Why I Stayed: Because Nobody Told Me It Was Abuse

I’m coming a week or so late to this conversation, but I still think my story needs to be shared. When I first started reading the #WhyIStayed tweets, I was moved by the bravery those women had to share such intimate details about the trauma they’d been through. I thought I was lucky to have never been in a relationship in which my partner was physically violent towards me, especially considering how many women I knew in real life who weren’t as fortunate.

But it wasn’t until I started reading my own friends’ “Why I Stayed” stories that I realized–much to my surprise and horror–that I was a survivor too.

Recently, a few of my friends wrote posts on Facebook about how they had previously been stuck in emotionally abusive relationships. They wrote all the painful details about how their former partners had controlled them, manipulated them, and isolated them from their other friends.Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 11.56.21 PM

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The more I read, the deeper my heart sank–I realized that I had gone through the exact same experience a few years ago, only I didn’t know it could be considered abuse. I never thought about it that way; I thought my ex was just a jerk and a compulsive liar–he never hit me, but there were times in the relationship when I was really scared. I didn’t know that even if your partner doesn’t physically harm you, it can still be abuse; psychological and emotional harm can be just as damaging.

When I realized that I was a survivor of an abusive relationship, I almost couldn’t believe it. But at the same time, it felt so true, and I felt foolish for not realizing it earlier. It makes me feel better knowing now that my trauma with him is validated, that what I went through was horrible and that it wasn’t my fault. How he treated me was not okay.

So, why did I stay?

Because he kept telling me that we were soul mates.

Because he insisted he would take care of me and be there for me forever.

Because he said it was “us against the world,” and that my family and friends just couldn’t understand why we wanted to get married so young and quickly, because they couldn’t feel the love we felt for each other.

Because everyone else in my family got divorced and I wanted to beat the statistics.

Because he needed me to be there for him while he was in basic training.

Because he made me feel like I owed it to him to be better to him than he was to me because I was the only girl he’d ever been with, and he made me feel guilty for having been with someone else before our relationship.

Because he gave me his Facebook password “to show how much he trusted me” (but he also told me that if I didn’t give him my password and let him read my messages, I didn’t trust him back).

Because I made a big deal about us being in love and engaged on Facebook and I didn’t want everyone to know how wrong I had been.

Because he isolated me from my best friend (because he was jealous of how much I loved her) so I had nobody to turn to when things went badly with him.

Because he convinced me that my dreams of becoming a screenwriter were stupid and that I would be a better wife and mother than I would be at writing.

Because when he punched the hood of his truck when he was jealous about another man flirting with me, he told me it was because he just loved me too much.

Because he told me that he yelled and cussed at me because he was so in love with me that he couldn’t think straight; he told me it was my fault because I drove him crazy.

Because after he yelled at me on the phone and made me cry in the hallway of my freshman dorm every night, he would apologize and tell me that he loved me and he needed me.

Because Disney movies and romantic comedies (and society in general) taught me that true love was more important that anything, and that I needed to stick to my man no matter what (even if it meant battling constant anxiety and painful stress hives all over my body).

I stayed because nobody ever told me that it could be abuse, even if he never hit me.

I was scared to leave him. It’s still scary to think about what it what my life would have been like if I hadn’t. He made it incredibly difficult for me to cut him out of my life, but I slowly brought my close friends back into my life and made a bigger support system for myself. I blocked him on all my social media websites and ignored his calls, but I was constantly afraid of running into him again even though he lived on the other side of the world. I’m still afraid I’ll run into him when I visit family back home. It gets easier, but I’m not sure if the fear or pain will ever go away completely.

It still hurts. And this is most likely the most personal, triggering piece I’ve ever written. But my story is one that needs to be shared so that other women (or anyone, really) can see what I went through and know that it’s not okay, and if you are going through something similar, it is not okay. I’d like to think that people see me as a strong person who doesn’t take shit from men, but it took the process of fighting my way out of this relationship for me to become the person I am today. This can happen to anybody, even the people you’d least suspect. So if you are going through this too, know that it gets better. And if anyone you know is a survivor of an abusive relationship, show some compassion. It’s easy to say that you’d never stay in an abusive relationship, but you never know how hard it is to leave until you’re the one living through it. Especially when you have no idea that you’re going through it.

Related: How to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship, Lovescrewed

Be the Role Model You Wish You Had

A while back, I was in a toxic relationship. My boyfriend fought with me (verbally) and cussed at me, got mad at me over the littlest things, and made me feel bad about myself deeply. After crying my eyes out while he yelled at me over Skype, I decided that enough was enough. I needed to do better for myself and get out of the relationship.

I’ll also mention that I’m the oldest of 6 children and many cousins in my family, so naturally I serve as a role model for lots of my younger loved ones. So when I decided I needed to get out of the toxic relationship, I knew that I didn’t just need to do it for myself, but for my siblings. They saw my crazy mood swings, from crying at home to being elated and browsing Pinterest for our wedding ideas. They didn’t mention it to me, but I could tell they knew that this relationship was taking a toll on me.

If I let my little sisters see me stay with a guy who treated me with disrespect, I’d be sending them the message that it’s okay to let someone abuse you and not do anything about it. And if I let my younger brothers see me take the emotional abuse and still give love to my partner who wronged me, they might think it’s okay to treat their future girlfriends or wives that way too.

I used the goal of setting a good example for my siblings as a driving force to be the strongest person I could be. I said goodbye to the bad relationship with the intention of never looking back.

I have strong female role models in my life, and I wanted to be the same kind of person who could inspire those who look to me as an example. I couldn’t handle if it if I saw my little sisters in abusive relationships, much less if I knew it was because they learned the passive behavior from me. So when it gets hard to try to do the right thing, I remember the boys and especially the girls who look up to me and use them as my motivation. If you have anyone in your life who has you as a role model, keep them in mind when life gets rough. Even if you can’t be better for yourself, be strong for them.

–Chloe

How to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship

She checks his phone when he’s not looking. Or she makes him give her his phone so she can check it in front of him.

He proposes to her after they’ve dated for a month and gets upset when she wants to take it more slowly.

They have each other’s Facebook passwords. Or worse, they share a joint Facebook account.

She sees his overt jealousy as love and protection instead of mistrust and disrespect.

He suggests changes she could make in her physical appearance to make her more attractive to him, like cutting her hair or dropping a few dress sizes.

She stops telling her close friends about the problems in their relationship because he says it’s the two of them against the world.

They talk to their exes when they want to make each other feel bad.

They keep score of different times their partner has messed up in the relationship, to throw it back in their face during a fight.

They change their Facebook pictures from couple pictures to ones of them alone when they’re mad at each other.

Does any of this sound familiar? These are all examples of what it’s like to be in a toxic relationship.

I’m not proud to admit this, but I’ve been in a toxic relationship myself (and I’m going to spill my guts a lot in this post, so be gentle with me). Unfortunately, all of the above are things I’ve experienced in the past. It hurts to see people I care about going through toxic relationships, and if you think you might be in one too, think critically about your relationship. Re-evaluate what it means to you and try out these steps.

Talk to someone.

It’s easier to stay in a relationship when you’re isolated to talking to your partner more than anyone else. It’s unhealthy to have this type of codependency with your partner, and if you feel like things aren’t going so well with your relationship, it helps to get an outside, objective opinion. Talk to a close friend or family member who has your best interests in mind. It’s easy to get swept up in what your partner says to you, but when a person outside of your relationship validates your feelings or worries about the relationship, it can help you see things more clearly.

Branch out.

If you don’t have one already, create a network of friends and family who will help you get through this breakup with love and support. One of the things I fear most when it comes to breakups is being alone. But if you have at least a handful of people who you know will have your back when you go through with the breakup, it makes it a whole lot easier. Near the end of my destructive relationship, I realized how I hadn’t been in contact with a lot of my friends from high school and some of my relatives I used to be closer to. I looked past the awkwardness and vented to them without filtering any of the bad stuff about my relationship that I usually hid from people. It was a little embarrassing at first, but they each assured me of what I wouldn’t admit to myself. I had chosen a partner that was treating me poorly. With their support, I gained the confidence I needed to face him and end our relationship for good.

Make your intentions clear to your partner.

If you don’t tell him straight up that you do not want him in your life anymore, he might get the wrong idea. I made the mistake of answering a persistent ex’s calls even though I really wanted to move on with my life. I was so used to talking to him (and I even missed him) so I gave in. After awhile, I tried ignoring him, but it didn’t work. The best way to let someone know you don’t want them in your life anymore is the simplest way: tell them upfront. In a decisive yet respectful way, tell him that you want to stop talking to each other so that you can go on with your lives separately. If he tries to win you back or sweet-talk you, be even more direct and tell him that you don’t want him romantically any more and ask him to respect your decision. That won’t always work, and if it doesn’t, you’ll need to go cold turkey and block him.

Block him from your life as much as possible.

Make it a point not to contact him. At all. Delete his number from your phone (and use Mr. Number, a useful blocking app, to block his calls and texts), unfollow/unfriend him on every social networking platform you both use. If you initiate conversation or even respond to him when he talks to you first, he won’t take you seriously. He could try to wear you down, but you have to stay strong and stay away. Check out this other awesome lovescrewed post for ways to keep your ex out of your life.

Mourn the relationship, but embrace the change.

A definitive chapter of your life is over, so you should allow yourself to feel sad and cry it out if you need to. Take as much time as you need to let all your emotions out.

Now that you’ve gotten out of the destructive relationship, the worst is behind you. However, that doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy taking on what comes next. You’re alone. The thought of being alone can be really scary, but it can also be a good thing. Change isn’t always bad — it’s just different. You need to allow yourself to get used to this change in your life and recognize all the good that comes along with it. You’re out of a bad relationship. You have the freedom to explore and figure out who you are as an individual. The possibilities are endless.

Explore what life has to offer you.

It may seem like I’m bashing my ex and making our relationship out to be horrible, but that’s not how it was. We just weren’t right for each other in the end and we both had a lot of growing up to do (and I’m admitting here that I was very much at fault too). This relationship helped me to grow personally more than almost any other experience in my life, and that’s what I take away from it. Don’t look back in anger (cue Oasis song) at your relationship, no matter how toxic it was, how much you wish you’d done things differently, or how poorly your ex may have treated you. Look at it as a learning experience. Even though you may have thought this person was your world, that isn’t true. There’s a world around you full of people you can share your life with and who can help you be happier than you would be if you stayed in the toxic relationship. Appreciate this not as an ending, but as a new beginning.

-Chloe