things to do to avoid slipping back into troubled relationship
June 9, 2016 8:12 PM   Subscribe

I left a physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive relationship for the second time a couple months ago. It was the first romantic relationship i ever had, lasting from when i was 16 until March of this year (I am 40). I need some help.

So more than half my life. Our 20th wedding anniversary was in May. The last time I left him a couple years ago (actually asked him to leave) it only lasted for a few months and then i caved in and let him come back bc there was so much pressure from him and his family and i felt so alone. This time i prepared months in advance and got my own apartment in secret and moved out while he was out of town for minimum conflict. I never stopped talking to him but would not let him know where i lived for awhile. After a month or so and feeling a little safer, I gave in to his pleas to come see me at my new place. He was nice and I thought maybe we could be friends post divorce (slated for Sept) but the second time i let him come over he acted inappropriately (yelled at me and waved his arms around) and I thought we would have to scale back to only being social media friends at least for awhile. Meanwhile my friends were all CUT HIM OUT JUST CUT HIM OFF COLD FOREVER which seemed impossible. And then he said something so cutting and hateful to me over this past weekend that after being reduced to ugly sobbing for hours, I felt embolded to do it- I blocked him on all social media and when he began emailing me to pressure me to undo that I told him to not contact me for any reason other than related to our house (we co-own the house and will for 5 years as part of the financial settlement). He had a burst of trying to get me to reverse course for about 24 hours with tactics ranging from demands, to apologies, to pity guilt trips. I have so far not responded. Now it's been 4 days and the fury at his mean comment has worn off and I just feel sad and lonely. It's taking everything in me not to call or contact him.

I think it’s the giving up that’s hard…
even when I knew we couldn’t be married anymore I kept thinking if I worked it out right we could still be friends. but we cant. he is always going to crap all over it.
and hearing everyone who knows what’s going on say WOW he is really being shitty, you can’t be friends with him, he is going to keep hurting you, kind of put a dent in my optimism that I could make it work as friends

The giving up is really hard. I’m such an optimist and it cuts to the core to really and truly give up on something forever for good. Plus there is guilt and worry I'll never be loved again and etc etc.

I'm looking for perspective from women (or men) who left abusive relationships and made it through to the other side of happiness and rainbows years later. How long did it take you to get over the missing them part and the grief over giving up on something? I've never had a romantic breakup period so i suspect it's hitting me twice as hard as if I had prior experience with romantic relationships and breakups and what it is like to move on. What can I do, in the moments when I am dying to reach out to him (it feels very much like when you're trying to eat healthy and want to eat chocolate so bad and you know you shouldn't and man that is hard for me too..i wrestle with impulse control sometimes) to NOT give in? Is there anything I can to do make myself not miss him but to feel angry? I am told I should be angrier at how I was treated and it's sort of pathetic that I miss him and have to fight urges to reconcile. I feel stupid bc I know nothing will be any different if I do and the healthy thing is to stay apart and yet I still miss him.
posted by TestamentToGrace to Human Relations (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It's not pathetic and you're not stupid.

The giving up is really hard. I’m such an optimist and it cuts to the core to really and truly give up on something forever for good.

So don't give up forever for good. Give up until the divorce is final (and then reassess, extend the no-contact until the end of the calendar year, or until a year post-divorce, etc.) Like with your analogy to eating healthy - if you say you'll never ever have another chocolate chip cookie again, you're going to want a chocolate chip cookie! So say you're not going to have one today. And then say it again tomorrow.

Think of it less about blocking him and more about making space for you. Decide that you are focusing on your healing and growth for now, and recognize that the ongoing push-pull with your ex is a distraction from that. What your future will hold is unknown to you, and scary, but you will be stronger and happier for facing it than you will be if you remain in this cycle with your ex.
posted by headnsouth at 8:44 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

It is one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, sometimes chunks of 10 minutes at a time. And then it slowly becomes easier. You are strong enough to do it, this is for you. Wishing you the best.
posted by perrouno at 8:56 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

One thing I did, was I got a notebook and I wrote down every memory of everything terrible he had ever done to me. It was hard, but it helped. It helped me get mad and it helped me stay mad and it helped me sit on my hands and not call him or answer his calls. Any time I got the urge I read a few pages and got mad all over again.

It is not pathetic that you are not angry. So here's another thing: these relationships, they work very hard to push anger out of you. Anger is an incredibly useful emotion: it is a way of telling yourself that something is very wrong, something is going on that needs attention. So abusive relationships, and abusers - they work very hard to stamp out the feeling of anger in you. In fact, a lot of what goes on in abusive relationships has to do with the different mechanisms that the abuser employs to control you. Emotional control is one such way. Emotions are highly personal and very important in our understanding of our self. Abusers do not want you to feel emotions that they do not control, because abuse is all about taking away your agency. So it is entirely normal and expected for you to not feel angry. You haven't had your entire emotional spectrum available to you for quite some time, and you have learned a lot of ways to cope with that. It is not pathetic at all.

Take it one day at a time. Sometimes one hour at a time. Take care of yourself. Do things that a friend would do for you, or that you would do for a friend. Be kind to yourself. Take care.

Best of luck. You can do it. I did it. Many women have done this. It is not easy but you are strong.
posted by sockermom at 8:56 PM on June 9, 2016 [42 favorites]

You might try shifting your optimist self to thinking about how much better your life could be, rather than about how great your life was. It may open up some possibilities in your mind.
posted by lazuli at 9:00 PM on June 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

Leaving and staying gone is really, really hard. It's why people go no contact - because following a strict rule is a lot easier than the slip and slide of trying to hold your boundaries against someone who has spent years/decades wearing you down, learning all your weaknesses, and who knows exactly what buttons to press in order for your defenses to shatter.

It's OK to miss him. It's OK to want the good parts back. But realize that he gave up on treating you well long ago, that he clearly has no intentions of changing otherwise he would be on his very best behaviour right now (and instead he's doing very typical abuser things), and that it takes two people to make a relationship work but you're just one person. Even if you wanted to, you can't fix this on your own, and going back to him is not going to make you feel better.

It took me a long time to get angry at my abusers. It took eight years for me to realize that two of them had done anything wrong. The key to that was to realize that I did nothing wrong (edit: that it is impossible to "deserve" being abused), that I was lied to, that my good nature was taken advantage of, that I was very young and in need of protection not predators, and that I would never ever do such a thing to anyone else. It's OK if you're not angry. You don't need to be angry to stay gone. You don't need to be angry for leaving to be the right choice. So many of us have to fight to stay gone. You are not pathetic and you are not stupid for staying, or for feeling drawn back in, or for not feeling the right way. Abuse rewires your brain in many subtle ways that non-survivors do not seem to understand but trust me, the feelings you are having are normal and they do not mean you made the wrong choice.

When you feel like you are going to reach out to him, reach out to support instead. Contact a supportive friend who will listen to you cry, talk you down from your hopefulness, who will come over and watch a movie with you, whatever you feel will help. Do you have a therapist? If so, use them. If not, get one and see them regularly. You need people who can give you attention and kindness to help you learn that the way he has treated you is not the norm and you deserve much better than that.

Also, get out of your apartment and go do something! Find a good time sink so that you have less time to obsess over contacting him. I cannot overstate how useful distraction is at this point. Whenever you feel like you want to reach out to him, do something other than that, and eventually the feeling will pass. I found that certain activities work best for dealing with certain feelings so you might end up building a repertoire of them as your feelings progress (I am a very journaling-oriented person but sometimes taking a long fast walk is better; you will develop your own quirks I'm sure).

It gets easier with time. I know that sucks to hear when you're just starting out but it's true. Direct your optimism forward instead of backward (what you have right now is nostalgia). You can do this, you will be OK.
posted by buteo at 9:06 PM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

He doesn't love you, he just misses having you around to abuse. If you spend every moment for the rest of your life lonely and sad IT WILL BE BETTER THAN BEING IN THAT. And you know what? YOU WILL NOT SPEND THE REST OF YOUR LIFE LONELY AND SAD. You will heal and recover and fall in love again.
posted by vrakatar at 9:06 PM on June 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I know this is a standard MeFi answer, but you are in therapy, right? My therapist was very helpful when it came to dealing with my emotions and figuring out shit like, 'hey, that was actually a bad situation, you did not deserve that.'
posted by Tamanna at 9:34 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a professor in college that counseled victims of spousal abuse. This was her tried and true method of preventing a relapse.

Start writing a list of the ways he has abused you. Don't just think of a list in your mind, literally pick up a pen and paper and begin writing these things down now.
Be as specific as possible. Rather than "He gets mad at me whenever I buy something for myself" if you can remember go with "October 2015 he called me a slut, shoved me against the wall, and slapped my face 3 times for buying a new dress." Make sure to include every instance of abuse you can recall even if you think it was your fault or you deserved it (it wasn't and you didn't).
Aside from the abuse include traits that make him not a great husband (did he forget an anniversary or birthday?), not a good potential father (can he not control his temper?), not a great friend (is he mean-spirited or even abusive towards other people), etc and if you remember include the related incidents.
It's really best to start a list like this at the first signs of abuse when the actions are still fresh in your mind because the brain (and the heart) will start filtering the incidents with those rose-colored glasses and the more minor instances you'll forget completely. But since you've already been through it you need to really think and dig down and try to recall them. Make sure to keep the list updated as well... if he e-mails you again tomorrow write down any guilt-trippy sentences he uses, etc.

Now whenever you're feeling any type of fondness or longing towards him review your notes.

I totally feel you on feeling scared of never being loved again but this is where you should focus your optimism not towards something that hurt you and not towards preserving a relationship.
Just yesterday I was sitting at my computer and I felt something tickling my leg. I absently swatted at it and when I looked down I saw that I had knocked off a spider. I immediately smashed it and I have no regrets. I know spiders are 'helpful' in that they eat other, more harmful bugs, they're "harmless" to me, and some people believe that the life of a spider is still a life but a spider on me is a relationship that is not going to work. I know what I need for a healthy, stress-free life and not seeing spiders in my home is one of them.
So your ex isn't a spider and you shouldn't smash him but you know that he is something that does not belong in your life and you should not put any effort into preserving a relationship with him. I know I'm not about to carry a spider into the corner of my bedroom ceiling and hope he builds a new home. End it right then and there.
posted by simplethings at 9:37 PM on June 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

So. I have a close relative who was in a position similar to yours. She married, if not the first, one of the first men she ever dated. He was verbally and emotionally abusive to his entire family and physically threatening at times, as well. He was so manipulative (and she so overwhelmed with childcare and housekeeping), it basically took their children growing up and rebelling against the abuse to open her eyes to what was going probably seventeen years or more years of solid denial of his abuse (not to mention his substance abuse), and then nearly again as much before she fully accepted that nothing was going to change and started to try to get out.

She is much happier than she's ever been. She's not cutting herself down to please a capricious, vicious, petty little man anymore. She's not slaving away for someone who in the latter years basically treated her as a housekeeper. Her children are far happier, no longer having to negotiate his presence in order to enjoy time with her. His entire family, though they have their own problems, essentially sided with her--she goes to far more of his family's gatherings than he does. It's such a relief, not having to watch her throw away years that she'd never get back in service to the evil of this awful man anymore.

Abusers are good at manipulating your feelings and they're good at rewriting the past. I strongly recommend the technique described above: write down everything he does that makes you angry, and especially write down details of how you feel. My relative spent a lot of time in denial in part because it was nearly impossible, as a practical matter, for her to get out, and the situation too ugly for her to face straight on. For her own survival, she went along with his gaslighting. That's a hard habit to break. Even now, it's clear that she's blocked out many things her children remember vividly from their childhoods. I suspect you may have this problem, too. Create an objective record of the past. Acknowledge how awful he's made you feel. You have to reoccupy your own brain as yours, not his.

There's nothing pathetic about escaping an abuser. It's one of the bravest things you can do.
posted by praemunire at 9:38 PM on June 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

When people first kick their addictions or alcoholism, the 12 step programs often recommend going to an AA or NA everyday for 30 days. There are similar meetings for Codependents (Codependents Anonymous). Leaving an abusive relationship is kind of similar and you might find Coda meetings helpful. They provide support and you learn different ways of coping. You don't have to go everyday but you can go to as many meetings as you find helpful. I highly recommend them. Good luck to you. I wish you peace and fortitude.
posted by gt2 at 9:46 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm looking for perspective from women (or men) who left abusive relationships and made it through to the other side of happiness and rainbows years later. How long did it take you to get over the missing them part and the grief over giving up on something? ... What can I do, in the moments when I am dying to reach out to him... to NOT give in?

When I ended a relationship with someone angry and controlling, here's what helped:

- I found a part of me that was really happy at not being with him. Every time it showed up, I fed it by doing whatever thing. "Oh yeah, I can listen to the radio in the car now!" *turns on CD with favorite dance song* "Oh, I can actually stay out late now." *calls friend to make plans for a girls night out* That brought a lot of joy into my life, which felt new.

- I got a lot of self-esteem around how our break up happened. You should too! You should be super incredibly proud of yourself! You saved up and got an apartment in secret? That is super badass!! For me, I almost felt like I was a new person now (or "my old self again") and couldn't return to being a person who put up with the way he treated me. There was a sense that I "couldn't go back to sleep" so I'd be knowingly crushing myself instead of unconsciously letting myself be crushed, and I sensed that that would be far more psychologically damaging. Imagine yourself with newly-grown wings. Focus on using them (and know that you'd damage them if you let him crush them).

- I spent time with women I thought were rad and with whom I felt really comfortable. It would've been WAY harder if I felt lonely. I even stayed at a friend's house for a couple weeks while he moved out, and the company was so helpful.

- Some of these women were married, so I occasionally saw them interact with their partners. I think too much of that would've made me wistful, but a little allowed me to daydream about ending up in a marriage with someone kind.

- I had a big project at work that I really had to focus on when I was at work. And to make that focus possible, I would take time every morning and evening to meditate and let myself feel the sadness. I read Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart. And I'd go on long runs. Other than those things, I hardly could function. In those first couple weeks, it was like the pain was so intense, I couldn't think.

- A strange "brain hack" I found was to remind myself I never had to see him again. That let me stop replaying our arguments in my mind. It didn't matter if I persuaded him; I never had to see him again!

- For me the anger didn't kick in for awhile. First I felt disoriented and like I was missing a piece of my life. That alternated with feeling free and giddy and wanting to have a rebound relationship. I'd say those two lasted about two months. As it dawned on me how bad the relationship was, next I felt fear that he would find me and hurt me. After that, I felt anger, then deeper grieving, then anger. So the anger didn't kick in until later, maybe three months out. Hope and a sense that the next phase of life would be better kicked in first. The urgent desire to call him passed pretty quickly, maybe two weeks (with just three very intense evenings of sitting on my hands during those weeks)? The deep sadness took maybe a year or two to completely pass. (However, I was only with him for four years, so YMMV.)

- I'm not sure if this helped or hurt, but my therapist introduced the idea of "codependence" at this time. My focus shifted from "why does he do all these bad things?" to "what's wrong with me to have put up with this for all these years?" Focusing on myself was good (though the "what's wrong with me" angle eroded the new self-confidence, so I'd be careful with this one). But I think the information was helpful. For instance, this "I hate to give up" thing is straight out of the codependence book I read. It has a whole section on how codependency includes an unhealthy level of willpower. You're a fantastic person, but you're only human. You can only change yourself. You can't change him. So you can't fix the relationship. When you want to call him, just imagine him saying that cutting remark again and accept that you can't fix a relationship with someone who would do that. Your tenacity surely serves you well in much of your life, but in a relationship, it's healthier to have expectations for the other person and to give up on a relationship if they don't meet those. Around month 4 or so after the breakup, I began to read book after book on what it means to be in a healthy relationship. That was an exciting time, basically trying to relearn what it means to be in a good relationship.

Anyway, that was my experience. There were a few hard days, but it did get a lot better once I gave up and gave in to the fundamental un-fixability of the relationship. You're right: he'll just keep hurting you. The only person you can control is yourself, so the only way to keep yourself safe is not to fix your relationship (which you can't do) but to cut him out of your life. That will make room for a lot of good things. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 10:55 PM on June 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

I've never been in an abusive relationship but friends have and this is my observation. On some level you are engaged in a power struggle with him regarding how he treats you and are unwilling to give it up because you think you can still win. You can MAKE him act better if you just try hard enough. Then you can leave him becaue you won.

A few friends found that really helpful. One was deeply insulted. She has a long history of making new friends who support her deeply and she uses that friendship capitol as a wedge with her husband: be nicer or I'll leave, A has it all arranged. Inevitably he caves and is nice for 6 months and A is cut off.

Think on it. No one likes to walk away from a situation that they can see working.
posted by fshgrl at 12:30 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I remember some of your previous questions, and I am so proud and happy for you!! You have already done the hardest part, and you should be so proud of yourself.

Be gentle with yourself right now. When you want to call, give yourself love. Think through one step at a time what your emotions are and really interrogate what you are hoping to get from him. Be honest with yourself that you won't get love and acceptance and understanding. Instead, give those things to yourself. When you realize what it is that you want to hear him say, say it to yourself. Out loud if you can. It's really beneficial to hear things, even if we are just saying them to ourselves. Love and nurture yourself.

The brain that contains the problem also usually contains the answer. And in this case, the heart that contains the longing also contains the salve.

You have poured your love into him. Take that fountain of understanding and gentleness and kindness that you maintained for him and bathe in it. Reclaim your power.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:39 AM on June 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

I just want to add a caution about Codependents Anonymous recommended above. Different groups may be different and some may be better than others, but the few I attended took an approach that the codependent person is responsible for "enabling" the bad behaviors of their partner and focus a lot of figuring out how the codependent person contributes to patterns in relationships. I think this could be dangerous for someone in your position who needs a strong and constant message that the abuse was not and is not your fault. An abusive relationship functions psychologically like a cult or a POW camp and the techniques the abuser uses can change your sense of self, your behavior, and your perceptions (as well as make you feel more attached to them in a process called "traumatic bonding"). I seriously caution you to not listen to anyone (Oprah sometimes does this) who tells you you should figure out what about you drew you go an abusive man or kept you from leaving until you've had enough time to heal and regain your sense of self, own perceptions, and personality so you can separate what is you and what were the effects of the abuse.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:53 AM on June 10, 2016 [11 favorites]

What's so strange is that it's more difficult to leave bad relationships than good ones. I believe that it is because the level of intimacy in a harsh relationship is so intense, and it is hard to walk from that intimacy.

Works like this: He would almost certainly never, ever show others the sides of himself that he shows you, that he has shown you. Only you see that insane, inane part of him; he is revealing things to you that no one else knows about.

And you, you are revealing to him your willingness to stand in the shower of his abuses. He's treating you as no one should ever be treated, and he watches you stay; you show him pieces of yourself that no one else sees.

This dynamic creates an incredible intimacy. Note that I'm not saying that it is a healthy intimacy. But it is a huge intimacy nonetheless, and it is remarkably difficult for us to walk away from that level of closeness. It just is.

I've seen this play out many, many times. Ppl are just so astonished that they feel the pull so strongly, it makes no sense at all, it's very, very confusing, and in that confusion one party or the other will pick up the phone.

This might not be a fit for you but I literally have seen it, close-up, in many bad relationships, when they are ending.

Writing that anger listing others have written about upthread has been very helpful to me in one breakup in particular; I kept that list with me most all the time, and I drove by her place every damn day, and opening that book and reading from it saved my ass more than once.

In any case. Please just stay the hell out of there. It's not any good, nothing good can come of it; it is Over. So walk. Or run. Scream. Shout. Jump up and down. Buy a nice hat, and a nice plant, wear the hat and take care of the plant. Or wear the plant and take care of the hat, if that makes better sense to you. But break old patterns with new ones, and hats and plants are easy, and fun.

Please, just stay the hell out of there.

We are all with you, we are all cheering you on, we all want happiness for you, we all want the best for you.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:28 AM on June 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

My experience after leaving my emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive husband was quite similar to Salvia's, so I will focus on this: I am now engaged to a kind, loving, warm, respectful, gentle, affectionate man who treats me like an equal partner, who values my family, who wants to hear and respects my opinions, with whom I make music (my ex told me that my wish to perform was showing off and embarrassing), who makes long road trips fun (my ex would reduce me to shaking & tears on car trips because I was always reading the maps wrong or making mistakes when I tried to direct us). You can do this. My wedding this November will be 8 years after my divorce finalized. The intervening time I spent learning about myself (what I am good at, what I need, what I can work on to be healthier & happier) and good relationships (what my friends have, how they resolve conflict, what is a more normal way for a husband to express disappointment or even anger) was so worth it. For the record, I got together with my fiancé 7 years after leaving my ex, and spent the time between enjoying being single as well as enjoying some shorter term relationships which also taught me a lot - about myself, my resilience, and how to have disagreements without having panic attacks. I learned that men can be kind and love me, but perhaps not be The One for me. That was also an important lesson. Sending love & strength!!
posted by pammeke at 5:52 AM on June 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm looking for perspective from women (or men) who left abusive relationships and made it through to the other side of happiness and rainbows years later

I made it to the other side. The other side is a real place that people make it to -- and you can make it, too.

I am told I should be angrier at how I was treated and it's sort of pathetic that I miss him and have to fight urges to reconcile. I feel stupid bc I know nothing will be any different if I do and the healthy thing is to stay apart and yet I still miss him.

It's not pathetic that you miss him - it's normal, given the circumstances. This is your first and only serious, decades long relationship. I've had a hard time letting go of people I dated for three months. The main thing you need to realize is that wanting to connect with him isn't the same thing as having to do it. You can want something and know that you want it, yet not give into the desire to have it. The only way to really "not give in" is to know, on a bone deep level, that giving in would not be in your best interests and to nurture the seed of faith that you have that things can be better. Therapy can definitely help with this, provided the therapist is very skilled and understands clearly that your relationship dynamics are unhealthy (a bad therapist might not actually help you leave).

For some of us, being hurt and angry beyond all imagination helps push us out of a really bad relationship dynamic -- but in your case, you don't feel very angry (or at least you're not fully acknowledging your anger), so "bad feelings" might not be the thing that will help you leave.

Having a spiritual practice can help. Focusing on your well-being can help.

What can I do, in the moments when I am dying to reach out to him (it feels very much like when you're trying to eat healthy and want to eat chocolate so bad and you know you shouldn't and man that is hard for me too..i wrestle with impulse control sometimes) to NOT give in?

Have you ever looked into mindfulness and meditation? Cultivating a sense of mindfulness can help you notice when you crave connecting with him -- and sort of just observe those sensations and thoughts while generating compassion for yourself. It's less about "what to do" in these moments and more about "how to be": observant, kind to yourself, patient. Bring your awareness to your breath, to your body, notice how you feel when you are "dying" to reach out to him. Are you tense? If so, where, exactly? Does your skin feel hot? Is your heart rate up? Just notice what's going on with you and try to remind yourself: "I'm okay. It's okay. I will survive this desire. It will pass." Then watch as - slowly but surely - the desire to call him begins to fade, little by little. You don't want to call him 24/7, right? So there are times when the desire comes and goes -- pay attention to that coming and going. It's not a permanent state.

Is there anything I can to do make myself not miss him but to feel angry?

The mindful approach would suggest acceptance: Try to accept your feelings -- don't denigrate them or judge them. You miss him. That's fine. Missing him doesn't "mean anything" deeper than simply desiring someone who was familiar and, at times, surely a source of comfort (however fleeting). Missing him doesn't signify anything profound about you or about the relationship - it's just a feeling that you have right now, and it's a feeling that will, eventually go away. In the mean time, you're going to have to be patient and accept your uncomfortable feelings.

You can't really make yourself feel angry -- but I suspect that as you begin to refocus on yourself, anger will come up over time.

When you want to connect with him, focus on yourself -- how you feel, how you're breathing, what you're thinking. Maybe journal and write it out. Do something that's good for you: meditate, exercise, drink some water, rest, take a hot bath, go out in nature, call a friend, make an appointment with a therapist. Instead of trying to connect with him, connect with yourself. Prioritize that connection over everything and everyone else.
posted by Gray Skies at 6:11 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice above. I do hope you're seeing a therapist. Is there a local domestic violence program? Do they have support groups? Or can you call a domestic violence hotline whenever you feel like you're going to cave in and call him?

One thing many people find helpful is starting a vigorous exercise regimen. After leaving an abusive husband many years ago I decided to walk up a steep hill to work every day instead of taking the bus. I mean really really really steep. I cussed him out in time with my steps, it was like a chant almost, a meditation, and it got a lot of anger out. People must have wondered why I was stomping up the hill talking to myself, motherfucker, motherfucker, fucking asshole, etc. but they were mostly going downhill so only heard a word or two. I think it helped a lot, but ymmv. Getting stronger physically helped me to feel stronger emotionally.

Oh yeah, and life has gotten so much better, oh yeah, and it will for you too.

Stay strong and keep reaching out for support whenever you need it.

Stay strong
posted by mareli at 6:22 AM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just remember, you haven't given up at all. Going back would be giving up, you've done the hard brave thing.

I have now been in the relationship, but had a close family member leave one after many years. Seriously therapy can be a huge help here. Even a few sessions can help you reframe the situation in your mind and give yippy a lot of tools to deal work what you are feeling.
posted by wwax at 6:35 AM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I moved to a different town. I needed the distance to quench the feelings for him. It meant starting over and it wasn't easy but I could start over as me!
I can't emphasize enough what wwax said: Going back is giving up. Don't give up on you, you are your new project now.
posted by SyraCarol at 7:14 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I too remember your previous questions. You've gotten such good advice here. I just wanted to say -- and I think I'm not alone in saying -- Good for you! I'm so proud of you! You did great, getting out!

It sounds like a restraining order might help convince him to STFU, and give you a boundary to keep your side of too.
posted by Dashy at 8:14 AM on June 10, 2016

Years ago I went to therapy to figure out why I kept sliding back into a relationship I knew was making me unhappy. You’ve been with this guy since you were 16 — you don’t even have a comparison pre-relationships standard of happiness by which to judge how bad things are with this guy.

Some things that might help you:

— the aforementioned list of terrible things he did/said/made you feel
— telling him you need to go no contact for awhile for your own health and happiness, and that you’ll contact him when you’re ready. That way every time he contacts you it's proof that he's valuing whatever he wants above your health and happiness
—spending lots of time with other people — can you take a long weekend to visit a friend or relative?
— having a designated friend to text anytime you're tempted to backslide
—reminding yourself that this, while painful in the short term, will pay off in the long term and every day you get through without backsliding is one day closer to the day you’ll be in the kind of relationship you want to be in
— and when you simply can’t muster up any anger and there’s only sadness, it might help you to think of a relationship as a potato-sack race, and him as a guy with two permanently broken legs. They may not be his fault! And it’s certainly very sad for him, and for you. But trying to participate in the race with him won’t do him any good, so why sacrifice your happiness too?

I’ll also mention that I’m now in a much better relationship with a much better guy, and I know several women who found great relationships after age forty.

Finally, Captain Awkward is an advice site with lots of good advice both from the columnist and the comments sections about these kinds of situations. Here are two classics from it:

Darth Vader Boyfriend

My Heart is a Golden Retriever

posted by pocketfullofrye at 10:26 AM on June 10, 2016

One thing I did, was I got a notebook and I wrote down every memory of everything terrible he had ever done to me. It was hard, but it helped. It helped me get mad and it helped me stay mad and it helped me sit on my hands and not call him or answer his calls. Any time I got the urge I read a few pages and got mad all over again.

I did this, too. Every time I had some inkling of guilt or message from someone trying to get me to reconsider or had to see her or whatever, I went back to those stories. Every time I thought, oh, it wasn't that bad, I went back and could read in black and white that she hit me in the face or pushed me down -- I had proof. It helped.

As for how long it took -- it's been nearly 6 years and it still touches my life almost every day. But you know what? Now that fear has fossilized into strength and those memories don't hurt like they used to. I don't know if I will ever "get over it." But my life now is better than I could have ever imagined, and some of that is the strength I found getting through leaving her.

Good luck and love.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:23 PM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I ended a twelve year long relationship at the age of 33. She wasn't the first person I ever dated, but because we got together shortly after I finished college this relationship covered almost my entire adult life and I had never experienced a breakup like this. My ex-partner was not abusive to me in the way that yours was, but there were ways in which she behaved unfairly or manipulatively towards me and the relationship really ground down my expectations for myself, my expectations of what a good partnership meant, and my overall sense of self-worth.

When I left I kept the split as amicable as I could in part because I chose to make a clean break and start over rather than drag on a fight over assets and, if I'm honest with myself now, in part because she convinced me that I didn't deserve to advocate for myself more. We agreed to maintain a friendship and initially I thought that of course we would still be friends. Despite the demise of the relationship we still had an intellectual bond, a shared history, a group of friends in common. It was so hard for me to imagine my life without her.

After we split up I relocated back to my hometown a few hundred miles away and basically started my life over again. I spent a solid year just rebuilding things for myself—new job, new apartment, reviving relationships with local friends and family. I missed her so much at first and felt so lost without her and without that relationship. I spent a lot of that year in what amounts to a mild depression—functioning okay in meeting my own basic needs, but spending a lot of time alone in my apartment not interested in doing much. I saw my ex a few times that year and it got more difficult to do it each time. I found myself both looking forward to and dreading seeing her.

I was also very lucky to find a therapist who was able to understand and work with my history, thought processes, and core values while providing an objective, outside view of the relationship. She helped me come to terms with how the relationship had been both good and bad for me, and to gain clarity on how I could (and should) better support my own needs in the future. This therapeutic relationship was really beneficial to me, and I don't think I would have done nearly as well without it. Therapy helped me define and validate my feelings about the situation as they evolved, without getting stuck in rumination or self-recrimination.

About a year and a half after I left I feel like I finally woke up. I realized that trying to maintain a friendship with her was simply not workable and not in my best interests. There was too much painful history under the surface to support a meaningful (platonic) relationship. I unlinked from her on all our social media and stated politely but firmly that I was not interested in having further social contact. Sometimes I had to go back and remind myself why I made that choice, but I feel confident that I made the right decision. I also found that I felt ready to try dating. That's a little awkward itself, trying to do that in your 30s when you spent your whole adult life in one relationship, but I ended up meeting someone I really like. I don't know if she's the right long-term partner for me or not, but in the here and now she has been really good for me.

Moving forward after the end of a relationship like this is not easy or instantaneous. It really isn't. It takes time to process something this personally devastating, and your feelings will evolve over time. The anger will come when it comes—you can't force yourself to feel something before you are ready to. The things that helped me the most were therapy and making a physical separation between me and my ex. Starting over in a new area comes with its own challenges (and took me away from supportive friends) but drawing that clear geographic boundary made it easier for me to focus on rebuilding my own life rather than having a lingering connection and "what if/if only" feelings about my old relationship.

I can't give you a complete rainbows and happiness story—yet—since it's only been two years for me, but I can tell you that you will get through this. You will survive this change and stand on your own. You can find love again, maybe more than once. This is a time to be patient with yourself, put your own needs first, and concentrate on your own self-care as much as you can. As frightening and sad as it seems now, you have an opportunity for renewal and an opportunity to be better off and happier than you were before. That's a valuable gift. Good luck to you!
posted by 4rtemis at 3:24 PM on June 10, 2016

You are really, really brave and strong for making this change. It's very hard and you are doing a great job.

A few resources that I think could really help:

Please check out the books by Lundy Bancroft. He writes about abusive men, why they do what they do, and how it affects the women who are in relationship with them. I think it would be enormously helpful to you to see the dynamics of your relationship reflected in his writings... and also to get the perspectives of why exactly it's so very hard to disengage and get free from these relationships. You're not weak and pathetic: you're loving and you're human, and you have been treated in a way that exploits that. "Why Does He Do That?" is one title, and I believe there's another that's specifically about getting away and healing.

I also found Steven Stosny's book "Living and Loving After Betrayal" to be hugely healing as I was getting out of my own emotionally abusive marriage. Lots of great stuff in there, however one quick takeaway for when you're feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Try "Improve, Appreciate, Connect, Protect": basically any action that fits in one of those categories will help you build your sense of self. It doesn't have to have anything to do with what's making you upset. Improve anything: put on socks if your feet are cold, wash some dishes, practice your drawing skills. Appreciate anything: your pretty collarbones, the way the summer sunlight shines on the leaves, your new safe home. Connect with someone good for you: a friend, family, a pet. Protect anyone: your self, your space, your money. It's a great mantra for pulling yourself out of a bad spiral, easy and effective.

Good luck, strong lady. You can do this.
posted by Sublimity at 6:46 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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