Three years ago my therapist told me I was in an abusive relationship.
I didn’t believe her.
I didn’t have bruises on my arms, my face or my legs and my boyfriend had never hit me. Yes, there was that one time he punched a hole in the shoddy wooden door in his dorm room, and that one time he pushed me up against the graffiti-covered metal door of a closed storefront in West Philly when we were in the middle of a fight, and that one time he slapped my hand for picking up his phone to check the time. But each of those things only happened that one time.
I did not, by any means, feel abused.
But I should have.
The signs aren’t always as obvious as a black and blue mark. The signs are subtle – so subtle that they often go unnoticed by even the smartest most insightful people.
The following list is an attempt to help others recognize signs of an abuser that I wish had realized sooner than three years into a relationship.
1. He will knock you down to pick you up: sometimes literally, other times not. He will find what pulls on your heart strings and take over as puppeteer in order to get under your skin. He will then use this power to bring you to your lowest point. The minute the tears begin to well in your eyes he will tell you not to cry. He will tell you that everything will be okay because you have him there to fix things or help you be who you want to be because…
2. He is always the hero: and without him? Well, you would be lost. There you would stay crying on the bathroom floor if it weren’t for him to pick you up, wipe your tears and bring you back to bed to finally get some sleep.
3. He will make you feel guilty: unnecessarily so. Did you go out with your friends for margaritas during the week? Did you friend another guy on Facebook? Because if so, he will ask you if you did even if he already knows that you did and he will ask you why you did it. Note, no answer will be reasonable. Did you order his burger medium-well because you couldn’t remember if he likes his meat bloody or burnt? Because if you tried to do something nice for him like have dinner waiting for him when he got home, well then he will yell at you because you should have ordered his burger rare. How did you not know that he NEVER eats his meat anywhere close to well-done? But when you try to play the questions game with him, you’ll never get anywhere because…
4. He will do whatever he wants, whenever he wants: he’s allowed to after all because he can do no wrong and he definitely doesn’t have to answer to you. He will go golfing all day Saturday and Sunday, show up late for dinner and expect you to be there waiting for him with open arms. He can go out with his fraternity brothers, text you incoherently, flirt with other girls and you best not say a peep about it lest you want to start a battle you will ultimately lose.
5. He will make you question your sanity: because you are the crazy one, not him. He will be so far inside your head that you’ll start to believe him when he tells you you’re the one to blame for his sudden outbursts or unexpected withdraw from the relationship. No, it has nothing to do with his general unhappiness with his own life but has everything to do with how crazy you are and thus how crazy you make him. You’re the reason things were never going to work out.
6. He doesn’t give second chances: because it’s always too late. He will tell you what you should have done differently but not until he’s already out the door – that if you had only turned left when he told you to turn left then he wouldn’t be leaving you. But you went and turned right instead so, now it’s over.
And the cycle will repeat that one time and that one time over again.