I am fortunate enough to come from a very tight-knit and loving family. My parents have been together for over 35 years and are still very much in love. Neither of my parents has ever laid a finger on the other. In fact, I’ve never even heard my parents yell at each other. They’re always giving each other hugs. They support each other. I can count on my fingers the amount of times I’ve heard them exchange cross words.
I had always just assumed that my family situation was the norm and that every marriage and loving relationship was just like my Mum and Dad’s. I carried that assumption into my first relationship. I expected to be treated with the same love and respect my parents showed one another. As a result, my first relationship was similar in many ways to that of my parents.
My second relationship was a different story. At the time, I was really down on myself. Still, I couldn’t fathom the fact that someone would have anything other than my best interests at heart. I couldn’t understand why someone would want to yell, hit, manipulate, or otherwise abuse me. I had no experience whatsoever with those types of relationships and it completely blindsided me.
I wish I could say that the difference between these relationships was as simple as my first partner being a good guy, and the second one an out-and-out jerk. Unfortunately, I can’t. The truth of the matter is that the quality of the relationship was dependant on one person. That person was me.
The realisation that I had to accept responsibility for enduring the abuse rather than assigning blame took me some time to come to terms with. The truth is though, at every stage throughout that relationship, I had a choice. Stay or go. The choice felt excruciatingly difficult, but both options were always there. For a long time I chose to stay because the emotional distress and consequences of ending the relationship would have further complicated my life.
The reasons I didn’t leave were:
- I was half way through my final year of university and didn’t want to deal with a major emotional upheaval.
- I was too proud to admit to myself that I had misjudged his character. I had been wrong about him and everyone else had been right.
- I was embarrassed about my situation and didn’t want to have to deal with the scrutiny of others.
- Breaking up would mean breaking my lease, which would have been expensive.
- I was scared to be alone
- It would have caused tension with our flat mates
- Physically moving things out of the house would be time and labour intensive.
- I had a strong physical attraction to him
- I felt manipulated into staying with him out of pity. He played the sympathy card whenever I tried to leave.
My choice to stay in the relationship non-verbally reinforced to him that I didn’t love and respect myself enough to stop him abusing me. He could curse, insult, and hit me all he liked, and I would still forgive him and stay. Knowing this, there was no need for him to change his behaviour.
Compare that situation to if I had loved and respected myself enough to call it Splitsville the first time he got drunk and yelled at me. I would never have been physically, sexually, or financially abused. I would have also avoided 99% of the emotional abuse. The message would have been loud and clear: Grow up and show me the love and respect I deserve, or piss off and stop wasting my time.
I could have chosen to nip the negative relationship in the bud. But I didn’t. That was my choice, and I accept that the responsibility and consequences of that choice rest squarely on my shoulders.
Initially that sounds pretty harsh and unfair doesn’t it? You cop the abuse, and then you take the responsibility for it as well?! Hear me out. It’s actually a very empowering mindset. When you realise that you are responsible for how other people treat you, you begin to wield more power in your own life. Learn to use this power. It’s an important lesson to learn. Set yourself minimum standards that you will tolerate in your relationships. If the relationship ever falls below your predetermined standards, have the strength and self-respect to end it.
I am not telling you to go around to everyone in your life and tell them to bugger off because they don’t respect you enough. Most relationships with psychologically sound people can be salvaged with honesty and genuine communication. There may be a couple of people who can’t handle your newfound gumption. If they don’t respond to your attempts to recreate the relationship on equal footing, it’s not a beneficial relationship. Let it go.
It’s true that no one can truly love you until you love yourself. Abusers exploit a specific psychological weakness: self-doubt. A person who genuinely loves and respects themselves will never be a victim because you can’t exploit a weakness that doesn’t exist. Treat yourself and others with love and respect, and don’t tolerate those who treat you otherwise. People will come to realise that they must treat you with a certain level of respect if they want to be a part of your life. The only person who can set that level is you.
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