real life

The story of this 20 year relationship is simply heartbreaking.

With a social media following of more than 20 million, Humans of New York provides rare glimpses into the lives of strangers walking the streets of New York City (and sometimes other cities).

Just hours ago, a photograph of a woman, shot from the neck down, was published to Facebook and Instagram.

The accompanying caption reads;

“We’ve been together for twenty years. I’ve never dated anyone else. But there’s no intimacy. There’s no ring on the finger. He doesn’t even want his family to know we’re together. Maybe it’s my weight. Maybe it’s a status thing. But he keeps me away from his family. I accidentally sat by his sister at a basketball game, and his jaw nearly dropped to the floor. We’ve only made love once. That was twelve years ago. He won’t kiss me or touch me. I’ve just stopped asking. But he insists that we’re in a relationship. He got mad when I tried to change my relationship status to ‘single.’ He got on my computer and changed it back. I didn’t even know that he knew my password. I told myself that I was OK with it. I told myself that I’m OK with not being touched. But I don’t think I am. I recently went to a therapist for the first time. I was so scared he’d find out that I parked my car next door. But maybe it would be good if he found out. Maybe he’d leave me and give me a chance.”

At the time of writing, less than five hours since the post was published, it has received a huge reaction in terms of shares, likes, comments and, most tellingly, support.

Perhaps most fascinating about the viral post, is that the comments – which have flooded both Facebook and Instagram – appear unanimous.

“This woman is in trouble,” read one comment.

“…everyone deserves to have a human touch from someone who loves and cares for them,” read another, which has garnered more than 50,000 likes.

“Thank you for your vulnerability. I can only imagine the amount of lives you have touched by sharing your story. I hope the support this community gives you is the catalyst to find a new life for yourself,” another woman wrote on Instagram.

The anonymous woman was photographed by Humans of New York. Image via iStock.

Many have prompted the anonymous woman to seek help, with some suggesting she find a local domestic violence shelter or call a hotline.

There is no evidence that the subject has endured physical violence, but it is unequivocal that her case is one of emotional abuse.

The details of anger and control, which the subject herself is struggling to recognise, are common traits of an emotional abuser. Her fear that he would find out she was seeking help indicates that she feels trapped, and is harbouring feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Such is the damage a toxic relationship can do to an individual's self-esteem.

Domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty speaks to Mia Freedman. Post continues below.

The most tragic element of this incredibly sad story, is that it is, in some ways, unexceptional.

There are countless women who live for years, or even decades, with partners who psychologically and verbally abuse them. And it might feel as though there is no way out.

But for women just like this anonymous subject, there is hope.

Without even knowing who she is, hundreds of thousands of people care, and want her to find the love and respect she deserves. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.