I always thought I was too smart to allow a man to abuse me.
“I’d know better,” I’d tell myself.
“Battered housewife” is not an option for me. The word “victim” is not in my vocabulary. I have too much respect for myself, and I’d leave in a heartbeat if that ever happened to me. Any woman who allows herself to be treated in such a way is a coward with zero self-esteem.
The funny thing is, I was telling myself these things and sharing all the happy social media posts as I was slowly and surely being abused. The only catch was that my husband never hit me.
I mean, sure — there were times he jokingly twisted my arm behind my back, applied the slightest amount of pressure to my elbow, and asked me, “Do you know how easily I could break your arm right now?”
But that wasn’t abuse — he was joking.
I could not have been more wrong about anything in my entire life. Looking back, I could see him growing and me shrinking. Me less, him more.
There were times he would tell stories that made me look stupid or lazy in front of friends and family. I’d laugh along with him, but internally I’d be absolutely mortified.
He painted me as a drunk and a mess and I, complicity, watched him write the narrative of my own life right in front of me.
He would call me an idiot in public and then laugh as he suggested I walk 3 feet behind him. It was always a joke.
My friends suddenly became drama, trash, and troublemakers. My circle grew smaller.
There were times when I would need extra money for something (anything, really), or could not afford to do something he wanted me to pay for, and he would call me “Broke Ass Brittany” and tell me I was terrible with money.
He told me he would raise his daughter to be an independent woman so she wouldn’t grow up needing a man like her mother did. His salary was twice mine, and we split all expenses evenly. It was a setup for failure.
I would share with him that I had lost 7 pounds in 5 weeks and was met with “That’s it?”
He would poke fun at my breasts, my belly, my thighs, my “back fat.”
At family gatherings, he would supervise me as I ate, and if I put something on my plate he didn’t deem “healthy enough,” I would be shamed in front of everyone for it.
He would make fun of my “flat ass” and tell me I needed to squat more. He encouraged my daughter to tease me: “Do more squats, Mommy!” I was overreacting and being too sensitive when I would try to explain that body positivity is a something I wanted our daughter to embrace.
He would get angry with me in the bedroom because I felt uncomfortable being naked and exposed to him. I wasn’t “freaky” enough.
I’ll never forget the night he groped me in public, and when I explained that consent still exists in marriage and I didn’t want him to touch me (and therefore he shouldn’t), he claimed I ruined the night, and we drove home in silence interspersed with bouts of him explaining what a disappointment I was.
If I caught him looking at another woman, he would tell me it was because I wasn’t working hard enough to please him.
He needed to watch pornography because I was unable to provide him with what he really needed.
Any accomplishment, big or small, was immediately deflated and rarely celebrated. I could have done better. I always could have done better.
His demands were hefty, and if I could not meet them, I was berated because I should have known what I had gotten myself into when I married him. He had standards, and I consistently failed to meet them.
If he felt like I was on my phone too much, he would turn off my data for 24–48 hours or until he felt like I had learned my lesson.
My family were big mouths and know-it-alls when they tried to stick up for me. I was no longer allowed to confide in my mother or my sister. He’d rather I “talk to the walls” before I talked to either of them about anything.
I was asked privately by concerned family members if he had ever hit me. Several times.
He told me he hoped I wrapped my car around a tree one night when I was going out alone with family and some friends. And then he denied it.
He would tell me I was lucky I had it as good as I did. I should be grateful. I had no right to complain.
At the end, when I finally worked up the courage to tell him I was leaving, he told me I was an ungrateful bitch and that he knew plenty of women who would be happy and willing to take my place.
No one would want a loser like me if I left. He was the only one willing to deal with my bullshit.
And I deserved all of these things.
I should have known that this is not normal. I should have known that this is not love.
But emotional abuse is sneaky. It starts small, with things like jokes and subtle comments, and then escalates until you question everything you do and think. Your thoughts are no longer your own. Instead, your thoughts have been shaped into a horrifying alternate universe by the very person who vowed to love and protect you. It’s the ultimate bait and switch.
You are subconsciously taught to devalue your personal worth. It’s cruel, and it happened to me.
I thought I was too smart, but I found myself clawing my way up and out of that huge void.
It has been almost two years since I left my now ex-husband (a little over a year since our divorce, which, as easy as I tried to make it, was a spectacle in and of itself), and I am finally feeling brave enough to write about this. I spent a lot of time debating with myself that maybe I wasn’t really being abused and that maybe I really had done things to deserve what I had endured for so long. Maybe I was just overreacting and being dramatic.
This, friends, is a lie. The effects of gaslighting are real, and they persist. When your personal reality is screwed with, it really takes its toll.
Was I the perfect wife? Absolutely not. But now I do know that no one deserves to be treated this way. Never. Under any circumstances. This is never, ever acceptable.
It took almost a solid year of counseling, praying, breathing, and a whole lot of digging deep within myself to climb out of that hole. It was ugly, dirty work, but here I am.
And yet the absolute best part of this entire experience was finding myself in picking up the pieces. As I worked to repair the damage, I found the tiny fragile bits of who I am — the parts that I suppressed because I lost myself in the endless cycle of becoming less — and was able to get reacquainted, nurture, and love them for what they are.
The end result is an unapologetic, authentic me that I celebrate and love fiercely.
So why share this now?
Two years later, I’m happy. My life is not perfect by any means, but I have zero expectations for perfection. I have worked on setting my personal boundaries and have defined what is unacceptable and not tolerable to me in any relationship. I know and value my worth. I am dating an incredible man who sees the same in me. My support network is through-the-roof incredible. I am blessed, humbled, and so full of gratitude it feels like my heart could explode.
And just last week, my ex-husband called me a cunt via text message. Instead of it absolutely crippling me like it would have two years ago, I rolled my eyes and went on with my day (okay, I might have taken a screenshot of it and sent it to a few close friends with a quick “WTF?” and then I went on with my day). I don’t allow his negative energy to interfere with my life any longer. I have done too much work to backslide. I see it for what it is. I have named it, and I do not allow it power over me.
This is why I bring it up now.
Because I know there are women like me who think they are too smart to fall into patterns of subtle abuse, only to find themselves deep within its grip.
There are women like me who will tolerate the absolute worst even though they deserve more.
They will succumb to being less than.
They will believe lies.
And years later, a simple angry text message could be enough to send them into a spiral of self-blame and loathing and unhappiness.
I want these women to know that they are not crazy. That their own thoughts can be trusted. They are not defined by another person’s definition of who they are. They are valued. They can find their truth, and in finding truth, find strength as well.
Here is my truth. It’s burned white-hot on my heart, and I share it here:
I was a victim of domestic abuse. I have fought the good fight and won. I have become less to become even more. I am broken and rebuilt — stronger than before. I am not stupid. I am brilliant. I am not lazy. I know where and how to devote my precious energy. I have friends and family who are my rock. My body is perfect and strong and beautiful. I can be vulnerable. I can share my thoughts and feelings without feeling shame or fearing ridicule. I matter. I know what I deserve. I am worthy of every good thing my mind can conceive.
The beauty in finding ways to repair what seems irreparable? The thing you put back together is more powerful than before.
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