A couple of days ago I shared an article on Facebook about abusive relationships (see: here) and I received a lot of comments and support. The article really spoke to me and I shared a bit about my own experience in this area, which caused several people to share their stories with me as well. Because of the response I’ve decided to elaborate on my experience a bit in hopes it might help someone else. Abusive relationships are a part of us until the day we die, but healing does come slowly and it is something we can thrive after. Breaking up with her was the second most difficult break-up I’ve ever had. The most difficult break up with a very different situation, the two of us were okay together but not long-term compatible. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on the long-term future but neither of us had a catalyst to break up, we just kind of drifted along for longer than we should have because everything was fine. We knew we shouldn’t be together but there was no good reason NOT to be together… but that is a story for another time I think.
Anyway, on to the story.
My first real, adult relationship was with Lyla*. We met when I was in the Army and we hit it off pretty quickly. She was a southern girl, very athletic, and a lot of fun to be around. In the beginning things were great, we lived a couple of hours apart but we made it work pretty well. She was my first sexual partner, and because of this I figured we would be together forever. In fact, I felt that God required it. My upbringing taught me that sex was only between married couples. Because Lyla and I had sex we had to get married, and if we got married God would bless our relationship and everything would work out perfectly. It turns out the fairy-tale I was taught was wrong.
The real problems didn’t start to develop until Lyla and I moved in with each other. When we lived apart she was cheating on me, but I didn’t know it. Ignorance was bliss. But when we started to live together it became harder and harder for her to cover her tracks. I could tell early on that something wasn’t right, but I buried my head in the sand for a long time. I made excuses for her and held her up on a pedestal. “She would never do that to me, she loves me!” I would tell myself.
As time went on she began to accuse me of cheating and began to control my life more and more. It started with small things, like telling me that a female classmate made her a little uncomfortable. She would ask me not to hang out with that person one-on-one… which seemed fine, she was only a classmate, afterall. She never had a real reason for her feelings, and she didn’t expressly forbid me from doing it, but I thought it was the right thing to do to make her more comfortable. Soon, those little requests evolved into more and more controlling behavior.
Her request that I not hang out with a specific woman turned into not talking to any female classmates via email or online at all. She would look over my shoulder while I was at the computer or snoop through my messages. “It isn’t that I don’t trust you, it is that I don’t trust them!” she would say. That wasn’t the truth though, she didn’t trust me. She knew she had no reason not to trust me, but she didn’t. I think she was projecting her own cheating on to me.
Eventually, she had me cut off from all my female friends. It happened so slowly and her reasoning seemed so valid that I didn’t see it for the controlling behavior that it was. After all, we were a couple and couples should really only do things together or with other couples, right? It even got to the point where strangers became arguments. I specifically remember one incident where I was driving our car while she was in the passenger seat. I looked left to check for traffic and there happened to be a woman in the car to our left, Lyla started yelling at me for “checking out” the woman next to us. I hadn’t checked her out, but just looking in the direction of another woman was enough to set her off and create a fight. It became easier to just keep my eyes down when with Lyla. I took the blame for anything other’s did as well… a classmate emails me class she missed and it was my fault, a stranger asks me for directions (happens all the time in a tourist town) and it is my fault, Lyla sees a girl looking at me and it is my fault.
She made excuses why the same rules didn’t apply to her. She was free to hang out with her ex-boyfriends because they were old friends. If I questioned this or expressed discomfort she would ridicule me, call me crazy, or paranoid. And I believed her. I thought I was being paranoid. Everything she said and did made sense to me, and my discomfort with it was my own fault.
During this time I was finishing up my Associate’s Degree and looking at four-year universities to transfer to. My top choices were Duke and Pepperdine, I knew they were tough to get into but I wanted to try. Lyla didn’t want me to try, so I didn’t. She didn’t want to leave the area we lived in and told me that I wasn’t allowed to either. She wanted to be close to her friends and family, the places she was comfortable with, even if that meant I worked as a security guard for the rest of my life. The only reason I was able to go to a four-year college at all was because I got my application in to College of Charleston during one of our break ups.
At this time I was really interested in politics and was doing a lot of reading and research on current events. She would become insanely jealous or angry if I would watch the news or read books that weren’t necessary for class. Everything was a challenge to her primacy in my life and she expected me to neglect my interests for her.
Our sex life continued to get more and more unhealthy. She would shame me for my sexual interests and my sex drive. I was working a lot, in school, and stressed out so my sex drive plummeted. She didn’t want much sex either from me, but my lowered libido was proof something was wrong with me. She often said that she thought I was “a faggot”. My reaction to that type of comment would be different today, but as a young Christian from a conservative background (but knowing my sexuality was more fluid than straight) that was a devastating comment and blow to my psyche. It didn’t help that I enjoyed (and still enjoy) sex doggie-style, which she also saw as “faggy”.
The few times when I openly expressed some of my sexual fantasies or interests she told me I was perverted and a freak. And I felt like I was, I felt alone and sure that she was the only person that would love me or put up with me. I now know that my fantasies and interests were fine and pretty vanilla, but I had no sexual role-models and I had no idea where to get real information. All I had was Christian books like “I Kissed Dating Good Bye” which made me feel like a dirty, failing sinner who deserved hell (and would get hell if I didn’t hurry up and get married).
We weren’t making much money at this time. We both had part-time jobs and I had GI Bill money coming in, but our finances were a mess. She kept all of her paycheck for spending money (because she earned it) but all my income went to rent, bills, food, and other expenses. I rarely had any money for little things like a quick meal or a beer, much less money for books and tuition. I took out loans for school (despite the GI Bill) because the one time I asked her if we could divide the finances more evenly she freaked out and told me to sleep on the couch. She locked me out of our bedroom. This was a common tactic anytime I would bring up a concern of mine… any fight was my fault and I had to sleep on the couch. None of my concerns were ever addressed, I was simply the bad guy for bringing them up.
Over several months we would break up and get back together. I would find proof she was cheating and end things. Then, she would call me crying and I would take her back. We would have some really amazing sex and I would think “this time we will get things right”. This went on for months. I wish I could say I was eventually strong enough to keep things separated, but I wasn’t. I was weak and gave in to her body or emotions every time.
Eventually, she started dating someone else and had no reason to come back to me anymore. Time went on and I turned my heart off for a while. I got cold inside, I did all I could to stop emotions. I embraced logic above all else, read a bunch of Ayn Rand, and studied economics. I don’t regret studying economics, I love economics, but I wonder if I would have gone into that field if I wasn’t introduced to it during this dark time. I spent about five years in this darkness, I contemplated suicide many times, and my “relationships” were almost entirely sexual. But, eventually it passed. Sun began to enter my heart again and I started to feel love for others. I saw beauty in the world and others. Things got better.
The scars are still there, but they are small now. Occasionally, the damage done by Lyla sneaks up on me but I can easily see it for what it is and brush it aside. Even to this day it is hard for me to be mad at her, I love my current life so damn much and I wouldn’t be here right now if I hadn’t gone through that experience with Lyla. That isn’t to excuse her behavior, but I do recognize that in the end I am in a good place with a wonderful partner on an amazing adventure and I can’t imagine being happier.
If you are dealing with an abusive relationship of some sort and need help please feel free to reach out to me. I know they take different forms, and experiences get much worse than mine. I don’t know where to draw the line on what counts as abusive, but if your partner snoops on your phone or computer, isolates you from friends based on gender or prevents you from having new friends, blames you for other’s actions, finds excuses for why you can’t pursue the life you want, is unwilling to communicate or makes you feel like your concerns are never valid, shames you for your sexual interests, sexual orientation, or relationship orientation, or ever, ever physically harms you, then that is abuse. Love does not control, belittle, or harm.
* fake name