We were strolling along Gran Via in Madrid, holding hands. The sunlight was more beautiful than the usual stunning light in the Mediterranean city. Instead of walking, the feeling was of floating next to him as we approached the train station.
We talked about Lennon, Gandhi, Janis Joplin, and Buddha. I felt lucky to be loved by this beautiful, tall and very handsome man. I was completing an exchange program. During the weekends, we picked a different destination that was new to both of us and traveled there together; it was pure bliss. Only eighteen days after we met, we were driving through the winding roads of the Spanish Pyrenees, when he asked: “Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me?” “Yes,” I said. No cameras, no social media, not even a ring, he proposed in the most romantic way. After finishing my undergrad studies back in the U.S., I packed 20 years worth of a life in America and moved to his lovely European island. My family met and loved him, his family welcomed me and made me feel at home.
The first time he insulted me was one week before our wedding. I had moved in with my arsenal of skin and hair products, which upset him. He started off by criticizing me, calling me a consumerist, a materialist and insecure. I defended myself which made the situation worse and within a few minutes, the criticism had escalated to insults. I cried, something broke inside of me. My family was flying in within a week for our wedding and I was oh so in love that this could not be real, it had to be a one-time incident, so then and there, I decided it was not that serious. He apologized and promised it would not happen again. He was probably stressed out, nervous about the wedding, I said to myself. Maybe I had exaggerated with all these products, I thought, maybe I really was materialistic. I didn’t need that much stuff, I was naturally pretty anyway. Maybe he was right, I thought. I forgave, but the mechanism of abuse had already planted its first seed.
The first time he insulted me was one week before our wedding.
This was followed by many of such experiences; at first sporadic, then becoming more frequent. I forgave him and stayed every time. Don’t misunderstand, I was never weak, I never surrendered — on the contrary, the more he attacked, the harder I fought. He used to call me a failure, a spoilt brat, a disaster, an idiot, a slut. In response, I completed a master’s degree in an Ivy League school, in feminist studies. I learned to insult back, yell back, fight back, and lived to prove him wrong about his put downs. Until one day eight years into the relationship, during an argument, I was on the floor and he kicked me, I ran to the bathroom and he chased me, threatening me. That is when I realized, this was not healthy. This was me losing a battle that was killing me softly.
Until one day eight years into the relationship, during an argument, I was on the floor and he kicked me, I ran to the bathroom and he chased me, threatening me.
I have always refused to call myself a victim, I don’t agree with that term. A cancer patient is a victim, a crime survivor is a victim: they can not be held accountable. This was not me being a victim, this was me volunteering to be destroyed. Why did I stay all that time, you may ask. I was confident that my love could heal him. I loved the good side of him and thought I could bring back the amazing man I once strolled along the Gran Via with and eradicate the bad side forever.
Once I realized the “good” and the “bad” side of him are both him and there is not one without the other, I knew it would not work. It took me almost three years after our separation to sign the divorce papers. I recurred to the help from an online blogging community, family, friends and a wonderful life coach I saw weekly for a year to accept that the dark side of him would destroy me and I had no control over that. I embarked on a process of re-building myself; committed to yoga and meditation, moved to a new city back in the U.S., found an amazing job and am surrounded by loved ones.
Now, seven months after our divorce, sometimes I still miss the good days, but I would not go back to the living hell part of it for a minute. I accepted that no matter how much love we give to this person, we can’t change them. Attempting to love an abuser is like pouring water into a broken class, regardless of how much love we pour into this person, they will continue to be broken.
Attempting to love an abuser is like pouring water into a broken class, regardless of how much love we pour into this person, they will continue to be broken.
If you suspect abuse in your current relationship, reach out, write, read, do research — there are plenty of resources that domestic abuse survivors have put together. Those who helped me the most were women I talked to in online forums, they were the key to my awakening. You are not alone and under absolutely no circumstance should you volunteer to be destroyed.
By Marilia Sabalier. To connect directly with the writer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature Image by Daniela Leon
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