Abusive relationships are so easy to get into without even realising and so difficult to get out off unless you are very lucky. It helps to know the signs in advance so warning bells will ring a bit faster…
While in college, I got a part-time job in computer technology. I got an assignment to show a small company how to use the Internet to grow their sales. This was not my first assignment and I was pretty confident in my skills and knowledge.
I was teaching a small group of managers who were all pretty keen and excited to learn a new skill. It is always more enjoyable to give a course when your students are actually interested in what you have to say. We were set up in an open space, not in a conference room. From time to time other employees would come and sit in for a while then return to work. One employee, in particular, seemed to hover at the back more than any other. He was very handsome and dressed professionally. He kept hovering around as I was training the manager and sometimes even participated when I asked questions. Managers would sometime praise him when he wasn’t there. He was one of the best employees. He had a good career path. He always went out of his way to help others. He volunteered. He was a really good guy. It seemed that every time we took a break the conversation would naturally fall on this employee.
One day, they informed me that it was his birthday and they would have to take a break for a birthday cake celebration. They were paying for my time there, so I have no issue if they want to prolong the training. One manager let it drop that the employee in question found me very pretty and was impressed by my knowledge. I liked the idea of someone being interested in my skills and not just on my looks. He asked me on a date in front of everyone and I agreed, feeling a bit on the spot and a bit curious. Everyone was extremely happy.
We went on a couple and he was the perfect gentleman. He was very respectful and treated me with care. He was very charming, always showering me with compliments. Naturally, we started getting closer. He seemed to have his life already figured out and I was still unsure of what direction I wanted to take. There was something alluring about the fact that he had his life figured out.
Things started changing, but only slightly. Things changed so slowly that I didn’t register it at the time. He was still very charming and generous with his time, but each incredibly flattering compliment was now followed with a “but” and a so very small critique. (Example: You are beautiful, but you’d be perfect if you lost 2 pounds). Without realising it, I started to feel like I should work a bit harder to be worthy of love. I started to believe that the perfect relationship was at the tip of my fingertips. I started to believe that if I put a little effort into it, he would be happier. I know that the moment you feel like you have to prove your worth is the moment to walk away, but I didn’t feel I needed to prove myself. I felt loved and appreciated. I only felt I needed to put my 50% into the relationship. After all, he was doing a lot for me.
That’s the problem with abusive relationships. They are very good at manipulating you without you ever cluing in into thinking that you are not doing your half of the effort. Suggestions slowly turned into requests.
He asked me to wear flat shoes because the high heels that I loved wearing at a time made me an inch taller than him and people would think he was less of a man. I didn’t like wearing flat shoes at the time and told him I felt prettier and more comfortable in heels. He stared at me with a wounded look on his face. He started to question if I actually cared about him as much as he cared about me. I felt bad for refusing. I had always been strong headed and he still ended up making all of the decisions. He would listen to me when I tried to give my two cents and decide to do otherwise. He would shower me with gifts and over the top compliments, but would disregard my suggestions or requests. He did it in such a way that I genuinely thought he was looking out for me.
It didn’t help that absolutely everyone we met loved him and was very vocal about it. I only realise later one that he had been slowly working at destroying my self-esteem so I would become submissive and dependent on him. People always praised him for being the sweetest, kindest person they ever met. He didn’t have an ounce of meanest in him and yet I always trembled when near him. No one would have ever believed me if I said anything bad about him. It’s so frustrating knowing how terrible a person actually is, but everyone loves them because they put on a good show.
I thought at the time that it was exciting, it was butterflies. I didn’t have much experience in dating and had never been intimate with anyone. I didn’t realise that my body had recognised the danger I was in and was shaking from fear, not from excitement.
We were alone one day at his place having a quiet afternoon when a friend I hadn’t met yet came by. He looked at me from head to toe and gave his approval to my boyfriend. It made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t know why at the time. Once the friend left, my boyfriend said he was happy his friend approved. I naively asked why and he said that they swipe girlfriend when they get bored. I took a step back in shock and immediately refuse. He first reassured me that it was my decision and if I didn’t want it was fine. I felt relieved. We sat back down in his living room and he started pushing the subject up again. I refused more strongly this time and he tried to punch me after telling me I was unreasonable. I reacted quickly catching his fist like a baseball and punch him with my other hand. He fell backyard more surprised than hurt and I ran out of the house. He didn’t have a car so he couldn’t chase me.
The next day, he called me at my parents (I hadn’t given him that phone number) and asked when I wanted him over to meet my parents. Before the altercation, we had a plan for him to meet my folks. I had already met his dad. My heart sank to my feet. I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was in a dangerous situation. I knew there would be more violence. Fuelled by rage I gave him a set of promises about what would happen if he continued on his current path. To this day, the conversation itself is a blank. My mind blocked the memory of that moment.
Help for women:
- In the US: Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
- In Canada: Visit ShelterSafe to find the helpline of a women’s shelter near you.
- UK: Call Women’s Aid UK at 0808 2000 247.
- Ireland: Call Women’s Aid at 1800 341 900.
- Australia: Call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.
- Worldwide: visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a global list of helplines and crisis centres.
Good articles to read about abusive relationships, how to recognise them and what to do:
- Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse – It can be stopped
- The Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship
- Warning Signs