I never would have guessed that I would find myself in an emotional abusive relationship. I was fully aware and constantly working on my self-esteem issues. I have a calm and rational demeanor. I have a low tolerance for BS and for wasting my time on doing things that do not work towards a positive end goal.
However, I underestimated the lies and the power of gaslighting when imparted by someone that you “love”.
Notice, I put the word love in quotes above. That’s because any relationship that involves emotional abuse is devoid of romantic love. What is there is love of self; love of an idea; love of the feeling of being wanted/needed. But there is no real romantic, healthy love of a partnership….of building a life together. There is no respect; and without respect, you cannot have true love.
Most survivors of domestic abuse will tell you that in the beginning, their abusive relationship was all they dreamed of. In my case, I never encountered a man that openly spoke of marriage and having a family with me. He told me verbatim “You will make a great mother”. He also complimented me all the time and almost sat in awe of my knowledge and abilities. But it did not take long (6 months) for the signs of emotional abuse to rear their ugly head. If I only knew then what I know now…I would have run away and never glanced back. Here’s what I saw:
One of the first episodes that gave me pause was when I accidentally let a stray dog that he took in escape. It was already a dicey situation because I was renting an apartment. He was living with me and took this dog in…even though my lease said ‘no pets’. He insisted on keeping him in spite of my protests. One day, I opened the door, and the dog bolted. Given my gimpy leg, I was not able to run after him and catch him. My ex was furious. We got into his car to try to drive around and find the dog, but to no avail. He then punched the gear shift and somehow broke the side of it. The act chilled me…but I let it slide, because at least he was hitting me, right?
So that was not an isolated incident. During the course of our relationship he punched and damaged many other items, walls, threw lit cigarettes inadvertently, etc. Again, I brushed it off and told myself “At least he is not hitting me”. He also justified his behavior with saying this as well. “I am not a bad guy. Look, I don’t hit you, do I?” However the truth of the matter is that he used anger to justify and excuse complete disregard for value and safety. And that is a big warning sign. Everyone gets angry. However anger does not give you a free pass to act whatever way you want.
Never Truly Owning Up to Mistakes & Making Changes
This one took me years to recognize…even though it was present from the very start. For emotional abusers, who often also tend to have narcissistic traits, nothing is ever really completely their fault. They may say that they are sorry. They may even state that they are bad people, and tell you exactly what they did to make you feel terrible. You will hear this and think, “Oh, they are sorry. They see what they did wrong, and they are going to fix it.” The truth is, it is just a tool to bring you back to the exact same place you were before.
I used to confront my ex after he repeated the same behavior, and remind him how he said that it was his fault and how he would change. That’s when the tables would turn. “I know, I am working on it. You have to give me time. Change doesn’t happen overnight.” Or “Well why are you calling me out? You still do ___ and ____.” Or “I don’t have the time/money/energy to deal with that right now. I will (one day).” Or “I cannot do this on my own. I need you to help me.” Or “I know. I need to get counseling/psych meds.”. Like some demented merry-go-round, in the end, nothing would ever change. If anything, things would get worse.
They are Rarely Content
There was a point where every single day, my ex would growl, “I hate my life.” Me, being the constant sympathizer, would ask “Why is that?”….as if there was something I could do to help. He would then go on to list the same problems that many of us have, including myself. ‘I hate my job’ ‘I don’t have any money’ ‘My parents don’t help me’, etc., etc. I then took another approach and told him, “Look, I am a part of ‘you life’. So when you say that you hate it…are you implying that you hate me too?”
This also killed me inside because I did all that I could, definitely too much in fact, to try to make him happy. I made efforts to get him the food he liked. Splurged on paying for his XBox live membership and those freaking Funko Pops that he collected. I always checked to see if he had enough cash on him to get through the day. I even pointed out all of these things once or twice; not to throw it in his face, but to help him see all the good things he has. When I boys were born, I foolishly tried to get him to see them as blessings too.
In the end, it did absolutely nothing. Our relationship still ended with him believing that me and the rest of the world was out to get him. That I did not try hard enough to save our relationship by creating a better life for us.
They Tend to Monopolize Your Time and Attention
For almost 20 years I have worked in office jobs where my work week is Monday through Friday. Before I met my ex, I would always attend religious services on Saturdays as well. Early on in our relationship he used to pout about me going. They way he spun it was, “You work all week long and I hardly see you. Now you go off on your own for half the day on Saturday too. I wish you would stay home with me sometimes.” So eventually, I cut back on going to services and then stopped altogether. I thought that I was being a good girlfriend by doing so.
But what I thought was an innocent plea to want to spend more time with me was really a disrespect for anything in my life that did not involve him. This extended to my own family even. Of course, it was always put in a coy way. “You are too nice. You go over to visit your sister/mom/cousin all of the time, but they never come over here. You should make them come over to our house – they would if they really cared about you.” The truth of the matter is, they did want to come over. But often times I would offer to go over their homes because my ex would be rude to them…or pressing for them to leave. Or even put up a silent protest by retreating to a bedroom or the game room in the basement until after they left. As soon as they would go, he would emerge…verbally being thankful that they were gone and that he could now smoke and play video games and be alone with me again.
Curiously, they also tend to isolate themselves. When we got together, my ex began to neglect all of his other friendships. Some people would be flattered, but I was concerned. “You and ____ have been friends since you were 4 years old. How come you never call or hang out with them anymore?” I personally think it was because he did not want others to see how he treated me. Over the course of our 7 year relationship we did have a handful of close friends talk to him about how toxic his behavior was. He listened, but I don’t think the advice hit home at all. If anything he was annoyed that people were meddling in our business and he knew better then them anyway.
You Need to Prove That You Forgive Them
I used to dread the inevitable make ups after fights with my ex. That is because for him, the fight was not over until we both said that we were sorry. It could be a clear case where he would be wrong…and he would still hold out until I said sorry as well. He would always want me to hug him to prove that all was forgotten. Some sex would be nice too. In the latter part of the relationship, I would say no to that though. I would explain that I was not interested in having sex with someone that had hurt me so profoundly just an hour or so before. That would flare his temper again…saying that I’m such a terrible girlfriend because I hadn’t slept with him in days/weeks/months. I told him that if that was so, why didn’t he just leave? He would say, “Because I just don’t throw up my hands and give up when times get bad like you do.” That would keep me around for a little bit….but then one day he asked, “Well, why are you with me then?” and I responded, “You know what? I have no idea!”. And that began the process of me putting my hand on the exit door.
Now that they relationship is behind me, it is frustrating to remember how much time was wasted on the making up after a fight routine, and trying to prove that I forgave him after he proved how much he was sorry. Because that is not what a relationship should be about. A relationship should be about mutual protection and active engagement in doing things help each other. It should not be about you or me making a mistake and then finding a way to make things right again. We are human…we all make mistakes. But being in love is not about keeping score. It is about doing and building a life together.
Domestic abuse is more then just violence. It is also about manipulation and disregard for a partner’s emotional well being. A soul crushing moment for me is when I asked, “You live with me. I am closer to you then I am to anyone else in the world. Don’t you see how your behavior is effecting me? You are destroying me!” When that statement was said, and it was received like a balloon bouncing off the wall, I knew then that any kind of happy future for me would be one where that relationship was squarely in my past.