I Was Married To An Abusive Sociopath, And It Took 12 Years To Finally Walk Away

by Marla Khan-Schwartz
Originally Published: 
An anxious woman that was a victim of abuse
Marjan_Apostolovic / Getty Images

It took 12 long years for me to finally walk away. The relationship, which was doomed from the beginning, kept its momentum battle after battle. During that time, filled with guilt, rationalization, dependency, anger, sadness, and motivation to leave, I still felt stuck. I couldn’t move away from it. Something kept me there, and I just couldn’t pinpoint it while it existed.

He was charming and attractive. He liked me. He paid attention to me and made me feel like I was the only one in the room. I had never been in a serious relationship before, and I ate up every word he said. He told me I was beautiful. I was his favorite “subject” when we took pictures. He wowed my friends when I first introduced him to them. I felt like I was on cloud 9.

I remember the first time he became angry with me. It was about a year and a half into our relationship, and we decided to talk about politics. I made a comment he didn’t like, and suddenly I was yelled at, sworn at, and told I “better watch my mouth.”

There were many subtleties that occurred during this time, but I was either blinded by his attention at the time or I chose to ignore it and kept hoping this was normal in relationships. Maybe there was something I was missing? I just didn’t care — I was in a relationship with someone who paid attention to me.

As time progressed, his behavior become more visceral. He started to accuse me of flirting with other men. If I looked in any direction and there happened to be a male standing there, I’d get accused of “checking him out.” I learned to walk with my head down and never look at any male who happened to be walking by. He’d happen to walk by my room when I was getting ready to go out with girlfriends and accuse me of wearing certain underwear because I had intentions of cheating on him. He’d pick fights when we were out with other men if he saw anyone looking in our direction or say “hi” to us.

His charming behavior with others continued, but many of my friends and family started to see another side of him. My brother first met him on a night we planned out. By the end of the night, he had gotten into a bar fight with another patron in front of us. I still stayed with him. He convinced me time and time again that it was “their” fault, and if I had anything to say about it that didn’t corroborate what he had manipulated, I’d get yelled at and called a “cunt, bitch, or whore.” Those names became a very repetitive and normal part of our argument repertoire.

Sadly, I started to believe these things, and my confidence started to dry up. He started to call me “fat, lazy, and no one would ever want to be with me.” He started to isolate me from my friends and family. He would verbally attack my family during fights and make comments insinuating I was who I was because I was taught to be the “shitty” person who stood in front of him. He threatened to kill a man at a gas station car wash because the man cut in front of our car in line. He tried to run someone off of the road in Montana and almost got arrested for intent.

He was never wrong. I was never right. The list of incidents continued to grow and grow.

Over time, the physical abuse started. He would get in my face and spit in it as I crumpled and sobbed. He laughed when I cried. He urinated on my bed one night because he “felt like it.” He urinated in my contact lenses case. He pushed me out of a car once. He pushed me across a room after he accused me of “accepting advances” from others. He locked me out of my house because I liked Barack Obama. He started to fight with my friends and convince me that they were no good and that I should not continue the friendships with many of them. He called several of them and yelled as well as threatened them. I lost many important friendships because of this and my dependency that had developed for him over time. Even when we tried to converse about what happened, it always led back to why I deserved it or a justification as to why it had to happen. He felt no remorse.

During all of this, I began to become numb to what was happening, and it began to normalize. When he would threaten to kill me, keep a loaded rifle under our bed, or spit in my face, I was somehow not scared. Not because I was some fierce person who could withstand his behavior, but because I realized much later this was a normal part of life for me. That was fucked up. This, coupled with his convincing words that I was nothing without him, led to the perfect internal and unconscious storm. In hindsight, I can see how so many others stay once this becomes a baseline.

I was numb and continued to live this secret life that my family had no idea what was happening. He continued to charm the new people that we met and ostracize the old friends and family that we had relationships with.

I married him after nine years. The marriage lasted three years, with a year of that living separately. I spent our first anniversary on my friend’s couch for three days after he had kicked me out of our place. The last two months of our marriage were filled with empty promises and more verbal and physical abuse. He had promised to get help and attend anger management. This never occurred. He had roped me back in with this promise, but once he was cozy back at our place, he soon disregarded the idea stating I “was the one that needed help.”

In the last month of our relationship, he was reading my texts and accusing me of texting other “men.” Those men were friends of ours, but he didn’t like that I was texting without his approval. During this time I was being accused of cheating on him, I was also going through a miscarriage.

Any woman who has been through a pregnancy loss is more than likely in a very emotional and saddened state. He was relentless in his abuse even stating to me “good thing that pregnancy didn’t work out. Look what kind of mother you would have been.” He also took all of the money out of our joint checking account and held it in an account I had no access to because I didn’t agree to buy an Xbox with money we did not have. He told me “once you learn your lesson, I will return the money.” He held the money for almost a week and made me beg him to return it.

Everyone has a defining incident that breaks them away eventually. The hope is that it’s not death. We attended a wedding for a friend and the night ended with him yelling at me at the afterparty because he told me that I “was about to cheat” on him with one of the groomsmen. He spent the rest of the night spitting in my face and mocking me in front of our friends telling them I was an awful wife and had many problems.

I went back to our hotel room and packed my things, hoping I could get out of our room without a confrontation, but he saw me and blocked me from leaving. I struggled to get past him, and he grabbed the car keys from me while gouging skin out of my hand. He cracked the key in the process. His friends were calling the room as they sensed he was escalating. They finally got to our door and had to restrain him from attacking me. He left with his friend and ended up taking my car and deserting me at the hotel. While he drove back to our place, he called my father at 6 a.m. to tell him that I “was not fit to be a wife.”

My father and mother were mortified and worried as he had yelled at them to the point they were concerned for my safety; he would not tell them where I was or if I was okay. My mother jumped in her car 180 miles away without her insulin and drove to the city to find me. In hindsight, this has to be a parent’s worst nightmare. The realization that their intuition is right and the fear that their daughter is dead has to provoke anxiety not often felt.

When I woke up few hours later, I talked with my father. I finally broke down and told him I needed to get out as I was terrified. This was the impetus of my divorce — my divorce from the abuse, the dependency, the fear, the trauma. I spent 12 years of my life following a man who could not have cared less about my well-being, who could not have cared less about the person I was, who could not have cared less about my emotions and feelings, who could not have cared less about my aspirations, dreams, and love I had to offer.

It took me several years to come to terms with the weight this relationship had on me emotionally. The numbness disappeared after some time, and I was able to feel the fear and terror I should have felt during many of the incidents that occurred over the 12 years.

I don’t fault myself for being part of that time. I believe it made me a stronger woman. I also think it enabled me to find the person I was meant to be with. The abusive relationship taught me to be more cautious in choosing a partner. A defining moment for me was ending a new relationship post-divorce that showed signs of my past. I finally felt the sense of control I needed to feel. I knew I was going to get through it. It’s taken many years to build my confidence, but it’s a work in progress that I am happy to continue learning.

As for him, I look back and realize I am no longer married to a sociopath, and that feels amazing. My goal in life is to be open about my experience so others can hopefully learn from it. Walking away was the best decision I’ve ever made. I am confident about that. I am now surrounded by love and open, healthy communication.

I am here to tell you about this, but many women and men are not. If you or anyone else you know needs help, please be their ear. Please talk to them if you have any concerns about their relationship. It could save their life. When there is open dialogue about a potential problem, rather than ever asking the person “Why did you stay so long?” or making comments such as “He was so charming,” concentrate on how courageous it is that people who are the victims of abuse are able to leave and take a stand. Making a victim feel guilty about having stayed so long or not leaving earlier is a setback. Help them realize what lies ahead because if anyone has been the victim of abuse, I’d say there are many amazing things to see, do, and feel in the future.

Here’s to those who have survived domestic abuse, those who support ending it, and those who create awareness on a daily basis.

If you or someone you know is being abused, you are not alone. Click here for help.

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