1. I saw other women stay in abusive relationships
The abuse that I witnessed growing up was back and forth between my parents. It was mostly verbal abuse from my mother directed towards my father. When I was in college, my mother was physically assaulted by my father. This was the first time she spoke to me openly about the abuse in her marriage, but it was not the first time he had done this to her. My mother always said that she wanted to “stay together for the children”, but this did us more harm in the end. Abuse is not normal. Abuse is not love. Abuse is never acceptable in a relationship—especially if children are present. When people abuse each other in front of children, those children become adults who see abuse as normal. They often become abused, an abuser, or both.
2. I had low self-esteem.
When I was in my first abusive relationship at the age of eighteen, I had very low self-confidence. I felt uncomfortable with my body image, I was still recovering from childhood sexual abuse, and being in a relationship gave me the validation I was seeking in the world. When the abuse began, he made me feel like he was the only man who would ever love me. He verbally abused me by calling me names. “Whore, bitch, dumbass, idiot, motherfucker” were the words he used the most when he got angry. My self-esteem only got worse when he called me these names. In order break free, I had to build my self-confidence and trust that by making the decision to leave, everything would work out in my Highest Good.
3. I was afraid to leave.
I was financially dependent on my abuser when I was eighteen. We shared an apartment to save money. I lived alone before being with him, but once we were locked in a lease, I felt like I had no choice but to stick it out. He physically abused me and the yelling was pure psychological torture. I loved him deeply and I wanted to stay and work things out. Leaving scared me because I knew it would be painful. I also was unsure of how he would respond. Would he get more violent? Would he stalk or harass me? Only time would tell, but I surely would have been worse off if I had stayed.
4. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.
I was eighteen at the time and he was my first true love. We planned on getting married and having children one day. I excused his toxic behavior because I wanted to stick to the plans we had made. I dreamt of making a life with him. Never, did my fairy tale marriage dreams involve abuse. The promises he made me after each fight always gave me a glimmer of hope. This quickly faded, however, every time he went back into a fit of rage. I was too committed to the dream that I couldn’t see the nightmare before my eyes.
5. I thought I could “fix” him.
The empath in me hoped and prayed for change. I naively believed that I could love a person into healing. I thought that my love would just make things better. That never proved to be true. After his outbursts of verbal and physical abuse, he would always come to me with grand romantic gestures and apologies. He always promised to do better. I always believed him until one day I realized he would never change. For the two years I stayed, a part of me believed that I could do something to change his behavior. Now I know that I cannot change anyone. We cannot force others to stop abusing people. They must make that decision for themselves. They must make the decision to seek help. It’s never a good idea to stick around during the process. Healing toxic behavior can take years, especially when it stems from childhood trauma and abuse. On the receiving end of abuse, I had to decide to leave. I finally understood that I deserved better. If I had stayed, the situation would have only worsened, especially by adding marriage and children to the picture.
6. I thought he would change.
My ex served abuse and apologies like a game of ping-pong. Back and forth he went, serving me one or the other. The problem is, that’s not what I signed up for. He kept me hooked with apologies, makeup sex, and long discussions about our future. I was convinced that he would change. His actions proved different. No matter how many promises he made or bouquets he bought me, it would not change the fact that he physically and verbally abused me. No apology can make up for that. No amount of flowers can take away a bruise. He still did his best to convive me that we could have a future together. I had to tune out of his unrealistic fantasies and face reality: he did me more harm than good. I deserved way better.
7. We had great makeup sex.
The thrill of reconnecting after a fight was like a drug to us. We wanted nothing more than to love each other. That’s why our makeup sex sessions always felt so precious. Now, I understand that this is called a trauma bond. We bonded by fighting and making up incessantly. I wonder how much sex we had outside of makeup sex? I wonder if he initiated fights just for the makeup sex?
8. Our families were rooting for us.
I had met his family and he had met mine. For the holidays, we would go to northern France to visit his family for a few days. We even visited his mother for her birthday every year. His mother told me on my first visit to her house that she wanted grandchildren and that she hoped we would marry. I was the first girl he had ever brought home and his family expected that I was “the One”. In hindsight, the outside pressure to please our families was so unnecessary. As adults who are capable of making their own decision, no parent should think they have a say in who their child marries. At the time, I appreciated her support. Looking back, on it, though, I shouldn’t have seen this as a reason to stay with him when he was so abusive to me. It doesn’t matter what a potential in-law wants. Yes, we become family through marriage, but it’s not worth going that far when the person you’re with doesn’t value you.
9. I loved him.
This is probably the most important point of all. I excused the inexcusable because of love. I forgave the unforgiveable because of love. The love I felt for him was real. What he felt for me could never be called love, even though he insisted that he loved me, because abuse is not love. What I came to learn is that self-love is the most important type of love. When you love yourself and see your worth, you communicate your boundaries when you see toxic behavior. I had to learn how to love myself and speak my truth to attract better relationships. This is something that I am still in the process of doing, over ten years later.
10. I had poor judgement and weak boundaries. I could have made better decisions while in that abusive relationship- like noting the signs and leaving earlier. I ignored red flags, which, ultimately hurt me in the end. I had to learn how to say, “No, I will not tolerate toxic behavior. I deserve better.” The more I set boundaries with toxic people, the better I get at it. I have learned my worth. Red flags can come in a variety of ways. The ones I noticed in my past relationships were: jealousy, snooping, controlling behavior, manipulation, lying, isolation, possessiveness, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use. I no longer tolerate any of these behaviors. I have learned to make decisions that are in my Highest Good. If I see a potential partner exhibiting any of these behaviors, I bounce, simply put.