I was in an emotionally and sometimes physically abusive relationship for 2 months. The guy I was with had been raped when he was younger, and had terrible anxiety and so I thought I could help him. In thinking that, I fused a connection with him and he opened up. He used to “play fight” with me which was never enjoyable and no matter how many times i told him to stop, he wouldn’t listen. He bruised me. If he didn’t get his way, he would not take my calls or anything. Eventually I ended it. Its hard to get over him now that he has removed me from his life even though he hurt me so much. Help!
Thankyou for asking this question, and having the courage to share both your experience and how much it has impacted and hurt. Unfortunately, such an experience is not uncommon, and it raises numerous questions about how to manage and respond to such situations.
Some of the themes that seem to be present in the question include:
1. Where is the line between healthy and unhealthy support of/for a loved one?
2. What do we do if an intimate relationship becomes emotionally and/or physically abusive?
3. If the best thing for us is to separate or break from such a situation, how do we move on?
These are all important questions in any relationship, and unfortunately there are no easy answers for any of them. One response is that the answers are different for every individual, and part of the challenge in that regard is trying to understand and respect/value yourself, your needs, your limits, and your response styles with reference to such situations.
Regarding the first point, it is very normal to feel that we can help someone who has their own challenges, and hope that by showing unconditional love and support that things will improve for them. In reality, sometimes this helps and sometimes it doesn’t (at least in the short term). The person may or may not be ready for change, or may or may not have the skills or insight to do so. Part of the question then becomes “where are my limits”, in terms of how much support/love we can give in relation to the consequences and ability to hope for change/improvement, and in relation to how well our own needs are being met.
This leads into the second point. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, relationships can still become “toxic” in terms of things like manipulation or emotional/physical abuse. Sometimes these things can be improved or managed with open and assertive communication. Unfortunately, despite the direct communication that you note in your post, your partner seemed to be unable or unwilling to respond appropriately. In such cases, seeking help or advice (from friends or counsellors, or police if there is a concerning physical threat), or removing yourself from the abusive situation as you did are all options available.
The latter option, as you note, is often (initially at least) highly distressing, for a number of reasons. Maybe we still have strong positive feelings for the person, maybe we feel guilty for
“letting them down”, and maybe we feel lonely or lost or confused in the aftermath. Sometimes part of this is how about how the relationship impacted our sense of self or identity or even confidence. Sometimes toxic relationships have a way of undermining our self-belief and sense of who we are. So part of the gradual response might be about slowly rebuilding this sense of self/identity, as well as sense of community and self-belief outside of the relationship (see here for example).
In this regard also, such experiences, as distressing as they are, also afford the opportunity for personal growth in terms of understanding our own preferences for future relationships and styles of interaction (see here for some thoughts on break-ups from challenging relationships).
Feel free to book an appointment with one of the counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services. For concerns related to physical or sexual violence, options also include domestic and family violence services or Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) for assistance and information. Counselling is private and confidential, and can focus on helping you to understand and process what has happened.