Why I Stayed

I believe it’s important to share stories as a society. I believe that if enough people share their own iteration of a broken narrative, eventually we will begin to see a shift in the stories being told. With that in mind, I’m going to share the story of why I stayed in an abusive and broken relationship.

It’s not much of a story to rubberneck. There is no gratuitous violence. I even hit him first once because it was the only way I could think of to make the words stop coming out of his mouth. (It didn’t work.) There is nothing extraordinary about this story besides it’s an all too common occurrence in the lives of other women. It’s difficult to leave a relationship that isn’t colored by violence or emotional abuse. For a variety of reasons, it becomes even harder to leave something that is personally damaging.

I stayed because of all the promises we had made each other and the connection we initially had. There were sparks when we met. It was an instant connection like the kind you read about in books. We were romantic leads in a play together. We could improv with ease—the banter just slid from our mouths. We were both seeing other people. We lost each other for awhile. We met again six months later on Halloween—I was dressed like a slutty schoolgirl and he had his father in tow because he was performing in another show that night. We would be together for the next five years.

I stayed because his anger was always coupled with alcohol. It’s easier to stay when you feel like alcoholism is the culprit and not the person you are in love with. Shouldn’t the love come back when the alcohol problem goes away? When he wasn’t drinking he was lovely, and when he was that particular kind of drunk he was a monster. I felt like it was my responsibility as a committed girlfriend and future wife to be by his side and help him get the help he needed. The problem was, he didn’t think there was a problem. Sometimes he would stop drinking or limit himself. But it never lasted long. Eventually he would get so drunk he wouldn’t remember his ranting and violence. He wouldn’t remember keeping me up at night to remind me of how stupid I was to be with him, how horrible I was to be around. He accused me of making it all up.

Those were the worst nights of my life.

I stayed because I was afraid to tell other people what was happening between us. It made me feel broken in a million different ways. I felt like this was a choice I made that I needed to tough out. I stayed because I didn’t want to tell people how broken I was and how much I had just given up on having the life I wanted. I stayed because I did love him and he was so insistent about his love for me. If he had that much love for me, why couldn’t it be possible to reclaim what we used to have?

I think he did love me, but it did not feel like that at the end. There had been a lot of love between us, a lot of firsts. But I really believe that at the end of our relationship, neither of us understood the difference between love and simply the knowledge of one another, the habit of one another, and the promises we had made to be a family. We were fighting to maintain that notion even when it was the most ridiculous thing to do.

I finally left after a particularly bad episode. I finally left after trying to leave in a variety of ways for about a year. I finally left when I looked at what was left of my life and realized the road I was on was a scary one. I was afraid to have children with this man. I was not accomplishing any of my dreams with this man. I was a shell of myself with this man.

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a couple toasting their glasses with white wine

I was lucky enough to be able to leave without a fight. He knew it was coming and he knew, deep down, that this was what had to happen. I was lucky that when he was sober he was reasonable and he was not prone to violence when he was not full of beer.

I know many women are not lucky like that. I also know there are many women toughing out situations that they don’t view as abusive for many of the reasons I just shared. That is why I chose to share my story in this way. I did not consider myself to be a victim, I did not think I was being abused—but when I look back, it’s clear that that is what was happening to me. I was inexperienced, I was in love, and I wanted the family that I had helped create. But it was not the right time nor the right place, and I’m so thankful that I was eventually able to see that.

It was hard to leave. It was scary. I was on my own for the first time. But in the end, it was the best choice I ever made. I would not be writing, I would not be taking knitting classes, I would not be with the love of my life if it weren’t for extracting myself from an essentially cancerous relationship.

View Comments (2)
  • I’m so glad you left this relationship, and that you shared your story. Having been in a very similar situation, I know first hand the need for narratives that address all kinds of abuse and make clear that even if it isn’t violent, it’s still not right. It’s so easy to make excuses in the moment, but hopefully if more of us come forward and share our experiences women in abusive relationships will be empowered to get out without feeling guilt and shame!

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