Life after an abusive relationship
I’m Sophie and I’m 28 years old. I live in the West Midlands, work in communications and am slightly obsessed with Disney – the more Mickey the better! Outside of my 9-5, I love to write and get involved in different projects. I started working with Women’s Aid in 2016 after experiencing relationship abuse when I was a teenager.
How it started
I met my ex-boyfriend when I was 16 and at college. He was in the year above me, which made me feel like he probably knew a lot about relationships. We went on a date (Nando’s! A classic choice) and started going out soon after that.
Things got pretty serious pretty quickly. He told me he loved me after two weeks, and it was rare for us to go a day without seeing each other. This could be a bit stressful. Some days I just wanted to go home and watch Netflix on my own, but generally I was fairly happy about the whole thing. All my friends loved him, and I thought I was lucky to have found someone who was so excited to hang out with me.
I first noticed a change in his behaviour when we’d been together for about four months. I had a house party coming up at the weekend, and in the days leading up to it he was uncharacteristically grumpy with me. This put me on edge. He kept mentioning the party and asking questions about it: was I going to wear a short skirt? Why was I so intent on drinking? Was I planning on talking to any of the boys from English Lit? By the time the party came around, I felt so anxious about it that I almost didn’t go.
This behaviour got worse as time went on – he tried to monitor what I wore; he didn’t like me spending time with friends or family; he didn’t want me to drink or go to clubs (even though he did); he called me a slut and a slag; he said I was “disgusting” for finding male celebrities attractive; he made me take down my prom photo because he couldn’t stand to see pictures of me with my ex. I worked as a waitress, and he got a job at the same place as me. It was really fun to work together some days, but other days he’d accuse me of flirting with customers or with another member of staff. In retrospect, I feel like he probably took the job to check up on me.
There were elements of physical abuse in our relationship, but because they didn’t involve very obvious outward signs, I told myself no-one would take them seriously. For example, he would scratch and pinch me, and several times he punched the wall next to my head. Once he broke a mirror and told his mum it’d happened by accident. If we were arguing and I told him I wanted to leave, he would block the door and push me backwards so I couldn’t get past him. When I heard ‘domestic abuse’ I pictured middle-aged women with black eyes and broken ribs. I never thought that what I was dealing with was anything that anyone would care about – but I was wrong.
I struggled with knowing who to talk to about my relationship – by this point, my friends and I weren’t close anymore. I knew they were really worried about me. It was the same with my mum and my brother. I felt like anything I told anyone would just be used against my boyfriend. It’s weird how defensive you feel over someone who’s treating you so badly.
In the end I realised: this isn’t worth it. I was so stressed that I felt ill almost constantly, and I missed having a life outside of him. Even though he made me think that I was worthless, I still heard a little voice in the back of my head that said “You know he’s wrong. He’s saying that because he wants you to stay with him, and you don’t have to.” I tried to end things with him several times, and eventually I managed to go through with it when I was 18, a year and a half after we’d started dating.
It took me ages to realise that what I’d experienced was abusive – he always used to say that we had a “fiery” relationship, like Noah and Ally from The Notebook, and that everything that happened was just because we loved each other so much. But when I look back on it, I can recognise now that it was abusive and toxic.
When the relationship ended – and for some time afterwards – I really struggled. I had very low self-esteem. I was incredibly anxious and I wasn’t much fun to date – I was so used to being in an intense relationship that I couldn’t understand boys who didn’t text back instantly, or had friends of the opposite sex. But when I was in my first year of university I accessed a free counselling service, which helped me a lot. I was able to get everything out in the open with someone non-judgemental, who had no preconceptions about me or the relationship. It was then that I started to feel like my mental health was really improving and that my insecurities were being broken down. I was so glad I’d taken those proactive steps and been able to talk about it.
Relationships are different for everyone – what works for one couple might be way off what would work for another. But to me, a healthy relationship involves other people, always. It’s not just the two of you on an island, against the world – you make time for friends and family and hobbies, both separately and as a couple. My mum always used to tell me “One person can’t be everything to you,” and I would wonder what she was on about. But it’s only in recent years that I have started to grasp what she meant, and now I totally get it.
Someone who cares about you wants to see you thrive and flourish and laugh and grow. If you feel like you are constantly having to shrink yourself for your boyfriend or girlfriend, that isn’t okay. Keep talking to friends, family, work colleagues, school/college pals and anyone else you feel you can trust. And remember, there are organisations out there that can help you. You deserve to feel loved and safe, and you are never, ever alone.
Are you worried about your partner’s behaviour? Do you feel anxious or unsure? It can sometimes be difficult to spot signs of abuse in your relationship, and know what to do about it.
But what if you could find out how healthy your relationship is? Check out our tool below to understand your relationship dynamic, and what you can do if it’s not as healthy as it should be.
- Women's aid protects women from domestic violence. Call their 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.
- Refuge offers advice and support to victims of domestic violence. 0808 2000 247
- Do you want to understand your relationship better? Love Smart helps you work it all out.
- Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
- Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.
Updated on 16-Jul-2018
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