Woman beside curtain / Tess Emily Seymour / Pexels.com
One day my then-boyfriend of two years climbed onto the roof of the school library and threatened to jump off if I didn’t—
Actually, I forget what he demanded I do to prevent his suicide. (That afternoon was a whirlwind of emotion.) Considering the patterns of our arguments, safe bets would be: stop talking to all my male friends, hand over my social media passwords or quit one of my hobbies to make more time for him.
After a teacher spotted us and coaxed him down, I ended up in the guidance centre.
There, I proceeded to unpack the dynamic of our ‘relationship’ for a sympathetic councillor. It felt good to voice the emotional abuse I endured to someone.
Not nice, but instead like someone was wringing the anxiety and tears out of me the way you’d wring a sponge. Cathartic.
I think I surprised the councillor.
I knew it was emotional abuse, holding your well-being over your partner. I knew his patterns (guilt-tripping, blackmailing and threats), and what triggered particularly abusive episodes. I knew it was extremely unhealthy and I should leave.
I told her these things, and more, and by the end of it she had little more to say to me than “why don’t you leave him then?”
“Well, I tried to today, and look where I ended up.”
Despite how far we have come in addressing abusive relationships, it’s still so tempting to cast well-meaning but uninformed judgement on women who stay in abusive relationships.
The shame around the topic has lessened, but even recounting my experiences to girlfriends, I heard a lot of:
“I would have just left him.”
“You should have told me, I could have protected you.”
“Wow, I didn’t expect that from you. You are so much smarter than that.”
News flash: smart women end up in abusive relationships.
Part of the problem is that we treat abuse like a circumstance. An environment we find ourselves in that — if we really tried hard enough or were smart enough — we could extricate ourselves from, unscathed. I think it’s more accurate to say that abuse is a disaster that devastates the environment we live in.
Like disasters, abusive relationships are hard to predict and avoid. By the time red flags are showing, our abusers often know enough about us to prevent us leaving.
Once, I blocked him on all social media and avoided him, only for him to show up outside my house. My entire family couldn’t persuade him to leave without talking to me first.
After another attempt to leave him, he exited the school grounds, leaving a text that he was going to a nearby bridge. The police got involved. I was out of school for another day.
I wanted a protection order but was discouraged by the possibility of it going to court should he want to defend himself.
All I did was research and plan and rationalise. So I will never let anyone tell me I “should’ve been smarter” when they don’t know how many options I considered or how many times I did try to leave.
In the end I figured that the best way to continue my education, job and extracurricular activities uninterrupted was to stay with him. Pretend to love him. When I did that, he became a witty, romantic guy. Then I didn’t have to pretend as much.
Every situation is different, but most women in abusive relationships deal with a complicated mix of unhealthy emotions, limited options and ever-present danger. Some have finances involved. Some have children involved.
All of us are just doing our best to maintain our lives under immense pressure.
It’s easy to predict what you’d like to do in a hypothetical abusive relationship when you’re in a normal situation with all the privacy, security and autonomy you deserve. But when you are thrust into situations that strip away even the foundations of who you thought you were, expecting flawlessly logical responses is unfair and unrealistic.
We don’t need judgmental and condescending comments; we are already intelligent, resilient and courageous — and yet that doesn’t guarantee a clean end to the abuse.
Then, what would help?
Reaching out, support and compassion.
Lots of it, please.
If you are in immediate danger, dial 111 and ask for the police.
Shine helpline: 0508-744-633
Women’s Refuge Crisis helpline: 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843
Call 0800 456 450 or visit Are You OK? for information about where you can go if you are experiencing or witnessing violence, or want to change your own behaviour. It is OK to ask for help.Support Villainesse