum, I’m coming home”.
The next day while he was at work my parents and I packed up a truck with anything absolutely worth taking. We drove home that day and the notorious Pacific Northwest rain stopped for a brief 30 minutes.
At that moment I felt the most peace I’d felt in a very long time.
The memory still brings tears to my eyes, over ten years later.
Develop an exit plan
I wanted to write my story for anyone out there that feels trapped in an unhealthy spousal relationship. I want you to know that you’re not stupid for being there, and it isn’t your fault. It’s ok that you didn’t see the signs or clues (I didn’t) and you can get out before it inevitably gets worse.
If you believe a loved one of yours is stuck in an unhealthy relationship, let them know privately that you’re willing to help when they are ready.
I was lucky that I still lived near my parents at the time and could come home. If you don’t have that fortune try reaching out to a family member, friend or coworker you trust.
Develop an exit plan and take your time thinking about the roadblocks that might pop up:
- Speak to your employer about switching direct deposit if you share finances with your spouse.
- Reach out to your cell phone provider about separating your number from his/her account.
- Forward your important mail to a friend/family or coworkers addresses until you have your own.
- Speak to your doctor about counselling possibilities to help you get through the aftermath of a bad relationship.
You might feel worthless, disappointed in yourself or overwhelmed with the prospect of starting over; These feelings are 100% natural, don’t let them deter you.
Happiness will come when you take back control of your own life.
In time you will become ‘you’ again. Your once distant friends will rally around you. You’ll be free to meet new people, just like I did.
That friend that I reached out to when I was miles from home, homesick and lonely? He became Mr. GirlLovesGloss and today I share my life with a supportive, compassionate all-around good person.
It seems this January has shown me that I’ve come an awfully long way, after all.