Words can explain actions, but never excuse them.
From my ex I have received a semi-explanation and an apology (though this wasn’t given under their own volition, and was instead offered when I finally called them out on their past behaviour) but it doesn’t change the fact that while we were together, they made conscious, repeated decisions to refuse to listen to my ‘no’.
And this is why, almost 2 years later, I find myself both over our relationship but also still angry whenever I think about them. Perhaps this is due to a lack of outlet for my thoughts or emotions. Or because they get to be out there maybe doing the same things all over again to someone else. Or just because of my sense of justice. Whatever the reason, this post has been floating around as a possibility for cathartic release.
The anger over somebodies actions towards you will eat you alive. It will. It will feel so unfair and hurtful and unjust that somebody can hurt you and then go on and live their lives however they want and have friends and jobs and lovers etc as if they have never woken you up in the night with their hands touching you, their legs kicking you when you wake up and disturb them. The anger will sit in your gut and throat and make you lash out at them in words and wish that you could just not feel at all.
Telling your friends how your partner has bluntly told you to ‘shut the fuck up’ at 3am when you ask them to please turn the lights and noise off and let you sleep for once will elicit a stunned reaction. At least, this was my ‘a-ha’ moment for realising that my relationship was toxic and abnormal. Yours was probably different – or maybe it hasn’t happened yet and you’re wondering if your current relationship is worth all your crying (it isn’t). It turned out the people around me don’t have boyfriends who say these kind of things to them. It turns out they don’t have boyfriends who cause your gynecologist to comment, ‘You have some bruising and trauma here.’ Who knew? Who knew that other people’s boyfriends weren’t hot balls of pressure on their everyday lives? Madness!
Whatever the actions that have happened, if you’re someone who has left a relationship that was detrimental to your mental health, you may find yourself realising slowly that things were worse than you thought at the time. I think this is part protection from feeling overwhelmed by your situations and part lack of education over what a toxic relationship is.
See, I was young when I got into my past relationship and I had never been in a serious or sexual relationship before. This was my normal. On top of that, this person shared my morals (or seemed to) and my humour and my interests and a lot of the time we spent laughing and watching movies and chatting. So we were happy, weren’t we? Besides, I was never told I was fat or ugly and I was never punched in the face, and that’s what abuse is, isn’t it?
Abuse is what has happened to those women in the news, not me. Well, emotional blackmail, manipulation, sexual manipulation, sexual coercion, turning your concerns about their treatment of you into you being the one who’s mean to them, and all the other insidiously subtler forms of domestic abuse are actually all really shitty actions that you should not put up with. They’ll make you mentally unwell, they’ll make you angry, they’ll cause damage that can be lasting.
It’s just that the word ‘abuse’ doesn’t sit right sometimes. It feels so extreme, as if you should have been able to tell from the first time they manipulated you, or shifted blame, or touched you, what it was. Some of us need magical warning signs that say ‘DANGER AHEAD’ above the heads of our significant others when they say something like, ‘Stop crying, I don’t care when you cry. You’re just trying to get me to do something.’ It sure would clear things up! I know I woulda appreciated someone then coming in and saying ‘Hey, guess what? This guy sucks as a boyfriend and you’re gonna be so much happier when you ditch ’em and start livin’.”
And it’s true; I am happier. I am living. I really am. But I’m also angry from time to time. And maybe that’s to do with this labeling of the past. Was I ‘abused’? Or was I just dating a shitty arsehole with a shitty childhood who wasn’t capable or willing to ever take responsibility for anything in his life? Maybe it’s because ‘abused’ sounds like I should have known the whole time that things were wrong, and that means it was my fault. It feels like I’m just playing into that over-reacting female stereotype which makes me hate that it even exists as a stereotype because it cheapens your valid emotions. Maybe it’s an inability to voice all these things bubbling away inside and eating me up. Whatever the reason for the anger, I know now that it isn’t a feeling I want to keep having so often. I want to speak up. In toxic relationships you are often silenced, and this silence only adds icing to your grumpy cake. Which tastes shit by the way.
I’ve spoken to some friends who have had similar issues with their exes and I was surprised and comforted to find that they also get angry. So you know what I’ve realised? We’re allowed to be. It doesn’t mean we haven’t moved on or that we’re not okay it just means that we recognised that we were treated badly.
We might not be able to say our partners were abusive, but dammit if we can’t say that we get angry. All together now: we had a shitty time, being mad is okay, but learning to let the anger go will release us from their memory once and for all.
Good luck you shitty-partner survivors.