This post has been really difficult to write. Not just because reflecting back on my relationship stirs up a whole series of emotions: anger; bitterness; frustration; upset and now relief, but principally because it is really difficult to put that time into words. It is difficult to articulate, in a way that doesn’t make me sound melodramatic and weak, what my relationship was like.
If there are two key lessons that I have learned they are that:
- Toxic relationships can sneak up on anyone.
My ex and I were together for six years. Although there were subtle clues early on, I was blind to them and would never have predicted that our relationship would turn out the way it did.
- Emotional abuse, and I do hesitate at calling this abuse, can be subtle and almost impossible to diagnose and rarely visible to those outside of the relationship.
This led me to question myself and to believe that everything was my fault and in my own head.
Here are some features of my relationship:
- His criticism was chronic.
Often it was just small things: he didn’t like my nails to be too long or painted because “they look like claws“; I was not chatty and outgoing enough with friends at parties; I should do more exercise; we should seek his sister’s advice on decorating our house because “she has a really creative eye”. She may well have a creative eye, but this was our house, our home, my house and my home. He said that I was emotional and hormonal after childbirth and not capable of making a rational decision. He insisted on speaking to my mother, implying that she was capable of the logical thought that I couldn’t muster.
In public things were very different. Prince Charming was on form “Pen is a very talented artist”, “Pen was very stoic during labour”.
This probably doesn’t sound like very much. In fact reading it now it sounds prissy and inconsequential, but when the small daily critique builds up and you feel like every little thing you do could use improvement in your partner’s eyes you are not being valued as an equal, and you are certainly not being loved unconditionally.
- He used his ‘emotions’ to manipulate me.
My ex said that he would “blame, begrudge and resent me for the rest of our lives” if I did not consent to a Catholic christening for our son. These words, his face and the park that we were walking in at the time will be forever engraved in my mind. He then cried. He said that our son had to be christened a Catholic because his father had converted to Catholicism on his death bed fourteen years ago.
But my ex never goes to Church, he is a divorcé who married ten years ago to get his now ex wife a visa to stay in the UK, we cohabited and had a baby out of wedlock. These are not the actions of a Catholic. But I couldn’t challenge my ex on this point because I felt guilty about his Dad’s death. I could not question him during his outpouring of grief.
- He belittled my beliefs.
My ex shouted that my lack of religion was ‘a vacuum’, ‘a void’ in me and that I would never be able to connect or to fully understand what it means to be spiritual and to believe.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is great when our partners can challenge us into interesting discussions and give us new ways of looking at the world. This is what I want from a relationship. It is not great when they make you feel silly, or stupid, or small, or inadequate, or they consistently try to change your mind about something important to you and which you believe in. It gets worse when they deliberately ignore your views, over-rule you and/or go behind your back.
Openness to new experience is great, but a controlling partner doesn’t see it as a two-way street, and only wants you to think more like they do.
- He made me so tired of arguing that I had to relent.
I avoid conflict. I know this. I need to get better at it. I got exhausted very quickly from any ‘discussion’ so would relent. Compliance was easier…until it got to an issue where his desires were so totally at odds with my belief system and his threats were so stark that I couldn’t comply any more. I had to end it.
- He had a frightening temper.
He never hit me, but he would often bang his fist on the table right in front of where I was sitting. If we were in the car he would accelerate hard so the gears were screaming and then slam his foot on the brake. He first did this very early on in the relationship the morning after I had refused to get in the car with him because he had been drinking. That was a clue back then, a clue which I ignored. He did this in January last year whilst our baby, Cygnet, was in the back of the car. By then, it was too much.
I am out of the relationship now. Well, I am out of the relationship in a romantic sense. We will have a co-parenting relationship as long as we both shall live.
What scares me the most now, is that I won’t be able to judge whether the next person I meet is a similar kind of controlling individual. I know that our control / compliance dynamic crept up on me. The toxic nature of our relationship snuck up on me. How will I see it coming?
This is why I don’t think I can even think of getting into a new relationship yet. I don’t have the belief in my own strength of mind to be able to identify and act upon the signs.
I don’t know that I ever will.