I knew I was in a toxic relationship from the moment my girlfriend, Pippa*, threw a glass of water over me during a meal I had with a friend.
She did not like him, and accused me of focusing all my attention on him that night.
Pippa and I were together for three years, and it opened my eyes to the horrors of abuse. It is sometimes easy to forget that it affects men as well as women.
We met at an event in 2013. I was 23. Although I thought Pippa was attractive when I first saw her, it was not love at first sight. She was not an easy person to relate to but I grew closer to her as we shared an interest in politics and both had experiences with bullies at school, which created a bond.
At first, I was happy because Pippa was my first proper girlfriend in years. However, in hindsight one red flag cropped up immediately. She pitted me against my sister, Helen*, and Helen’s friend Jen*.
I was close to both of them but Pippa made me feel guilty about being friends with a woman, projecting her insecurities onto me. That’s how I justified her behavior, anyway; because my family adored Jen, most of them disliked Pippa before they really knew her, and I was increasingly forced to defend her.
It felt scary – I was on my own and, looking back, my relatives could see through her.
Pippa and I moved in together after eight months. From the way she described her feelings, I genuinely thought she was in love with me, and that moving in together would be a way to escape the conflicts with my family.
Pippa had convinced me my family were the enemies, so I genuinely believed it was all worth it.
What I failed to anticipate, however, was that being separated from them would leave me more vulnerable to mental abuse.
Pippa and I argued constantly. The worst rows were always about me having female friends: she would accuse me of fancying one of them and make snide remarks to them over Facebook. She would storm out of the house if a female friend commented on my status.
She insinuated that I might cheat on her, as her dad did to her mum, despite my having no track record of being unfaithful.
Back then, I thought our relationship would be forever but that my friendships would fade over time, so it was easier to cut off my female friends altogether. How wrong was I?
The situation hit rock bottom when I got a new job working for a special needs charity. Pippa constantly told me what I should and should not do at work and kept phoning me to start fights while I was there.
Instead of socialising with my colleagues at lunch, she would expect me to call her for the whole hour. In the end, the charity sacked me, saying that they felt like I wasn’t focused.
By this point, my mum, dad and Helen were picking up signs that things were not right.
Pippa had refused to help me financially when I lost my job and spent all her money on a new car while I was pleading poverty.
My dad accused her of bullying me and Helen, and Mum told me I had to defend myself more. But I didn’t know any other man who was going something like this and had no clue what to do.
When the relationship finally came to an end in 2016, it was Pippa who left me. We were at a family birthday meal, and after too much to drink, I got angry at comments my sister made about Pippa spending more time with a male friend than she was with me.
Ironically, it was Pippa who ended it, citing the constant drama as her reason.
It felt like a huge betrayal. I had just defended her yet again, and this was how she repaid me.
The damage caught up with me when I started to rekindle the relationships I had lost. It wasn’t easy to build those friendships up again – most of my mates welcomed me back, but others were lost for good.
I was also scarred financially. I lost a lot of money paying for a house that we barely lived in and I still feel like I am picking up the pieces.
Nonetheless, I have put my energy into another career; I still have my friends and family and I am able to live on my own. My self-esteem has gradually come back over time.
When your partner demoralises you, and interferes in your life, they are exerting control. Since being with Pippa, I’ve been able to help some friends identify red flags in their own relationships, and they have done something about it. I feel really positive that I was able to help.
I am now in a loving relationship now that started three years after Pippa and I split up. Unlike my ex, she trusts me to spend time away from her – and my family adore her. It makes me optimistic about the future.
I don’t think we hear enough about the emotional abuse men suffer because there is a societal pressure to be ‘tough.’ Since the #MeToo movement, the focus has been on female abuse survivors, and quite rightly so. But if more men sought help from specialists and were open about their experiences, others would be encouraged to come forward and get the help they need.
I’d advise anyone who thinks they might be in an abusive situation to trust their gut instinct and walk away. I know it is easier said than done – I thought that I was locked into living with Pippa because we had signed a contract but there are always ways round these obstacles.
Take control of your destiny before your partner does it for you. I’m so glad I did.
*Names have been changed
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