The whole reason people are in abusive relationships is that they will put up with practically anything for the sake of the relationship.
What people don’t understand is the fact that you’re willing to “put up with it” is the result of abuse—not a personal failure to stand up for yourself.
When the abuse happens, it’s an out-of-body experience. You don’t want to write it down, you don’t want to tell anyone about it—you don’t want to think about it—you don’t want to consider that that may really have happened to you. These things aren’t supposed to happen to someone like you.
Through no fault of your own, it becomes the case that the longer you stay, the harder it is to leave. That’s because each incident erodes your sense of self.
It goes like this: When it happens, you can’t believe this is really happening to you. You can’t believe you would let this happen to you. If you really thought about it, you would realize that you failed yourself. You let yourself down.
And then it goes like this…
What’s wrong with you?! Were you so desperate for love that you were willing to put up with this? Look at people in healthy relationships: They weren’t desperate. They were willing to be alone. They waited until they found true love, and you didn’t.
They got what they deserved, and so did you. Apparently you can live with what you have—apparently, this is the best you can do—so apparently, this is what you deserve.
(See footnote for an explanation of the distorted thinking at work here.)
Meanwhile, your life happens around you.
Being in an abusive relationship is like watching your life happen through a window, or on film. The woman on screen moves through it while the real you sits trapped and passive inside your head.
A bad fight happens, and you think, “Surely they’ll break up now.” It’s a relief—the movie is almost over—although you don’t know where it will go next.
But, no. The next day everything is normal. The fight blows over. It’s like guessing at decisions made by an unseen director. “I guess they’re staying together. Maybe they’re meant to be.” Maybe they could still live happily ever after. That thought, too, is a relief.
After all, what’s the alternative? Moving out on your own feels so impossible, it doesn’t even seem like an option. Which is exactly how the abuser likes it.
You? Move out on your own? To where? And why, when you have everything you need right here? And why, when you know I’ll only hound you until you come back? When you know us being together is inevitable, because we’re meant to be?
And on and on it goes. When you express yourself out loud, to him or people sympathetic to him, the only option, always, is to stay and give it another chance.
You might read entire books like Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, and still not know how you feel. You might decide to act like you’ve decided to stay.
And still, you think of leaving.
Are you really going to leave, when you know you’ll never make it on your own? /because you don’t want to make it on your own /because surely you don’t want to be alone forever /because how could you do this to me? /because we’ve been through so much already, we love each other so much—are you really going to throw it away?
Baby, your inner voice knows what to do. Whether you need to stay or go, the answer is within you. The hardest part is tuning in to hear it.
How do you stop thinking in circles and turn up the volume on your inner voice?
1. Go to the Voice Memos app on your phone and start recording your conversations with him.*
If you sense a fight coming on, or if you’re in the middle of one and you can start recording without him noticing—do so.**
He doesn’t need to be abusive for this exercise to be beneficial. For example, you might hear how your tone was harsher than you intended; you can pay attention to that in future.
Don’t tell him you’re recording the conversations; just do it. If you don’t need them, you can delete them later. Or you can save them up to tell him about one day.
Perhaps he is actually kind and understanding. In that case, you can share the recordings with him ten years from now (at least ten years from now) and have a good laugh about them.
Whatever you do, don’t tell him about the recordings now. He does not ever need to hear about this practice for you both to benefit from it.
*In some regions, it’s illegal to record people without their consent. Seeing as abuse is also illegal (or should be), I’d say it’s better to record someone who turns out not to be abusive, than to experience abuse and have no way of knowing what happened besides your own memory. Again, you don’t need to tell anyone about the recordings; they’re just for you.
**Obviously, don’t do this if doing so seems dangerous. (Which in itself is a major red flag—as in, if you’re worried he’ll get violent, explode, or seek retaliation if he finds out he’s being recorded, you are in danger, whether you’re recording him or not.) The point is only you can know what to do. You can trust yourself; do literally whatever you need to do to be safe.
2. Find two kind people*** and tell them about some of the fights you’ve had, from start to finish.
Just tell them whatever comes to mind: any incident, anything he said or did that still bothers you.
Your listeners might not know what to say. That’s fine. You just need to hear yourself say out loud what he did—that alone will help you consider whether it was acceptable.
(Although you don’t need to make a decision on that right now, either.)
***Important: Not your relatives, not his relatives, and not his friends. Find two people who aren’t any of those things.
3. Talk to yourself—through morning pages, journaling, or voice memos.
“Morning pages” is a meditation practice from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. You write three pages (so, 1.5 sheets of paper) out by hand in an 8.5 x 11-inch notebook, single-spaced, without stopping, first thing every morning. It takes about 35 to 40 minutes.
When the notebook is full, you throw the whole thing away without rereading. (I reread mine for the first year, though, and it really helped.)
If you don’t want to do that, just write in a journal whenever you get the chance.
And if you don’t want to do that, turn on the voice memos app and say whatever’s on your mind while you do something else. (I talk into my earbuds while walking, and people assume I’m on the phone.)
Honey, you don’t need to talk about it with him anymore. You’ve tried that.
(You could try again. He will promise to change. He will not, or not enough.)
(I know you know this. Your inner voice knows the truth. Do you have a sinking feeling? If yes—you have nothing to fear from that feeling. Listen to it, and your intuition will lead you out, towards a life that lets you feel better.)
Regardless of whether you’ve tried “enough,” it doesn’t matter, because anyone can leave a relationship at any time for any reason! You don’t need a reason! You can just go, because wanting to go is enough!
And—honey, this is the scariest part—a healthy partner understands that. A healthy partner will let you go just because you want to.
The scariest moment is when you realize this man is not healthy, and that’s not how he thinks. He’s going to make it as hard as possible for you to leave.
Baby, do literally whatever you need to do to get out of there safely, such as packing a bag and going somewhere without telling him.
I’m not saying you need to do that—only you can know what to do—but I’m saying it would be fine if you did. You wouldn’t be doing anything wrong if you did.
Above all, don’t worry about his feelings. Your safety is more important than anyone’s feelings.
I’m waiting for you on the other side. YOU are waiting for you—your radiant, loving, fully alive self. Come meet her. ❤
Maybe we can sing this song together.
Video: “Easy On Me” by Adele.
 First, you are not responsible for the abuse. You did not “let” it happen to you; someone did it to you, and the responsibility lies entirely with them. The only justification for violence is self-defense; there is no justification for what they did to you.
Second, people don’t “earn” love by being good or bad. Romantic love is not something you can deserve. It simply happens to you, or not. So stop thinking you did something to bring this loveless existence upon yourself. You did not cause it and YOU DO NOT DESERVE IT. (You know what you do deserve, no matter what? To love yourself! You deserve to, you can, and you will experience love within yourself, on your own!)
(I read about this concept on Captain Awkward, but I can’t find it. Will add a link if I find the source again.)
 Simon & Garfunkel said it best:
My life seems unreal, my crime an illusion
A scene badly written in which I must play
—“Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.”
As did Norah Jones:
Why does it seem like a picture
Hanging up on someone else’s wall?
Lately I just haven’t been myself at all
It’s heavy on my mind
—“The Prettiest Thing”
 In the distorted world you live in, there is always a justification for the abuser’s behavior. (Often something “you” did.)
These become “reasons” to understand him; reasons to stay. (“We’re both trying to make it work.” “I can’t face being alone.”) If you could understand why he does it, perhaps you could prevent it from happening.
Notice my feelings from the journal entry in part one: I’m impatient, I’m unrealistic, I’m snappy.
That turns into:
If only I could be more patient, maybe we wouldn’t argue. If only I could love him better, maybe he’d be better. Then my dreams would come true. We’d have the fairytale ending—happily ever after.
(Paraphrased from Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood.)
In reality, I did not cause the “arguments,” I did not cause his behavior, and there was nothing I could ever do to change it. All I could do was get out.
 When you are finally out, you’ll be able to respond with something like this—not to him (you won’t need to say it to him), but internally:
YES, I’m throwing it all away. It’s sad, but I will live. What’s really going up in flames is the vision of what I wanted to have.
Even if that vision could come true with you, I’m not willing to wait around anymore. Because I don’t want to.
I have said all that I could ever say to you. I have done all that I could ever do.
I am done. I am out. I am free.