It’s a Friday evening as I write this. I’m sitting on my sofa, half-watching a feature about Duran Duran on Top Of The Pops 2, sipping on a can of 7 up and hoping my 3 children sleep through the night (spoiler: they definitely won’t…)
I’m wearing mismatched pyjamas. My other half is in the kitchen washing the dishes and listening to the radio.
We’ll probably ignore each other for another hour or so while we do our own things, then we’ll head up to bed and ignore each other there too… but in a nice way. It’s that comfortable kind of ignoring…the kind where you both just want a bit of a head space because the kids have driven you mad all day but you know you love each other really.
When I cast my mind back to the way my life looked 10 years ago…things were pretty different.
Ten years ago, my Friday evenings were spent sitting in the swanky flat I rented with my then-fiancé…I’d usually be on the sofa in some uncomfortably tight dress I’d worn out to a club, his friends would be laying around our living room mostly passed out drunk, there’d be cocaine and rolled up fivers out on the table and he’d be standing at his decks, mixing trance tracks between lines and ignoring me…the uncomfortable kind of ignoring. The “Don’t piss me off tonight or I’ll knock your teeth out” kind.
There were very few Fridays that would end without him raising his fists to me. And very few Saturdays. Come to think of it, there weren’t very many week days that felt all that safe either.
I was with him for 7 years and 3 months in total. And for 7 years and 1 month, he’d been physically abusive toward me. It started with a glass of wine thrown in my face during an argument. A few weeks later, he head butted me during another. I thought he’d broken my nose.
After that, it all becomes a blur. A punch here, an attempted strangulation there…
I’ve spent two years in therapy recently dealing with the trauma that relationship has left me with, but there’s one question that I’ve never quite been able to put to rest. The one that most people ask me when they hear about my experience.
“Why did you let it go on for so long? Why didn’t you just end it with him?”
And its a fair question.
Because unlike many domestic abuse situations – I wasn’t tied to him when the abuse started. We weren’t married.I had no children with him. We weren’t even living together when it started. We’d been together for a mere 2 months. It would have been so easy to dump him – to tell him where to go and forget he existed. It SHOULD have been so easy to do that.But I didn’t.
So why didn’t I?
That’s the question I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to myself.Let’s break it down, shall we?
Reason 1) Shame
Every time he hit me…instead of feeling fear or anger, my primary emotion was shame.Deep, deep shame and embarrassment.I could not stand the thought of anybody knowing that this was happening to me.
I didn’t want anybody to feel sorry for me, I didn’t want anyone to think of me as weak, and most of all I didn’t want anyone to know that I was unhappy or that my life wasn’t perfect.
Facebook was only just becoming a big deal at the time our relationship started and it all played out on there – we changed our statuses to “In a relationship”, we were in each others profile pictures…and already, even at that early stage of social media mentality, I wanted to be seen to be living the dream.I wanted to be the envy of my friends. I wanted to have the perfect relationship.So I shared photos of the flowers he bought me, and took selfies with him at the beach.
Just as long as I kept the black eyes and the nights spent locked in the bathroom crying in fear hidden from public view, it was all good.
Reason 2) Victim Blaming
Having been bullied throughout my childhood and teen years, I knew all too well that being the one on the receiving end of hurt and pain didn’t always mean you were considered the innocent party.When I reported a group of boys at my school who were physically violent, I was called a liar by my headteacher. I was labelled a trouble maker for bringing it up. I was the pain in the arse causing extra work for him.
And that experience taught me that making waves isn’t the done thing. Nobody likes a telltale, right? And it would be his word against mine. Everybody liked him. Why would anyone believe me? I just didn’t feel confident enough to take the risk.
Reason 3) Low Self Worth
Every time I’d been on the receiving end of one of his attacks, he’d tell me exactly why it had been my fault. What I’d done to anger him that time. Why I’d deserved it.My family have always joked about me being a drama queen, someone who’s hard to please…and he’d regularly use that knowledge against me.
“Even your own mother says I deserve a medal for putting up with you.”
When you hear these things often enough, you just believe them.
And after a lifetime of being told you’re not good enough by your peers, being told that you’re weird or unlikable…why would you think you’re worthy of anything more?When you truly believe you don’t deserve any better, you put up with what you’ve got.
Reason 4) Size-ism
This was a big factor for me. Although I didn’t realise it until recently.I was a size 16/18. And he was very thin. He had an almost skeletal frame…his arms were the skinniest I’ve ever seen. Mine were easily twice the size.
Whenever I thought of trying to tell anyone what was happening to me, I knew people would comment on the size difference between us. I knew they’d think it was impossible or ridiculous that a person so much smaller than me in frame could hurt me and hold such physical power over me. And for being larger than my boyfriend, I felt shame.
I didn’t want to have my size used as a reason to call into question what was happening, or my ability to fight him off.
Reason 5) Fear Of Being Alone
As ridiculous as I know it sounds, It was somehow preferable to me to stay with him and at least be with someone than to be on my own. I’ve always been a deeply lonely person, I’ve always found friendships tough to make and keep…and the thought of walking away from him and being alone terrified me.
Better the devil you know and all that.
I know that must sound crazy, and I suppose it is…but somehow it felt more acceptable to stay and feel in danger sometimes, than to leave and face the prospect of being single and “left on the shelf”. How ridiculous is that?
So those are 5 reasons why I stayed in a physically abusive relationship for 7 years. When you break them down, it really all comes down to fear of what other people would have thought about me If they’d known. It seems that all I really wanted, more than safety and respect and the right not to be hurt by someone who was supposed to love me, was not to be disliked or thought badly of by other people.
What a sad, strange realisation that is.
photo credit: Carolina Tarre Auto retrato en baño ajeno / Self portrait in another person’s bathroom via photopin (license)
Hayley is a 36 year old Liverpudlian Mum of 3 boys aged 5 and under, currently living in Devon. She has wanted to be a writer since the age of 5 and stumbled into a career as a blogger in 2013 when on maternity leave with her first baby. Her proudest achievement (kids aside!) has been writing for Essentials magazine, and her dream is to figure out how the hell to become a “proper writer” one day. She fills her time starting books she’ll never finish, watching too much Netflix and eating biscuits.