How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
When I was 20 I found myself in an abusive relationship – but if you'd have asked me before I met him if I'd ever be with someone who made me feel less than respected, I would have given you a resounding "No."
I was young, sure, but I wasn't stupid. I'd been accepted to university, was completing an internship – shit, it was even for a domestic abuse organization. Growing up in an abusive household, I'd never allow someone to treat me the way my parents did – until he did, and I was so deep in denial that I thought I was to blame.
Throughout the last 6 years years I've learned a lot about myself and relationships, and I'm happy to say that I'm currently in the healthiest one I've ever been in. My partner not only talks issues out with me instead of yelling and blaming me, but he regularly keeps in contact and constantly makes me laugh instead of making me cry because he won't return my texts or explain his moodiness.
These revelations about a good relationship may sound obvious to you, but when I was 20, they were a world away from anything I thought I deserved. Maybe for some of you they still are.
So, if you're on the fence about whether or not your relationship is abusive and if you can find someone who treats you better, here are some points that I would tell my younger self that would have sped up the process of finding the person that now makes me feel more loved than I ever thought possible:
Just because you're sensitive doesn't mean you're wrong
In my abusive relationship I constantly rationalized that my partner meant well and didn't mean to hurt me. I told myself that I was too sensitive, was exaggerating things and he just got a little drunk sometimes.
I had to learn that even though I deeply cared for him and knew why he acted the way he did, I needed to make room in my life for someone who didn't get drunk and yell at me, or constantly accuse me of cheating. I deserved someone who didn't make me feel like I had to walk on eggshells all the time, wondering what mood they'd be in next.
You don't have to be treated poorly because you're not perfect
Part of the issue was that I was struggling with my own mental health as well. My moods would constantly go up and down due to anxiety and depression. How could I expect my partner to manage his own moods if I couldn't even do it? We weren't perfect, but we loved each other and it wasn't always bad – we had intense, loving sex and lots of fun, exciting times. So whenever I would vent to my friends, I would quickly switch to the positive things he'd done because I felt like I was being too unfair and judgemental.
The difference was that I was outwardly aware of my uneven moods, constantly apologizing for being irrational and going to therapy to work on myself because I wanted to be a better person – whereas he would often blame me for his outbursts, denied seeking help for his issues or simply didn't remember what he said in the morning after a night of drinking.
Know where to draw the line when it comes to respect
When I finally left the relationship, it wasn't because my friends had told me to or because he pulled my hair in bed hard enough to hurt me or yelled at me in the street for getting the weird bumps on my vagina checked out on his birthday – it was because I asked him to plan a date one night and he, like so many times before, wouldn't return my calls when we were supposed to meet. I finally realized that I was done making every effort to forgive his behaviour when I was the only one trying to improve our relationship.
And if I had any doubt that my partner was abusive, he removed it when he constantly texted me that I was a slut and was going to fuck my friends when I left town with them to clear my head.
Your partner should make you as happy as you want to make them
Looking back, it's still hard for me to think about my ex as abusive, just as it's hard to think of my parents as abusive. They're not monsters, they're real people with real issues that they need to work out.
This is why it can be so hard for people to leave abusive relationships and why they can spend so much time in them – they focus on the positive, thinking that things will get better if they just work on them more. But the reality is, if the other person is in denial of their issues, it's not going to get better no matter how much you try to improve things, and at some point you need to realize that you deserve someone who puts in as much effort into the relationship as you do.
The cycle will continue until you learn to love yourself
After breaking up with my ex, I kept finding myself in other toxic relationships and friendships, and it wasn't until I started to learn to love myself that I began a relationship with someone that treated me like gold.
Growing up with an abusive mother who was abused as a child herself, I know first-hand how hard the chain is to break as it's not as simple as knowing you deserve respect – you rationalize people's actions because you love them. But the fact that you can love someone but not have them in your life because they make you feel shitty is totally revolutionary and worth coming to terms with. I'm still working on fully believing that I deserve happiness, but luckily I've found someone who strives to make me feel good between my doubts.