Love. What a confusing word. To a victim of abuse, this word is tarnished, burned as it is used for so many contrasting emotions. At one point, love was wonderful. Love was a connection between two people. It was something you searched for and longed for, something that grew inside you. Something warm and comfortable and exciting. In the beginning of my first relationship, love was everything I imagined it would be, and more. Love was having someone to cuddle with. Love was finding notes in my locker and getting sweet text messages and having someone tell me that I was beautiful and that I was amazing. Love made me feel alive. It made me smile when I woke up in the morning and smile throughout the day and smile when I got back in bed at night, thinking about love.
Then, slowly, love became my abuser’s excuse. Love was the cause for jealousy. Love made him scared he would lose me, love made him cling and pry. Love was his reason for everything he did. “This is all because I love you so much….I don’t mean to hurt you, I just love you so much it makes me feel like I am going crazy…People only find love like ours once in a lifetime, I can’t let you throw it away.” Love was the excuse for the dirty words. It was the reason he climbed on top of me, held me down. It was what made him follow me, what made him call 50 times in a row. Love was the force behind his fingers as they gripped my arm. It was the pain I felt as he pushed me up against a wall. “Love” was what was responsible for what was hurting me.
The first definition of love was so strongly engrained in me, that by the time the second definition of love came about, I could only see it through the lens of the first. When people ask a victim why they stay with someone who hurts them, it comes back to this progression. If the second definition of love was presented to us first, we could see it independently and identify the flawed language: this is not love, it is abuse. But abusive relationships do not start out abusive. The power of the abuse comes from the abusers position of gaining trust and establishing a loving relationship.
Because of this, love becomes a prison. Love is the reason why we stay. It is the reason why we excuse the abuse and why we don’t recognize it. But I love him. I said it so many times when I was stuck in the cycle. I love him. And I did. As a victim, this is the one of the most important realizations you can make. The love you feel is real and it is strong and at times it feels downright crippling. I didn’t fall in love with a horrible monster…I fell in love with a loving, caring, seemingly innocent boy who was my best friend. I wasn’t in love with the boy who hurt me; I was trying to find my way back to the person he used to be.
If the person you are in love with makes you feel afraid or badly about yourself, start to break down the relationship in your mind. Take it apart, piece by piece. Write it out if you can so that you can see it in front of you.
Without thinking about your boyfriend or girlfriend, think about love in general.
What does love look like?What does love feel like?
Does love make people feel good or bad?Does love make people feel safe or scared?
Does love make people feel better about themselves or worse?
Does love make people smile or cry?
Does love make people feel like they have a voice or should it their voice away?
Think about the people who you love most in your life, like a
younger sibling or a cousin or a best friend. What do you want for them?
Do you want them to have lots of friends or to be alone all the time?
Do you want them do be successful or to fail at everything in their life?
Do you think that they are beautiful? What would you do if they were crying or if they were upset?
Do you want them to have their own opinions about things or do you want them to be quiet all the time and to do whatever anyone tells them to do?
Now think about what you want in a relationship. If you had the power to create a perfect relationship from scratch…what would it look like? What would your perfect partner do or say to you? How would you feel in this relationship?
Think about the relationship you are in right now. Is your definition of love the same as your partners? Does your partner’s “LOVE” make you feel the way that other kinds of love make you feel? Do his actions match what he says he feels about you? Are they loving? Do they make you feel the way that you described love made you feel?
These can be a hard questions to answer because you have to look at the present, not the past; and you have to look at the bad times, not just the good. You also have to separate the words from the actions. You have to separate the person and your feelings of love from the way he actually makes you feel. When I ignored how great everything was in the beginning of the relationship and thought about what I was feeling at the present moment, this is what I felt at the time of my relationship with Dave.
As much as I loved him, I realized that our relationship was not a relationship I wanted; our “perfect” relationship, was no longer there. Dave was no longer the person that I fell in love with. I saw the old Dave in snippets, but the way he treated me was not love. I stopped excusing his behavior and took back my definition of what love was to me.
As you ask yourself these questions, you can start to separate yourself from the abuse. The first step to getting your life back is to be aware of how things really are and to be honest with yourself. What is happening is not your fault. You can’t make it better by “being a better girlfriend,” or “doing everything perfectly.” You are dealing with an abuser. You are being abused, not loved.
I understand that the love is strong. Losing someone or something we really love is devastating. If the person you fell in love with is no longer the person that you are dating, this is a big loss, and it is sad, and it is not easy, especially because outwardly they still look like the same person. Mourn your loss, but hold on to what you really want in a relationship and don’t let the good times blind you to the bad.
My abuser told me over and over that what we had was so special and amazing and that people search for it their whole lives and sometimes never find it. I believed him, and I felt what he said with all my heart. Looking back now, I am so thankful that I was wrong. Abuse is not love. No matter how much an abuser tries to blame the abuse on love. Trust your definition of love and don’t settle for a relationship that makes you feel bad about yourself, or afraid, or alone.
I hated when people told me that there were other boys out there, there are a lot of other fish in the sea. I didn’t want any other fish. I wanted things to go back to being good with the fish that I had. I didn’t want to let it go. But surprisingly, everyone was right. It was hard, but I stopped loving Dave. I fell in love again, with other boys. I realized how much I had been missing out on when I was dating Dave, not how much I had given up by leaving him. And I have found a love that is real, and that is stronger and more wonderful than what I had with Dave.