#893: “I want to leave my husband but I can’t seem to make myself go.” Also, it’s Pledge Drive Week.

Hello. It’s Pledge Drive Week here at Captain Awkward Enterprises, the week where I rattle the tip jar and ask readers who are willing and able to contribute to keeping the lights on and the moderation queue running.

Ways you can contribute:

I really, really appreciate your support, as does the 33.333% of my brain capacity now occupied by planning a wedding.

And now, a question:

Dear Captain Awkward,

This is about leaving my husband. At the time of our marriage, I was dealing with a very serious health situation that had dragged on for seven years and at the time was likely to lead to death or at least a severe drop in ability to care for myself (all better now, thankfully!). We were clinging to each other so desperately and so tightly that neither of us realized the relationship had already run its course.

He was always a heavy drinker, and a little moody and easily offended, and if I hadn’t gotten sick we probably wouldn’t have lasted six months, let alone nearly a decade. Still, I think almost losing me broke him in some way, and I don’t want to be married to the man he is now.

When things are good, they are *good*, but most of the time they‘re only fake-good. As long as I’m complacent things are pleasant. If I’m not? He is quick to criticize me, calling me awful names. (How did I get to a point where that isn’t something that sends me running to the hills?) When he gets worked up about explaining or “discussing” something, he will keep me up until 3am – when we already agree. Worse, he’s upset at me for “not being engaged”. I do not function without sleep, and my medical condition is exacerbated by stress like whoa.

It’s like the release of stress from my getting better has exacerbated everything about him, and I have made myself so small, and so timid that I no longer recognize myself. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but since I woke up, I’ve used my words. I’ve modeled how I’d like to communicate. I’ve mentioned (and gotten) therapy. But because “nothing is wrong” and I’m “causing problems”, there is nothing he should be trying to fix. So even though it breaks my heart, I have to go. I know that. I know that he may love me, but his actions are not loving. I know that he may not be intending to abuse me, but it’s an abusive environment just the same. So I have to go. But I don’t want to. I still love him so completely and waking up next to him is golden.

Logically, I know I have to go for my own sanity. At the very least, I need to leave for a few months so I/we can get some distance and perspective. It is unsafe, mentally, for me to stay. But I can’t get past this desire to stay. So, Captain, how can I gird my loins and just pull the trigger?


Dear Dawdler,

First, read this poem. (It is NOT Love After Love, surprisingly! A NEW POEM!!!!)

Next, make a daydream about the place that you will live that’s all your own, where nobody talks to you That Way, where you finally get enough sleep.

Then, make a plan, the one involving money & paperwork & conversations with lawyers and figuring out what comes next. Do not discount safety in your planning. Abusive people often panic & escalate their behaviors when they sense that their victim might leave.

Then you go. You cut the cords as gently and as finally as you can. You say, “I’m leaving” and you can do it because in the important ways you’ve already left. The time for tearful negotiations and staying up all night to cry is over. You don’t lie to yourself or to him about how you’ll be friends someday.

After that, you grieve for the good times. You remind yourself that you tried your best and you forgive yourself for sometimes still wanting him. You remind yourself that he had choices in how he treated you. You let all the feelings in, the ones you’ve been keeping locked down, and you realize that they were your friends, even the anger, especially the anger.

You make room in your life for people who are kind to you. And less – none at all room for people who are not.

You let time do its work, and you heal.

Then you read this poem. (Spoiler: It’s Love After Love by Derek Walcott).


Readers: How did you build the bridge from “Deciding To Leave” to “Already Gone”?



287 thoughts on “#893: “I want to leave my husband but I can’t seem to make myself go.” Also, it’s Pledge Drive Week.

  1. Can I just please *squeep* slightly at the ‘planning a wedding’?

    Sorry I will go away`now. I am hoping that if I say CONGRATS CAP, WE LOVE YOU, it is not misplaced.

    1. Congrats are very nice! I’m reconsidering the wisdom of putting that news with this particular letter (oof) but it is fast approaching and occupying waaaaaay too much of my brain capacity.

      Letter Writer, I’m happy now partly *because I left* a situation where I was not happy. The words “do you really think we’ll be together forever?” from my ex opened up a floodgate of tears but also such a relief in the end. It sucks to leave someone who still smells like your person, but I am so glad that I did.

      1. “I’m so glad we’ll be together forever” is what made me leave my last sweetheart. Except it wasn’t actually sweet – how I felt was my fault, how they felt was my fault, and for a person with that kind of power, I was remarkably powerless in the relationship.

        I live alone now, except for two cats. Before I go to bed, I try to do something loving for myself – I set up something nice for breakfast, I arrange some favorite make up to wear, I make sure to put out a good magazine to read over breakfast. It’s something I couldn’t do for them, because the first time I couldn’t get to it, there would have been a tantrum about how I stopped loving them.

        I wash my clothes when I need to. When work gets tough and I don’t have the energy to do dishes, it’s okay. If I want to eat bread and cheese for dinner, the cats don’t mind. If I want to spend a fit of energy on cleaning, well, they’re small enough to nudge out of the way with the broom.

        Some of the time, I am content. Shone of the time, my depression flares, and I am left sobbing for reasons I can’t articulate later – but I am crying alone, burning my feelings like a star erupting into space, without anyone there to splash fire back at me for being sad when they don’t like it. And when I recover, there are no apologies or explanations to make. I drag myself together, I hug a cat, and I have all the space and silence in the world to plan my next day.

        So that’s what I can offer you in this thread, LW: maybe the future contains another, better relationship. Maybe it contains a place and time that is all your own. Both of those, I think, are good. Both of those will feel better for you.

        1. This comment so eloquently captures everything about the beauty of living alone and feeling your feelings without managing anyone else’s. I want to frame it.

        2. The third and fourth paragraphs are one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read. Seriously.

        3. Although there are some joys in cohabitation, good god I miss having the house to myself. These are all the things I miss about living alone.

        4. I love living alone. I have wanted to live alone for a very long time, and now I do. I rent an apartment. It is mine. I don’t have to let anyone in if I don’t like. I can also let anyone in that I feel like, without running them past family or friends or roommates. This comment hit a chord for me.

          I have kind of a derail question, though, if you don’t mind. A Thing happened in my apartment (not, like, before I got it, a Thing pertaining to and involving me). And now sometimes it feels tainted, not like my beloved space that I fought so hard for. It’s mine! I have a long lease, and I don’t want to give it up anyway. But does anyone have recommendations on how to make it feel like My Apartment again?

          1. Anonymouse, this is a tough question to answer, at least for me, because it is so specific to the individual.

            For instance, if you find comfort and/or power in ritual, then creating and carrying out the ritual that feels right to you can make all the difference. For instance, some people find smudging with sage or purifying by sprinkling salt water banishes negative energies. For other people, re-arranging furniture or changing the space in some way (paint? slipcovers for the furniture?) gets rid of unwanted associations. For yet others, doing something to increase the physical security of their place (new key? kit to reinforce the door?) is what helps. Or deliberately changing one’s home routine helps.

            Trying to pin down exactly what makes the space feel tainted and then googling for how to correct that will give you a plethora of ideas, one or more of which will feel right.

      2. Thank you so much for publishing this. It has been so helpful to hear I’m not alone in dithering, but also that the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and more wonderful than I could have imagined.

        It turns out that organizing my thoughts as part of writing to you was the kick in the pants I needed. The evening I emailed you, I embarked on a wild and obsessive KonMarie-style decluttering, which was a convenient excuse to be moving and gathering all my things. Then I left. I went to my parents’, which is an exercise in frustration, but one I can tolerate for a month. I called it a trial separation to work on my own physical and mental health issues, and then came back while he was at work later in the week and made off with all my personal (non-marital) property. It was sobering to realize that the last decade of my life can be easily packed into a subcompact car, but shoving that last box in there felt wonderful. I meet again with my attorney this week to officially file for divorce.

        The entire situation still sucks a giant bag of donkey balls, and my heart is breaking over leaving the cats, and over the late night drunktexts I keep getting about all the wonderful times we did share. But I left. And even though I’ve cried myself to sleep a few nights, I still did the thing I never thought I could do.

        And it is so, SO nice to come home and know I am safe, and that I’m not going to deal with Surprise!Drunk, and that I can just take care of ME.

        Also, because it deserves saying: CONGRATS!!!!! I am seriously thrilled for you, and seeing your excellent news above my letter was a nice “Hey, functional, happy relationships are still a thing! Yay!”

        1. LW, I’m so happy to hear that you’re taking the right steps to make yourself healthy and happy and safe. It sucks that it means breaking ties that were important to you, but the most important person you have to take care of is yourself. You’re doing that. Congratulations and our very best wishes!

        2. Congrats again!
          And also may I add that when it seems hard and you’re looking back fondly on the good parts of the relationship…when you remember that waking up next to him was “golden”…try to imagine that day when you wake up with someone else,

        3. All of the jedi hugs for the hard parts. The ends of relationships are hard even if things really sucked toward the end. I was miserable for a good month after my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend and I finally broke up and I had long since stopped liking him. You are totally allowed to mourn even though you know leaving was the best thing for you.

        4. Congratulations on leaving! And well done for handling the moving of things so neatly – very clever of you.

        5. Congrats to you!

          On the decluttering as cover–I had completely pushed this out of my head, but I did that when I was leaving my first husband. I ended up taking a bunch of my stuff that I didn’t need on a daily basis “to Goodwill” (actually a storage unit.)

        6. YAY!!! This is wonderful news, thank you for letting us know how you’re doing. Sending you good vibes.

    1. That thread (also linked in the OP, ’cause this is just the right letter for using it) is a thing of perfection, both for the girlfriend’s preparation skills and for the glimpse inside the “Nothing could possibly be my fault!” selective memory of an abusive dude.

      1. That thread is a thing of beauty. I think my favorite example from my own life of an abuser who magically pretends to have no idea what the problem is was with a guy I never even dated, but people tell me he held me up as his romantic ideal for a couple of decades or more.

        He had reappeared in my life after a long hiatus and I was perfectly willing to be friends. He turned out to be verbally abusive. I spelled out in writing what I had a problem with, that did not lead to resolution, so I announced that I would no longer socialize with him and let our mutual friends know accordingly.

        Ever since then, he has claimed to anyone he can get to listen to him that what I told him to change wasn’t his behavior but rather that I wanted him to provide some sort of guarantee that he would never relapse into clinical depression. I never said anything of the sort, of course. My problem was with his behavior, not his private medical status.

        He has alternated between protesting that he can’t provide such a guarantee, and pretending to offer up “guarantees” such as claiming he went to therapy or that he’s taking meds. Naturally I don’t care, because the problem is his behavior, not his medical status.

        He has even gone so far as to try to use the aftermath of a major tragedy in which many people died as an excuse to contact me and then everyone he could who knew me to whine about how I owed him another chance and how he was trying to meet the fake conditions that he made up. I told him the fact that he’s still repeating that old lie proves that the problem behavior is still going on. He didn’t like that.

        1. Hmm – the behaviour that this guy shows has pretty sociopathic elements. The things that stand out particularly are his use of a “major tragedy in which many people died” as an excuse to latch on to you again, and especially the “pity play” in which he tells third parties that the break with you was about you somehow being angry that he was sick, not about his abusive behaviour. (See this link for more on how sociopaths use pity rather than fear to manipulate people: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/take-all-prisoners/200912/your-conscience-the-sociopaths-weapon-choice )

          1. Hi, you are probably correct, Even if you are correct, site policies say we don’t armchair-diagnose strangers with conditions, thanks!

          2. Even if you are correct, it makes no difference – as Helen says, the issue is not with this guy’s private medical status, it’s with his behaviour.

          3. Really, Cap? Your ban on armchair diagnosis doesn’t come across real strong when you also agree with said diagnosis in the same message. (And I use ‘diagnosis’ loosely here, since sociopath is no longer a medical term actually in use outside of horror movies.)

            I started reading the comments again because I hoped there had been some improvement on the way people with personality disorders were treated by yourself and commenters. This seems to indicate that that isn’t the case, if you’re casually agreeing with someone invoking the ‘sociopath’ boogeyman while gently chiding them for breaking the letter, but apparently not the spirit, of your rules.

            Frankly, at this point I don’t think I will be reading the site any more at all. I assume you probably don’t care about one reader, after all, there’s no pleasing everybody. I guess I’m just very disappointed, since I have been reading and benefitting from this blog for so long and have had a few questions of my own that I hoped I might have the courage to ask some day, but I have no interest in finding out just how many commenters will jump to label me an abuser for my disorders rather than looking at how I actually treat other people.

          4. You’re right and I am sorry- Re-reading, I can see that “You are probably correct” was very, very bad wording, should have been “Even if you are correct…” since I didn’t actually read the link planegirl supplied or or weigh its correctness in any way. This is an object lesson in why “don’t offer a handy ‘it sounds like x condition” stands as a rule on the site, because as soon as we do it, we are on sketchy ground.

          5. In contrast to PreuxFox, I love that your response to being called out on something like this is to think about it, and when appropriate, say “yeah, you’re right” and fix it. It’s not the first time you’ve done it, and I’ve been impressed every time. I will be staying around, whatever they do.

        2. Helen Huntingdon, that guy sounds creepy as all get out. Sounds like an attempt to control you via fear: “look what horrible thing just happened… accept my terms or another horrible event could happen.”

          Yeah, I know I’m cynical but I’m also alive to type these words.

          1. You know the principle that therapy backfires on abusive types, because it just teaches them to be more effective abusers? This guy was training to be a therapist at the time. And yet, his response to a terrible disaster was, “How can I use this to get what I want?”

            A common cognitive-behavioral question to someone who’s upset about a relationship that isn’t working is to ask them why the other person should want to be around them. The question is supposed to help the person identify their own disordered thinking — if they can’t name what positive they bring to the table, then the obvious conclusion is that the object of their desire is right to see no reason to be around them.

            This guy had quite a twist on that.

            He tried to convince all mutual acquaintances to cut me off until he was satisfied with my behavior. His argument, which he considered self-evident and unanswerable proof that he was right, was that I had no reason to mend fences with him.

            Naturally everyone we both knew thought he was nuts — I had no reason to mend fences with him because he brought nothing to the table worth having/saving. Pretty simple.

            But when presented with the basic therapeutic concept of having to answer what he could bring to the table worth having, all he could come up with was, “EVERYONE MUST GIVE ME THE POWER TO DESTROY HER LIFE OTHERWISE I WILL HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER AND I HAVE THE ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO HER SO HOW DARE YOU NOT HELP ME FORCE HER INTO LINE.”

            Not, you know, hey, I could try being a decent person.

      2. Not only that, but also how willfully blind to reality he is – it’s a perfect example of how fruitless it is to try to reason with an abuser. If you read through the comments you’ll see that he doesn’t want to move out of the unit, but also can’t afford to keep the apartment by himself…so his ideal outcome is “she moves back in and we continue as before.” It’s not the eviction he’s trying to rules-lawyer, it’s the breakup! He’s using the eviction as a sideshow to try to find some leverage to force her back into his orbit.

        1. Also, in the original post, he only mentions “Two years ago my girlfriend and I had a small DV incident where I hit her.”

          Then, buried waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay deep in the comments (partly because he’s being downvoted to oblivion), the OP mentions worrying about his now-ex-GF calling the cops because “they will be the same guys who came out because of our spat last week.” Talk about burying the lede.

          1. My biggest WTF moment was when he said something like “If she were afraid of me, she would have indicated that in some way.” Elsewhere he says she was always so “jumpy,” and oh by the way, she called the cops during a spat last week. It sounds like she indicated LOUD AND CLEAR that she was afraid of you, buddy. Flames….flames on the side of my face.

          2. It gets better — not only was there an incident just a week that was so bad the police were called, it was so bad the police made him leave for the night. But he won’t answer the commenters who ask what happened — all he’ll say is that she “overreacted”.

          3. @KL – I saw that! I think the suggestion that he probably did violence to a thing (like punching the wall) is spot-on.

          4. “If she were afraid of me, she would have indicated that in some way”

            Like, I dunno, hiring a lawyer and evicting you from her apartment? Maybe some way like that?

            The mind, it fucking boggles.

      3. “A small DV incident where I hit her?”

        Really? Wow.

        I actually think being struck by another adult is a very big thing indeed. So great that Abusive Asshat gets to decide that it’s a small thing.

        This is relevant because I just ended a six month relationship a few days ago. I’m fine, in fact, I’m very happy. I found out that my ex-boyfriend had a previous arrest for domestic violence a few years ago. He also owns several guns.

        Much like the LW’s husband, my boyfriend was great, as long as I never complained, needed anything, disagreed, or tried to tell him how I felt, because any indication that things weren’t 100% okay was a Referendum on Him as a Man, and his only way of handling it was to dramatically gather his things and threaten to leave.

        The price for staying in that relationship would have been to slowly disappear, to never have any needs or wants, to worry constantly about His Feelings.

        LW, it’s not worth it. I promise you, I PROMISE, you will be happier after you leave. It will be hard and it will suck, but you will be happier. We’re all behind you, cheering you on towards that life where you are happy and free.

          1. Agreed! Please be careful as you rock on with your bad self, though — angry people with guns make me nervous.

          1. I am super glad to be rid of him – basically the first time I tried bringing up something I was unhappy with he went ballistic. I quickly realized there was no way to ever tell him I was unhappy about anything because that was conflict! A fight! The Worst Thing In The World!

            I think he learned this behavior from his mother, who went through a string of terrible marriages, but that is also Not My Problem. I can’t be in a relationship with anyone I have to walk on eggshells around. It was a terrible (but sadistically clever) double-bind: if I bring up issues, I’m making us fight, and if I don’t, how can he read my mind? Either way it was all my fault, which I’m fine with, now that I’m shot of him.

            I highly recommend everyone go read Hunger Makes Me by Jess Zimmerman on Hazlitt (http://hazlitt.net/feature/hunger-makes-me).

          2. Out of nesting, so replying to anunfortunateevent:

            I was already crying from another commenter and that essay just about undid me. I’m bookmarking it and reading it every day. I wouldn’t have thought that a thread about crappy romantic relationships (I’ve been single for the better part of a decade) would affect me this much, but dammit, you people keep reminding me I’m allowed to want the things I keep pretending I don’t need. 😦

          3. Reply to anunfotunateevent
            Thank you for posting that!

            Spouse is a bed hog. I’m an edge sleeper. At first this seems adorable, like we’re puzzle pieces.
            Pregnancy means I need more space because giant belly full of kicking, spinning, baby. Spouse “can’t sleep” without three pillows piled around him, which he pushes and kicks around the bed all night. I tell myself “It’s just for now” and spend the last trimester with either half my belly or half my butt hanging off of the edge of the bed.

            We buy a house and a new king size bed. Problem solved.
            Except now Spouse needs five pillows around him, and turns sideways on the bed in his sleep. I’m pregnant again and start sleeping in the recliner.
            The new baby is here. I put the bassinet in the den beside the recliner. Spouse complains I’m ‘distant’ and wants me to return to our bed. I give reasons why that is uncomfortable for me. Spouse says I’m being unreasonable. I cave.
            I lie in bed awake, nursing an infant with my body half off the bed, trying to cry quietly. It’s been years since I’ve had a full night’s sleep, but it’s silly to make a fuss, and he’s a devoted father.

            We argue, we fight, we separate.
            We go to counselling, we communicate, we reconcile.

            Spouse is a bed hog. I’ve become accustomed to sleeping during our separation.
            I get a tape measure, wake up Spouse, and make him measure the space he, his pillows, and sideways sleeping take up, then measure the space left for me.
            He blusters, he ridicules, he condescends.
            I stand my ground, repeat the measurements, force him to acknowledge the visual evidence that he is pushing me out of our bed.

            I get a smaller bed that fits the room better, measure out half of it for myself. Spouse can share the other half or sleep somewhere else. He is angry and put upon, but adjusts.
            I start measuring out space in parts of the relationship I’d abandoned. Spouse is angry and put upon, but adjusts.

            After a while my taking up space in our home and life has normalized. We enjoy each other again the way we did when we were dating.
            Sometimes in the quiet of night, I wonder how much was his love of gaming the system, rules-lawyering, and being right on a technicality?
            How much was me being taught that I was too loud, too big, that my confidence was insulting and hurtful to others?
            Then go to sleep on my half of my bed.

          4. Out of nesting, but a reply to espritdecorps.

            This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

        1. Not LW, obviously, and I know this isn’t the “right” thing to say, but I’ve been separated from my abusive ex (who left me when I had to take short-term disability from work due to illness) for several years now and it sucks. i’m trying to convince myself and work on this in every possible way, but I can’t help but think “being alone is worse.” Not because I need the money, or because I need someone to “complete” my life, but because being alone in the world is a difficult and lonely row to hoe. Being alone is not really under your control when you’re single… meeting someone seems like a win of serendipity – whereas not being alone was. I knew the price (violence) and it was my choice whether to pay that or not.

          I suppose the takeaway of this is that you may have to operate on faith, OP, that the price was too high, and not panic if that doesn’t feel true. Best of luck!

          1. delaneykay, obviously you and I are different people and I don’t want to universalize my experience, but I do want to say that I can really empathize with your situation. I was single for about eleven years, starting shortly after getting out of a shitty relationship (that wasn’t abusive, but I could definitely see how it might have turned abusive if I stayed much longer). I totally get that being alone is really difficult, especially (at least in my experience) when people around you ask you why you aren’t dating anyone or tell you you should date people or find some other way of making you feel like your worth is somehow less because you’re single.

            I completely agree that being alone can feel really out of your control when you are single. None of the advice I got on how to meet people ever worked, I rarely met anyone that I liked, and, if I ever did like someone, they generally didn’t like me back. I can’t give you any advice on how to stop being single, because in my experience it also seems like a win of serendipity, but I did want to say that the best things I ever did for myself when I was single were the things I did when I made an active choice to be kind to myself. I don’t know where you live, but where I live, the world is not really set up to be kind to single people. Do things that you want to do, spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself, and give yourself special treats when you can. It is totally okay to want a partner or to be angry that you are single, and it is also okay to be single.

          2. Being single doesn’t need to mean alone. Family and friends that care for you are company. And it’s way easier to make friends than met “the one”. Not only that, you can have many of you want to. I hope you’ll find love in more places than a partner. When I was single, my family and friends were the ones that make me feel loved. And still do. Call them when you fell lonely, it really helps.

      4. I’m hearing Lundy Bancroft* say, “And what would she say happened?” and it reeks of greatness.

        *Author of “Why Does He Do That?”

      5. I’m really charmed by “is she even allowed to have a lawyer do this for her?”

        Let’s talk about that for a second, Reddit dude. The overlap between “legal things you can do” and “things your lawyer can do for you” is almost total. And very often landlords will have someone else act for them. It could be a lawyer, but it is also common for it to be a “manager,” AKA “some guy who lives in the basement and pays half rent.”

        More to the point,* your very first legal question in your legal advice thread is “doesn’t my girlfriend have to come within arm’s reach if she’s gonna break up with me? It’s not fair that her lawyer is doing it.” Here is some free legal advice: if you plan to try and make contact with her, engage an attorney first. Don’t worry too much about their leasing/real estate/cohabitation credentials, what you want is a criminal defense attorney. Also, brush your teeth and take a shower: you’ll wish you had when you get to jail.

        I’m also enjoying how he obviously knows his “totally fixed” abusive bullshit from two years ago is immediately relevant to these events. Like, I probably did something shitty to my romantic associate two years ago,** but if she dumped me over it now, I would a) have NO IDEA what two-year-old mistake had prompted this and b) be too busy trying to figure out what recent event I actually remember could have prompted it.

        *”The point” here is “what the fuck is wrong with you, Reddit dude?”
        **Shitty like “put my foot in my mouth” or “ate the leftovers she wanted to take for lunch,” not like “hit anybody” or even “had a shouty fight.”

    2. I honestly clicked through to that expecting to see typical Redditor behavior…but I am quite pleasantly dumbfounded.

      1. There are some really great smaller subreddits among the muck; /r/legaladvice tends to be one, mostly because they stay in their lane. The mods are really good about keeping offensive editorializing to a minimum.

      2. Oh but there’s other greatness, and that’s the one where the OP realizes she’s being gaslighted and makes her abuser Watch “Gaslight” with her. I’ll leave it to you to discover how it ends…

        1. There’s another one where a guy nagged his girlfriend into agreeing to an open relationship and then she got tons of dates and was having a great time and he was not getting any dates at all (presumably because a guy who nags his reluctant partner into an open relationship has other personality and behavior deficiencies). He wanted validation that he was right in feeling put-upon and advice on how to close the relationship again. And his post was full of body shaming BS about his gf. The forum handed him his ass, and then it went viral.

    3. Omg I love reading lawyers arguing about the connotation of words. This thread is amazing.

      (There are some really great places on reddit, it is like an internet microcosm of the balance of nature.)

      1. I busted out laughing at “Words mean things!” in response to the commenter who couldn’t understand why framing the GF’s escape from an abusive relationship as a “long con” was down voted.

    4. I LOVED THIS so hard. My favorite part was how the guy was completely flabbergasted — “you guys, is she really allowed to use LAWS and RULES to make me do things?”

      1. The really ridiculous thing is that while yes, most people don’t bring a lawyer and a notice-to-quit into a breakup, at bottom that’s all that happened: he got dumped. She just used whatever means were at her disposal to make it stick. Personally, I think he should be grateful that she’s being so straightforward about it.

        1. That’s what it is, ultimately – he’s mad that he got dumped, not that he has to move. He even says in the comments that even if he had the OPTION of keeping the apartment by himself he couldn’t afford to! His “can she really do this??” is about whether she’s allowed to leave him at its core, not about whether she’s allowed to evict him. As a single guy he’d need to move anyway for financial reasons.

          1. I think at one point he says “she could have left anytime” and another commenter says “Cool; she did.”

          2. Yes – he acts like she could have left at any point in the past, and therefore that she didn’t means that she isn’t entitled to do so now. He also is whining about how this is all about something that happened two years ago. (And then mentions that he hopes the police who will inevitably have to throw him out of the apartment aren’t the same guys that showed up when she called them last week. Because they’d be biased against him and it would be embarrassing, because she called them for no reason, she’s just jumpy and anxious like that. RIGHT. I’m sure that’s totally unrelated to her timing in this matter.)

          3. The fact that he somehow thinks he’s owed an apartment he can’t afford makes me wonder if he generally doesn’t pull his weight, and uses the ever-present threat that he might get violent again as a way of getting away with it. That’s sadly common. I think he thought he had the perfect scam going to be a lazy ass for the rest of his life, and is shocked that his prey figured out how to escape.

          4. Oh he definitely doesn’t pull his weight. Later somewhere in the thread he is like “No I didn’t sign the lease, she always handled all of that kind of stuff.”

          5. Helen, yes, that is how I read it too. Given how many “I have a shitty boyfriend and btw, he doesn’t even pay his fair share” letters the Captain already answered.

          6. Yup, he says he can’t afford any another apartment, and thus, he is doomed to homelessness (oh the victimhood!) If he was splitting rent evenly with his GF, presumably he could split rent evenly with a roommate. The fact that he can’t suggests he was paying less than his share, and is mostly mad that the gravy train has reached the end of the line.

        2. He still has his stuff. He has 45 days to find a new place.
          He’s concerned that she might move back in after he leaves, like, does it matter? Really?
          I want Ferris Bueller to wander through (or Deadpool) and tell him it’s over, shoo!

          1. Right?! 45 days of the place to himself and his stuff while she–what, has to couch surf? (or hopefully, is happily settling into her new place) is not making him “homeless” by any stretch; it’s a super generous gift to someone she’s leaving, who’s abused her, isn’t on the lease, and clearly isn’t going to negotiate breakup logistics in good faith.

          2. God and I want to hung the lawyer for telling him about the walk through. Whoever thought of that – and it seems to me like that’s the kind of question someone would ask in a law office, “So I’m fine with leaving him the apartment while I stay at my sister’s for six weeks if that means he gets the fuck out, but given that he left a hole in the wall last week I’m worried I’m going to come back to all the furniture burned to rubble. What can I do to prevent it?” – is fucking brilliant. I hope she’s not out more than she can afford for this legal counsel, but whatever it cost, it sounds more than worth it.

      2. That part was funny and simultaneously really fucking creepy for me. Dude just seemed so shocked by the fact that ex-girlfriend (who deserves all the highfives forever) was not in fact an inanimate possession like a coffeepot. Somebody in the reddit thread pointed out that he didn’t seem hurt or upset or anything, just irritated about having to find a new home and totally baffled by how it happened, as if his coffeepot somehow become sentient one day and had evicted him.

    5. When I lived in North Carolina and had a male roommate who started exhibiting violent and unacceptable behaviors (telling me what I shouldn’t wear, for example, going so far as to try to rip a hoop earring out of my ear; being nasty to my male co-workers who would stop by after work; tantrumming by breaking (his own) things and shouting angrily to terrorize me), while telling other people we were a couple (we were not), I was very poor and terrified of being injured or worse. I had a lot of the utilities in our rental house in my name. My roommate had the rental in his name. I gave notice at my job. I also had a friend who was old enough to rent a U-Haul (I was 23 or 24 and unable to). We planned for me to move out, and two states away, within the next 30 days. I arranged to shut off the power and left instructions on how to swap it over. I informed the landlord I was moving. I packed my belongings and kept my bedroom door locked with an actual padlock through a hasp when inside, and a keyed lock when outside it.

      He caught wind of something going on and arrived home as I was loading the truck by myself, easing a mattress down two flights of stairs. He tried to crush me against the wall with the mattress, which failed rather hilariously (in retrospect), and threw a violent tantrum but there was nothing left inside the house to throw or break that wasn’t his stuff, and there were neighbors observing the move-out outside.

      Bottom line is that I got out.

      LW, in this case, you are dealing with what you say is abuse, so it is abuse. There’s no sliding scale where some is OK and then a little more is beyond the pale. Any is too much.

      Make your plans in advance. Lay out the steps you need to extricate yourself to a safe place and cover your financial butt. It is an arguably superfluous kindness to plan around your husband’s needs, but you can do that, too, and that is one less thing he can come back with later to complain about. Line up a Team You and a GTFO Fund. Start pricing apartments and go look at them and see if they look safe to you.

      You can do it.

      1. Good for you! Not that you need the approval of a random stranger on the internet, but I am so proud of you for getting out and being safe and being awesome!

      2. So what is up with guys who go around telling others you’re a couple when you’re not? Do they really think that’s going to work?

        1. Helen Huntingdon, I think they really do think it will advance their cause. I think they are hoping to use the pressure of social expectations to push their target into upholding the lie so as not to rock the boat. They know darn well that most people are reluctant to call someone a liar.

          It is also, I believe, a ploy to reduce their target’s sources of social support by attempting to get condemnation by the target’s friends of the target’s behaviour. The wannabe wants the target to look vindictive, unkind and dishonest to others. The plan is to reduce or eliminate the target’s social support system and set themselves up to be the good guy who provides emotional support, etc.

          I realise that the above sounds incredibly Machiavellian! Lundy Bancroft, in his book _Why Does He Do That?_ mentions an incident that really spotlighted how consciously manipulative abusers can be. It has been awhile since I read the book but as I remember it, Mr Bancroft and his partner were leading a group therapy session for abusers when they decided to get feedback from the abusers for a skit they were going to present to demonstrate abuse for a presentation. The abusers stepped up right smart, giving feedback on how to amplify the threatening behaviour he was demonstrating by things like moving closer, raising his voice, etc.

          They were completely aware of the mechanics of how to frighten and control an intimate partner and, at the core of their being, believed they had every right to do so.

          I can’t predict the future but common sense tells me that when someone is making overt moves in attempting to isolate you, they are not acting from a position of integrity and honour.

          1. If I remember correctly, Lisa Whelchel married her now-ex-husband because he had their pastor their engagement in church. I read the story in her own words, and what she’s trying to spin as a cute Deity’s will sort of story sounds horrifyingly manipulative to me.

            You can find that account here: http://www.crosswalk.com/1090966/

          2. I figured out part of the answer to my own question. Quite a few guys have told me that “all guys” lie about how interested women are in them, in order to boast to each other. Bizarrely, though, these same guys who believe “all guys lie” about such thing also believe unquestioningly whatever other guys make up. This phenomenon is well-documented in studies on college campuses in which huge numbers of the young guys seriously believe everyone else is constantly having sex but themselves. They have some sort of bizarre dudebro social contract where they all believe each other’s lies.

            I remember there was this creepy, sleazy guy who told his three male roommates that I was into him. I had no idea, because it never would have crossed my mind that anyone would think I would be anything but repelled by Creepy Sleazy. Until one of the three roommates told me that they all “knew”. I was so dumbfounded he actually blushed scarlet over having to admit that he believed it — I and a female friend were asking him what the hell was wrong with him that he would ever get such a notion, let alone believe it. His defense was that Creepy Sleazy said so. We told him that this was plainly so insane it should have been obvious it was a lie. He stammered out that the other roommates believed the lie too. We demanded to know how that worked — Creepy Sleazy could literally make up any lie he wanted about any woman, no matter how improbable, and they’d just believe him? Really? His answer: “Well, yeah.”

            It’s actually been a feature of my whole life — if you try to count how many romances of various kinds I have had, the number I come up with is much smaller than by anyone else’s count. Even close friends who know better would tend to list multiple “Epic Helen-XDude Thing”s — when I get baffled and correct them on it, because there never was anything from my end, they say they count it because it was such a huge epic deal that “everyone knew” about. Even when I had no awareness whatsoever at the time.

            This is where Asperger’s is a handicap instead of a strength — I’m continually astounded when people lie, and even more astounded when others believe obvious lies.

          3. Oh God, as if the pastor-announcing-engagement story weren’t bad enough (and it’s already pretty bad), there’s that little detail that the guy she ended up marrying was her pastor, too. As a clergyperson, dating our congregants is VERY BAD. For the same reason that it’s bad for a therapist to date their client or a teacher to date their student. It’s a huge abuse of power – even without a “miscommunication” that leads to premature engagement announcements at a district conference. (And why do I suspect that that was not a miscommunication at all, but actually Steve telling Pastor Jack that it was a done deal when it wasn’t?)

          4. I’m actually not sure that “let’s analyze this skit” example proves it’s quite that conscious. When it comes to things like how close you’re standing, how loud your voice is, etc… It’s easy to dispassionately analyze something happening in front of you without being especially aware of exactly how hard you lean on those same techniques.

            I can’t speak to abusive fear-tactics, but I am pretty good at asking for what I want in a way that’ll make it happen, right? And that… can be manipulative, not awful, but I’m glad I’ve learned to pay attention and be a bit careful. I went through a big phase in my early 20s where, having realized that, I tried very hard not to use any kind of spin.* But even so, a) that means I was working on that body of technique unconsciously, without thinking about whether it was manipulative, for a good five to eight years, and b) I’m an unusually self-reflective person.

            My read on the “in private she says we’re not together, in public I say we are” thing is similar. I think unconsciously it’s absolutely boundary-testing: will she let me get away with this or is she gonna stand up? Consciously, though, I think if you could have a completely honest conversation with those dudes what you’d find isn’t “Oh, yeah, I know we’re not together, I was just pushing her.” My guess is the narrative in their heads is special pleading about what’s “really” going on versus she-says-it-so-it-doesn’t-count technicalities: “Oh, well, we’re not ‘dating-dating,’ she says she’s not ready for that and I’m a Nice Guy so I respect that, but of course we’re really together. I just didn’t feel like explaining all the details to everyone at work.”

            For example, check out the reddit thread above: dude ACTUALLY THINKS THEY’RE STILL TOGETHER and this is some kind of “long con.” He has lied to himself so hard that he is not actively conscious of being dumped even after she moves out and her lawyer tells him not to contact her.

            TLDR: it’s bullshit, obviously, and shady as fuck, but he might very well have talked himself into seeing it some other way. A distinction without a difference? For a target, probably, but if you’re a third party with a chance to intervene, I’d favor approaches that don’t rely on him knowing he’s lying.

            *I’ve since relaxed a bit. I ain’t gonna twist you in knots, but look, if it isn’t important in the first place and I know how to handle it, asking you to just let me do it when you’re in the middle of something instead of making it seem all important by waiting for you to stop and pay attention is FINE. Less disruption to your life, I don’t look like a weirdo for requesting a sit-down meeting for a two-minute nonissue, and the problem got handled.

        2. In this case, Helen, I think he was doing this to chase off any of my male friends and acquaintances (who were far more age-appropriate and had more pleasant personalities, too) might otherwise show interest in me. I did not make it clear that he did this when I was out of the room, rather than when I was there and could contradict him. I found out from a female co-worker that he was doing this. At that point, it would have been extremely awkward to go around at work repeatedly stating, “You know my guy roommate? WE ARE NOT A COUPLE AND WE ARE NOT DATING.” It was not work-appropriate, and I tend to be a private person anyway. But the damage was done, as my roommate chased off a bunch of co-workers by being an asshole to them behind my back, and making hanging out after work at my place unpleasant.

        3. It worked for my grandfather. He’d been going out with my grandmother for a while; they were sort of expected to be together because she was the most beautiful girl and he was the handsomest young man. But she didn’t want to marry him; she wanted to be a teacher. She still went out with him from time to time.

          Then he asked her to come to a family gathering. Where he introduced her as his fiancée. She couldn’t manage to tell everyone this wasn’t so. He decided everything about the wedding, and later on, in the marriage. He kept his talent for victimizing people who felt pressure to not fight back, such as me and my sister, who thought our mother and grandmother would be sorry if they knew what he tried to do.

          So yeah, it can work. Sometimes. I’d hope it’s less likely to work now than in the 1940’s, though.

    6. I loved that thread so much. BF was all, “My GF long-conned me!” Reddit was all, “Your GF executed a textbook f*ck-off-fund strategy to escape your abuse.”

      1. She executed it so, so beautifully, and in the midst of what was probably terrible fear and stress. I hope that she can now breathe freely and find happiness. In my head, I’m imagining months of clandestine meetings that the ex-GF had with the landlord, lawyer friend, new roommate(s), and so on…all set to “Eye of the Tiger.” She deserves that kind of epic montage.

        1. Yeah, that was right up there with Katie Holmes’ escape from Tom Cruise. Impressively executed.

      2. This guy’s definition of “revenge” apparently includes his person, possessions, and finances being left completely intact, while he is somewhat inconvenienced, fully within the bounds of the law, with an appropriate period of notice and a professional third party to explain how he can make the situation as hassle-free as possible. If that makes her a witch, then some of the stuff I’ve done in my life makes me a complete monster.

        1. That was just about my reaction, “Doesn’t a con usually involve taking something from someone? You know, other than the place they currently happen to be renting after more than reasonable notice??”

    7. First-time commenter here. I just have to thank Readerette for directing us to that Reddit thread because that is fabulous. I mean, jeez, “I hit her – but just one time! – but everything was great – except that she was nervous and jittery and clearly unhappy! – and she could have left at any time – except that, you know, she has – and this all just came out of nowhere – except for that time just a week before that she called the cops.”

      Wow, just wow. That’s a very impressive kind of memory you have there, Abusive Reddit Dude.

    8. This reddit post sounds like the “other side of the story” from someone who we would have read here.
      Like, textbook the kind of advice the good captain would see – get yourself out safely and cut off all contact, remembering violent people tend to escalate when threatened with the object of their violence looking to leave.
      Beautiful work. Seriously so.

  2. I spent lots of time getting ready before I knew I wanted to leave a relationship that already run its course. I grieved for a year and a half for the deterioration of the relationship and spent as little time as possible around the other party. Then I disappeared one day without a note. I literally had no idea I was going to leave until a month before I did so.

  3. It will be hard. Saying it out loud is the first step. For six months I didn’t say it out loud until a family tragedy forced me to think about how short life can be, how none of us are promised tomorrow, and I didn’t want to spend it like that. I told a trusted relative I was thinking about maybe leaving. That relative helped me make a plan.

    It took me a year to get to where I could actually leave. I was trying to save up money so I could live on my own, and also finish my associate’s degree, but neither of those things ended up happening, and it just wasn’t okay for me to stay in that environment. So I moved out, and I moved in with the relative who had been helping me plan, and I filed for divorce.

    I cried myself to sleep the first night. Not because I wanted to go back, but because it was a big scary change and it was hard.

    This is the time to assemble Team You. You don’t have to do this alone.

  4. I wanted to leave for ages, but found a million reasons not to. Then one day something Really Bad happened and I finally, finally made the decision to leave. (I had also started therapy, and my wonderful therapist helped me so much with getting stronger.)

    From that day, it was actually quite easy. I had a super horrible time moving out but in hindsight it was such a short time compared to being really miserable for years.
    Waking up in my new place was glorious. It still is. Sometimes the feeling just catches me off guard, when I’m doing something really mundane like get a cup for my tea in the kitchen – the feeling of being free from the former ever-present voice in my head that somehow I don’t seem to be good enough.
    My life is completely different now.

    1. When I moved into my own place, I walked in and took a deep breath – and was amazed to feel it travel all the way to the bottom of my lungs. When I say I felt like someone was standing on my neck, it’s not as much of a metaphor as you might think.

      1. When I moved out of my parents’ house, away from my unpredictable and emotionally abusive father, I cannot even articulate the joy I felt knowing that whatever the mood in the house was would forever be only what *I* was feeling in that moment. Never again would I tiptoe around, waiting for an innocuous comment to set off a firestorm of forehead vein throbbing rage that sent me feeling to the sanctuary of my bedroom. I won’t claim that this is the healthiest coping method, because I haven’t lived with another person since that day in 1997 when I finally got out….but I will say that living alone is sometimes the absolute ultimate luxury.

        1. Living alone rocks! I will never, ever, ever again live with anyone who is not a cat, now that I don’t have to (financial privilege FTW). Living alone is a glorious luxury.

          I don’t think it’s an “unhealthy coping method” so much as, until very recently, it wasn’t an option for almost anyone to live alone, unless you were a religious hermit or anchorite. Kings, by definition wealthy, had people watch them go to the toilet (shudder). I believe that choosing to live alone can be bewildering to some people, especially those brought up to believe that you need to be married or partnered to be healthy, but to me, it’s a wonderful privilege of modern life. Enjoy!

        2. It is. People talk about coming home to an empty space like it’s a bad thing, but to me it always feels WONDERFUL. Only now it’s a different kind of wonderful because I have a cat who acts like it’s Christmas and her birthday every time I walk in the door.

          1. After my husband passed, a lot of well meaning folk asked how I was holding up in the house all by myself. How was I coping and was I lonely.
            Um, no? I was fine? I was a person raised to people-please who had never lived by herself and I was so totally READY to find out what I liked and disliked about food, furniture, the yard, my clothes, and my activities without having to take anyone else’s preferences or feelings into account. Who was I really, when I wasn’t bending to someone else’s opinion? I wanted to find out!
            Now I have roommates, but, I am so happy that I got a chance to figure out what I needed for just me before I did that.

          2. Jenna, I’ve met a number of women whose husbands are enough older than they are that they expect to outlive them by some years, and it saddens me how often they say they love their husbands but they look forward to exactly what you’re describing.

          3. My cat runs straight to the door and throws himself flat on his back while rolling around and waving his tummy in the air as he begs for tummy rubs. And since he is a long-haired Maine Coon with the world’s softest white belly, it. is. GLORIOUS

          4. @Jenna That’s the thing I love about solitude. When I’m with others I feel like I’m tied to them with strings, constantly being pulled around, constantly making sure they’re comfortable and happy. When I’m alone I feel truly me.

      2. Oh my yes. Turning the lock and knowing you’re the only one who can? Delicious. I love caring for my little home. When I see a clean kitchen, with all the dishes washed, I have such a feeling of contentment. When I go shopping, as I’m putting things away I’ll remove the seals from the jars and packages. When I reach for them as I’m cooking, I let myself feel loved and cared for.

        1. I especially love my kitchen and unpacking groceries as well. Cooking feels almost like meditation now, it’s so much less of a stress factor than in previous years!

  5. Jedi hugs to the LW.

    IMO when you’re at the stage where you compose a letter to the Captain (and you’ve probably been thinking about writing the letter for awhile?), emotionally you’re already out the door. This last step of literally stepping out the door is fear of change, fear of the unknown, etc. And that’s okay, it’s normal to feel fear.

    When I left my marriage my fear was being alone and handling things like rent, utilities, silly home repairs, etc by myself. And of course I feared letting love go, because we did love each other. There was no abuse yet there were deal breakers, and he refused counseling. It took me several years of quietly, silently contemplating leaving until one day that little voice inside my head said “I’m too young to settle for this”. That’s when I took that final literal step out the door. It took time for me to grieve the relationship, even before I left.

    You already know you want and need to leave. In the meantime get your plan together, as the Captain suggests. If you have a trustworthy Team Me, avail yourself of their help and support.

    Best wishes to you.

    1. As someone who has been thinking about writing a letter to the Captain for a very long time, your comment really whacked me upside the head. This whole thread, really…

  6. Oh, LW. My medical condition was not life-threatening, but other than that, I could have written this letter fifteen years ago.

    Wait, that’s not true. My condition was profound, debilitating depression, and I was suicidal-ideating for a long, long time. I was not functioning for a long time.

    He made no effort whatsoever to get me any help, but berated me for “not trying hard enough.”

    Part of what made me hesitant to leave, after I started getting better (a Team Me, regularly getting out of what turned out to be a toxic house, earning a little bit of my own money and starting to build a habit of being active through the depression, and eventually therapy, helped a lot) was the sense that I owed him for all those years of breadwinning and giving me a place to crash where I *could* get to a place where I could help myself. I felt this despite knowing that he was part of the problem. Around the time I was getting better, he was going through what i think of as the “pattern narcissist midlife breakdown”*, which I did not recognize at the time, I just knew he was struggling, and I felt like I needed to pay my dues and support him as he’d supported me.

    It took another ten years for me to get out. I am only just now, many years after that, getting past rage and regret over having not left sooner to a place of acceptance.

    I’m not gonna lie – it’s been hard to watch (from a distance) the slow, hard decline of the father of my children. But it’s also been the most freeing and soul-saving thing in the world to not have to watch it from close up, entangled with it.

    What Jen doesn’t spell out in her response, but it’s there: the planning itself is a form of processing, it will get you on a mental footing to go. You want to go but you’re not ready now, and that’s okay; making the plans will help you get there. Start with imagining: what would you want your life to look like: in a perfect world, no obstacles, money no object, dream big – and what do you want your life to look like, realistically, achievably?

    Aim somewhere in the middle. Figure out what you need to get from here to there. Make your plan. Put it into motion. And go.

    *(you know this thing? where they hit forty, aren’t as young and pretty as they were and the charm starts coming off as skeevy, and they start running out of people they can con because they’ve burned too many bridges, and switch gears from a mode of “you can trust me! I’m a Rock Star! Follow me and we will be awesome!” scam to a “you need to help me! You’re the only one who can see how close I am to my desperately needed breakthrough!” scam – and thence inevitably to the “you need to help me, see how pitiful I am?” scam.)

    1. Huh. That footnote is a perfect summary of my ex. He just went through it in his 30s already, and ended up stalking me for 2.5 years after I left him with elaborate extensions of “you need to help me, see how pitiful I am?”

    2. Your footnote hits home for several people I know/knew. And it never, ever, ever ends well.

    3. OMG, is this where that endless supply of Sad Panda dudes who are 50 and over comes from?

      1. I’m guessing so! Especially the ones who are all, “No one but you understands meeeeeee!!!” and “My ex was so meeeeeaaaaannnnnnn!!!” I’m guessing a very large percentage of them have one or more ex-partners who could write the “I got rid of my manipulative ex and OMG, I love living alone! There’s so much room for ME in my new apartment!” comments.

        1. Somewhere on the internet there needs to be an epic list of Sad Panda “reasons” why people should feel sorry for the Sad Panda. I’ve heard some doozies.

          One of my favorites was a highly accomplished and successful man in his fifties who oh so bravely and sensitively admitted to me — BRAVE AND SENSITIVE, I TELL YOU — that at some point he wanted to painfully reveal to me the details of his deep psychic wounds from *high school*. He had me for a moment — I presumed something truly awful had happened to him. But he made the mistake of trying to give me a teaser, and it turned out to be something about how his entire sense of masculinity had been so crushed forevermore that he would need to be coddled as a Sad Panda for all time because girls *gasped* preferred handsome boys with social skills. I gave him a long, slow look and said I would be happen to listen to the details, but he did know, right, that girls are allowed to be as shallow as boys, and that wanting someone who wants someone else is just part of EVERYONE’s experience at that age, not some uniquely terrible wound? He got all red in the face and never mentioned it again.

          Then there was the guy who did this whole big build up about how he was just so sensitively wounded and this was MANPAIN that would have to be catered to on an ongoing basis and he was just so brave to reveal to me the terrible cause of his needing such care — which was that he felt insecure because I’m in male-dominated profession surrounded by lonely guys. I told him flatly that he should find someone in a different profession to go out with. NO! — I had to understand! Deep, tender, wounded MAINPAIN! That needed CARE! I just keep repeating in a bored tone to take his fragile ego elsewhere if that was a problem for him. He also dropped it and never mentioned it again.

          1. Those are some astounding examples…and yet probably not isolated ones. Thank you for sharing with the class.

          2. I really like your approach. I have to confess that I usually end up laughing VERY hard in their faces only to have them continue to Explain Because I Must Not Understand.

            :furiously scribbles notes:

    4. Oooh, your footnote cleared something up about someone I know. I am glad that I didn’t get sucked in.
      My weird social habits(I try believe what people say, and let people go if they want to) and his game playing were not playing well. The strange thing is I could SEE how what he was doing would work with people who react differently than I do, and work really, really well. He did the “oh, we could never work as roommates because X” and instead of trying to prove him wrong by offering him a room in my house I said, “ok, if you say so,” and did not. His other technique was to pull back so that I would chase, except that I didn’t chase and just figured that if he wanted to spend time with me then he would. He expressed great sadness to a mutual friend who then shared that with me. Dude, I have always been horrible at games of all kinds.

      1. OMG high five fellow non game getting person!

        We just had an issue with a person who quit an activity my partner and I do and was like “I’m quitting” And so we were like “Okay. bye.” And then everybody was teasing him about being so calm about it. It was very weird. It’s not like she was like “I have XYZ problem we should discuss.” She told someone else there was a problem and then they told him, but she never brought it up. she just quit. It became clear that the expectation was that we be all “Noooo Staaay whyyy ommgggggg”

        But like, people are adults, they get to make decisions, I am not being a jerk by not nagging you into doing what I want. I am actually being very nice. I do NOT have time for the game of guessing what kind of emotional validation you are trying to get by flouncing.

        (Though I will say it is kinda bad that I just sometimes don’t notice the silent treatment until it has gone on a reeeeaaaallly long time. Especially bad with roommates.)

      2. Asperger’s is awesome for this. That whole tendency to take literal-sounding statements literally really drives certain kinds of manipulators up a tree.

        I dealt with one once upon a time who, when called out on problem behavior, would put on this spectacular show of great concern, acting so very CONCERNED, oh so concerned, that you had a problem with him in any way. Once he thought that hook was well set, he would circle back to your original complaint about the specific behavior that was a problem, and work himself into near-fainting horror demanding, “But why would I do that? I never did that! Why would I ever do a thing like that??!!!!!!!!!!!!???”

        I would invariably reply with, “I don’t know — why did you?”

        He would literally visibly deflate.

          1. I have taught “refuse to acknowledge anything but the plainest most literal meaning if you suspect game-playing” to several non-autistics with awful relatives. It’s a good self-defence because the tricky person can’t articulate what you did wrong without exposing the mechanics of the trap they wanted you to fall into.

          2. When I was living by myself, finally, and sorting myself out I ran across a piece of writing that asserted that it wasn’t my responsibility to be a mind reader. That it was PERFECTLY REASONABLE to take people literally, to only acknowledge the requests they actually make verbally or in writing, to react only to what someone says or does rather than some nebulous thing in their heads that you “should have known.”
            I stopped and thought really hard about that. I thought about all the things it would have changed in my marriage if I had insisted that “no, I am not a mind reader, and if you wanted me to do that thing or not do that thing you can tell me.”
            Wow, if I had done that (and been able to stick to it)it would have changed so much!
            Of course there’s two sides of it. I resolved to ask for more in actual words myself, and I am still working on that.
            It reduces the amount of stuff I need to anxiety spiral on, though. I feel myself going down the hole of “what if they really meant…?” And I stop, and I tell myself that anyone that I am friends with knows that I don’t read minds and If they wanted me to do something differently than I am, they can tell me so. And then I take a deep breath, and go on doing.

      3. Oh wow…seeing the charm and being a bit cautious, watching them hit their Rock Star apex, then some “is this game playing? Cuz this is touching a *I think this is game-playing* nerve,” watching it indeed work with all the quickness he wished with someone else who reacted differently than I did, then the crisis, hinting at the “you’re the only one path to breakthrough” while declaring their soo, soo chillness with the slide, as they tell me who they are.

        From this thread, I suspect “this thing” is a bit of an epidemic.

    5. oh my your footnote = the man I’m divorcing, except he’s still cycling through all three modes, depending on his mood and audience. exhausting.

      1. I’m just realizing I’ve dealt with one of these — he cycled between all three. I’ve never seen such extreme mood swings in my life, and I’ve seen some doozies. I don’t miss him.

        When in doubt, he would abruptly start saying, “So much pain…there’s just so much pain,” in a manner that would somehow hint that he was talking about your pain (of which he was the cause, so WTF), but he was just so overwhelmed by his ManPain that he couldn’t articulate a sentence.

        He really didn’t like being asked what he was in pain about.

        1. Oh lordy, why am I seeing Spock’s mind-meld with the horta?

          (Original series, “The Devil in the Dark” episode.

          1. Now that you mention it, I know he’s seen that episode and he must have known he was imitating it.

    6. You’ve described my father, whose youthful charm has given way to badly dyed black hair and the cheapest set of dentures I’ve seen in a while. But he still thinks he’s all that, and the women he’s systemically scamming were carefully selected to not go to the cops.

    7. >(you know this thing? where they hit forty, aren’t as young and pretty as they were and the charm starts coming off as skeevy, and they start running out of people they can con because they’ve burned too many bridges, and switch gears from a mode of “you can trust me! I’m a Rock Star! Follow me and we will be awesome!” scam to a “you need to help me! You’re the only one who can see how close I am to my desperately needed breakthrough!” scam – and thence inevitably to the “you need to help me, see how pitiful I am?” scam.)

      I know this one painfully all too well. It didn’t help that I was 24 at the time that this 40 year old was trying all this on me. I didn’t get into a romantic relationship with him because I’m ace/aro, but I saw him as a “friend and a mentor” for far too long despite his terrible attitudes. At the time I didn’t question strongly enough why he always complained that his friends, girlfriends, and crushes all eventually turned on him. He did the Rock Star thing, the “help me with this” (curing his sister’s cancer while putting all the responsibility for her death on me and “jokingly” calling me his slave) thing, and finally the “help me I’m so pitiful I can’t be alone anymore” thing. He was doing all this to other people at the same time, and it all came out and blew up at once.

      I may not have compromised all of my principles but I took away a lot of insidious toxic bullshit from that guy that set me up for later mistakes and compromises I shouldn’t have made with other people. To this day that guy probably still claims he can’t be that manipulative because he was *caught.*

      My escape was a callout email when his real nature was revealed then blocking him on everything. But even before that for two years our “friendship” had deteriorated to the point where I loathed even talking to him.

      1. Oh godddd, you’re describing my worst nightmare (except in my worst nightmare, I fall for it). I’m in a male-dominated, mentorship-heavy profession, and I’ve been very lucky to have wonderful male mentors. So far. It feels like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

        What happened with the callout email? Did he just slink away from everyone when all of this blew up, or what? Did your community support him or his targets?

  7. It took me nearly a year to wrap my head around the fact that, actually, things really were that bad and this wasn’t simply one of those relationship lulls I kept hearing so much about.

    The follow-up to that took three and a half months. I missed a major opportunity to have The Talk – the Nope, It’s That Bad realization came right around the time we needed to decide whether to renew our lease, and I wish to this day that, after our landlord dropped the new lease off, I’d bluntly told my then-boyfriend, “I want to keep living here, but I don’t want to keep loving with you,” and then asked the landlord to draw up a new lease in my name only (ex would’ve had a month or two, given the rules on guests).

    But I didn’t, and two months into our new lease, I issued an ultimatum: “You have one month to find a job. I don’t care what kind of job as long as it gets you out of my face for a certain number of hours per week and pats some of the costs you are contributing nothing toward.” He then got a ten-day reprieve, because I myself was starting a new part-time job at a ski area (free ski pass, and those things are expensive!).

    The day I came home after finishing training, it was 2 in the afternoon, and I’d had a full day to top off a full week. He, meanwhile, was still lollygagging in bed. Something in my brain finally snapped, and I asked him if he had time to talk (you know, because he looked sooooo busy), then told him, “I need my space.” He cried for an hour, and I surprised myself because I was so done by that point that all I could do was wish he’d get whatever verbal lashing he had on tap out of the way so I could go take a shower. (There was no verbal lashing, but I still didn’t get to take my shower until almost 4).

    He went back to his parents’ a week later. I cried that whole night. When I woke up the next morning, however, I felt so refreshed – likely from not having to deal with someone with a vastly different sleep schedule clomping into the bedroom at 5 a.m., slamming every drawer in the room for shits and giggles, then flopping noisily into the bed and promptly stealing the covers – that I was officially Over It and had nary a regret thereafter.

    LW, this relationship has already been over, in your mind, for a while. I can’t guarantee that it will only take you one night to move on, as it did for me, but I can guarantee that, after the initial rough patch (perhaps even during), you will feel So. Much. Better. Good wishes!

  8. I’m so sorry LW. This is so hard. Seconding CA’s advice, especially about allowing yourself to remember the good times too. No need to paint a black and white picture of an Asshole Who Doesn’t Deserve Me if you aren’t feeling it. Plenty of people create toxic, abusive environments who are not controlling abusers but just don’t know better ways of interacting and communicating. It’s takes a lot of strength, bravery, and empathy to realize that and still walk away without burning down the house. My therapist has said that often one person going to therapy can be the death of a relationship. As one person gets healthier the other person can either follow them on the new journey or refuse. If they refuse, the marriage almost always ends and it sounds like this might be the case with you.

    Some tips that you may or may not find useful:

    1. Is/was your relationship fairly “enmeshed?” As in, are most of your friends/hobbies/interests/thing you do related to or revolving around him? If yes, then start building a life outside of him. Cultivate new friends, join new groups, start that hobby you’ve always wanted to try, invest in your friendships/family/pets, go see movies he isn’t interested in. If you can’t do this now, make a list of all the stuff you are going to do when you are single so you have something to look forward to and re-direct yourself when you get a case of The Sads and feel compelled to reconcile just to make them go away.

    2. Talk to Team You about what you are feeling, including your ambivalence. And state clearly that you are not up for husband bashing. Just having a loving ear can help you feel less isolated and lonely.

    3. Go to amazon and buy The Sweary Coloring Book.

    4. There’s been some researching that an emotional purging is necessary. If you find you are talking non-stop about your marriage ending to your friends or therapists – this is normal and actually helpful. Perhaps don’t overwhelm your friends (a journal I am sure will help) but allow all those thoughts and feelings to come up and try not to judge them or yourself for having them.

    5. Create a Self-Care box (google it) of stuff that makes you feel good.

    6. The Mental Health Happy Hour (a podcast I ADORE) does a thing where each guest will list their fears and loves. I started sub-consciously paying a lot more attention to the things I love and now have a running list on evernote to remind myself when The Sads come for a visit and try to convince me they’ll never leave. Maybe start intentionally paying attention to things that make you feel good and keeping a note to remind yourself when you need to.

    7. Have faith. I am not a believer of anything but have faith that there is a better life for you that you can’t envision or see right now but that actually exists. I often get stuck in a binary of having to “choose” between two really crappy choices because “those are my only options!” No, they’re not. Having faith that there are possibilities you can’t see yet is important. It’s that horrible saying “better the devil you know than the one don’t” keeping people trapped in a shitty place because “it could be worse!” Almost every single stuck, miserable person I know subscribes to some version of that. Be brave and lean into the unknown and trust that it will bring you something wonderful.

    1. thetigerhasspoken: thank you. Especially for #7. I’m in a rocky marriage, and whenever I think of finding my own apartment, I have nightmarish visions of some sort of sh*thole. Ditto for a new job.
      ordinarygoddess: I will try that visualization exercise. I was once told to do that by a therapist, but the mere thought of it was terrifying. And I also thought, “What good will it do me to think about ‘what I want my life to look like’? I’m not brave enough to change things.” I have to try and be brave.

      To everyone: Thank you for weighing in on this. It’s helping me feel stronger.

      1. I had the same visions–my late husband was a hoarder, capable of rendering the nicest habitation into a shithole in record time (think The Fan Man, but less rapey), and there was a part of me that just believed that was how things went. I moved for school, was on my way to leaving the relationship when he died, and was living with roommates in a city far away. I got my own apartment less than a year later, and it was *glorious*. It was the nicest apartment in kind of a shady building, had just been renoed, and it was literally the most amazing thing I’d ever experienced. I’m now living with Best Boyfriend and it’s really great (getting better as we get everything unpacked!), but living alone for a few years while I was figuring out who I was post-him was the greatest gift I have ever given myself.

        You are going to be amazed by how nice it is to live alone. 🙂

        1. My husband is a hoarder too. I know it’s part of being obsessive-compulsive, but it doesn’t make me any less angry toward him for not making any effort to clean up.
          I live in an area that’s pretty run-down and there are a LOT of crummy apartment buildings around. I get scared that I won’t be able to afford anything even halfway nice. Sometimes I give some thought to “just how much room do I need anyway?” I need to keep an open mind.

          1. even if you end up someplace not great, remember it’s only temporary–and being able to own it yourself, to care for it yourself, keep it clean and organized, will make up for the bad stuff so much it may turn into a little bit of heaven anyway. it’s amazing how much somebody else’s mess can turn even a nice place into a hellhole.

          2. I broke up with a partner who I wouldn’t call a hoarder, but who had A Lot of stuff in our old-school tenement house with no out-of-sight storage. And well, when they moved out I was amazed at how little I owned, or wanted to own, anymore. I moved into a smaller place with a roommate and still had wide-open spaces. I’m not at all a minimalist myself, but suddenly needing a lot less square footage made affording a nice place on a tight budget MUCH easier.

          3. There was an interesting technique someone outlined on the last letter, a waterfall of best-case scenario on down, with steps in between. Maybe that would help you here, to make dreaming big less scary, and the steps towards happiness seem less huge?

            I want to own a beachfront house in Italy
            -if not that, then a beachfront house in South Carolina
            –if not that, then own a house in South Carolina near the beach
            —if not that, then rent a house in South Carolina near the beach
            —-if not that, then rent an apartment in South Carolina near the beach
            —–if not that, then rent an apartment that is near a bus stop that can get me to the local beach
            ——if not that, then rent an apartment inexpensive enough that I can save for a trip to South Carolina (or Italy)

            And so on. It could help you to see the gradations between: The Life I Dream About (So scary and maybe disappointingly impossible?) and The Life I Have (Which is kinda? ok on its best days), and help you find The Life That I Can Move Toward. Little steps – and big hugs for you.

          4. DO NOT let other people (or yourself!) invalidate your feelings of anger about his hoarding. Lots of people have OCD and anxiety disorders and manage not to become hoarders, whether that’s because of therapy or some other effort to keep things under control. *You get to be angry about him making your habitation unlivable*, because that is a thing he is *choosing to do*. He could choose to take action, but he hasn’t. Be angry. He loves his hoard more than he loves you.

            Also, you might be surprised–lots of crummy apartment buildings have a nice place or two tucked away inside. 🙂

          5. My husband wasn’t quite a hoarder, but, we had a LOT of things that we held onto because he said, “but we might need that someday!” I couldn’t get rid of anything including my late fathers car.
            After my husband passed I was so relieved that I didn’t need to consult with him anymore whenever I wanted to take something to goodwill or sell something or trash it. Ah, the house purge! I’m still working on it, actually, because this house has a lot of storage space and hasn’t been properly moved out of since my parents bought it in ’65. That car, though? First thing gone, sold to the parents of a friend.
            The advantage of leaving someone is that you can leave ALL THE STUFF! It’s not your problem anymore. If all you need is your suitcase and a camera and you want to travel for a while, then you CAN! Keep only what you love and is beautiful to you and have a lovely almost empty apartment if you want to.

          6. Ex-roommates wouldn’t allow me to invite people over they didn’t know, but they could throw drunken parties with people over until all hours of the night. Cleaning for these parties had to start at least the day before, and usually took the entire household several hours to complete (and it wasn’t because they had ridiculously high standards, either).
            Cats and partner don’t care who I invite over, and are happy to see my friends. People leave when it’s bedtime, or else have accepted use of guest room and gracefully retire to it. Cleaning for people starts thirty to ten minutes before people are expected to arrive, because the house is just kept that clean. Always. Without argument or fuss. The first apartment after exroommates barely fit partner and me and cats, but it was still better.

            It makes an amazing amount of difference to my sense of being safe and warm and home. LW and strangerontheearth, I hope you get there, whatever there looks like for you.

          7. Something to think about on that front is that as a single person who is NOT a hoarder, you will need significantly less space than you currently share with your husband. That can give your budget more room for a nicer place.

          8. Sometimes I give some thought to “just how much room do I need anyway?”

            I have… definite hoarding tendencies (and work on them. Hard.) I also have a lot of stuff, and the last time I moved I had a lot of stuff from a parent’s death and clearing out all their stuff and finding it difficult at that emotional junction (clearing out my childhood home) to get rid of many of their possessions, shared possessions, and my old stuff that I had stored there).
            Eight months later I had to leave my two-bedroom cottage, put all of my stuff into storage, and left with a car boot full of possessions to take on a temporary job in a different city where I rented a single bedroom in a shared house.

            I missed about half my possessions, and did not miss the other half at all, not even for a moment. I am now in a place where I *have* unpacked everything, given away tons, and am working through the rest.
            Of the things I missed, there were beloved books (make a list. If necessary, simply take photos of your bookshelves. There are few books you cannot find on Amazon), some clothes (but clothes are transient anyway – they wear out and get replaced), things like household items that I was used to and comfortable with (*my* butter dish) and a few necessary keepsakes, as well as a couple of items of furniture. Everything else was replaceable, and since I’ve now got a partner who already had a lot of furniture and household items and books, a lot of purging has occurred anyway, and I find that I’m perfectly good with that.

            Shorter answer: you need probably less than you think. What you need is a space you feel safe in, even if it’s cramped.

          9. Friendly Hipposcriff : What you said reminded me of an exercise I saw in a decluttering book. It said to put stuff you were unsure about keeping into a box (or boxes), put the date on the box, and seal it up. Then put it where you can’t see it.

            Make a note on your calendar for a year or two from the day you seal the boxes. Then, on the day, see if you even remember what was in those boxes. If you haven’t missed the stuff, don’t recall what is in there or haven’t thought about it, you obviously don’t need it or care about it.

            Excellent advice, methinks.

            Thanks everyone, for listening and for your encouragement. Even if I don’t move out, I need to keep telling myself I am not stuck, I have options, I have a life.

          10. I recommend the Finnish documentary “My Stuff”. (http://mystuffmovie.com/)

            After a breakup, the filmmaker grieves by buying a bajillion things. Then he realises his life still feels empty (and he’s still not over her), so puts all of his stuff in storage (including clothing!) for a year. He allows himself to go get 1 item a day (cue entertaining scene of him running naked through the winter streets of Helsinki to retrieve a coat on that first midnight).

            I think he stops going to get stuff before the year is even up.

            It’s a bit of an extreme example, but definitely drives home the idea that you don’t actually need all that much stuff to be comfortable.

          11. @Essylyn I noticed that waterfall technique last letter too! It kinda blew my mind and I took notes on it

      2. The best thing anyone ever said to me when I was living with a craptastic boyfriend (who wanted to break up with me but didn’t want to be the bad guy, even though he was making a girl who wanted him desperately WAIT for us to separate) was this:
        I was not making much money and I was in debt like a regular American in an expensive city, and was terrified of a scary part of town dumper apartment which was pretty much all I could pay for. And you know, utilities, blah blah. So I was desperate to go but “I can’t afford to move out!” and she said to me, “You can’t afford NOT to move out,” and somehow that was the magic phrase that sunk in. Like, it was emotionally expensive, it was mentally expensive, it was socially expensive, it was all the things. At least in my dumper apartment I had the potential to make my life better, whereas then I just had the potential for it to get worse and worse. Reader, I left him, and that first evening I sat on MY couch and looked at MY wall through my dry, smizing eyes was the best evening I’d had in four years. It was fiscally hard and worth every sacrifice.

    2. Can I just second, third, and underline #1? Because I ended up in a situation where almost everything I did or cared about was related to or entangled with Darth Ex. I stayed in that relationship way past the point where it had gone sour largely because I didn’t want to lose all those things. When it finally ended, I was devastated by the loss and shock of it (in a surprising plot twist, my abuser left me!); I think I would’ve fared way better if I had prepared and got some Stuff of My Own before it happened.

      It’s been a while, and now I have Life 2.0 with New Stuff. It wasn’t easy finding all that New Stuff or losing the Old Stuff; some of the Old Stuff I could revamp and implement as New Stuff, but a lot of the Old Stuff I lost permanently, and I’m not gonna lie, it hurt like a part of my soul was torn away. I’m not saying this to scare LW or anyone, just to warn that it can happen, it’ll hurt, but you’ll be okay. Eventually. Let yourself mourn both the relationship and the Stuff You Lost. It’s like… say you have a dog you love dearly, who dies one day. It’s heart-wrenching, maybe for a long while, but you’ll heal. And some day, you may get new dogs. They might not replace the old dog, because every dog is unique, but they’ll be equally awesome. Sometimes you remember your old dog, and you might feel a twinge in your heart because you still miss him, but most of the time, you’re okay.

    3. Ah, number one.
      I was very enmeshed because he was one of those that believe that marriage makes you both into one unit. So, we could almost always only do things as a couple. If I wanted out of game night, game night was canceled (because of me, so therefore I was the bad one who pulled the plug). It could not go on without me. I was not permitted to just watch and cook snacks. I had to play, or it was canceled. One or the other.
      My girls night out was going out to eat fish with a girl friend, because husband could not stand the smell of fish. This was my only solo thing when he was off work. Every thing else we did together. Because Couple!
      Also, because I was now his other half, other people got more care than I did. He was always generous to other people, but, now that I was his other half I had to be generous and self sacrificing too. This was fine(more reciprocal) when we were dating, but, after we were married, I was still caring for him, but, no one was taking care of me.
      There are certain romantic tropes that drive me up a wall, now, and “finding your other half” is definitely one of them.
      One! True! Love! Is also a romantic trope that I can’t handle anymore. I prefer the Tim Minchin song, “If I didn’t have you.”

    4. Number 7: That is *so* depression talking. Depression tells you that you have no choices, that there are no options other than the ones in front of you, and that all of them will suck. Reality is so much nicer.

  9. Captain, I love your love of “Love After Love.” It warms my heart as much as the poem does. Someday I have a dream of an anthology of Captain Awkward poetry.

  10. LW, I think you are brave, and you will find a way. I believe in you.

    I also know that living with an abuser closes so much of the world away from you, and that after the hurt and the grieving, you will look around you and see a much, much, bigger horizon.

  11. LW, my situation wasn’t like yours in a lot of ways, but I can see similarities. I wanted to leave, I wasn’t happy, but there wasn’t anything “wrong” other than that. Someone could have accused me of “causing problems” by being unhappy (I think you know how ridiculous that sounds).

    It sounds like you’re in therapy or have been. Have you talked to your therapist about this stuff? Is s/he open to the idea of you leaving (not necessarily gunning for that outcome, but open to it)? If not, find one who is and talk to them about it.

    My leaving was a two-year process, and you know what tipped the scales? My therapist said, “You deserve to be happy.” It sounds simple, and cliche, but I had seriously never, ever thought about it in such bald terms before. Your happiness is not less important than his feelings. It’s not less important than Marriage, or what people think of you. You might be scared to leave the devil you know, and it’s a real risk. But let me tell you, the first time you feel your shoulders come down from around your ears (which is how you’ll even realize they were there in the first place), you’ll know the risk was worth it.

    So, so much love to you, LW. You sound like you know exactly how to take care of yourself.

  12. LW: ten years ago, my marriage was on the rocks, similar to your situation except he finally agreed to counseling. I learned a valuable lesson which may help:

    Resist the urge to explain.

    Everything you want is valid. It does not need explanation. “Why are you leaving?” “Because I want to.” That’s it. Nothing else is needed. Cutting everything down to it’s simplest form can suddenly make things seem a whole lot less complicated to tackle.

    Also, while I know it’s dorky, equally simple lists help. “Find place to live.” “Book moving company.” “Get keys.” Being able to physically cross things off of a list because it’s accomplished is fucking awesome.

    1. Yes. And, as the Captain has explained before, giving an explanation means that there’s a way around your explanation, a way to “fix” what’s wrong, so that you stay. And then you’re arguing minutia when you should just be leaving.

      Also yes re: lists. It helps to make large tasks seem more surmountable if you break them down into tiny tasks and do each one individually. “Pack clothes. Pack sheets. Pack books.” etc. Moving is hard in any situation.

  13. So much good advice already.

    I would add that it is extremely common for relationships not to last in the aftermath of the recovery of one half of the couple from a severe illness – this is true even when there was more “good relationship” in the bank beforehand. The roles of healthy one/unhealthy one create dynamics and scripts that are very hard to re-set once the ill person recovers.

    In addition to coming up with your plan, please make sure you are processing the complicated feelings of that experience you went through – coming face to face with your own mortality or able-ness, any survivor’s guilt and/or guilt about leaving the person who stood by you during that period, etc.

  14. I was in a relationship that had lasted a few years and I realized I was constantly coming second to bf’s family (who were pressuring him to dump me). He’d ignore my calls, flake, etc. He wasn’t trying to be abusive or put me second, but his family was a huge presence in his life, he lived with them, and he didn’t handle stress well. So i got the short end of the stick.

    And I deserved better.

    And I just realized one day that I deserved better. I deserved someone’s whole attention, to come first, to not be treated as unimportant.

    So I gave him an ultimatum. Now, he and I weren’t living together. I felt safe and secure doing so. I didn’t fear violence or manipulation from him. AND I was willing to back that ultimatum up.

    He failed and I dumped him.

    It was hard. In retrospect it was a very difficult, depressing, stressful time for me. In the relationship trenches at the time I didn’t realize just how hard it was. And, again, we weren’t living together and hadn’t co-mingled our lives as completely as a married or co-habiting couple has.

    But I just realized that I deserved better. I had worth and value.

    So do you.

    In my case, we spent a year or so apart and then 9/11 happened. I used that, and the LotR movie, as an excuse to get back in touch with him. I still LIKED him. I wanted to be friends with him, wanted him in my life. We reconnected and established a good relationship with different boundaries and priorities. We’d both matured and the time apart let us see each other, and relationships, in a new way. We eventually started dating again and it worked out much better. But the only reason it worked was because we both grew and changed, and because I had standards for how I was treated and bf respected and responded to those standards. (he was also, at this point, living away from his family) We both wanted to be together and we both wanted to treat each other with respect and care.

    Maybe time apart will help you and your husband get to a better place. Maybe he can come to you from a place of care and compassion. I hope he can. Because that’s what you deserve, either from him or from somebody else.

    Be safe.

  15. I’ve never been married, but for a time I was in a relationship where the expectation was that I would make myself and my needs smaller to conform to a boyfriend’s expectations. I was young, naive, and more than a little bit insecure with myself.

    The one example I like to draw on now when mutual friends ask why I ended it (“You guys seemed so good together!” Bless them, they didn’t know and I don’t feel comfortable explaining the multitude of ways he was manipulative) is something I like to call the “Towel Paradox”. During the 4 years we were together, I never ONCE had a clean towel when I stayed at his place. He owned one bath towel, which was rarely ever washed, and about a million grungy beach towels. Not for a lack of money, mind you, but he didn’t think towels were important.

    We either shared the one towel when it was shower time (so someone, usually me, ended up using a wet towel) or I used a dirty beach towel. After a year or so I stopped asking if he would please consider buying a second towel. I was always rules lawyered that “towels were a waste of money!” and that I was such a “pampered princess” for wanting a goddamn clean towel to dry myself off with.

    Once, I brought my own towel with the intention of leaving it to use. The next time I stayed over, my towel had been re-purposed for use in the garage as a grease towel. Apparently, he needed a towel to clean up a spill, and of course grabbed my only towel instead of one of his own. He was constantly pressuring me to leave more clothes and personal items over at his house, always couched as for my convenience, but the issue with the towel planted a little voice in my brain that none of my personal things would ever be respected. Indeed, I also tried leaving a t shirt and workout clothes a year later – guess what got turned into rags when he needed them?

    When this boyfriend stayed at my house, nothing was ever good enough or comfortable enough or convenient enough. My room was too bright for him to sleep, parking was hard, he hated the neighborhood. He complained that I didn’t have enough pillows on the bed; therefore he was FORCED to take my pillow out from under my head while I was sleeping, so he could have one under his head and another to hold on to. Know what I did? I BOUGHT ANOTHER G-D PILLOW FOR HIM TO USE. He made such an ordeal about staying at my place that I just stopped having him over; I always went there because it was easier than hearing him whine. All the while, he’s pressuring me to move more and more of my personal articles to his place.

    It was that pressure to conform that finally became my breaking point. He tried, oh how he tried, to manipulate me into the type of partner he wanted: a stay-at-home trailing spouse who wanted kids and to move back to the suburbs (not knocking anyone who does want this, but it’s not for me). I tried to break up with him once in person, but he rules lawyered and intimidated me into staying. It took another year for me to work up the courage and the reasoning (I know now that “I’m not happy” is a damn good reason), and then I dumped him over the phone while he was away on vacation.

    The reason I call it the “Towel Paradox” is that when I met my current SO, he had PLENTY of extra towels. The first few times I stayed over he had one bed pillow, and guess who got to use it until he could get to IKEA to buy another? ME ME ME! Once sleepovers became regular events at his place, he went out and bought me an extra toothbrush and multiples of my shower stuff, completely unprompted, so that I wouldn’t have to tote everything across town to stay. I was treated like a welcome guest until the relationship progressed to the point where I became an equal occupant. He left things at my house, loved staying over, and I felt OK leaving clothes and my belongings at his place. My things were respected, and he went out of his way to carve out a space for me in his life, not cram me into a space that wasn’t there and .

    TL;DR – LW, I hope you find your way to a place where your needs are respected and you are cherished for being the amazing person you are, and that you always have a clean towel.


      This is a great story, and I’m glad you are away from him to tell it.

    2. He took your pillow so he had 2 and you had 0 from UNDER YOUR HEAD WHILST YOU WERE SLEEPING? I’m genuinely speechless, I don’t even know what you can say to that

      1. I’ve got something similar. In junior high, I had a stand partner in orchestra who was the absolute worst. Terrible bully, did not respect me at all. The room was not set up for orchestra when class started, so I usually went to grab an extra chair from the back that I would then sit on for the duration of the class. One day I decided I didn’t want to be the one to grab the chair for just one day – and Stand Partner pulled the chair I was sitting on out from under me to use it himself, rather than walk the twelve steps to the back of the room to get one that wasn’t being used.

        The director/teacher saw it, and decided that talking to both of us at the same time in her office was the way to go, rather than one at a time and then maybe, maybe both together. I realized right away exactly everything that was wrong with that approach to solving problems and being a mediator, and ended up quite disappointed when HR tried the same technique with me/my coworkers and Horrible Boss before she was eventually fired/let go for not agreeing to sensitivity training. I sympathize more with my junior high teacher than I do with HR Rep, because I’m pretty sure that my junior high teacher had less time to work with than HR Rep did/does, but still. How neither of them saw anything wrong with that approach simply baffles me.

        1. He pulled the chair out from under you….?
          And was apparently not sent immediately out of the class to the office, given detention, or suspended?

          1. While I was holding a viola, an expensive musical instrument made of thin wood, no less. And, as far as I’m aware, no punishment was incurred other than that brief talking-to, where the teacher pressed him to find out why he did it. He had no satisfactory answer to provide, and I got no pleasure out of seeing him squirm. Maybe if my viola had actually broken, something might’ve been done.

            Happily, he was not my stand partner the next year, or ever again after that, though I did end up having at least one other class with him* in high school before I never saw him again. I think he may even have quit orchestra, though damned if I know or care why.

            * [CW: Self-harm] Where he took the opportunity to advise me on how to commit suicide. I was not remotely upset to see the last of him. I also never reported it, because if the teachers actually saw him pulling a chair out from under me and effectively nothing was done, what good would it do to tell a different teacher something he said to me with no one else to back my story up?

        2. As a fellow string player, I am aghast on your behalf. That sort of thing is Simply Not Done.

          I’m remembering, too, how my sophomore English teacher noticed I was in some kind of trouble, possibly being victimized by someone, and instead of talking to me and my parents about it separately, he ambushed me with a meeting with my parents. My abusive parents. The people most likely to be victimizing me anyway. It was so humiliating, and I just stammered out a denial that anything was wrong, but I still remember 15 years later.

          1. Ugh. I mean, he was a nightmare anyway, but for some reason I didn’t expect him to stoop to potentially damaging *very expensive* property. (I can’t remember if it was mine or the school’s, though I’m leaning towards the school’s. Either way, wow. Bad wow.)

            Humiliating is exactly the right word for it. And ambushing you with the meeting makes it so much worse. Jedi hugs if you want them, Mayati.

      2. This reminds me of the husband I just left and our struggles over blankets.

        We used to share blankets on a bed, but he always stole them, especially in winter, leaving me partially or wholly uncovered. When I complained, he would accuse me of being selfish and say “but if you are covered, they won’t touch the floor on my [his] side of the bed!” He actually thought it more important that 3 feet of blanket hang over the side of the bed to touch the floor than that I had covers in the middle of winter.

        Finally, we “compromised” by having separate quilts on each side of the bed. [Read: I spat the dummy and demanded a separate quilt of my own.]

        The blankets now look like a complete metaphor for our failing marriage. Everything had to be about him and his perceptions, with no space or care for me unless I just ignored him and made a separate life/just did everything for me by myself.

        1. That sounds SO familiar! I live with that, including that when we (I) got separate covers, he still stole mine. Unfortunately, I’m in a (very unusual) situation where there would be major legal problems with leaving that I and my lawyers have not yet been able to work through. (Please don’t argue – I’m in touch with lawyers; I understand the situation WAY too well – well enough to understand that leaving right now really isn’t an option. We’re working on figuring out how to make it one.)

          I did decide that since I am now the major breadwinner, I could sleep in another room. Very small bed, but I can now sleep! He doesn’t like it, but he could choose to make it possible for me to leave if he hates it enough.

        2. I have a story like this about my brother-in-law and his wife! They were unable to agree on a format for their wedding album (he wanted a formal album and she wanted a collage, IIRC), so they got two copies of all the pictures and each had their own copy.

          The plant that I got at their wedding lasted longer than the marriage did, and I can’t keep a plant alive to save my life. At least they didn’t have to argue about who got to keep the wedding album!

    3. oh wow. yeah.

      my first Darth Vader Ex (I like to think, having had two, I’m done and not going to have any more) had Control Issues (don’t they all?), and among other things insisted on handling all the money stuff himself. like, I gave my paycheck to him to pay rent and bills with. to his credit, he actually paid rent and bills. on the other hand, anything that he didn’t deem “necessary” meant a power struggle. which is why spending $50 for FOUR motorcycles, NONE of which had all the parts to actually work, and which had to be hauled into the shed in the backyard for him to “eventually” work on “fixing up” was “necessary,” while me getting a new pair of shoes because the ones I wore (my only pair of shoes) had actual holes in the bottom was “not necessary.” needless to say, the motorcycles were never touched again. I think a friend took me to a shoe store to get me a new pair of shoes.

      he broke up with me, rather than the other way around–in front of a half-dozen friends, no less. I was *shattered*–for about five minutes. then I started making a list of all the things I could do now that I was *free*. he was quite annoyed at how happy I was by the time we left the bar. fortunately, he’d broken up with me so he could date another girl, so there was no clinging or stalking–I just left, and was free, and it was SO MUCH BETTER.

      LW, I can promise you… no matter how hard it is to leave, once the leaving has been done, the freedom is beautiful, delicious, a joy that colors your entire life, even the sadness of leaving.

      1. My happy ending began with YEARS of sweet, sweet solitary living in between Current Partner and Towel Guy with no committed romantic attachments. You’re right; freedom *is* delicious and it’s a great opportunity to learn who you are, as well as what your needs and wants ACTUALLY are without having them colored by some manipulative towel-denying douche, or even just a partner or situation that wasn’t the right fit. My happy ending began when I cut and ran from Towel Guy, and it’s going to continue for the rest of my life, even if things don’t work out with CP.

        Longtime friends who knew me when I was with Towel Guy all said variations on the same thing when I started dating Current Partner: “You just seem so much more *YOU* than you ever did in your previous relationship.” I’ll say, CP makes it SO EASY to be myself, but I didn’t actually find out who that person was until I was free.

      2. My ex and I “split” the bills. As in, I paid for internet and rent came out of my account, and he paid for utilities. But he never told me how much utilities were, or when the bills came in. Never could find them when I wanted to look at them, made me feel weird for wanting to see the bills (“Don’t you trust me?”). Because he was paying “the bills”, he would tell me that it was only fair for me to pay for groceries… (Even though he still had money to buy his comics, his scotch, his craft beers. Oh wait, I paid for his comic collection because it was more convenient for me to pick them up).

        Anyway. Eventually I twigged that it was not a nice and even financial divide -__-

        1. My husband was happy to give me money for the bills and utilities…..but, I had to ask for the money. “Of course I will give you money when you need it!”
          But, I had to ask. Asking for things has always been hard and why didn’t we set up a split or shared account? Because that was too much trouble, I guess?
          I don’t recommend doing it the way we did, because what actually occurred was that I spent my money on bills, and agonized over asking for money(asking for money is failure! Asking for anything is hard! Never mind that this was the agreement). Meanwhile, money built up in his account till it hit ten thousand, and then it burned a hole in his pocket till he spent it. On toys(the boxing dummy, the rowing machine, anything else that he used a couple times and then gathered dust).
          In hindsight, putting money from both incomes into a household account for bills, and then splitting off an agreed amount into separate accounts for each of us to spend seems like it would have been a far better plan.

          1. Same! I wanted to set up a shared account and both put in the same amount towards bills (since we were earning the same at the time). But he didn’t want to, and never really explained why. But he would avoid eye contact and literally leave the room when I brought it up, and generally the conversation was Too Hard. And when I did things like pick up his comics or pay for his dinner etc, of course he would do the same for me (never did), of course he would pay me back (never did, made it awkward whenever I asked, never had cash to pay me back, never remembered to transfer money to my account, got weird when I asked him to do it already, didn’t I trust him to pay me back??)

            Meanwhile he had plenty of expensive hobbies, and expensive toys that collected dust. Siiiiigh.

          2. Ok I mean, this wasn’t a great idea when I was picturing you as a one-income family, because no one wants to have to ask for money, but at least understandable. BUT YOU WERE MAKING YOUR OWN INCOME AND HE MADE YOU ASK FOR IT?! That’s shitty!

        2. I was in a poly relationship several years ago, none of us were great with money. However, one of my partners got deeply invested in the idea that i was *awful* with money–a terrible decision maker who frittered away rent money on unnecessary things and the reason we fell behind on the bills every few months. (A lot of this was said to friends behind my back.)

          I suggested various straighforward systems for managing our bills, and this partner shot them all down. Then they came up with their own, which, while ridiculously complex, was a fair distribution of expenses. We all agreed and implemented it right away.

          Imagine my surprise when, after paying my part of the new system, I had $500 left a month instead of being paycheck-to-paycheck!

    4. I dated a guy like that – I didn’t dress up enough, he hated the way my apartment was decorated etc. Seriously, if I guy isn’t thrilled to be invited over at all enough to refrain from my commenting on your pedestrian DVD collection than he’s so not worth it.

    5. I just have to re-quote the beautifulest part of your telling of this story:

      ” ME ME ME! ”

      so sweet and so funny. I love happy endings 🙂

      1. The years in between Towel Guy and Current Partner were ones where I lived blissfully alone, dated casually, and relished being able to come home and have ALL the pillows and towels to myself.

        Current Partner’s attitude towards having me over and making me feel welcome was such a culture shock for me – it took longer than I care to admit for me to realize that Towel Guy was a RAGING DOUCHECANOE about just about everything under the sun, and that any self respecting suitor worth their salt was going to give me an effing towel and not make a scene over it. Current Partner is for sure a keeper, not just because of his proclivity for clean towels and sharing.

    6. I love this story. It is also a really great reminder of the thoughtful things my partner does that show he cares about me but are just so mundane. I’m so glad you met Ikea Pillow Man!

      1. Funny story – when I first started dating Ikea Pillow Man, I ran in the other direction because I interpreted his willingness to go out of his way and be thoughtful as a sign that he was a Stage 5 Clinger. I look back now and want to tell my younger self, “No, you dolt. This is what normal people do when they care about you and want you to feel comfortable/welcome.”

    7. This is a good measure, I think. If he can’t respect your THINGS, how’s he gonna respect YOU? It’s the same thing, basically!

      1. Oh yes. I had a relationship when I was in grad school with a Darth who was emotionally but not physically abusive. I fell into the “Oh, but relationships are work. They’re hard sometimes!” trap and convinced myself that the abuse wasn’t abuse, even though “hard sometimes” included arguments with him looming over me or blocking my path and screaming while I sobbed so hard I couldn’t form words. (Pro-tip: No relationship should EVER be that hard.)

        It finally clicked that this was an abusive relationship when I came home one day and he had smashed a several of the figurines I had collected. When I noticed they weren’t on their shelf, I though maybe they had fallen, but the pieces were all across the room. I stood there staring a piece of a broken figurine in my hand for several minutes while my brain felt numb and fuzzy. And then I said out loud, “I’m next.”

        1. I gasped at reading your last part.

          My god, that’s “The Gift of Fear” illustrated.

          1. Yep–though this happened about 2 years before I read the book for the first time.

    8. Shit, I think I’m dating a Towel Girl…

      She has a whole host of towels, but after a shower she drops them in a heap on the (filthy) floor, so they can’t even be re-used. After so much annoyance and me asking for a clean towel Every Single Time, I brought one of my own over, and hung it out in the bathroom. Of course, the next time I was there it was in a heap on the filthy floor. Then her housemate kindly lent me one of his two towels (yes, he only has two, for poverty reasons), and I used that one twice before it disappeared – into a heap on gf’s dirty floor.

      I really don’t know what to do. Who breaks up over towels? Then again, who wants to be in a relationship where one of the people involved can’t do basic things like that?

      1. You don’t break up over the towels.

        You break up over what the towels represent. They’re the symptom, not the disease.

      2. @lilitu: is it the towels or the disrespect implied?
        If someone cares so little for your feelings and comfort that they cannot take the effort to hang up a towel, it’s not towels that are the problem.

        1. I think if there was disrespect involved (rather than some very deep-seated blocks about household stuff because of past abuse), I would be out of the relationship in no time. But she is caring in many other ways, just not when it comes to, you know, running your household like a thoughtful adult..

          1. “But other than *that*, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

            1) Who breaks up over towels? Lots of people. There’s no Relationship Permission Board that you have to apply to in order to obtain permission to break up with somebody, and permits are only granted if you have a good-enough reason.

            2) Having massive and understandable issues about household stuff does not justify your GF treating *you* with disrespect. It’s not just that her own towels are on a heap on the floor.

          2. Issues relating to past abuse are an explanation for her current behavior, but they’re not an excuse. It’s great to be understanding of issues relating to abuse, but it also can’t be turned into a reason to let yourself be treated badly because they have issues they’re not dealing with.

            In other words: it’s genuinely fine that she has issues, and understandable, and sad, but none of those reasons mean that your actual physical needs now don’t matter.

          3. If her “blocks” are bigger than her affection/respect for you, it’s on her to decide if she’s going to try to shift the balance, and all you can do is try to compromise (a hamper? she agrees to not use your towel which hangs on its own hook untouched except by you? …?) and if that doesn’t work, decide if you can live with it.

      3. Um, you break up over towels if the issue is that your partner cannot be inconvenienced to make sure you have a clean fucking towel. If they’re not willing to put themselves out enough to provide you with something so little and paltry, then you get to break up with them for it. You didn’t break up because you wanted a towel, you broke up because she couldn’t be bothered to make sure you have one.

      4. You’re not required to have a *good enough* reason, or indeed any reason at all, to break up with somebody. It is entirely your prerogative to break up at any time. What’s more, if you’re not happy in the relationship, then not only is that person not the right partner for you – you’re also not the right partner for them. Breaking up with them isn’t a punishment; it’s freeing both of you up to pursue better-matched partners or have more time to yourself to spend enjoyably 🙂

      5. Kind of in the way that it’s not just about the pot roast being burned, it’s not just about the towel.

        I am a messy, cluttery person and my towels sort of live all over the place (I have a tendency to go to sleep wrapped up in them) but I launder them constantly and there are always clean, fresh towels for guests, because I care about the comfort of my guests.

        I personally think it is a little ridiculous that you have to bring your own towel, and her treatment of her roommate’s towel kind of says, to me at least, that she has very little respect for other’s people’s belongings.

        Is she otherwise a kind and caring person? Maybe it’s fine, but I think if you are already having little alarm bells going off, that is not a good sign.

      6. Do you want to spend the rest of your life/the next few years/live with someone who stores their towels on the floor, doesn’t wash them regularly, and has a filthy floor at that? People can live like that, of course, and whatever, it’s your life. My bathroom floor could be cleaner, because spoons/waiting for people to paint the bathroom wall and not entirely sure if there’d be plaster dust everywhere like when they replaced the fan.

        But do YOU want to?

        If you don’t want to live like this, break up over towels. It’s better to break up over towels than something that seriously hurts you, but has the same things at its base as the towels.

        1. I remember with one ex I had, in the bathroom behind the door was a clump of dog hair from his previous roommate’s pet. The roommate who had moved out before we even got together.

          It stayed there all three years I dated him. As far as I know it’s still there.

          Love makes fools of us all.

      7. Put it this way: I am also not a clean and tidy person. I have adapted some coping skills so that the crazy disorganization stays in my space, not the common areas of my house. One of these coping skills is that I basically wander through the room, let’s say the kitchen, and pick one thing to put in its rightful place. Then another thing. Then another. Yes, it does mean that I might make six trips to the recycling bin, or that half an hour goes by between taking out the garbage and putting a new garbage bag in. My ex-partner, in turn, is the kind of guy who’ll make a plan for how he’s going to put his shoes on, and can never just sit back and let someone else do something, he always had to be involved. Basically it was a recipe for crazy-making: I could have “just cleaned more efficiently”, or he could have “just not cared how I did it” (or “just not been in the room”), but both those things were equally impossible for us.
        That’s not why we broke up, in the end, but it was kind of symptomatic. Was one of us wrong? Maybe, who cares? It wasn’t a hill we wanted to die on. The point is that now I’m with someone who doesn’t mind. The ex-partner doesn’t have to say, “Why don’t you just put all the dishes in the dishwasher at the same time?!” and I don’t have to listen to him saying it.

      8. If you have had the conversation where you’re like “this is not acceptable because I NEED A CLEAN TOWEL” and she doesn’t care, yeah, it’s probably time to break up–but not because of the towel, because she *doesn’t care* that you need a towel.

      9. As Drew says, the towel is a symptom.

        As I see it, it works [*] like this:

        If you’re living alone, you deserve to live in a clean (by your standards), tidy (ditto), comfortable home. This sometimes means you need to kick yourself a little TO do things like washing dishes or laundry; but you deserve it. Look after yourself.

        If you’re living with housemates, you still deserve all of the above, but now you also take care of your housemates’ preferences in shared spaces. There will be negotiations, but the idea is that nobody should be unhappy in their own home, so you make compromises.

        If you’re a guest, or having a guest, you want to be more accommodating, because it’s for a short time and you can go back to your comfortable habits later.

        If you’re living – however part-time – with a partner, you deserve all of the things above _plus_ you’re now trying to find common ground. And that means that if neither of you cares about something it means that you adopt whatever works; but if one of you *is* disturbed by something, you look until they no longer are, because nobody ought to be distressed by their partner’s habits and by their common lifestyle. If she wants to drop her towels on the floor if you’re not there, that’s her prerogative. If she wants to drop her towel on the floor while you’re there, it’s up to you to negotiate how disturbing you find that. But your towel – your glorious, freshly-washed towel – should be hanging ready for you whenever you come and be washed and folded and stacked away until your next visit. At least, that’s what I do, because I would want you to feel happy when you come to visit me, not resentful.

        And if you plan to live together with someone… then an acceptable compromise is to throw the towel on the (clean) floor after you’re done and pick it up later. If it’s more important to someone to not clean their floor and not wash their towels than to make sure you’re comfortable, then… well, I guess you have an answer there.

        [*] Often it doesn’t. And then you have a problem. See ‘priorities’ above.

    9. I’ve been through something eerily similar! Many years ago I was in a long-distance relationship with someone who would NEVER give me a clean towel to dry my face on when I stayed at his place – I just had to use the same towel he’d been using to dry his hands and face for the past week or however long, which was kept in a windowless bathroom. The towel was always a bit damp and grubby, and by the end of the weekend my face would be covered in spots. Then I’d go home, and my skin would clear up in a few days, then I’d visit again and hey presto, face covered in spots again. I used my words and asked directly for a clean towel a couple of times, but he would just say “No, you can use that one.” Splitting up with him was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Now I’m wondering if the towel thing is a “thing” among asshats!

  16. There is a feeling of relief when finally walking away and staying that way. The heaviness from carrying all of those “what ifs” and dread for the unknown or “what happens next/what will be the trigger today?” will be much less or not quite as scary. Energy levels will return to where they were or may even increase a bit, from not having to navigate any obstacles put in your path to care for yourself and health and/or having to negotiate even the smallest needs and have them met. The world will seem different and maybe a little bit brighter as the parts of you that were torn down or hidden away regenerate and come out of hiding.

    Yes, it will hurt. Grief hurts. Grief is also our friend, if we let it.

    There is a quote, which is resonating with me lately, and I think this may apply here:

    “There are things that cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

    [CW: Brief dicussion of DV/IPV]

    In the last ten years, I have left two middle-aged, narcissistic, and abusive men.

    The first one put me in the hospital; our relationship only worked if I was the Eternal Patient and he could publicly play the part of Generous & Benevolent Rescuer. And guess what happened when I finally found treatment and a treatment team who helped me find my way to health and/or at least helped to improve my quality of life? Guess what happened when I started seeing a therapist, started working through My Stuff, and establishing boundaries, limits, and expectations?

    The second one “left” because he was nearing one of those milestone birthdays and realized “time was ticking” and it was “do or die” time when it came to pursuing a dream of his. He wasn’t getting any younger, you see, and his dream is well known for being ageist and very youth oriented. And I was holding him back because I was always chiming in with Reality (i.e. Maybe you shouldn’t blow off the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities folks give you?), Putting So Many Demands on His Time, and Dealing with My Disabilities Is Such a Downer and Triggering for Him.

    In both cases, I didn’t want to be “The Bad Guy”. I eventually embraced that I would be according to these people and their lackeys no matter what I did–and I did it anyway. That Reddit thread posted further up perfectly illustrates the weird mind trips abusers go through to see (i.e. delude) themselves as victims or as “nice people”, when really they aren’t. There is nothing you or I or anyone can do to have these kinds of people come to the realization that maybe they aren’t very nice (or maybe they’re kind of a jerk) on their own.

    And sometimes this is also part of the grief and especially when leaving an unhealthy or destructive situation; that there are people that we love who don’t love us or can’t love us and there is nothing we can do to fix that. And their inability to love us Isn’t Our Fault.

    Your current beau/belle doesn’t love you like you need or can’t and It Isn’t Your Fault.

    And maybe, just maybe, it is time to find someone who can. Because you are awesome. Because you are not your illness or disability. Because you are more resilient than you think.

  17. It took me six months to leave my everything but physically (until the very, bitter end) abusive ex. I would fall asleep at night imagining a different bed, where I would wake up alone, with a life that belonged to me again. The last six months were the worst, as I began to feel my own agency and make (secret) plans to leave. My concrete advice – read a lot of writing by people in the same situation. Read about emotional abuse and narcissists (or any stories that ring true to you). Getting to a place where it wasn’t all in my head, where there was name for the relationship I’d been in, was really important. My ex groomed me for many years to assume that everything I thought and felt was wrong, and it took me six months of reading horror stories that sounded *exactly* like my relationship to finally realize that I wasn’t wrong after all. When you’re ready, talk to someone you trust about the relationship. I felt sooo much better once I began opening up to friends and family, for whom I’d previously put on the facade of “everything’s great! All of my thoughts, feelings, interests, hopes, and aspirations just coincidentally happen to line up with those of my ex!” I have a truly amazing support system and they were all invariably supportive and NONE of them questioned my story. One of my dear friends (to whom I am forever indebted) met me the day I left, bought me a beer, and gave me a place to stay for a few weeks. She also came back with me when I got my stuff and ran interference so I felt safe. I also started seeing a therapist, which was also immensely helpful in validating my experiences and my desire to leave. While I was planning all of this, I performed to my ex that everything was fine. This was very difficult but I think necessary – when I did finally leave, he freaked out, physically lashing out for the first time and ramping up the emotional manipulation (think self harm). I’m so glad I didn’t have to deal with that for months; I might have been too scared to actually leave. I also stopped caring about the practical fallout – we weren’t married and not too much financially entwined (although he was financially dependent on me, we didn’t have joint checking accounts or loans or anything like that) so in some respects it was easier, but still. I stopped caring about where I was going to live, or whether he would trash my stuff, or what it might look like to our mutual friends. I just left. That first week was brutal, but it eventually got infinitely better. Last word of advice – he tried to manipulate me into coming back, and I almost did. I still look back on that as a near miss! I cannot say enough how much better you’re feel when you leave. It is now almost four years later and I still feel as if a huge boulder has been moved from my path – I have so much more clarity about everything and to say I am much happier is an understatement. This morning I woke up in my bed, alone, and am about to go to work at a job I love doing something I care about. This is a cheesy thing to say, but I feel like my life with my ex was in black and white and the last four years have been filling in the colors again. It is painful to see how much I lost, sacrificed, and pretended I didn’t need during that relationship, but amazing to look back on the work I’ve done to rebuilt my life afterward. Best of luck to you – stay strong!

    1. “I feel like my life with my ex was in black and white and the last four years have been filling in the colors again.”

      That’s not cheesy, that’s fucking beautiful. Congratulations!

  18. I walked away from a 22 year marriage a little over 4 weeks ago. It took me 3 years to get to the point where I was ready to leave. And another year to plan my exit.

    My youngest child, still under 18, came with me. The adult child is away at college working an internship. It was a very painful process emotionally, I had to grieve silently and quietly for a relationship that was gone and a husband who did not realize and more importantly did not care, because he has other priorities. It was a process of information gathering and very carefully planning. A slow, one step at a time process. My situation was complicated by children and I had to suffer the agony of trying to decide the best course of action for them, slowly and carefully. Allowing myself to think, research, read and then decide.

    It was worth it. So worth it. I was slowly dying emotionally.

    Now I know I can heal and create a peaceful life for myself.

    It took me 4 years but I needed 4 years. I do not regret the 4 years.

    1. Oh, other anon, you could be telling my story, except it was a 26 year marriage, 2 under 18’s (3rd older kid has also moved out) and it was 3 1/2 weeks ago.

      All the Jedi hugs, if you want them.

  19. I also just wanted to say: my spouse is not a Horrible Person or anything. In many ways he is kind and wonderful. Where I have problems: He has never really been gainfully employed. He’s always been underemployed, unemployed, ran two unsuccessful businesses (really refused to learn how to run one properly), sabotaged jobs and I have been the Financially Responsible One for nearly 20 years now. He’ll promise to get a job and then never make any moves. If I push him, it turns into an argument, or someone I’m not helping him enough to find one. I’ve told him I’m not a job counselor. In fact, HE did my resume so he’s perfectly capable of doing his own. I asked him to write down some stuff for a resume–he never followed through. Then there’s the hoarding. He’s always going to spring clean, or fall clean, or “gonna take care of that stuff.” It’s so sad, because he’s a bright, intelligent person with a lot of problems. It’s hard for me to think of leaving, for various reasons. Like I keep hoping there will be a miracle and he’ll change. He’ll wake up one day and realize he’s not treating me very nicely in those respects.
    I also know he’ll NEVER accept the “because I want to” reason for leaving. One of the most annoying things during an argument is that when I try to explain my position,he’ll say “but you’re not telling me anything” or “that can’t be the real reason.” We can argue in circles for hours…

    1. The thing is, he does not have to accept the reason. You cannot expect a breakupee do accept a reason, and make the breaking up conditional on that acceptance. If you do, that is the surest way to make sure it never comes.

      People do not have to agree to being broken up with. Breakups do not need consensus of everybody involved to happen or “be real” or “count”. One person, one person alone is enough to make that decision.

    2. He’s NEVER going to change. You’ve been waiting two decades for him to change, and he’s NEVER going to change.

      My late husband was a lovely human being: wise, kind, considerate, loving, intelligent, creative, artistic. He gave third chances to people who had never gotten a single chance from anyone else. He gave freely of himself to everything and everyone that caught his interest.

      He was a lovely human being to everyone but me. It came on slowly, over years. It became markedly worse after a medical crisis that became disabling for him. To me, he was short-tempered, angry, casually emotionally abusive. He resented my ambitions, my education, my every success, no matter how small. He resented my friends and subtly maneuvered until I had very few left. His friends never liked me, and he never defended me against them–instead, how could I not see it from their side? Why was I so mean and self-centered? He was a hoarder, and after a few years he stopped making any attempt to hide it, just raged at me when I asked him to help me clean, was outraged that he should be expected to help with the upkeep of our home and pets in any way. He loved me so tightly, with such passionate constriction, that in the end, I slipped through his fingers as they clutched at me. I was in the process of realizing I needed to leave the relationship when he died.

      He was a really wonderful, extraordinary human being, and he meant the world to a lot of people, but I should never have started dating him, or I should have left six weeks in when he said he loved me, or after it was obvious he’d never make any effort whatsoever to make me comfortable. Or at any other point along the way. But I didn’t, because he was a wonderful person, and I had hope for many years that he would change.

      And he did, I guess. He got worse over time. But never better.

      1. I’m sorry for what you went through, and that your husband died. Such a sad story. It sounds a bit like the “shoemaker’s children.”
        My husband does take care of pets, cooking, laundry, auto stuff, etc. But he gets really uptight if I try to throw things out. He is kind to me in many ways. I can’t say that he isn’t. I just wish these two things would change. Probably because of my family of origin, I got hooked into a relationship w/him far too quickly. Nothing I ever did was good enough when I was growing up. On the bright side here, he does support my hobbies, likes my friends and family (sometimes more than I do) and helped me get through college. I have to admit to being somewhat abusive to him. I’m considering therapy because of my unhappiness, which I can’t blame entirely on him. At least you tried to clean your house. I haven’t bothered in years…
        Not that any of this is an excuse for things he does wrong.
        Wow, if I’d had any idea relationships could be so complicated, I think I would have never dated anyone. In fact, that is how I feel now: I don’t care if I ever have another romantic relationship again. Good as the best can be, they still have their downsides.

        1. I gave up trying to clean after a few years. The house was a wreck, and he told me it was my fault because I wasn’t making an effort. If I tried hard enough, I could compensate for his unwillingness to throw anything away/pick anything up, etc. After a while, I was so tired of the endless struggle that I just lived with the mess and tried to keep it from getting worse. I started by sacrificing the fronts where I knew any effort was doomed in an effort to keep fighting the war at all, but in the end I was quite simply worn down by the endless, hopeless struggle to wrest a little order out of the chaos. Does that sound at all familiar?

          I really think that you should find a therapist, and if you can, find someone who has a lot of experience dealing with the family of people with OCD hoarding. And if they start saying things like “you should work harder” or “you should be cleaner to be a good example”, find a different therapist.

          It concerns me that you say “I am somewhat abusive to him”, because I usually hear that from women (and girls) in relationships with men who *are* abusing them but have convinced their victim that she is the abusive one in the situation. Often for having boundaries or needs or preferences.

          1. I do have a pen pal who, when I mentioned I have a lot of craft supplies, said, “Is it possible your husband doesn’t take your requests to clean up seriously, because you are a bit of a hoarder too?” This really pissed me off. Also, I can’t tell you how many books say that I should be setting an example (because of course, once the hoarder sees it, this will make them change). I’m talking a LOT of books. So I did blame myself for a long time. But not now.

            The truth is: I am abusive, and not because of him telling me so. I scream, name call, have tried to throw him out on the spur of the moment, threatened to cut him off w/o a cent. I have threatened self-harm. I think many of these were on the list the Captain linked to.

            I was abused as a child; so was he. Sometimes I wonder if there is ever any hope for two people who are survivors of abuse.

            I am looking for a therapist. Health insurance and co-payments are an issue, so I’m trying to find the best I can for the money I can afford.

          2. Those books are liars. Man I’m tired of people telling hoarder family members/loved ones that if they “set a better example” or “tried harder” the hoarder wouldn’t hoard.

            I find all of your verbiage around abusive behaviour concerning. If this is what is happening, I think you should be prioritizing your search for a therapist, but maybe also you should be thinking about living separately until you can be good co-habitants to one another.

            As it happens, I am a survivor of childhood abuse, and it is absolutely not our “destiny” as survivors to be abusive.

          3. Ran out of nesting!

            strangerontheearth, particularly in the cases of verbal and/or emotional abuse, it is the response (feelings and behaviour) of the target that really defines whether it is abusive or not. If the behaviour does not cause fear in the other person, it isn’t abusive although it may be poor or impulsive behaviour that you’d rather not do when you are out of the moment. For example: a couple has a disagreement and it turns into a screaming match complete with cussing, name calling and verbal threats to break up. It’s not nice behaviour but is it abusive? We don’t know until we know what effect it has on the two individuals in the relationship. For one couple, it may not cause any anxiety, fear or a desire to avoid disagreements on either side–for that couple, it’s not abusive. For a different hypothetical couple, it is abusive: one partner knows that the other partner feels intimidated and anxious when voices are raised, etc, and deliberately chooses to use those tactics to get their own way.

            Emotional and verbal abusers are choosing to make their partners feel anxious and afraid in order to control the target. They have a fundamental assumption that it is okay for them to use anxiety and fear to get what they want.

            Is it possible that your yelling, name calling, threats to kick him out or self harm are expressions of your own frustration that don’t have much or any effect on your husband? I get that you don’t want to do such things but if they don’t cause anxiety or fear in your husband and he doesn’t change his behaviour to avoid those responses, they could just be unpleasant behaviour. If this is the case, then you do need better coping skills but you’re not abusive.

            As for whether there is hope for people who were abused as children, I believe there is because of my own life situation. My husband was abused by his father growing up; I did not come from an abusive family but my parents were an interracial couple back in the 1950s and people outside of my family were abusive towards us three interracial kids (up to and including death threats and arson of our house while it was under construction). Humans have a whole range of responses to any given situation and there are very few situations that have a universal effect on everyone, so coming from an abusive background is a cause for concern but not an absolute sentence of doom.

            Of the two of us, my husband is definitely much more emotionally stable and never once in over 22 years together has he ever done anything that caused me a moment of anxiety or fear.
            He says the same of me. We don’t have a perfectly peaceful relationship (who does?) but we’re both very happy together and neither of us is anxious about, afraid or or feels like we’re walking on eggshells around the other. What anxiety there is in the relationship is worry about each other’s state of health (both of us have chronic health issues) but being in poor health is not something either of us does to influence the behaviour of the other! It’s just something that happened while we were busy with other plans.

          4. I just wanted to say the same as strangerontheearth below – I am abusive, too. I grew up in a family where everything was apparently OK to outsiders, because appearances were the most-important-thing-ever, but everyone used emotional and physical abuse. When I read the book “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft, the part where it describes some of the tactics and things abusers do, I felt like the author was talking about me. I mimicked to mock, insulted, manipulated, broke things on a fit of rage, and even resorted to physical violence. Some of those were also done to me – but that doesn’t take away my responsibility.

            One of the hardest things for me to realize and accept, even nowadays, is that people doesn’t have to put up with the things I did/do to them. Besides feeling entitled and angry, I always think, “if I endured it, why can’t they? It’s not such a big deal.” But it is. You don’t have to endure anything that harms you or makes you unhappy. Still trying to learn that.

        2. All they ways in which he supports you do not make up for the fact that you are miserable with him. A person can be a very good person and still not be a good fit for you. I have an ex that is a wonderful person but we do not fit together well. I had a fling with someone who never would have been a good fit and he is now with someone perfectly suited to him. If you feel claustrophobic in your own home, if you feel uninspired to clean and mean to him out of a place of resentment and hopelessness then you could re-frame it as the “nicest thing you could do FOR HIM.” I broke up with an ex because I knew I resented him and he deserved someone who loved him for who he was. Jedi Hugs if you want them.

          Also, I highly recommend therapy…it has saved my life.

        3. I have to admit to being somewhat abusive to him.

          If you need another reason to get out of this relationship, this is a prime candidate. Get out, and be in a position where you cannot be abusive towards him. Find a therapist to work through your issues so you can be kind and caring to yourself and to others.

          When I was in an abusive relationship (in retrospect, I’m calling it that. At the time, I would not have done, because it ‘wasn’t bad enough’) I became the sample child for passive-agressive behaviour. It was all I had left to defend myself, and I did not like the person I was becoming. After I left, I left the behaviour behind.

          I’m not trying to trivialise abusive behaviour, but sometimes it springs from personality traits (the desire to dominate others etc), and sometimes it’s a reaction to your environment and to other people pushing your buttons. People at the end of their tether sometimes do things they wouldn’t normally. Either way, it’s your responsibility to remove yourself from the situation and tackle the behaviour; for your sake as well as his.

          The dynamic between you isn’t going to change. He’s not going to change, at least not until he wants to, and if he’s not made a creditable effort to work on his problems for the past twenty years then you don’t want to hang around and wait. And even if, on the day after you’ve told him you’re leaving, you’re coming home to a half-filled skip and his proud assurances of how much work he’d already done, you’re under no obligation to say anything other than ‘that’s nice for you, good luck with that.’

          I’m wishing you all the best. You have a hard road ahead, but you can do it.

    3. You already know he won’t change. He will never accept any reason you give him. Because why should he?

      But you deserve a pleasant life. In a pleasant place.

    4. As others have said, he doesn’t have to “accept” your reason.

      Moreover, you don’t owe him an explanation. “Reasons are for reasonable people,” a wise person said.
      Arguing over your “reasons” is his way of trying to control the outcome. He’s trying to convince you your reason isn’t “good enough” so you’ll stay.
      By getting you to argue with him about your reasons, he’s also gaslighting you into thinking he has some say in the matter. He doesn’t. A breakup is a unilateral decision: he doesn’t have a vote in the matter.

      You want it. That’s all that’s necessary. His unwillingness to “accept” it is irrelevant. If forty years from now he’s crying in his beer that you left him for no good reason, he can have “died of a broken heart after she left me for no good reason” engraved on his tombstone, and it won’t change the fact that the only reason you need is that you want to.

    5. Have you ever tried that trick of imagining your friend telling you about some aspect of their life, using your data? That sounds clunky; what I’m suggesting is try reading the description that you gave us, as if it’s a friend of yours describing their SO. What are your thoughts? What would a pie chart of the “Kind and wonderful” person’s attributes break down as?
      This is the method I used on myself when I was teaching myself how to be objective, and I was thrilled when it worked. It felt like a miracle. Now I can shift to that space at will.

    6. A person can have good, redeeming qualities and still not be the right person for you if they also have deal-breaker qualities. And they can also have NO deal-breaker qualities and still not be the right person. Bully for him for being kind and wonderful. But if after 20 years he hasn’t figured out how to market himself and develop what people in my field call “employability skills” then you don’t need that kind of stress or anxiety. His window of opportunity to ever be financially stable for the long term, is closing fast, because he’s wasted two decades. Think of YOUR OWN financial and emotional well-being. you don’t have a partner. You have a child. The business world doesn’t see a middle-aged person with arrested development as someone with untapped potential. They will see him as someone who never grew up.

      If he is sick, does he expect you to be the doctor? Probably not. So he needs to seek out professional help for his work issues. If he really wanted to work, there are job counselors, temporary/contract labor offices, and places to train or retrain for employment. He’s had 20 years to do this.

      Save yourself. PLEASE. Sincerely, Previously Married to A Guy Like Him for Six Years

    7. @strangerontheearth, one of the things that finally prompted me to leave was when I explained to my kid’s therapist that my husband was really a good guy at heart and “if only I could get him to see that he was hurting us, he would not want to”, she said bluntly “How long have you been trying?”

      My answer: “years”

      I realised that husband was never going to “see”. He didn’t want to. I already knew deep down that he was emotionally abusive, but was not wanting to act on the knowledge (fear, love etc). Here was a virtual stranger able to see completely and call me on my desire to see the best, and ignore the truth.

      That combined with the Sheelzebub principle and some other stuff crystallised the decision that had been hovering for years. We moved out within a few weeks, after husband utterly refused to consider counselling.

  20. The deciding factor for me was, cheesy as it sounds, that my dad asked for his daughter back. Not in a creepy way, but just wanted to see the person whom enjoyed their work and friendships and life and love back. I called him back that evening and we made arrangements to get me out of there in two weeks time from that phone call.

    Now, in my case, the ex-boyfriend and I were living together in an apartment. His name was nowhere on the lease and there were no financial or legal entanglements or children, so I could well have done what the earlier reddit conversation did. I chose to let the ex know about it so he could get out before I moved. The abuse from this manipulator had been emotional and slightly verbal. It escalated dang quick to yelling verbal with physical threats. I let him know in no uncertain terms that I would call the police. Some thought on his end and his hesitation about escalating further sealed my exit. He actually left a few days before I did.

    I got really lucky, not only for listening to my family, but also that he chose not to harm me physically in the week and a half of time that remained until he moved out. It is a horrible experience, coming home all tense and sleeping physically next to a man whom could harm you, your property, or your pets at any time if he chose.

    Three years on, and I have no regrets about leaving. I worked on myself, and have a wonderful job and good friends again in a healthy environment. Everyone who is at least a friend makes me one of their many priorities.

  21. One day, about a year after my divorce was final, I was very tired and needed to make food. But I only had a little bit of energy and I didn’t want to use it all up. Then I realized that I could use it up. I was in a safe place with safe people. If there was an unexpected problem, they would even help me solve it. They wouldn’t berate me. They wouldn’t create a problem specifically _because_ I was all out of energy and an excellent target. My energy was all mine again, to use to take care of myself.
    LW, I wish you this same safe, warm place. A place where you get to take care of your self, instead of defending yourself.

    1. Reading this made me cry out loud. I am so, so glad you found a place where you felt safe to run out of energy. All the jedi hugs if you’d like them.

  22. Oh and how I built my bridge? I was already very sad in my marriage and my ex and I were in counseling. One day he just started ranting at me in the therapists’ office, the way he did at me at home, then he turned his bile on our therapist. After he left, she told me “This is why you cry all the time, you’re being abused”. That was when I started planning to leave him, when I read “Why Does He Do That?”, when I realized I was dying inside and possibly in physical danger. Luckily, I had already been reading Captain Awkward for a while (And feeling a bit ghoulish with how absorbing I found the letters from abused people. Now I know they were telling me the story of my life and my escape.) I assembled my Team Me; therapist, abuse counselor, family, friends, boss…

    I remembered this, because your words
    “He is quick to criticize me, calling me awful names. (How did I get to a point where that isn’t something that sends me running to the hills?) When he gets worked up about explaining or “discussing” something, he will keep me up until 3am – when we already agree. Worse, he’s upset at me for “not being engaged”. I do not function without sleep, and my medical condition is exacerbated by stress like whoa.”
    reminded me of my ex.
    It was the shock of it happening in front of a witness, having him spew his vitriol at someone else, having someone else confirm my reality, that changed it for me. Can you imagine how that would feel? That killed my love for my ex, right there.

    If you are struggling with your emotions, think of how he treats you. You may be used to it for yourself, but maybe you can see how wrong it is if you imagine him treating your loved ones like that. I think everyone has good traits, I’m sure your husband has many good traits. The thing is you deserve to be treated well _all_ the time. Even when people are upset with you, even when you mess up, you deserve kindness, compassion, respect. People who do not give that to you are telling you that they are unsafe – believe them.

  23. I was unhappy in my relationship of 6 years for at least the past 3 years. About 2 years ago, I considered cheating on him in order to end the relationship because at the time I did not have the strength to do it on my own. But I couldn’t do it because I’m not a cheater, so I started therapy hoping to fix our relationship by fixing me. Over the past 2 years, I started to realize that I was not the problem – he and his behavior were. I also realized that he was never going to change because nothing I said or did ever got him to change (in a meaningful way in the long term anyway).

    For about a month before I finally dumped him, I found myself crying frequently and withdrawing – basically mourning the relationship before it was over. I had finally started talking to friends who helped me realize that what he had been doing to me wasn’t ok (two of my friends were outraged that he called me “boring” to my face several times) because I had become so used to it. One day, in the middle of the day, something just snapped from on to off – I knew it was time to end it. Despite the help of my therapist, I still cannot pinpoint what enacted that change but my best guess is that it finally sunk in that he was not treating me the way I wanted to be treated for the rest of my life.

    I resolved to break it off that Friday night and I did. I made a plan on how to do it and when, which helped me stick to the plan no matter what he did. He cried and pleaded and did all of the things he did previously that sucked me back in any time I tried to break up with him before. But I knew deep down in my bones it was over so these tactics did not work. Any time I felt weakness, I would text my friends who helped assure me I made the right decision (and that if we got back together later after he grew as a person, then that would be ok too) so I was able to stay strong. This weakness lasted 1.5-2 weeks and I went from sad to pissed. He started “changing” and doing all of these things I had wanted to do together by himself to “prove” that he was “growing.” He disrespected my boundaries by trying to have deep, meaningful conversations and touching me even though I explicitly stated that I did not want to talk or touch. Every single thing he did started to piss me off because he was doing the SAME THINGS he did while in the relationship – he still did not get it and he still hadn’t changed. That anger helped sustain me.

    It has now been 2 months since the break up, 1 month since he moved out. The anger is finally fading (because he is FINALLY leaving me alone like I asked from the beginning) and is turning into the grieving stage. But I’m not mourning /him/ – I’m mourning what we could have had if he had tried at all. I can feel that it is almost done.

    Let me tell you about the RELIEF I feel: it is AMAZING! I finally have a safe place at home that is quiet, clean, and organized where I do not have to worry about breathing the wrong way and pissing him off. I can go out and hang out with my friends while wearing shorts and a slightly revealing shirt without worrying about coming home to jealousy and judgment. I stay out as late as I want without worrying about being accused of cheating on him. I can finally BREATHE and am not plagued by constant worry. I feel like I am coming back to life – and it has positively impacted by practice as well. Everyone can tell I am happier. I have no doubt that you will be happier too, LW!

    Tl;dr version: you have realized the dysfunction and it comes down to him “not seeing” a problem, so he will never change his behavior. Hold onto that – if he will not even discuss what is important to you nor make the changes you /need/ to be happy and safe in your relationship, then it will never get better. You deserve so much more! Make a plan and pick a date – then do it. Good luck!!

    1. I considered cheating on him in order to end the relationship because at the time I did not have the strength to do it on my own.

      Oh my goodness. I forgot. I used to hope he would cross the line so irrevocably that I had to end it. I never contemplated this (should have, maybe!) but I always hoped he’d hit me because I would have a reason to leave.

      I am glad you are out and okay! Hugs if you want them.

  24. LW, there’s a little thing in your letter that seems to be getting skipped over in these comments and in the Captain’s response: At the very least, I need to leave for a few months so I/we can get some distance and perspective. I just want to say: YES YES YES. THIS. THIS IS HOW I GOT OUT.

    I had a really hard time leaving this dude–in fact, he was the one who dumped me, and I persuaded him to take a month as “time off” instead of a clean break, because I couldn’t imagine being without him. We met for coffee at the end of the month, and guess what? He was DESPERATE to get me back, and meanwhile I had been sleeping well for the first month in years and finally doing other emotionally and physically healthful things for myself, and suddenly I saw the whole thing from the outside and I was like NOPE, MOTHERF***ER, I’M FREE. Without that distance, I wouldn’t have been able to make myself break it off.

    Only you know whether it’s safe for you to do something like this. Other people have said many wise things, here and elsewhere on the site, about the dangers of leaving an abusive partner. But if you think it’s safe to do, or if you can find an alternate, safe way of doing it (long vacation with an old friend?), I absolutely think that’s a valid way of getting yourself ready to break it off.

    Good luck, LW. This dude I dated did a lot of the stuff you describe, too. One of my friends told me that dating him turned me from Muffin into “Small Muffin,” because I became so quiet and because I literally flinched every time a man raised his voice. No one should have to live that way.

    1. Seconding. This is how I got out as well.

      I said I wanted some weeks to myself, not to contact me, that I would get in contact with him when I was ready. He contacted me first. Some weeks had passed at this point. He asked whether this was it and – having my peace interrupted against my stated wishes – I said ‘You know what? Now that you’ve broached the topic: Yes, this is over.’

      I still had to fight the guilt, mostly. But I stuck with it and I grieved, as another commenter mentioned, not for what I lost, but for the ideal relationship I was longing for, which would have never materialised with him.

    2. Me too, exactly this. In fact, I used the time apart to persuade him to move out entirely.

      We did get back and stay together for another two years, almost, after this – I couldn’t resist the hoover that inevitably came, though I recognized it when it happened. But that fact that I had my house back gave me distance and more power, which was instrumental in breaking it off eventually.

    3. I did this too. I had an anxiety disorder that was way out of control, and that was a good reason to move out. I structured it as “I need space to manage my feelings and get better WITHOUT having to deal with you. (Also, you’ve never lived out of home before and need to learn how to clean a fucking dish)”. We were together for another six months, maybe. We (I) made a list of changes that needed to happen before we could live together again, and while I was working towards mine, he eventually admitted that he didn’t see any point learning to look after himself before I moved back in (because surely it would be different then, and he’d have to change habits to fit both of us, so why make those habits to begin with just to change them later?? LOGIC).

      I spent six months hating the time I spent with him, under no illusions that he respected the boundaries I was trying to establish. Once we stopped spending our days together and I didn’t have to fit myself around him, it was easy to disentangle the emotional attachment I had to him. On the one hand, I do regret not being able to just up and leave him earlier (waaaayy earlier, in retrospect), but moving out before breaking it off was a good way to get some distance and perspective and strength.

    4. I was at one point in a not abusive, but emotionally exhausting, relationship. (He had decided it was my responsibility to fix him, when in fact it should have been his, with help from a mental health pro. I was young and wanted to be the special one who could fix people! Needless to say, boundaries ceased being a thing early on.)

      We decided at one point to take a break – we were living a few hours apart, it was rough, but we loved each other and weren’t sure what to do. I couldn’t imagine not being with him, but when I realized I got to just… go be me, and not have to a) worry constantly about his state of being, and b) feel guilty that I wanted to go be me and not have to change my life plans to take him into account, it was sooooo freeing. Within a few weeks, I knew the relationship was done, and it was such a relief.

      Sometimes you need to take a small step away to remember what breathing feels like. Yes, needing that small step may pretty much always mean you’ll want to take a bigger one soon, but the fact that you can breathe again makes that so much easier.

  25. When did I know it was the end? For me it was a gradual process, as verbal abuse had been a byproduct of our relationship within 6 months of our marriage. Seven years later I had to commit my ex for two weeks, and when he got out, everything was a huge struggle, and his efforts to be healthy fell short of our needs. Everything was a battle.

    Red Flags I disregarded (in my own behavior):
    *I started keeping ‘away bags’ at friends’ houses, just in case.
    *I started walking on egg-shells and changing my behavior to forestall the verbal abuse.
    *I stopped talking to friends (close friends, not gossipy friends) about our issues because if my ex found out he would flip his lid.
    *I began avoiding group situations where he might shoot his mouth off and I would feel like I had to ‘smooth over’ things.
    *I would intentionally lose games, or pretend to be losing for a while, because of the fits of anger and sulkiness after I won, or if I won too quickly.
    *I couldn’t trust what he said to be true or factual, he would lie about ridiculously minor information and then yell at me for being ‘wrong’.

    I could go on, and I wish I could say I believed myself to have enough value that I left when I recognized all those things. But I didn’t.

    I didn’t leave even when I thought my life was in danger, though I was gearing myself up emotionally and separating myself emotionally from my ex for probably two years before I actually left. There was no trust, no respect, just me doggedly holding onto a love I kept convincing myself I had to feel.

    What finally made me leave was when my ex started threatening other people.

    Please, LW, don’t be me. Recognize your own value, and that you deserve to be treated humanely. Might I suggest, even lovingly. Make your preparations, like Capt. said, and if it takes leaving for a month to test the waters – do it. Just make sure you are prepared for the eventuality should you continue the process.

    Find your sidekicks, the people who will be there to remind you why you chose to do this. It was very hard, even with all of the above, for me to actually leave. I needed someone with a car. Someone to let me stay with them. Someone to go to court with me. And if the people you love have seen your unhappiness, they will be more than happy to have a way to stand by you.

    Good luck, LW.

  26. I’m so happy for everyone who has gotten out of a horrible living/relationship situation, and I hope all of you who haven’t yet get to be free and happy and safe as soon as possible. Everyone deserves a safe home (AND A CLEAN TOWEL).

  27. Dear LW:

    The things that got me out the door…

    One of the big ones was Why does he do that? by Lundy Bancroft. Another was recognizing that I really don’t need much stuff.

    Also Team Me. My team me included family I can live with.

    But what did it was a heinous incident, and the recognition that if I accepted his apology, I’d be accepting Incident as part of my life. While I was contemplating that horrible future, he said something really rude (he had expected an immediate acceptance)

    I walked right then.

    1. I second Lundy Bancroft. And I would add ‘The verbally abusive relationship’ by Patricia Evans (though I do not agree with her that it can or should be ‘managed’), and ‘Too good to leave too bad to stay’ by Mira Kirshenbaum.

      1. I would add “The Gaslight Effect” by Dr. Robin Stern, as well. This book, along with “Why does he do that?” and “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” helped me see what was going on in my life. I had normalized so much awful behavior, it helped to see it spelled out.

  28. Awkwardeers, so much love to you.

    There’s been a lot of talk of people making themselves smaller in this thread, and I just wanted to share this extract from an article from the brilliant Lauren Laverne, in case it helps anyone with articulating their experience:

    ‘What I remember most about emotional abuse is that it’s like being put in a box. How you end up in there is the biggest trick – I never managed to work that one out. Maybe you think it’s a treasure box at first: you’re in there because you’re special. Soon the box starts to shrink. Every time you touch the edges there is an “argument”. So you try to make yourself fit. You curl up, become smaller, quieter, remove the excessive, offensive parts of your personality – you begin to notice lots of these. You eliminate people and interests, change your behaviour. But still the box gets smaller. You think it’s your fault. The terrible, unforgivable too-muchness of you is to blame. You don’t realise that the box is shrinking, or who is making it smaller. You don’t yet understand that you will never, ever be tiny enough to fit, or silent enough to avoid a row – because they aren’t rows. If you’re lucky – like my friend and me – you get to leave the situation. I’m not sure whether you ever completely escape the experience. Obviously coercive control is not just present in partnerships. It permeates and perpetuates all kinds of toxic domestic relationships.’


    1. I actually said it to my partner once, “you make me feel smaller than I am.” I was desperate.

      In retrospect I would have been devastated if someone had said this to me. Him not reacting was a terrible sign of things to come – we were only halfway at the time.

  29. My breakups have been clean ones, where I’ve packed everything and left while Partner was at work. their first clue was coming home to me being gone. I sat down next to another who equated the state of marriage with me constantly consenting to sex, even when I was asleep and did not consent. Amazingly, I told this person “I think we’ve reached the end of our walk together.” I calmly used the home phone to get the u-haul parked in the driveway. I took a financial hit in the sale of our house, just to get away.

    My breakups have been dirty ones, where I raged out of control and verbally torched everything so hard there was no place to come back to. Not even the abuser wanted me back.

    In this last one, I was very aware of my behavior the next day and I hated my “normal.” It became the catalyst to three long years of intense, daily work, journaling and reading websites, to get a handle on my pattern and what was behind it. Very recently, I noticed that the memories weren’t painful anymore. Now I’m living with self-awareness, telling myself “refrain” when things go into upheaval, because I make choices about my behavior and I deserve to live calmly. I still have feelings for that person, but the relationship was toxic for both of us and today, I’m OK just having those feelings to myself, letting the love feed me, give me hope for a new lover and inform my life. I’m on Team Me.

  30. LW, you could have been me, in almost everything you describe, and your partner was very similar to mine.

    How I built the bridge? Slowly, brick by brick. Some bricks were made of knowledge – this is abuse, and it will not get better. Some bricks were made of practical stuff – how to approach it, what to do? perhaps not do it all at once. Some days I would frantically pull the stones I’d laid out of the street because he loved me and I loved him and yes we could build that life that I’d envisioned. The day I read the question ‘If someone would give you permission to leave now, would you do it?’ was the day I built meters of the bridge’s pavement.

    I didn’t know exactly when the bridge end would be strong enough to hold me and all my issues and safely carry me to the other side. In the end I lingered on it for half our relationship. I’d decided this couldn’t last, had him move out, then got back together for a half-hearted second chance for another two years. Only when he told me I had to choose whether I wanted him, the family he wanted and the real togetherness, I was able to walk across definitively and say ‘no’. It took him having a baby with someone else very soon after to burn the bridge behind me.

    LW, you say it’s going to break your heart. I would suggest your heart is already broken. What I found, after, was that I had been in pieces. The piece of me trying to rally myself to be positive about the future was surpressing the piece of me that was angry as hell at his treatment of me. The piece of me that was peaceful and wanted nothing more than harmony was appalled at the piece of me that let loose when he went round and round riling me up with arguments that were, I knew, deliberately incendiary but that I couldn’t resist. The piece of me that passionately wanted to have this wonderful life with him I imagined if only was being despised by the piece of me that recognized what was going on and was utterly humiliated. The piece of me that learned all there was to know about abuse, its traits and its patterns, was astonished by the piece of me that normalized all this extraordinary behaviour (and sometimes does, to this very day – but it’s easier like this).

    I loved him so dearly. I believe he loved me, to the best of his ability, and I felt utterly selfish for feeling it was too little, even when he was cursing me out. It is heartbreaking to love someone so much and having to accept that they do not love you enough to stop hurting you when you ask.

    Your heart will heal, LW. It wants to. For that to happen you will have to leave. Even though you may not believe it, you are immensely strong. Your heart has taken all this already.

    Mourn. Feel it all. And then feel lighter, and so much taller, on your own.

    1. This – ” It is heartbreaking to love someone so much and having to accept that they do not love you enough to stop hurting you when you ask.”

  31. When I tried to gather the strenght to end a relationship, the question that opened my eyes was asked by a close friend:

    “Would you want to start a relationship with who he is now?”

    Would you? Would you run for the hills if he spoke to you the way he does? Would you be ok living with a hoarder? The person he is now, not who he was or could be, but who he currently is in his actions towards you – does he deserve the rest of your life?

    My answer was a resounding no, and that is what helped me be brave enough to leave.

  32. I recently left a terrible relationship myself. His way of expressing anger wasn’t conducive to my happiness. If I had a thought or feeling that didn’t align with his, he wouldn’t listen to what I had to say, instead, he would try to argue me out of it. If something was upsetting him, he would talk over me if I tried to argue back and continue to rant at me long past the point that I’d already begun to cry. If he felt like his behavior was indefensible, he would bring up something I had done to slight him in the past that he, for some reason, wasn’t able to point out at the time, so that I had to defend myself instead. He called me embarrassing for not being able to pull it together in public after he’d torn into me for not taking his side over my a friend of mine (a false dichotomy in retrospect). He didn’t trust any of my friends. He thought that several of them were trying to seduce me away from him and that one day they’d succeed. I was always on tenterhooks trying to manage his jealousy or his depression or his insecurity. I tried to break it off with him in March when he sent me a series of awful messages about the latest person he was jealous over, but he begged me to stay and give him another chance, arguing that I couldn’t go without just giving him one chance to change.

    I had of course given him many chances to change. I asked him repeatedly to have discussions with me, to not rant at me until he was spent and I was an emotional wreck. I had assured him many times that I would not cheat on him. But that didn’t matter to him. He saw all those past requests as him not hearing me, but now he’d heard me, and I owed it to him to let him try to change. After all, he’d had such terrible relationships in the past, and a heap of trust issues from people always cheating on him* or leaving him for someone else. But I could be different! I could be the one for him! Couldn’t I see how much he cared about me? How many gifts he’d get me? If he got upset, all I had to do was reassure him! That’s all he wanted! And if after giving him a chance I still wanted to leave, he’d let me go this time. Come on. Please don’t do this.

    Even though I desperately wanted to leave, I caved. I said I’d give him a chance. He started going to therapy, which I asked him to do. He also did a ton of things I never asked him to do; he went vegan, he quit drinking, he started working out a lot, he upped the application of gifts, he stopped complaining if I was spending time with friends instead of spending time with him (he has no local friends outside work). I legitimately thought that because he was working so hard that I owed him this, that if I let this go on long enough I’d forget how small I had to make myself in order to avoid setting him off, or how I had to hide certain friends from him because he’d decide that they were secretly going to seduce me away from him, or how I avoided telling my friends about things he’d done because I knew it would make me look bad for staying. I had to convince myself every day that this was fine, that one day I’d love him like he loved me, that it would work out. It would. People loved us together. It HAD to.

    Eventually, I knew that he’d never change, and that one day I’d have to leave. I gave myself two months to wind things down and make things easier on him. Surely if I did that, he wouldn’t be able to rules lawyer me into staying again, and things would be sad for a while, but we’d all be okay. It seemed like the perfect plan.

    Two days later, I texted him that I’d meet him at a friend’s house for brunch and went to bed (in my own apartment). I woke up to a text from him accusing me of “spending the night” with said friend. I remember looking at the phone and thinking, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life defending myself from this.”

    So I reached out to a friend for a pep talk and headed over to his apartment to break up with him.

    He didn’t take it well. The thing is, he was never going to take it well. This time, I was bad because I broke up with him in his apartment. Because he “fucked up one time” after he “did everything I said.” He’d never trust anyone again, or cry for anyone again, or ever find the right person because I ruined him for her. I set him back 1000 steps. Etc. Etc. Etc. Hell, I reached out to some mutual people we have in common to let them know that he might need emotional support, and he got furious at me for “pawning him off” on other people. There was literally nothing I could have done to leave and have him accept it.

    But God I’m glad I left.

    You can leave, too. You can. Gather up Team You. Let them reassure you that you’re doing the right thing. Your life will be so much better without him. It will.

    (*I later found out that his cheating stories were all exaggerated, if not outright lies, from other sources who had been present for some of them. what mattered to him wasn’t what actually happened, but how he FELT about the relationship. Uaauugh.)

  33. (just realized I life storied the previous comment; Sorry about that, Captain. Here’s a much shorter, better version of what I wrote before)

    I recently left an emotionally abusive relationship that I didn’t let myself realize was emotionally abusive (anger issues, managing his emotions was my responsibility, morbid jealousy, etc.). I actually tried to leave him once, but he rules lawyered me into staying (I needed to “give him one chance” when realistically I’d given him at least 11). What did it for me was that one day, I texted him that I’d meet him at a friend’s house for brunch and went to bed (in my own apartment). I woke up to a text from him accusing me of “spending the night” with said friend. I remember looking at the phone and thinking, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life defending myself from this.”

    So I reached out to a friend for a pep talk and headed over to his apartment to break up with him.

    He didn’t take it well.

    The thing is, he was never going to take it well. This time, I was bad because I broke up with him in his apartment. Because he “fucked up one time” after he “did everything I said.” He’d never trust anyone again, or cry for anyone again, or ever find the right person because I ruined him for her. I set him back 1000 steps. Etc. Etc. Etc. Hell, I reached out to some mutual people we have in common to let them know that he might need emotional support, and he got furious at me for “pawning him off” on other people. There was literally nothing I could have done to leave and have him accept it.

    But God I’m glad I left.

    You can leave, too. You can. Ask yourself if you want to spend the rest of your life like this. If the answer is no, don’t wait. You are under no obligation to wait. Gather up Team You. Let them reassure you that you’re doing the right thing. Your life will be so much better without him. It will.

  34. Thinking about all these comments, what I felt came out in free verse:

    As you open your front door, you flinch
    Waiting for the fusillade of anger, hate, disappointment
    That will never come again

    The door opens wide, enfolding you in silence
    A silence so full of love, safety, calm
    That it leaves no room for fear

    You step inside, pulling your door closed behind you
    Shutting out the world and letting yourself just BE
    In your own space
    In your own home

    You are home.

  35. When I asked my therapist how I would know it was time to leave she answered, “If you need to ask me, you’re not ready. When you’re ready, you’ll know.”

    She was right. One day, months later, I realized I was ready. And then I left.

    When the time is right, you will be ready and you’ll know it. Love and luck to you.

  36. Dearest LW,

    Keeping this short and sweet: Has your therapist mentioned trauma bonding? Have y’all talked about attatchment?

    When a rabbit gets scared it runs to its den; when humans get scared we run to other humans.

    One possible dynamic at play…He’s your safe person; it doesn’t matter that he’s not truly safe, your heart/head have decided. Bc of the shared challenges y’all have been through and the negative way he treats you that feeling of needing to stay with him might be even stronger.

    Good luck, and congrats on your improved health!!!!!!

  37. Hugs to LW & Awkwardeers, if wanted, and much thanks to the Captain. This has been a difficult but necessary read for me, too, as I sit in the midst of my process (XX-year relationship, XX+ married, broke the news it was over X months ago, moved out X-1 months ago, no kids, still trying to reach a final settlement).

    I wrote a very long thing but then got nervous about the level of detail included, so I’ll cut it to this:

    These things all happened in the last 6 months of our relationship:
    – I started seeing a therapist and they helped me realize for how long I had stifled my voice and my needs. They also opened my eyes to the emotional abuse.
    – I spent half of these months away from him — living out a part of my daydream of living alone from the prior year, and feeling how nice that was.
    – A good friend called and told me they thought I was in an abusive relationship.
    – Over coffee with an acquaintance (but a person who it’s really easy to open up to really early on, who knew both me and my Ex), I was asked “What do you want?” I said, for the first time out loud “I want this to be over.”
    – Another close friend expressed their concern about our relationship, and said it sounded like my needs weren’t really being considered.

    In between all of those things above I tried to set a “I’ll wait until X date and if things aren’t better, then I’ll pull the plug” deadline. But things were still awful and so I made pro/con lists about waiting it out versus making the change now. It wasn’t until I really truly realized that, even if a bucket of money fell from the sky, there would be unacceptable/unresolvable issues in our relationship, that I came to a solid conclusion of needing to be out, now, no more waiting.

    So I told him. And then a month later, I moved out with financial help from my family. I LOVE LIVING ALONE.

    The divorce process itself is another can of worms and varies state by state — If you go that route, I highly recommend talking to a lawyer before you tell your husband you want a divorce, so you have a clearer picture of how to protect yourself and get a sense of how assets will be divided, what non-court options are there and how to take advantage of them, etc.

  38. LW, for me, each individual day, not-leaving was easier than leaving. It took me really looking at the sum of the awfulness of all of those not-leaving days to be able to go. It sucked, but I did it as a kindness to future-me, and I am forever grateful to past-me for getting through it. I’m sorry for the parts of this that are doing to be awful, but I promise it is really great on the other side. Really, really great.

  39. My story shares a lot of similarities with other stories here, and I see from your comment that you’ve left (huzzah!) but I’ll share it anyway. When I was disentangling from my last relationship the stories here were incredibly illuminating to me.

    My last relationship was terribly unhealthy, although I’ve always hesitated to define it as abusive. There are moments that make me wonder, though – when he would get drunk and pester me about a specific sexual act I wasn’t interested in, when he physically blocked me from leaving a room during an argument, when he insisted we continue an argument even though I was tired and wanted to go to bed, and then turned the bedroom lights on and took the blanket. It’s not terribly important to me what word I use, it was a fucked up relationship. And I felt trapped. I thought I was asexual* and didn’t want to face the world alone that way, I genuinely believed it was impossible to meet new potential partners after college, I felt responsible for him as he was financially dependent on me, all of my friends were coupled up and I didn’t want to be the loser. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also paralyzed by anxiety. A couple of weeks before we split up I had my first real life panic attack. :\

    (*Turns out I wasn’t asexual, I just didn’t want to have sex with him. Oddly, being badgered about your sex drive and your sexual responses is a real libido killer.)

    So, what changed. I started therapy. Oddly enough, I started because my wire monkey mother had decided she didn’t like my boyfriend and he wasn’t welcome in her home anymore. Being a wire monkey she never actually explained what the issue was and I’ve never asked, but perhaps she saw something I didn’t. Anyway, it got me into treatment and I started getting better. I expressed my feelings more and enforced my boundaries. We started talking about couple’s counseling. I began to understand that I was a competent adult person who could handle her shit. We did end up doing that couple’s counseling but I remember approaching it knowing we were probably going to break up and this would just ease the path. We discussed ending things in our first appointment.

    Slowly, over that last year or two, I allowed myself to think about what splitting up would be like. At some point I expressed to my therapist that I didn’t think we were going to last. I posted anonymously about our struggles, naming the issue. I allowed myself to sit with my unhappiness. Finally, there was a one-two punch of a phoned in birthday and a broken promise about our finances. They seemed like such small issues on one hand, but so symptomatic of our entire relationship on the other. I remember sitting on my apartment steps in winter, smoking and admitting to myself that we were done.

    Even then, I couldn’t actually pull the trigger. The sad part is that he is the one that broached officially ending things. I have no idea what I was waiting for, but I was so relieved when we called it. I stayed with a relative for a couple of weeks while he moved out, I cried a lot, I sent a lot of awkward emails to family and friends and my HR department to remove him from my insurance. And then I moved back into My Apartment. I piled all of his shit into a corner of the living room and rearranged the kitchen cabinets so I could actually reach the spices without a step stool.

    LW, it’s only been 3 or 4 years since that happened, but I have lived more in that time than I did in the 8 years we were together. I stayed in that lovely little apartment for several years, I reveled in living alone, I actually focused on a career and started taking the classes I needed for it. I dated (and had sex!) again, I kicked a bunch of shitty dudes to the curb, I bought a little house all by myself with a yard for the dog I wanted, I took amazing vacations, I began dating someone wonderful. We got married this summer and we live in the adorable little house with our cat and our dog and I’m four weeks into a job I never would have thought I could have. Shit’s pretty great. Sometimes I can’t even imagine how I let myself be so small for so long.

  40. In addition to the Captain’s advice, I’d also indulge in imagining things going on, just like this, for years upon horrifying years. Let yourself revel in how absolutely you do not want that. How much BETTER you will be than the amputated and muted thing in that scenario. Let that vision be the nightmare that steels your will against the temporary pain of the breakup. Because you can pay that price to get out of the stultifying morass that is “and I just went on like that forever.” Stick a big, fat “DO NOT WANT” sticker on it. Kill it with fire. Get angry enough at that vision that you are willing to stab it in the heart.

  41. LW, I am in the middle of a divorce ending a 10 year marriage that was also mostly fake-good. Until it stopped being even that. There’s a lot of guilt and shame around not “making it work”, especially considering we have a 5 year old.

    But there is also the quiet at the end of the day, in a tiny little studio that is all mine. And the daydreams that are truly my dreams that I don’t have to feel guilty about not compromising.

    The 5 year old is quickly adjusting to this new reality where the moms live in different houses. We still take care and love him together. He starts kindergarten tomorrow.

    This part is hard now. But I see where I’m headed. I’m going to be more than fine. I’m going to be great. And so are you.

  42. But I can’t get past this desire to stay. So, Captain, how can I gird my loins and just pull the trigger?

    I’ve already read LW’s delightful news about having escaped, but I want to leave this comment for future readers in the same boat: you are allowed to not be ready. Leaving a relationship, even one where you’re unhappy, is hard. It’s even harder when someone has tricked you into a box and slowly made it smaller and smaller and you’ve spent months or years cutting off pieces of yourself to try to fit into that box.

    You will be ready when you’re ready, and needing more time does not mean you don’t deserve happiness or that you deserve to be unhappy or that you don’t have the right to leave when you are ready. All not being ready yet means is that you need more time.

    All that said, if you want to try to sneak closer to readiness, I think there’s some really good advice in the comments about sidling up to it. Maybe make a list of what you would need to do if you were ready to leave – stuff like finding another place to stay, moving your things there, getting your money out of any joint accounts. You don’t have to be ready to leave to think about what you would do if you were ready.

    Or maybe “take a break.” You can always move back in/get back together if you take that break and find that you miss them. Or maybe just take a week or even a weekend away with friends. If you give yourself the opportunity to find out, you might really like having your own space/not being miserable all the time/being around people who actually like you.

    If it’s safe and you can do so secretly, maybe keep a daily journal. Doing that makes it a lot easier to see patterns – when I was in highschool, a creative writing class I took had us keep a journal and when I re-read mine much later it turned out abusive ex-boyfriend had always been a useless dickbag. I had been so caught up in his shit at the time that I didn’t see the pattern, I wish I’d reviewed my old journals more often so I could have seen that he had always been awful and was always going to be awful.

    But you know, I just wasn’t ready and there was no way to force it. You’ll be ready when you’re good and ready too, reader.

  43. I left, and came back. Tried to leave, and failed. I went back and forth seemingly daily. In the end, I decided to leave while I was in the shower, when he announced from the other room that he was answering my text messages for me. I hated it when he tried to text as me, and I’d told him as much several times. I rinsed the conditioner out of my hair, got half dressed, and walked out without bothering to put my socks on. That was at the end of May. I’m rebuilding from practically nothing, but rock bottom is a solid foundation, I’ve found out.

  44. LW I’ve done my share of leaving, and also of not-leaving for far too long. When I was 19 I left someone who on hindsight was a pretty scary dude, who most likely would have been beating me up if I’d stayed much longer (he was already breaking my things and punching walls next to me). I didn’t do any of the safety things (see above, 19 years old, largely pre Internet, didn’t know better) and I got away with it, but much older me says even if you’re fairly sure your dude is safe physically he sounds emotionally abusive. You should leave him carefully, with an eye to safety, and if not that, at least an eye to protecting important stuff and documents from tantrums and weird manipulative ploys/control attempts. You know, gather your stuff first, put it with a trusted friend or safety deposit box or storage locker or whatever. Have the conversation somewhere that isn’t alone in your house with him. Planning all this is a way to move towards leaving. Start getting your ducks in a row. Where will you stay? How will you move items you own? Etc etc. make plans and get things ready, and then one day, when he keeps you up to 3am with some awful “discussion” instead of thinking you should leave but you can’t just yet because where will you go, instead you can just implement the plan.

    Which brings me to not leaving. I stayed in an awful relationship for a decade when I should have left after maybe a year. It ground me down, gave me weird emotional flinches and hair triggers about certain topics. Made me shrink myself into a corner where I was always super careful not to ask for too much. Made me think any nice or caring behaviour was too good to be true, that all effort from others comes with weird hidden punishment later, that promises are empty, that I’m boring and spending time with me is a chore… You probably know what I mean, from your letter. You also probably don’t realise how bad it is, because it’s the air you breathe. I’m still trying to unlearn the habits of that time many years later. Forget about the part where you’ve stayed too long, the past is in the past, and you had your health thing eating all your energy and determination. But don’t give him any more of your present and future.

    One of the things that stopped me leaving my bad ex was that it was so daunting. Make your plans for how to overcome the obstacles of disentangling your lives.

    Another thing that stopped me was that I didn’t really understand that it could be better if I left. LW, it can be so so much better. My terrible dude left me (eventually I lost all my shine) but after the pain of rejection wore off my life was so, so much better. No more constantly keeping my mouth shut about things I hated just to keep the peace, no more monumental efforts to make him happy so that he would finally be nice to me, no more wondering what I could do to make it good again like it was at the start. It was peaceful. I was also literally less work because I wasn’t cleaning up after someone any more. It was confusing to feel so calm all the time, to not be walking around with my shoulders around my ears wondering when the next round of confusing, miserable fuckery would occur. LW, leave. You want to leave. Do it. Picture in your mind your own little home, picture it exactly how you want it, picture coming home to it and not having to deal with the stuff you currently deal with. Picture going to bed when you’re tired, alone, or with a pet if that’s your thing, and just…sleeping. Now make it happen.

  45. The bad outweighs the good, but the tug of the good is still strong. How do you talk sense to yourself and make yourself see reason? What do you do to make yourself decide?

    The imaginary stopwatch. It could be a real one, but imaginary was good enough for me. Waking up next to him feels golden. Good! Feel the golden. Bask in it. Run the stopwatch and measure how much golden you have. When he’s keeping you up until 3 in the morning, not so good. Run the stopwatch and put that time in the bad basket. You realize you’re being complacent when you really want to scream. Put that time in the bad basket too. You’ll only have to do this for a few days before you realize that minute for minute, you’re unhappy most of the time.

    The nice thing about this is that you don’t have to convince yourself that the good times are actually bad. You’re allowed to feel the love you feel and move out anyway. Remember that you can love him from afar. (Just like you can forgive someone so the anger doesn’t eat away at you, but you can do it from a safe place where you’re not in danger of getting your teeth knocked out.)

    Look into getting your needs met. You say you like waking up with him. Could you get a dog or cat, something furry and affectionate to provide that nice feeling of not waking up alone? Line up someone to take you to the doctor on the occasions you need that since you’ve said he has been okay at doing that.

      1. Thanks. Chess clock would be better. It’s 2 stop watches side by side originally meant to keep track of how much time each player uses for each play. In my imagination, one side is enjoyment/golden so you push the button to get that clock going. The other side is fake good/timid. With the chess clock, as soon as one clock is pushed to stop it, the other automatically starts.

  46. “He is quick to criticize me, calling me awful names. (How did I get to a point where that isn’t something that sends me running to the hills?) When he gets worked up about explaining or “discussing” something, he will keep me up until 3am – when we already agree. Worse, he’s upset at me for “not being engaged”. I do not function without sleep, and my medical condition is exacerbated by stress like whoa.”

    LW, he knows on some level that you want to leave. This? This is him trying to break you down so that you can’t.

    I remember being absolutely terrified of leaving my ex-husband, not just because I was afraid of being homeless and broke and dealing with repercussions from him, but because the future seemed like an abyss – just dark and empty and unknown. And my marriage was like a dirty diaper – it was an awful mess, but it was familiar and it was mine.

    LW, my suggestion is to plan for your life, post-husband. Not just the lawyer and the finances (definitely do those!), but also, plan nice things for yourself. Maybe you can decorate your new place any way you want, or make a list of things you want to do that he didn’t. Go on a solo weekend getaway or even just make Fridays wine and ice cream night while you binge-watch that show you like but he hated. Give yourself something to look forward to in your future, so it’s not just a black pit of unfamiliar dread. There’s a reason that the rebound relationship is such a cliché, and it’s not always about relationship addiction or trying to “prove” that you’re better off. Sometimes it’s just a way of being nice to yourself and letting yourself have something to look forward to during a scary time.

    Best wishes to you in the amazing new life that you’re going to create for yourself.

  47. I took an incredibly long time to work out that I should leave my ex, and by the time I did work it out I was so fed up that I didn’t plan things properly. I was lucky that he was just an dick and not actually vindictive or I could have ended up with nothing. So I heartily endorse doing lots of thinking and planning before making the actual move, even if you’ve finally got to the point where you’re emotionally ready to make the break.

    And, this has nothing to do with LW’s story but I feel compelled to share it as an amusing-horrifying example of why I ended up leaving:

    The bread story

    My ex husband was a control freak. It didn’t seem abusive at the time, merely annoying. He was more anxious-controlling than scary-angry-controlling. Anyway, one of the things he liked to control was the bread.

    He was, shall we say, *thrifty*, and didn’t like bread being wasted by being thrown out because it had gone stale, so he insisted it be kept in the freezer and taken out slice by slice as needed. This suited him just fine because he usually had his as toast and it makes no difference to toast bread straight from the freezer. It didn’t suit me because I like mine fresh.

    He whined and carried on about me wanting to keep some of the bread in the pantry because *OMG what if it gets wasted* even if it was $1 per loaf supermarket bread (note that at this point we both have 6-figure incomes).

    This came up in marriage counselling, and when our counsellor directly suggested a compromise on this issue as practice in compromising in general, he refused.

    Fast forward 12 years and my daughter has moved back in with him for a while, and I find out that she keeps bread in her bedroom for this exact same reason.

    Laughing my ass off and feel like making her a badge which says “boss of the bread”

  48. My mother was abusive. But she was also loving, sometimes, to the extent she could love someone else genuinely — and most of it wasn’t a genuine love for me as I was.

    What made me throw in the towel (the moldy towel of one-sided relationships) was discovering a card she’d sent me and I’d put in a drawer years ago. I guess I was home from college and trying to convince her to be nurturing instead of monstrous. And in one of her better moments, she sent me a lovely card that said “Thank you for teaching me how to be a mother.”

    And the date was five years ago.

    Five years of her swearing up and down she was trying so hard. Five years of me battling to get her to understand healthy relationships. Five years of some change, and then rapid, cruel backsliding. Five years, zero progress.

    She really was trying hard, you know. She just couldn’t be the mother I needed, and she couldn’t love me the way I needed. It broke my heart, but it also broke my false hope, and I realized enough was enough. She could continue working on being less abusive without me there to be her guinea pig. I didn’t need to put myself through the dread of holiday visits or weekly calls home. I couldn’t fix our relationship. There was nothing I could say that would get through to her, no argument or plea that would stop the emotional vampirism and cycles of abuse. I’d done my best, and my best was damn good.

    So I stopped offering myself up to the vampire who raised me, and I mourned the mother I never had, and I kept living my own life. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I miss her. But I never miss her so much as I did when she was screaming at me and all I wanted was a hug.

  49. I am the letter writer of #888. I have been away from my “Jasper” for what feel like a month now. (And yes, the nickname is based on the cartoon Steven Universe)

    . . . And I feel great. I cleaned my room, reconnected with older friends, and generally felt a lot better about myself. It’s great that I’m with people who don’t criticize me. It’s great to not have to worry about my friends possibly exploding at any moment. It’s nice to have friends that actually consider things I want to do, instead of doing a routine based on what someone like Jasper wants to do. And even better, my friends have actually subscribed to the stuff I showed them.

    When i first started this cut off, I thought this would not work. I thought I would be “crawling back” to Jasper . . . and I haven’t. I can hang out with people without needing her home. I’m considering getting my own Hulu account to watch anime. I went to a card game tournament without her. And when the conventions come around, I can get my own room.

    Make your plans to leave your Jasper, OP. It might to think about, let alone actually get away from your Jasper, but you should start making your plans to get away. If it is safe enough, you can make the move gradual until you are out of there. You can also get additional help or support with a helpline, since they’re trained to give you advice. If you feel the move might be bumpy, then talk to a lawyer to help you with the move and to make plans to keep yourself safe.

    It’s gonna hurt at first, and that’s ok. There was love in the relationship, and now you realized it is gone. It’s ok to mourn for what is lost, and it is ok to move on once you are done mourning.

  50. I’ve been reading all of the comments here. I’m two years out from a long-term emotionally abusive relationship that turned violent within a couple of months after getting married. I realized I needed to leave when a maintenance person came by to work on our apartment immediately after a dramatic argument. I pretended everything was okay and made small talk with him. I realized after he left and I tried to make myself eat something (at 2pm) that what was going on was NOT OKAY and was NOT something that I needed to pretend wasn’t happening. So I left that day — just to get out of the place and clear my head. I didn’t feel safe going home that night, or the next night, or ever again.

    I kept a lot of journals from that period. I tried to write everything down because I was doubting myself so much that I didn’t know what to believe. So I figured I could at least see whether my own narrative seemed consistent. It did. It still does.

    I still have a very physical sense of relief now that I am living alone because it means that I don’t have to deal with *any* of that. Just my own glorious space.

    Also… if you find yourself in a relationship where you’re relating to this song, RUN AWAY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUXZEWezYao

  51. Lw, commenters : you’re all so damn brave and awesome. So many congratulations for getting out of those terrible situations and so much luck for the future. Thank you for sharing

  52. Another poem for the occasion:

    “Divorce Song,” in the anthology *Ain’t I a Woman?,” edited by Ilona Linthwaite:

    I thought you were good,
    I thought you were like silver;
    you are lead.

    You see me high up.
    I walk through the sun
    I am like sunlight itself.

  53. I remember the first night at home after my exhusband moved out. I thought I would be sad, not for him but because our child spent the night at his apartment. I came home to an empty house and have never in my life felt freer or safer.

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