It's easier to hide a bank account and a credit score than it is to cover up a bruise.
“You’re right, I’m sorry.”
I can’t tell you how many times that sentence has come out of my husband’s mouth, after having the same hushed argument again and again. I confront him about a new crop of ATM withdrawals, plead with him to be more open and honest, and he promises to never do it again. (Fill in the excuse here.) He’s sorry, I’m right.
It got to the point where those four words sent me into a rage. I can’t keep having this same exact fight. I can’t keep screaming into the void. I can’t keep being ignored and hurt and lied to. I can’t keep spinning around in this endless cycle.
I’ve recently started writing about my husband’s struggle with opiate addiction, and so the inherent abuse might seem obvious. But it wasn’t to me. It took many rounds of enduring the addict’s cycle — deception, denial, confession, remorse, broken promises — for me to get good at recognizing it. After several years, I started to see my life from a zoomed-out lens. I could recognize the cycle, but still feel frozen with hope and denial.
“It’s like I’m that girl in an abusive relationship,” I told my therapist one day with a box of tissues on my lap.
“You are in an abusive relationship,” my therapist plainly and quickly responded, as if it were an undeniable, clinical fact. He repeated that sentence two more times, perhaps to really sink in, and I was surprised by how my body reacted.
I felt relief.
I am in an abusive relationship. I am in an abusive relationship!
Perhaps I just needed to hear it from an outside perspective, to have my deepest feelings validated. (A large part of living with an addict is being made to think that I’m the crazy one and so I’ve questioned my judgment constantly.) Maybe I needed that final shove into clarity.
The thing is, my relationship doesn’t seem abusive in the light of day. He never hit me or acted aggressively, not ever. He’s never raised his voice, even when I’ve lost my cool in a fiery rage. He’s never even said an unkind word to me — the way some men hurl nasty, hurtful insults in the heat of the moment. Not my husband. He’d never say anything to intentionally hurt me. He’s funny and charming and affectionate.
His actions, on the other hand, are anything but loving. I’ve been hurt in real, tangible ways; it’s just easier to hide a bank account and a credit score than it is to cover up a bruise. It’s easier to ignore a growling stomach than a verbal attack. This kind of abuse is subtle and easily justified. And because I understand that a drug addict’s brain is wired for selfishness and deception and because I see how much he struggles under the weight of an out-of-control situation, I tolerated his behavior under the guise of “compassion” or “being a good wife.” But as soon as my therapist confirmed that this was, in fact, abuse, I could finally see clearly.
I am being abused by a loving and kind man who doesn’t intentionally want to hurt me, but consistently does. My life is being controlled and consumed by my partner’s compulsions; my basic needs are being ignored. I know he wants to do better, I know he wants to love me, but this isn’t love; it’s abuse.
After my revelation, I reached out to the Early Mama community. I asked if anyone had experience with an abusive relationship that didn’t initially look like abuse and was flooded with responses. Some women spoke of emotional and verbal abuse, others about abuse from a mental illness, and others were reluctant to use the “abuse” label at all even though they described alcohol- or stress-induced rage.
“The difference between abuse and ‘normal’ marital problems (which we all have) is your stake in the issue,” said Kelsey Rodriguez, an Early Mama reader who works with domestic violence victims. “Do you feel like you are heard? Are they ‘fair’ arguments? Do you feel like you’re giving as much as you are taking? Listening to your instincts can be hard when the person you love is telling you that your instincts are wrong, but it is the only way to really determine how to proceed.”
Rodriguez went on to say that she’s seen most women stay in abusive relationships because of “the desire to remain a two-parent household, have financial stability, and not disappoint family or friends.”
I relate to all of these reasons.
But maybe once the labels are made and the sentence is said out loud — I AM IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP — it ultimately comes down to self-respect and self-love. We can either stay in the cycle, identifying as the victim, or get out.
Of course "getting out" is easier said than done, even without the threat of violence. It's hard to unlatch myself from this cycle and mourn the loss of my marriage. Separating from a man I'm in love with and asking the father of my child to move out, knowing how upset our son will be, is nothing short of devastating. This is hard and scary and deeply sad, but it's also necessary.
I cannot be that girl in an abusive relationship — not anymore. Not anymore.