Five years ago I said, “ Well, at least he hasn’t thrown anything at me recently.” I was trying to prove my marriage was going better. That was the absolute best thing I could think of then, and one of the saddest now.
When you are in an abusive relationship, like I was, you get really good at finding the positive. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. You convince yourself since they only hit you in the stomach, not the face, they must not be that mad. Or, when they locked you outside with no shoes in winter, it's better than when they forced you out half-naked in the snow. I know I did.
I’m not here to tell the story of how I left an abusive relationship because, thank goodness, there are already lots of those. I'm here to talk about staying. It’s the question everyone wants to know after all -- “Why would anyone stay in an abusive relationship?”
I would like to make something clear. I am choosing to write this anonymously not because I'm ashamed of any of it. I have absolutely no problem with people knowing this is my story. I am choosing to remain anonymous because my ex-husband Googles me often. He now lives with another woman, and I do not want him to take any anger at me out on her. I don't know her and I hope he is different with her. I hope he took all his hate out on me and has only kindness left for her. I also know that’s not reality. The man who once put my head through a door has not turned into a peaceful man, but I'm still hoping I’m wrong.
I want to be brutally honest with this.
My ex-husband thinks he’s a wonderful person. He thinks he’s kind, smart, and funny. For 11 years, I tried to convince myself he was too. When I was six months pregnant with my first child, I was having bad pains, and I told him I was scared. He refused to drive me to the hospital because he didn’t feel like it. Since he had spent all our money, and I couldn’t drive, I started walking the 3 miles to the closest hospital. I didn’t call family or friends because I didn’t want him to look bad in their eyes. Before I left, his parting words to me were, “You think you’re scared? I’m more scared because I have to trust you not to fuck this baby up like you fuck everything up.” Our baby died shortly after delivery.
Again, he thinks he’s a nice guy.
Years later I realized how bad that was, but at the time I thought it was a good point. I did make a lot of mistakes and was already concerned about failing at motherhood. I also worried about his concerns and his fears. People who are sad and miserable will strive to bring others down. He was so mean to everyone else, but I desperately held on to the fact I was different. I convinced myself he was different with me. I knew in the back of my mind the things he said were wrong, but I felt personally responsible for his happiness. He had an awful childhood, and he constantly reminded me I was all he had. If I left, his life would be ruined. Who wants to ruin someone’s life?
So I stayed.
I knew my ex-husband was in love with another woman. He would say her name while he slept. He would tell me how much more important she was to him. He even changed his life insurance plan to leave her a larger percentage of money. I protested and said it made more sense to leave the larger piece to our child and I. He called me a greedy bitch. He said I was ungrateful and I needed to deal with my jealousy issues. A few months after we were married, she pulled me aside and said everyone at our wedding was asking how she felt knowing he was marrying me, not her, who he really wanted to marry. How are you supposed to answer that?
I may not have had his love, but I had his physical self. Well, when he wasn’t out sleeping with other women of course. Something like this will kill your pride. Even though I hated my life, I couldn’t imagine publicly admitting my husband never really loved me. Not when I saw my friends in such happy looking relationships.
So I stayed.
Here's the big one. I stayed with a man for 11 years who put my head through a door because I was scared of the alternative. I knew what sadness felt like. I knew what being scared felt like, and I knew what being with a scary man was like. Misery I knew. Happiness scared the shit out of me. It really just terrified me. The life I was leading left me depressed, suicidal, but that was familiar to me. The life out there, on my own, was unknown. It came down to the fact I wasn't ready to take a chance. When you are told you are dumb, useless, and unlovable, it's hard to just have faith that everything will be okay. When you know what the bottom feels like, it's impossible not to consider it happening again.
After all, why would someone say those evil things if they weren't true?
Yes, in my head I fantasized about leaving, I would dream about catching him cheating so I could yell, "That's it, I'm done!" and storm out. Even with all he did to me, I was scared to hurt him. To me, a relationship is about always choosing the other person. If someone flirts with you, you don't go home with him or her because you choose to stay faithful to your partner. If you want to spend money on a car you don't need, you don't, because you know as a couple you have rent to pay. You always make the choice that benefits the couple.
The problem was he never chose me. So I thought if I tried harder it would balance out. If I loved him more it would make up for the fact he didn't love me enough.
So I stayed.
I mentioned he's now my ex-husband, so what made me finally leave for good? It wasn't the fact that he left me penniless. It wasn't his cheating, or disappearing for days. And it wasn't the mind games he played with me for no reason.
I just decided one day I was worth more. I know this is the part of the story where I should insert a big daring escape, but truth is I chose me for the first time in years. What did he say? His response was, "Who cares?" This started months of him moving out, hating me, him moving back in when I was gone for a weekend, him deciding we weren't separated, him lying and telling people I was pregnant... I just concentrated on knowing I was worth more; not to someone else, but to myself.
My point to this whole article is not about how shitty my life was for 11 years because I haven't even touched the surface about how awful he was. It's about how to be mindful of how you talk around people who are still with their abusers. I absolutely do not mean that you should encourage them to stay, but I do encourage you to always be there to listen.
My problem lies in the comments I read in the response sections of articles on this subject. Whenever I read a post about someone telling their story, there are always numerous people commenting how they should have done this, or should have done that. How they were stupid to put up with it, and these people never would because they are a stronger people.
When I read that while I was still in the relationship, all I heard was that I was dumb, powerless and stupid. I figured if these commenters could say it about that person, it must be true about me too. After all, I was doing the same thing they did. My point is to be cautious of what you say sometimes.
These abused people know what they have to do, they know what they should do, and know what you think of them. Trust me when I say it consumes them. These people have their reasons, and all are different. What is the same is they all have to figure out, on their own time, that these reasons aren't worth giving up themselves for. Their reasons may be bullshit, but they have to figure that out.
During our marriage my ex-husband told me he would kill himself if I left. Overcoming something like that is not achieved by pointing out how scared the person is because trust me, I was terrified. It comes from believing you are worth more, and then holding on to that thought like your life depended on it.
So the next time you feel the need to say "Why the hell did you stay?" catch yourself and realize their reasons were very real to them. Don’t put them down for it. They have done that enough for themselves.
Encourage the strength.
Image: Flickr / CC