Disclaimer: Jen Childs is in an open/polyamorous marriage. This is about her experience in a relationship that took place for two years during 2019-2021. This article is NOT about her primary partner of 14 years.
One year ago, my now ex-boyfriend and I were in the reconciliation honeymoon phase.
Some would also call it the love-bombing phase, which is the first step in every abuse cycle. When we first met in the winter of 2019 it was passionate and intense. I felt he was everything I had ever wanted. However, slowly his own drama, toxic behaviours, and emotional turmoil started to creep into our relationship. Eventually his ex-girlfriend returned, and I was sidelined.
Nothing I did seemed to be working; I broke it off.
We had been apart for nearly 3 months during which I found myself in a deep depression, confusion, and sadness. I was trying to make sense of it all. Slowly, I started to feel better and move forward, I even went on a few dates.
As if he could sense that I was letting go and moving on, he made his way back into my life.
Apologies, explanations, excuses, and promises were made. It was going to be different this time. He said I would be prioritized, he would listen, my emotional needs would be met, I would be the only one in his life, and there would be no more mistreatment. I believed it all because I still loved him. I had never truly let go of the hope that he would come back and that he could change, I believed that we could make it work if we both tried. After all, “all you need is love” – Right? Turns out that famous little phrase is one of the beliefs that keep you hooked to the cycles of abuse.
You cling on to the promise that things will get better and change will eventually come – because they love you so much, and they hate that they have hurt you. Even though…. they keep doing it.
Signs of an abusive relationship
How do you know you are in an abusive relationship vs. just dating an immature jerk? Very consistent patterns will emerge in which you are being hurt – emotionally, psychologically, sexually, physically, one, some, or all of these can exist in a relationship at different times or simultaneously. The dynamic between you and your partner is not ever balanced, you give way more to the relationship vs. they give, and what you get back is usually breadcrumbs.
You are lied to by omission or given half-truths or full-blown lies when you highlight a situation that is not right. Often there are third party situations that are introduced to create triangulation and purposely make you jealous, insecure, and make you question your self-worth.
You speak up, you say “enough, this is not acceptable.” You are then met with resistance, anger, and minimizing of your feelings and emotions. You are manipulated and gaslit to believe that it was your own behaviour that caused the abuse.
Eventually, your partner apologizes. “I will fix it, it won’t happen again, I am sorry, I was wrong” – followed by – “I love you, you are the only one that matters to me, we have been through so much already, we can make it work.” Then you go into the love-bombing phase where passion, love, affirmations, and trust-building are so intense that you start falling deeply in love all over again. You feel like you are finally validated, finally seen, finally loved – all that time, energy, and love you have been giving is finally being reciprocated.
Boom! Then the abuse starts again. Slowly at first. Small incidents during which you are devalued and disrespected are broken up with intermittent reinforcement during which you are put on a pedestal and told you are loved and cherished. You do not know what to believe, you feel confused, and you keep quiet.
Nothing ever changes –the abuse may be different, but the cycles are the same – and usually the abuse get worse and worse the longer you stay because your abuser knows your self-esteem has been worn down and your boundaries are weak. They are counting on the fact that you have stayed before, therefore it is likely you will not be going anywhere. So many red flags!
Looking back, I cannot believe how many red flags I chose to ignore along the way. Each time I saw one I looked the other way and I told myself he needed stability, love, and compassion to become a better person. I knew I had all of that within me, therefore I thought I could help him.
Usually, my goals and accomplishments were minimized. Almost everything had to be about him. He dominated our conversations and often decided what our days and evenings would look like. His work and his projects were always a priority.
He never offered to help me with anything I had going on. He would check out other women and make comments about them in front of me. He talked about all his exes in a linear fashion – the amazing person they were when he first met them followed by the breakup stories – in which they became raging lunatics (the one that punched holes in the wall, the one that tore up his drum kit, the one that went to the mental ward after a horrible fight, the one that called the cops on him).
The stories he told me about moving out of every apartment he had due to breakups, fights with roommates, and never having his finances together. He seemed to have very few true friends although he said he had many. The way he barely took care of his ageing dog. The way he always talked down to his mom and would be cold and distant with her. The things he would say about everyone behind their back. His raging addiction to alcohol and his struggle to stay sober.
Looking at his past there was a clear trail of broken hearts and destruction. I chose not to see that it was just a matter of time until I was added to this list of failed relationships.
Why do people stay in abusive relationships?
Why would anyone put up with any of this? That was a common question from my close friends when I would try to explain what I was going through. My response was usually “I love him, and I want to help him become a better person – that is why I need to stay”. Eventually I stopped talking about all the turmoil and chose to paint a pretty picture so that my friends and family would not worry. At the time I did not understand how trauma bonding can create a deep bond to your abuser. It is a big part of what causes Stockholm Syndrome, the phenomenon in which victims of a hostage become attached to their perpetrators and even defend them.
In addition, abusive relationships can be addictive because you get used to various chemicals released in your brain throughout the phases of the abuse cycle. Chemical hormones naturally found in the body such as oxytocin, cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine are released in mass. This is a perfect cocktail that causes emotions ranging from euphoria to energy rushes. All of this can make it incredibly difficult to leave your abuser.
Is there anything you can do to change them? I promised him I would always love him and be at his side. I helped him move several times into more stable living situations. I made appointments with various doctors to help him address several health issues. I asked him to go to therapy to deal with his anger issues and his drinking problem. I was patient, kind, and forgave him every time he hurt me. During the last 8 months of our relationship, I helped my boyfriend fight substance addiction, I helped him go to rehab, I helped him deal with his Dad’s sudden death, I helped him empty out his Dad’s house and worked on an estate sale that took several months, and I helped him buy a house and fix it up.
In a nutshell, I gave him unconditional support, help and love. In the end, it made no difference.
The only thing that changed was me. I lied to myself, my friends, and my family to hold on to a person who was slowly destroying every good quality I processed. I was filled with anxiety and stress. When I looked in the mirror, I no longer recognized the strong, positive, loving, fun person I was when I first met him.
When enough is enough
I felt like was constantly walking on eggshells. I was trying to hold the relationship together and doing everything I could to avoid conflict. He was drinking heavily for several weeks last summer. At that time two incidents happened during which I was slapped and choked for no reason other than him wanting to show me what he could get away with. When he finally sobered up and I confronted him he said he had no memory of either incident. He agreed to go to rehab after I had an intervention with two other friends because he was a danger to himself and those around him.
I made a mental note – the threshold had been crossed. The abuse had now become physical and I was tolerating it. His rageful outbursts of yelling and throwing things were getting closer and closer together, lies and manipulation were now the norm, a third party which I was aware of was being flaunted in my face, and physical abuse made its way into what used to be an intimate, loving, and safe space – our sex life. I could not stand it anymore. I started calling him out every time he did something that was selfish, disrespectful, or hurtful. His response was to shame me for re-affirming my boundaries which was followed by the worst emotional and psychological abuse I had experienced yet.
I was told that I was too sensitive, too anxious, too emotional. I was told he barely tolerated me. That I was a terrible person that made his life miserable. That every other woman he knew at the time wanted to be with him and that I was impossible to love. Then I was given an ultimatum – go see a psychiatrist and get on meds or I would not be allowed back into his house. The cruelty and hate behind his tone and words and the look of disgust in his eyes was something I was not prepared for – even after two years of being treated badly. As he raged at me, I found myself sobbing like a child, barely able to speak up or defend myself.
I said almost nothing while he threw out insults at me. All I could get out through muffled cries was “why do you have to be so cruel; I have not done anything wrong.” The person I had loved with all my heart and given everything to for 2 years was discarding me like yesterday’s trash because I was finally standing up for myself and was not backing down.
That was the last time.
I walked away that day and I told myself he would never hurt me again.
Jen Childs is an Interior Designer who runs her own firm in the Detroit metro area. She is also a Burlesque Dancer & Lyra Aerial Performer. For more about Jen Childs, you can visit her on instagram by clicking HERE.
This article was originally published here in the Astonishing Tales digital magazine on March 4th 2021
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