There were red flags, but I didn’t notice.
I rolled my eyes as they excused the behaviour and listed all their abuser’s good qualities, telling me I just didn’t understand. I was sure if it ever happened to me, I would be out of there quick smart.
What I didn’t consider, is that I wouldn’t actually know I was being treated badly.
It sounds ridiculous; shitty behaviour is so easy to spot, right? Except that it’s not. Emotional abuse is not a switch that flips… it’s more like a slow, steady slide. One minute you’re in love, then there’s a flicker of something not right, but you’re still in love so it doesn’t matter. You explain away the tiny changes, justify his actions, maybe even blame yourself. Eventually the small things add up, but because of your love-coloured glasses you can only see them as a bunch of little problems, not one massive red flag.
The biggest indicator that things had been very wrong was the reaction from my friends and family when I told them I’d broken up with my boyfriend.
Rather than shock, the response was one of relief. They were glad it hadn’t ended in the engagement I’d wanted so badly. They’d wanted to say something for ages. They were happy I was getting away from him. One of my friends even said, “Oh thank god, honey. Thank god.” Not a single friend said they were sad we were over.
And as they each recounted their experiences of our relationship from the outside, they helped me realise my ex and I hadn’t just been going through a rough patch, we’d been in a toxic, emotionally abusive relationship.
From the moment he confessed his feelings for me, I was totally gone. I’d been treated badly in previous relationships and he told me he was the one who would scoop me up and protect me from the world. He told me I brought out a creative, emotional side to him that he’d closed off. He said, “Don’t think I don’t realise how good you are for me. You calm my anger.”
In hindsight, that should have been a red flag.
The first thing that stands out. looking back, are all the remarks that subtly cut me down. I’d lived a very independent life before him, but he started chipping away at that in a way that made me feel hopeless. He’d make little comments about how I was messy, or bad at dishes, or needed him around to do things because I wasn’t capable of doing them myself.
Then the comments changed to actions.
I’d be eating toast off a bread and butter plate, and he’d swap it out from under me mid-mouthful to a dinner plate, telling me he didn’t want me getting crumbs everywhere. Or he’d come home and inspect the dishes after I’d washed them, getting me to stand next to him as he pointed out all the spots I’d missed. When I stacked the dishes in the dishwasher instead, he’d unstack the whole thing and hand wash them all in front of me, telling me I was lazy for stacking it in the first place.