What Being In A Shit Relationship Taught Me

TW: Abuse

You may not know this - mostly because I never talk about it - but I was in an emotionally abusive relationship from age 14 to 16. Now, I don't want sympathy or anything for this. I'm purely writing this to get it off my chest, as it's something I still think about every single day even though I've tried for over ten years to forget about it.

If any of you have been in a shitty relationship, you'll probably know that it doesn't start out that way. You'll be happy, you'll hang out, they might buy you presents and take you out for food and you'll be so wrapped up with it all that you won't notice the warning signs that were there from the beginning. That's what happened with me.

It took about six months to realise something was starting to go wrong. I should have got out then and there (especially after he cheated on me) but I was, as they say, young and dumb, and I thought having a) a boy who was even interested in me in the first place and b) was four years older than me, was cool.

As opposed to a physically abusive relationship, an emotionally abusive relationship can start out very subtle. It can be as little as asking you if you're wearing that outfit out of the house, to making you feel guilty if you spend time with your friends rather than see them to escorting you all of the way home (even though it's an hour away) under the guise of concern for your safety rather than control.

And that's how it began. He stopped me from seeing my friends on a weekend like I usually did for a whole year. I had to lie about visiting my best friend once (after six months of not seeing her) by saying I was at my sisters, which lead to an hour long argument on the phone with him. I had to go to his house (and nowhere else) as he would make me feel like I was two inches tall if I even suggested going somewhere else. He told me the length of skirt I was wearing one day was only for whores. He would promise to stop drinking but I'd find him in the pub, eight pints down and abuse and insults were hissed under his breath until the moment we left. He got his parents to constantly ask me if I was committed to the relationship, like I was the bad person. He pressured me to do things I didn't want to and he made me cry almost every day. Towards the end of our relationship, the abuse took a step further and he once kicked the coffee table (with hot tea) towards me and then blamed me for the mess. He threw a full 2ltr bottle of coke at the wall where I was sitting, missing my head by about 30cm. It was at this point I knew I had to get out.

If I had of stayed with him, I guarantee he would have got more physically abusive, I would have been stopped from seeing my parents and friends, I wouldn't have went to university and I would probably have children by now just so he could control me through them. It would have been an isolated nightmare of his construction and I would have hated my life.

I regret every single day that he was my first proper boyfriend and that was my introduction to relationships. He crushed my confidence in myself and negatively influenced all of my subsequent relationships. Luckily, every guy I went out with after that was so lovely (I'm still friends with most of them) but it turned me into a pushover. I had been so used to not sticking up for myself and saying no, that I would just agree to everything. I would buy their weekly food shop and buy them clothes and I just wanted to be liked, as I felt like I hadn't been in the past. It took me a lot of time - I would say a good six or seven years - to finally put my foot down in relationships.

So, as the title suggests, what did it teach me?

It taught me that if your best friends are concerned, then you should probably be too. Your parents, as much as you resist them, are only worried about you and sometimes you have to let them step in instead of staying in the relationship because you want to 'sort it out yourself' (stubborn teenagers, eh).

You are worthy of a partner that treats you with respect. That doesn't ask you why you're wearing that outfit. Who supports your choices and values your opinions. You can have someone who argues back - what relationship doesn't have the occasional argument? - but knows where to draw the line before it gets too much. You deserve someone who loves you for you, who doesn't question where you're going or who you're seeing in a negative way. Who supports you physically and emotionally and who you go to for advice and acceptance.

It taught me to understand myself better. I am a (quietly) confident person, I know what I want to do and what I don't. I'm not afraid to be demanding or to let someone know what no, that's not right. The amount of times I've told Phil to (playfully) fuck off get lost when he says something I don't like, even if he's joking, is probably reaching the hundreds now. But, he knows where I stand and I know where he stands. Before I would have just stayed silent, agreeing so I didn't cause another three hour long argument.

Ultimately, through learning where I want to be in a relationship, I've ended up with a happy, balanced one. I don't pity myself for the way things went, at the time I was young and didn't know any better. I dealt with it in the way that I knew how, even if it was a detriment to my emotional health.

I'm not sure what I want to get out of this post other than maybe helping another person notice the warning signs, or to get out of the same place I was, or that they'll get through the feelings of self doubt and come out stronger.  Getting it all written down has made me feel better already, as it's been playing on mind for over a decade.

Take what you want or need from this post, but if you're in the same situation as I was, please don't suffer in silence.

Helen x