One thing that I hear often is “I’ll never understand how someone can just stay in abusive relationship.” or “I can’t believe she let’s him treat her that way.” What many people don’t understand is that abuse doesn’t happen right out of the gate. If someone you’d only been dating for 2 weeks laid a hand on you, of course you’d end it right then and there. At that point you’re not emotionally invested. People stay because abuse is subtle at first. I didn’t start to think my relationship with A1 was abusive until right before I left. Hell, for a long time after I still wasn’t sure. I know now that the reason I felt that way was because he manipulated me into thinking that way. I didn’t think it was abuse because he constantly told me it wasn’t. I was young and impressionable when we first started dating. I believed things like “it’s not abuse unless I hit you” and “it’s not rape, we’re married.” He never once hit me. He reminded me of that a lot. He threatened to on more than one occasion, but he never actually did it. He punched a hole through our wall because I went out with a girl friend, he broke the glass top to our coffee table, he even threw my things both randomly and at me, but he never once hit me. So I believed him when he said it wasn’t abuse. But, those instances of rape and violence didn’t happen until later.
It was the same with A2. At first he was charming. We commiserated together over how we’d been treated in the past. We stayed up late on the phone and laughed at stupid jokes. Our relationship didn’t start with him telling me I was wrong about practically everything or making me feel guilty for not taking him to the hospital because he had a case of the sniffles.
This is what people need to understand. Abuse is a process. it starts slow. A2 started his gaslighting slowly. At first it was simple stuff. He’d tell me I didn’t tell him I was working late. I remembered telling him, but I believed him when he said I didn’t tell him. Hey, maybe I’d forgotten. Things happen. But it kept happening. At first I fought it. I’d tell him, no I definitely told you and tell him it was ok if he forgot that we could make a better system. For a while that worked. I wrote my schedule on a calendar. I wouldn’t have to tell him then, right? He could just look at the calendar and we’d be all good. Except it stopped working after a few weeks. He’d say oh I don’t look at that you have to do this instead, you have to TELL ME. The thing is, nothing was right. No matter what he insisted that I didn’t properly communicate things to him. At one point I got angry and told him it wasn’t my fault his memory is bad. He claimed his memory was fine. So what to do? If I believed him that his memory was fine then either A) I really never told him or B) he was lying to me. One of my many traits that is both a blessing and a curse is that tend to see the good in people. I didn’t want to think he was lying, so my brain chose to believe option A. The times he didn’t know what was going on, I must not have told him. You have to understand that he didn’t do this with everything. It was only sporadic. It made it more believable.
So, to the people who ask why didn’t you leave at the first sign? How can you stay? How could you let this happen? I say to you, abuse doesn’t happen over night. It happens over time. It’s methodical and calculated. There isn’t always a first sign. We stay because we’re being manipulated and we’re emotionally invested. We can’t always leave either. Financial abuse is a thing that exists. And finally, no victim in the history of ever, has LET this happen.