Trigger Warning! This post contains details of domestic abuse, including sexual abuse, that some readers might find triggering.
Abuse isn’t always obvious. It doesn’t ever begin with a punch to the face or a hard shove. It is much, much more subtle than that. The start of it could be so slight you wouldn’t even notice it. It could be a criticism of your outfit. Then a throwaway comment about your weight. You are ridiculed because you got a fact wrong. You are told you are stupid for not knowing what a word meant. You brought the wrong kind of soap. You really should try harder. You need to loose some weight. Why don’t you exercise?
Before you know it, that little insecure voice in your head has become a booming vocal reality. It has been personified in the form of the person you love. You believe it is all your fault. You always suspected you were dumb and ugly. They deserve so much better than you. You become so grateful for the little pieces of kindness they ration out to you. The kisses. The sincere “I love you more than anything”.
Your body is for their pleasure. You do all you can to make it as beautiful as possible for them. They like it when you wear the black dress, the heels that hurt your feet. You are so sexy when they are on top. Your body belongs to them. Only they know how to make you come. You think you know, but you are wrong. They know what you need. You fake orgasms so they stop.
They tell you about the women they know who are so much smarter than you. Rebecca is a doctor. But she’s still really cool. Rebecca is so kind. They wish you could be more like Rebecca.
He’s a feminist. He supports women. He’s read lots of books about it. He can educate you. You don’t even know all the ways the patriarchy disadvantages you. Look at all these cool women. Why aren’t you like them? You don’t understand the words, you don’t know the correct terms. He is a much better supporter of women than you. You should read these books.
You have to make a good impression. His friends are really important. They are really clever people. You can’t let him down by saying the wrong thing. They want to know your favourite sex position. Don’t fuck this up now, don’t fuck this up.
You have bad taste in music. Your music taste is inferior. He knows all the best new music. Don’t worry, he will make you some playlists. You can’t play the music you like around him. It is bad music. You should listen to music he likes. Can’t you see how much better it is? Can’t you see how intelligent the artist is? Are you stupid?
You are too hairy, you should laser your body hair off. Here’s a list of all the places you should remove hair from. You can’t go out in public looking like that. You can’t be seen with him looking like that. You need to lose some weight. The women he likes don’t look like you. The women he likes are clean. You are never clean enough.
All your friends are bitches. You shouldn’t spend time with them. They are hateful, ignorant people. They aren’t worth your time. He knows these kinds of people. He won’t spend time with them. You shouldn’t either.
Your job isn’t as important as his job. You are not any good at it anyway. Why don’t you give up? Why don’t you have a baby? No one cares about your work. You made a twitter account. Only ad bots follow you. No one cares about your research. You’re trying to do a job that is too difficult for you. He will take care of you. His job is very important.
He needs your support. He is very stressed right now and you aren’t helping. It’s your fault. You are making him more stressed. Why don’t you clean things properly?
You cost him too much money. You should pay for more things. He needs more money than you. You are a financial burden. What do you even spend your money on anyway?
You should only buy organic foods. Supermarkets are evil. Why are you trying to make him eat unethical foods? You are all that is wrong in this world. You are ignorant of all the worlds problems. You are selfish. You are unkind. He doesn’t understand how you can be so mis informed and ignorant.
You have no opinions. His opinions are your opinions. Its better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. You are so stupid. You are lucky you have someone to correct you, someone to educate you. Everything you do and say is wrong. It’s better if you stop trying.
You mother asks you if you are going to have a baby. She’d love a grand child. Your mother asks if you are getting married. She thinks you’ve found a real catch. A real stand up guy.
He brings you to a party. You don’t know anyone. He leaves you alone. He flirts with his ex girlfriend. She tells you she’s surprised he’s with you. You’re alone. You talk to a stranger. The stranger is kind to you. You feel less alone.
How could you embarrass him like that? In front of all his friends?! How could you be such a whore! You are a nasty and selfish person. You are a bitch. Slut. Whore. Throwing yourself at the first man that takes pity on you. That guy wouldn’t even fuck you if you begged him. You are ugly. You are an embarrassment to yourself. Have some self respect. He deserves better.
Things get tense. You slip into depression. You don’t deserve him. You should feel lucky that he is with you. He loves you so much. He loves you. You feel guilty all the time. He shouts at you when you wash up with the wrong gloves. He shouts at you when you break a glass. It’s your fault. You need to try harder. You are an awful girlfriend. You are making him stressed.
He argues with you until you cry. Every day. You are wrong about so many things.
He takes away your phone. You waste your time on it. No one is interested in what you have to say anyway. He’s doing it to help you. Facebook is for self absorbed selfish people. You don’t want to be like that. Facebook is spying on you. He knows all your passwords. You should delete your Facebook account. He has deleted his. He is a better person than you. Your friends don’t understand. He’s doing it because he cares for you. He doesn’t want you to embarrass yourself again. Isn’t he all that you need? Isn’t he all that you want? Why do you need to see those other people? Your friends are bitches.
You are a financial burden. You should pay all the rent. You should pay all the bills. His life would be less stressful if you took on your fair share of the finances.
It’s your birthday. It’s Christmas. He gives you a gift. The gift is music he likes. The gift is a film he likes. The gift is a book he likes. You need educating. You are not grateful enough. He’s done a really nice thing and brought you a gift and you weren’t excited enough. You weren’t thrilled enough. You didn’t read it quick enough. You are ungrateful. You are selfish. You are horrible. Why do you treat him so badly? You don’t deserve gifts. Why don’t you appreciate him? He shouldn’t bother. You make him stressed. You are a burden.
You should buy a house. It just makes good financial sense. He needs an investment. You use all your savings to buy a house with him. Why do you need a safety net? Everyone agrees it is a good idea to buy a house.
He wants to move to London. All the best people live in London. All the culture is in London. His best friends live in London. He could live in London if it wasn’t for you. Not everyone would stay with someone like you. You are lucky. He puts up with your depression. He puts up with your ignorance. He takes care of you. Do you even realise how much better he could live if he didn’t have you? He loves you.
The house is a drain on him. He says it is your house. You made him have it. He hates that you made him buy a house so you could live in it. You are selfish. You should pay all the mortgage. It is your house.
You don’t earn enough. You should quit your job.
By some miracle, you start doing well at work. Your boss praises you. You colleagues look up to you. You have achieved something. Perhaps you are not so stupid after all.
You start to think about leaving him. Whispering it to yourself in the dead of night. But not yet, not now. He is very stressed. You don’t want to stress him out more. You are not sure. Not sure at all. This could just be your depression. He loves you. It’s probably just your depression making you feel bad. He cares for you. You feel guilty.
He pushes you over. He shoves you against the wall. You fall down the stairs. Why did you make him do that? He doesn’t like being that guy. You pull away from him when he grasps for your body in bed. Why did you do that? Why did you make him feel like the awful sleazy groping guy? He’s not that guy. How dare you make him feel like some kind of rapist. It’s all your fault. You feel guilty.
You connect with a old friend. You talk about leaving him. She is shocked. She thought you were happy. She thought you’d found the one. She doesn’t understand it. You waver. You try to put your finger on why you want to leave him. You feel guilty. You feel stupid. You question yourself.
He tries to have sex with you without wearing a condom. He says you should trust him. He tries again. He says it is such a turn on. He says you’ll like it. He tries again. He says you are selfish in bed. He is suspicious of your blow job skills. Where did you learn that? Who have you been sucking off? He won’t talk to you he’s so angry. You have to sleep on the floor.
You are exhausted. Every nerve has spent all of its energy. Your Grandmother has terminal cancer. You want to care for her. Overwhelmingly all you feel is fatigue. Trying to do everything right is exhausting. Trying to placate him is exhausting. Trying to always say the right thing is exhausting. Trying not to be a burden is exhausting. Listening to his stress is exhausting. You just want to sleep forever.
When you finally leave, its not with a fight but with a sigh and a shudder. He doesn’t care. He can do better than you. You can go. You are dismissed. It has been three long years but you think it is finally over. You are relived.
He calls every day. It is your responsibility to talk to him. You were the one that ended the relationship. He needs you to talk to him. He is very stressed.
He calls to let you know he wants money. His name is on your mortgage. You owe him. You have to borrow money from your parents to pay him off. They don’t understand why you broke up. Your mother tells you there aren’t many good men out there. That you were all set to have a good life with him. Why did you ruin it all?
You pay him off, but the bank won’t remove his name from the mortgage. You don’t earn enough to have it all in your name. You have a choice, sell your home or live knowing he has power over you. He could demand you sell your home at any moment. He could borrow against your house. You start playing the lottery and buying scratch cards, desperate to be able to pay off your mortgage. You feel trapped.
He calls to tell you about his new girlfriend. She’s the same age you were when you first starting dating him. He is nine years older than her. He tells you how much better she is than you. He tells you how much fun he is having with her. You shouldn’t mind him telling you that, he says, because you broke up with him. You worry about her.
You go out with friends. You make new friends. You connect with old friends. You remember you are funny. It’s a turning point for you. All these kind faces laughing at your jokes. It’s something so simple but it changes your whole perspective. He made you forget you are funny. He wore you down so much you forgot what you can be like. You forgot you can be happy and laugh. You forgot people care about you. He ground you down so much you didn’t realise that you are smart. And you are really fucking smart.
You stop answering his calls. You just let it ring. You feel relieved.
A year goes by. A really happy year. You start online dating. People like you, and you like people. You feel confident. You feel attractive. You meet someone you have a real connection with. They love and support you. They build you up. They tell you you are smart. They listen to what you have to say. They make you orgasm. They don’t ever ask you to change your appearance. They let you be you. You realise how toxic your last relationship was. You thank your stars you left it. You worry about other women he has dated.
* When I first set out to write this post I thought I would share some tips and advice on how to spot abuse. I thought I would share some words of wisdom on how to leave an abusive relationship and how to regain your confidence. But the truth is I don’t have any answers. All I can offer is my solidarity.
The whole point of me writing this article is that I want people to realise and recognise that abuse isn’t always physical, or extremely controlling. Sometimes it just someone screaming at you for using the wrong washing detergent. Sometimes it’s someone starting arguments with you just to make you cry and apologise to them for not agreeing with them right away. Sometimes it’s just someone who builds themselves up by tearing you down.
The only advice I have is to get out by whatever means possible, and as soon as possible. A thousand “I love you”’s cannot ever make up for being made to feel stupid, or small, or ugly. Abuse starts off small, it starts of subtle, it pushes gently at your insecurities and then it tells you it’s all a joke. Don’t laugh along. Pack up and go as soon as you notice it. No one deserves to be abused, including you.
The more I got wrapped up in writing this piece and revisiting that period of my life, the more I realised how difficult it is to get out. I realised how lucky I am that I got out with very few scars to show for it.
I’d like to say I made a strategic plan and had some kind of super human strength behind me to walk away from the relationship. But that’s not what happened. He just exhausted me so much that it was a choice between killing myself or leaving him. I thought he would react more violently. Violence was rarely his thing though. He was all about psychological abuse, probably to make himself feel better.
It took me six months from realising I need to end the relationship to actually ending it. I cannot even begin to comprehend how difficult it is for people with children, people with no support network, or people with no where to go.
I was lucky in that he had not succeeded in cutting me off from my friends. I was lucky he had not succeeded in getting me pregnant. I was lucky I had people to take me in and support me.
I thought it would destroy me to end it, but actually all I felt was relief. A huge weight was lifted from me. I now look back on that period of time, not so much with regret, but with the knowledge that it changed me permanently. I have looked the beast right in the eye. I know what it looks like. I won’t be tricked again. And that little insecure voice in my head can shut the fuck up. I know I’m better off without it.
This page contains links and phone number of domestic abuse charities in the UK, should you need support.