In 2009, I started dating who I thought was a good man. Everything started off great - we went on romantic dates, he took me on a trip a month after we started dating, he said and did all the right things and genuinely seemed like a nice guy at first. He introduced me to his two boys, one older, the other the same age of my oldest kiddo. He shared stories of his life, his struggles, his woes, and painted himself as the victim in so many of these. I believed him without questioning anything. He impressed me with little things - remembering my favorite foods, flowers, etc.
There were red flags that I definitely ignored after those first couple of love-bombed months. He was outrageously jealous - I couldn't even glance in the general direction of someone without having to soothe him later, even at work. Several times he accused me of cheating or thinking about cheating (I was not considering it and never did). He would twist my words in ways that no one else would have conceived I could have intended just to put me on the back foot and get me to apologize. But these instances were few and far between, so I chose to ignore them thinking that in the balance of things, he was decent.
I wish I could blame all of this on being young (I was) and stupid (I was not), but the reality is you never know how you will react, cope or even recognize in time that you are in a situation of emotional abuse.
In 2011, I married him. Almost immediately after getting married, our dynamic changed into one of gaslighting, social isolating and other mental/emotional abuse. He went from charming and strong to manipulative and aggressive.
If I was a minute later than usual getting home he would start a fight about it. If I didn't clean or cook things just right he blew up in anger and criticized me for not completing things according to his (usually unspoken, mostly unreasonable) standards. The accusations of cheating increased. If I wanted to go out with friends he would text me constantly while I was out, asking if I was going to come home, saying my friends weren't as good as being home with him, putting my friends or coworkers down to try to get me to not want to hang out with them. He treated me like his property and even began putting me through "inspections" before I went to work to make sure I was dressed in a way that wouldn't attract the attention of other men. If I didn't respond to his texts within a couple of minutes, he would start rage dialing me, only to yell things like "ANSWER YOUR GODDAMN TEXTS" and then hang up before I could say a word. I stopped living in the moment when I was away from home because I was constantly checking my phone so I wouldn't wind up missing a text or call and avoid the consequences of doing so. He would go through my phone to make sure I wasn't cheating. If he wanted sex, he took it whether I wanted it - or whether I was even awake - or not.
One of the most insane examples I can think of right now was when I showed him a creepy PM I had gotten from one of his college friends on Facebook. He blamed me for being open to receiving messages from other men. He took my phone and went through my friendslist, then demanded that I unfriend every guy I had on there whether they were from high school, college, his friends, and even some of my own family members or lifetime family friends. When I refused to unfriend my dad's brother who lives in Florida and said that was a ridiculous request, he got in my face and started yelling about how I had no respect for him as my husband and how I was too stupid and naïve to understand what other men want or think or do. Then he stormed out of the house and said he wasn't coming back until I complied or he would just be back for his stuff and we would be done and I would be alone forever.
We visited his family often, even moved to be closer to them, and honestly I am grateful for his mother's help with the kids. When I wanted to visit my family, he would occasionally make up some excuse not to go, but more often, he would go with me and convince me to leave shortly after we arrived. His response to any criticism or suggestions from me about anything was to turn it back around and insult me in some way. When I brought up anything about my needs or about him not doing something he demanded of me, he would require me to name exact dates and times that he had fallen short - of course when I couldn't do that he would claim I was making it up and tell me that whatever it was never happened that way in the first place. My needs were always beneath his own, often he would dismiss anything I said I needed as ridiculous.
He convinced me no one else would want me if I were to leave him. He would set completely unrealistic expectations - and was dissatisfied no matter how hard I tried to please him or how much of myself I gave up. He left no room for me to share my opinion or if I expressed an opinion on something that contradicted his, he would belittle me and argue with me until I shut up. His favorite punishment was "leaving" or threatening to leave so I would beg him to stay. Then he wouldn't talk to me or look at me for a few days, and when he did he made sure to remind me that I would never be OK or make it without him. I was walking on eggshells constantly to try not to upset him, and all my time and energy was spent just trying to breathe and make it through each day without incident.
Any time he would get loud or punch a wall or a door or do something equally aggressive, he would apologize in a way that still placed the blame squarely on me. Then he would revert to love-bombing in one way or another - flowers, a nice date, a visit with my family, etc. Things that looking back now I can see should have been just normal parts of a relationship, but that I had been so cut off from that I considered them over-the-top special treatment that showed he really did care and was sorry.
There's so much more to this story, but I'm pretty sure I'm word-limited, ha.
My self-esteem was crushed. I was inferior. I was to blame. I didn't know what was best for myself, what was right. I was stupid. I doubted my own reality and my perceptions of every day interactions and events. I lost my entire sense of self. Everything I did was related to him. I was so internally critical that I was starting to be numb even to his outbursts because it wasn't anything I wasn't already saying to myself. I had gone from being a bubbly, outgoing, energetic 24 year old to being a gray shell who felt like she wasn't worth even trying to have friendships or relationships outside of my marriage. Logically, I knew I was wounded, but I also was afraid to leave.
I never saw myself as "that girl" who would stay in an unhealthy relationship, nevertheless, I stayed and became slowly more and more cut off from everyone I loved, until it was just me and my kids and my husband.
In 2015, I found out that my husband was having an affair and that he had had another affair prior to that. Again, I thought I was not the kind of person to stay with a cheater, but I stayed with him "for the kids." (retrospectively this is not a good idea, btw, kids pick up on bad relationship dynamics, WAY better to show them the healthy side of leaving if you're in a situation like mine)
I went to therapy on my own - my first experience with a therapist. She was not the best and I wish I had stopped seeing her sooner. She really pushed the idea of "just smile and try harder" even though I was in an abusive relationship. All she had to offer were standard worksheets and very little patience for talking about things that were actually happening.
We also went to couples therapy together until he decided he couldn't "win" in therapy and insisted we stop going. We instead started doing an Affair Recovery program - which I do highly recommend if you are working through the discovery of an affair. Again, he didn't want to really do the work, so I'm not sure much of it stuck with him. He blamed a lot of what he did on him being an alcoholic. Regardless, I stayed after convincing myself that there was an effort on his part, and we moved on with our lives.
In 2016 the husband of one of the affair partners started stalking our family.
This began as the guy being UNDERSTANDABLY upset with my husband and harassing him via text messages and phone calls, which, if I'm being honest, I viewed as a consequence of his own making. Had it stayed that way, I don't think I would have cared at the time.
However, the man escalated and began contacting me, sending threats to me about killing my husband, indicating he knew where I was with the kids at times he shouldn't have known that information and ultimately threatening my life and family if I didn't encourage my husband to kill himself. It was very intense and honestly really scary. I made repeated 911 calls and filed police reports, which went largely ignored until I went to the station and refused to leave. I got my concealed handgun license and began carrying everywhere. I also retained a lawyer and sent a cease and desist letter with copies to his wife and employer. He was finally arrested and went to jail for stalking and harassment.
Fortuntely, I never heard from him again, I have no idea if he continues to harass my now ex husband.
In late 2018, I found out he was having another affair, this time while he had been sober for many years. He swore to me that it was only emotional and not physical. I found out from his affair partner's husband months later that he lied about that as well.
In 2019, I filed for divorce. This did not go over well with him. He was supposed to move out by Christmas, but instead he forced his way into staying until almost New Years. I am eternally grateful that he was out by the time COVID came around.
I hired a lawyer and wound up giving him all the land we owned in two places just to get it over with. Because of COVID, courts were very delayed, but eventually (after much money going to the lawyers) it all went through in early 2021.
I am fortunate that I was able to support myself and my kids emotionally and financially, but it definitely took a toll on me.