Wednesday, September 10, 2014

#Why I Stayed

With Ray Rice and his wife in the news, people are paying more attention to domestic abuse than ever before.  I think that's a good thing in a lot of ways, but in others, it's not so good.  People don't have a lot of sympathy for her, because she's sticking by her man, but honestly, unless you've been through something similar, I don't know that anyone could understand.  There seems to be this mistaken impression that abusers are awful from the beginning of the relationship, that there's this clear cut signal of "it's time to get out."

If only life were so easy.  Because there are people out there, men and women, who in a fit of anger, will hit or slap their partner, once, and be horrified by their actions.  They will seek help.  They will realize what they are capable of and they will make a vow never to do it again.  They will keep that vow.  And their apologies and promises sound just like an abuser's.

Also, most relationships don't start out as abusive.  It starts with two people getting to know each other.  The abuser is usually charming.  Suave.  Maybe alpha, but that's hot, right?  They can be incredibly caring.  They listen, they get to know their partner inside and out.  When they get angry, they don't come out swinging the very first time.  They don't necessarily choose the "weak" woman.

I can't tell you how many times I've had an argument turned around on me.  I was mad that he was late, but he was only a little late.  Why can't I be more understanding?  Why am I so inflexible?  I was mad that he was flirting with another woman.  Why did I think he was flirting?  Why am I so untrusting?  Don't I know that he loves me and only me?

He was mad I wanted to go out with my friends.  But not because he's trying to control me, no.  He just wants more time with me.  We don't really get that much quality time, don't I want to spend the night alone with him?  Don't I want a romantic dinner?  So I tell my friends I can't go and he spends the night showering me with attention.  Cooks me dinner.  Does the dishes.  Massages my shoulders, pampers me, cuddles me, makes love to me.

The slide from what's normal in a relationship to what's unhealthy is so slow.  It can take months, even years.  Friends might notice, but by the time they start speaking up, there's an insidious voice inside of your head.  They don't understand.  They don't see how sweet he is when you're alone.  Sure they miss you, but that's part of being in a relationship, right?  You don't have as much time for your friends.  They're just jealous that they're not getting as much of you're time, it's not that he's taking up too much of it.  Because that's stuff that happens in normal life.

And you're a strong woman.  You know you are.  So you push a little bit, to prove to your friends that he's not like that.  You insist he let you go out.  Of course you can, he would never stop you from doing what you want to do.  He just thought you wanted to spend the time with him, the way he wanted to spend the time with you.  He just wants you to be happy, it doesn't matter if he feels neglected, he's a man, he'll get over it.  The words, the hurt look revolve around your brain, the entire time you're out with your friends, making you feel guilty and miserable, making you question how real of friends they can be when they're being so selfish and unsympathetic to the fact that you're in a loving relationship with a man that's crazy about you.  So you go home.  You apologize for neglecting him.

And he's so sweet about it, he's so generous, he's just happy you're home with him, and he cuddles you and tells you how much he missed you.

Sometimes.  Sometimes the homecoming is different.  He's resentful.  Sulking.  You coax him out of his bad mood.  Tell him how much you missed him, how you prefer being at home with him.  Eventually he accepts your apology, he cuddles and loves you possessively, making you feel safe and wanted and like he'll never let you go - and that's the dream, isn't it?

The sulking starts happening more and more often when you don't do what he wants.  It's easier to give in.  After all, you want to spend time with him too.  Everything is so much nicer, so much happier when he gets what he wants, and it's not that different from what you want.  You tell your friends you want to stay home with him.  You get annoyed and angry with the petty jealousy of the ones who don't understand, who say nasty things about the man you love, the man who loves you to distraction.  Some of your friends have been just as charmed by him as you are, but they're starting to get a little worried.  Still, it's your life and they let you do what you want.  Those are the friends you feel most comfortable with now.

You never even realize how easily you've slipped into the pattern of doing what he wants, because it's what you want too.  Problems don't arise until you start trying to change that pattern.  Missing your friends, wanting to go out with them... and suddenly it's a major problem.  You point out how much time you've spent with him, and he takes it as proof that he loves you more than you love him.  Fine, go, get out, if you don't want to spend time with him, he doesn't want to spend time with you.  The arguments rise, get more heated every time.  He vents his frustration, stomping around, screaming in your face.  It frightens you and you cry.

He demands that you stop crying, stop trying to make him feel guilty with your tears.  Is that what you're doing?  You're not that manipulative, are you?  So you choke down the tears and the argument winds down as you apologize for making him feel that way, of course you're not trying to make him feel bad, of course you love him.  Maybe you stay in, maybe you go out, it's unclear who won.  You talk to your best friend about it and she points out that he's the one being manipulative.  Immediately you feel defensive, even as you wonder if she's right.  But you defend him, tell her how he didn't mean it that way, tell her that he's just used to getting his way, and it's your fault because you usually let him have it.  You realize how true that is, how much of his behavior is your doing, because you knew it would upset him when you did it.  You pushed him into the screaming match, into getting in your face.  And then you cried, even though you knew, deep down, that it would probably upset him too.

The next time you fight, you feel the need to cry, and you start to flee, not liking how he's screaming in your face, not wanting to cry again.  He grabs your wrist, won't let you go.  Tells you that you need to finish the argument, that you can't just run out on him, that you need to work things out with him... he can't let you go until you've worked things out.  His grip tightens as you try to pull away and you finally say "You're hurting me!"  Immediately his grip loosens, but he doesn't let go completely.  He wants to work things out with you.  HAS to work things out with you and now he's afraid that you're going to leave him if he lets you go.  It's just like out of those romance novels that you read, the ones with the controlling, alpha males that are so sexy.  Except, somehow, it's not sexy.  It's kind of scary, but you're soothed by his desire to work things out.  It's your fault for trying to run out the door anyway.  You shouldn't have tried to run away.

When you tell your best friend about it, she says something about how he's abusive.  You tell her no, you tell her it was your fault, that you shouldn't have tried to run away.  It's not like he hit you, or even bruised you.  He just held your wrist.  It got a little red.  That's not abuse.  You would never allow yourself to be abused.  You are a strong woman.  If he ever hit you, you would be out of there, no matter how much you love him.

The next time you fight, he stomps, he roars, he throws things.  Not at you, just near you.  You're furious, you yell at him to stop or you're leaving.  The next thing you know, he's beside you, holding your wrist again.  Why would you threaten him like that?  Are you trying to hurt him?  No, you just don't want him to throw things.  Then why are you making him so angry?  Why are you being so selfish?  Dammit, don't cry, he's not falling for that guilt trip, why would you even try to do that?  I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, you shout, I'm just upset!  He holds you.  Apologizes.  Pulls you down on the couch, on his lap, wraps his arms around you and tells you how sorry he is.  How much he loves you.  You couldn't get up if you tried... but why would you want to right now when he's being so sweet?

Not all the arguments are like this, and it's not like you argue all the time, but it does seem like they're getting worse and more frequent.  But the rest of the time he's wonderful.  Giving.  Thoughtful. Sweet.  Charming to your friends, even when they act like suspicious bitches to him.  Screw them anyway, for being so rude.  So petty.

The next argument you tell him you need to take a walk.  You're just so tired of arguing, you want to give both of you time to calm down.  He becomes frantic, insisting that you work things out, blocking your way to the door.  It makes you angry and you try to push past him,  He grabs you, holding you, and you scream at him, trying to get away, and he wrestles you down to the floor.  Holds you there, until you promise that you won't try to walk out again, that you'll stay and work things out.  That's all he wants, is to work things out, he doesn't understand why you don't want that too, why you'd try to leave him.  You're slightly bruised, but you know it's your fault.  You shouldn't have tried to leave.  You shouldn't have provoked him like that.  You knew how much it would hurt him.  Besides, if you hadn't tried to fight him, he wouldn't have pushed you to the floor.

You've been telling your best friend less and less about your fights, knowing what her response will be.  Knowing that you'll end up having to defend him, because she just doesn't understand.  She won't be reassuring, she'll just make things in your head worse.  But you're going to show them.  All of them. They think he's a bad guy, but he's not; he loves you.  They'll realize that one day and they'll all realize how wrong they were about him.  He's not abusive.  You would be out the door if he was.

The next time you argue, you want to leave so badly and the anger just builds up inside of you.  Like he can guess what you're thinking, he blocks the route to the door again, and you try to slap him.  Knowing that he'll stop you.  Knowing that he'll catch your arm.  It's not hot like it is in the books though.  He catches your wrist and won't let go, screaming in your face.  You can't blame him.  After all, you did just try to slap him.  You try to get away and he tightens his grip.  It hurts.  This time when you tell him, he doesn't loosen his grip, he just glares at you and reminds you that you just tried to slap him - no he's not letting go.  Definitely your own fault.  Why the hell did you have to do that anyway?  Were you trying to provoke him into hitting you?  Trying to make him so angry that he would lash out violently?  What the hell is wrong with you?

You tell your best friend about that, because you want her to understand that it's not just him that gets so frustrated that he lashes out.  You did it too, even though you knew he would stop you from actually slapping him.  She's more concerned than ever, but accepts your reassurances.  Tells you that you deserve better.  But you want him.  The grass is always greener on the other side, but if you deserve whatever you want, then you should have what you want, and HE is what you want.

More fights.  Both of you hold back physically, but everything else is worse.  The screaming.  The insults.  One day, you get up in his face, and he raises his hand in the air, and you realize that you've done it... you've finally pushed him too far.  You fall to the ground, screaming "Don't hit me."  You're curled in front of him on the ground and all of the sudden he drops down on top of you, his voice nearly as frightened as your own as he says "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry" over and over again.  He's horrified.  He holds you as you cry.  Tells you it will never happen again, that he never would have done it.  You tell him that if he ever actually hits you, you're gone.

The next day, he tells you he called an abuse hotline, he wanted to talk to someone about what he can do... they recommend anger management classes.  He's told his best friends, who tell you that they have your back, that they would kick his ass if he ever actually hit you.  The fights stop.  But over the next few weeks, you realize that the fights have stopped because you're giving in to everything again.  You bicker with him, he accuses you of picking fights.  That might be true... you might be testing him.  Why are you such an awful person?  Why do you have to test him like that?  Why can't you just believe him?

By the time a few months have passed, you're brutally confused.  You want to trust him.  You believe he loves you.  You still love him.  But you're back to giving him everything he demands, because you're afraid to get into another fight.  No, he didn't hit you, but you're starting to realize the things he did do.  The ways he manipulated you.  That the shoving, the holding you down, the grabbing your wrist... those things were physical.  Those things hurt you. And he did them again and again and again.  You talk about that with him.  He says it will never happen again.  Promises.

You decide you need space.  You give him back his ring.  Tell him you need time and space to think.  He's upset, but he gives it to you.  Calls every day.  Shows how much he cares.  How much he loves you.  You end up getting back together two weeks later.  Things have definitely changed.

Now he doesn't fight with you at all.  It's as if he's gone cold instead of hot, holding everything inside.  He's practically indifferent to you, what you do, where you go, who you're with.  None of that seems to matter to him.  You don't feel loved any more. Not at all. Not even a little.  Not the way you used to.  He proves that to you six months later when he tells you he's not in love with you anymore four days after your six year anniversary.

So that's my story.  He eventually apologized, a few years later, for everything that he put me through.  He's got a new girlfriend that he's been with for years.  As far as I know, he's never come close to physically abusing another woman.  As far as I know, he never subjected them to the mental or verbal abuse that I went through either.  I truly believe he never realized he was abusive, I truly believe he never meant to be.  I still blame myself for letting him "get away" with as many things as he did.  I know a lot of it was my fault, although when I was in the relationship I didn't see any other option... because there wasn't.  But we'd been together for four years before things started to go downhill.

I am 100% aware that if it wasn't for my best friend, I may have ended up with him.  She was my rock.  She never blamed me for staying with him, she always listened without judgment when I needed an ear, and even though she constantly told me that I deserved better, she was always there for me no matter how many times he hurt me.  She encouraged me to stand up to him, to demand better from him, but she never made me feel like less of a person for putting up with what I did.  Other friends distanced themselves, told me that they couldn't stand by and watch what he was doing to me... it was the least helpful thing they could have done.  I was already having enough trouble maintaining connections.  It wasn't tough love to me, even after I realized that it wasn't because they were jealous of my amazing relationship, I saw it as them not caring enough to stick by me.  They were too involved with themselves, they didn't want to deal with my "drama."  I am no longer friends with any of them.  Their ultimatum broke that.

I remember one time, he told me that he didn't like my best friend because he didn't think she was a good influence on me.  I told him too bad.  I clung to her, because she was the only one who was really there for me.  If he'd ever managed to sever our relationship, if she had ever given up on me, I would not be where I am today.

I remember so many things.  Like, how I knew the relationship was downsliding.  I kept telling both myself and my best friend that if he ever hit me, I'd be gone.  I should have realized then that just thinking about that was a bad sign, because I was considering the fact that he could actually do it.  I knew he could.  I knew it was headed that way, even if I didn't admit it to myself at the time.

But I also remember how sweet and thoughtful he could be.  How genuine.  How fun and funny.  He made me laugh when I was sad, held me when my grandmother died, held me again when one of my friends died of stomach cancer, made me a bundle of balloon flowers when he was at work making balloon animals for kids because he couldn't afford to buy my real flowers... If I ever asked for anything, for my birthday or Christmas, I got it.  He knew what my favorite books were, he would buy me new ones for presents.  He gave me the Evenstar from Lord of the Rings for Christmas.  Sent me flowers at school on our anniversary.  Called me every single night before we moved in together and refused to be the first one to hang up the phone because he didn't want to "miss a moment" of me.

Those were the things I remembered, that I couldn't let go of when things started to go downhill.  Because every relationship has good days and bad days.

We are still friendly.  Which I'm sure some of you might judge me for, but we were together for six years.  His best friends are my best friends.  We're in the same wedding party next year, for one of the guys who told him that he would kick his ass if he ever hit me.  My husband is in the wedding party too.  I don't have any romantic feelings for him anymore, thank goodness.  The whole "you never get over your first love" bs?  ha, yeah, def over him.  But I still care about him, still want him to be happy in life, I just never want him to be anything more than a friendly acquaintance with me ever again.  Some people might think I'm stupid for thinking that he's changed.  I know I feel stupid for not getting out sooner.  But it was so hard to give up all the time I'd put into that relationship.  Even harder to admit to my friends that they were right and I was wrong.  Hardest of all, to admit to myself that I'd been emotionally and verbally abused.  Because I didn't want to be that woman.  I didn't want to be weak and stupid.

Now I know that it's not about being weak and stupid.  I know that it's not about being independent.  I know that it's not about whether or not he actually hits you.  Every relationship is different.  No one on the outside of the relationship can really say what it's about, looking.  So that's why I don't judge Ray Rice's wife.  Do I think she should get out?  Absolutely.  But maybe she's one of the lucky ones and that was the one and only time he did it and he really will never do it again.  For her sake, I hope that's true.  I doubt it is, but I hope, for her and her kid's sake.  I worry that it will be even harder for her to get out of the relationship now that she's in the spotlight, I worry about her measure of pride because I know mine took a brutal beating when I finally had to admit what my relationship was and what I had become.

So that is why I stayed.  I wish I could that's why I left too, but honestly, even when he told me he wasn't in love with me and he broke up with me, it took meeting, dating and falling in love with hubby for me to finally let go of my dreams of getting back together with the ex.  I like to think that I would have never allowed him to go down that path again, if we had gotten back together, that I would get out sooner if I saw we were headed back to the darkness, but honestly, I don't know.  Which is kind of scary.


  1. I don't judge her but I worry about her support system. I also worry about the loss of his career which will cause more stress on him and how that will impact his treatment of her. both of them need individual counseling and couples counseling. glad you had someone and really glad you are where you are now in your life. wish you continued success. it was very brave to share yourself like this.

    1. Me too, those exact same things. I just keep her in my T&P and hope that, if he's abusing her, one day she'll be able to get out.

      And thanks... it was actually the first time I've really gone in depth talking about it. Found it easier to write in the second person than the first or third for some reason.

  2. I have a friend that was in an abusive relationship, he never touched her but that doesn't mean she was not being abused. It is different for each and every person, and each one has a different reason for why they chose to stay or not. I don't understand why my friend stayed as long as she did with him, and I saw what a wreck she was after, afraid of him, freaking out about the most different and (to me) strange things.

    But I never gave up on her, because I believe that is what true friends do, we stick through thick and thin (is this the right expression in English?), no matter what our friends do, because we love them, all of them no matter what. I am happy you had a friend like that Angel, and thank you so much for sharing this amazing story with us. You are right, its never about being strong or weak, its about what goes on behind 4 walls that we don't see. We never know the full extent of what goes on, all we can do is speak up, advise our beloved ones and hope we can catch them if they fall.


    1. Yeah, it's hard, especially inside of the relationship, to recognize the abuse when it's not physical. Good for you for staying supportive of her through that, everyone in that situation needs someone like you, but I've been on the outside of this situation too and I know how hard it can be when you're watching your friend go through something awful and you can't help them because they have to help themselves.

    2. Its funny, I own a belly dance school and yesterday I saw some of those signs that were written on your text in a student of mine... I don't have enough intimacy to say it is an abusive relationship or just the dynamics of how they work (because that exists too) but it was spooky having just read your text to see some of it like that, on someone I know and am beginning to call friend...

  3. Angel

    This is so beautifully poignant. Thank you for sharing. My ex husband was mentally abusive. It never quite got to physical. When he left, I kept thinking, like you, we'd get back together again. Until I met my current husband and discovered that someone can treat me kind and supportive and still want and love me. All without the emotional and mental pain.

    One of the most beautiful books I've read was "The Mastery of Love" by Ruiz. Teaches you to live yourself and look for someone who wants you, not needs you. It is so much better being chosen to be wanted than clung to and desperately needed. At least for me and my man.

    Big hugs for taking the time to trust your story to us, your fans and readers. It took courage.

    1. Glad to hear that you found someone too!! Meeting hubby def made a lot of things clearer for me about my previous relationship. I'll def have to look for The Master of Love... the difference between want and need is SO big and so important.

      This was the first time I've really spoken out about my experience in detail, rather than just making allusions, so it's really great for me that it's getting such a good response. I won't lie, a little part of me worried that I was opening myself up for serious judgment.

  4. I love fiction. In fiction there are good guys and bad guys. Good guys get good girls and bad guys get lost. In real life it's not so cut and dried. There are so many shades of gray. Good guys who do bad things. Good girls who make bad choices. Sadly much of our media likes to present stories as fiction rather than as real people struggling with real issues who are in need of help.

    I have been in unhealthy relationships (hind sight is everything as it looks ok when you're in the relationship) and I have been the friend who wonders how the couple can be so blind to their own disfunction.

    I hope Ray and Janay will be as blessed as you and your ex to find support, help, love and a future with healthier relationships. I hope too that writing your blog was a catharsis (not just for me).

    1. Writing this was definitely a catharsis for me, I felt a lot better actually writing this out for the first time.

      And you're sooooooooo right about the media. Ugh. Media and books... which is why I like to explore gray areas in my own books. I once wanted to write a book called "Disney Gave Me Unrealistic Expectations About Love." I still kind of want to write that book LOL

  5. I found the way you explained the progression makes the reasons people stay in abusive/unhealthy relationships a lot easier to understand, and detect. Scarily, it's helped me recognise some of those behaviours in some relationships around me where one partner is manipulating the other.
    It blurs the line between good and bad. There's so much grey; a rugby player I've always found to be a 'gentle giant' has been convicted of assault here, he grabbed and moved his ex out of the way when getting his son. He didn't hit her, but she claimed whiplash. This is (conveniently?) after months of acrimony over the child when she has blocked him access.
    Frustration can affect people in so many ways, and someone who has been conditioned to act physically has the added responsibility to be able to control how they react around 'normal' (weaker?) people. It should be ingrained to not fight back unless physically threatened, and then only with reasonable force.
    The whole thing with the Rice situation is that it doesn't matter what aggravation there was, there was no excuse for punching her like that. It just simply cannot be justified. And how he treated her like a sack of spuds afterwards showed he had no remorse for his actions, and no respect for her.
    (Please excuse my slightly incoherent ramblings.)

    1. Yeah, there's a LOT of grey.. and then - like there are women who cry rape - there are also women who cry abuse in order to get something they want. It fucks it up for everyone else. Honestly, I think those women are just as bad as the abusers, and it makes it hard for anyone to ever prove anything.

      With Rice though... that was pretty freaking clear cut.

  6. Thank you for sharing that with us. It was an excellent example of how abusive relationships begin and continue so insidiously that at the time we don't really even see the reality of it.

    In hindsight, my first marriage would have turned into an abusive relationship, I have no doubt. I was fortunate enough that when he grabbed my arm and threw me down because I was talking to another guy at a public event, I was able to see it was time to get out. Before it was just like you said, I couldn't talk to friends because he was jealous. And every time I tried to get together he would accuse me of wanting to cheat on him. I am afraid it is more common than people even realize.

    Thanks again for the courageous post and thoughtful comments..

    1. I'm glad to hear that you got out of your first marriage! Mine was more of a hindsight case than anything too, because I don't think he would have changed in the long run. I'm pretty sure he always thought we would get back together too, it's just my luck that I found hubby. I think me finding someone else is what made him realize that he really couldn't do what he did with me. Considering that I adore his current g.f. I'm always looking for the signs, but I've never seen anything to indicate that he's anything other than a good boyfriend to her. Which gives me hope.

    2. I am glad we both got out. I know mine would have escalated. His jealous and lack of trust was almost pathologic. And so glad we found our HEA endings. I realized after reading your post that I had never even really told anyone what it was like. It really does take a leap of trust to share that, and you did it so eloquently.

    3. Aw well thank you! I felt like I was rambling, but it did feel cathartic to get it out, even if it was also scary =) It's hard to talk about it... honestly, easier to write about it to strangers in a lot of ways. Other than my husband and my best friend, there's no one else in my real life that even knows as much as I've posted on here.

  7. I continue to share this with people. Thank you for having the courage to share your story, especially in a way that can be so helpful to do many others. This is an excellent and non judging way to get people to evaluate their relationships, people on both sides.

    1. Aw thank you. Sharing something as personal as this and receiving comments back like yours make it worth it.