Dear loved one,
This is a letter for you, the person in our lives who is in an abusive relationship. You are our sister and our brother, the girl we went to college with, the friend with whom we went on that epic road trip, our coworker, our parent, our past self, our future child. The abuse you’re living though may be emotional, sexual, or physical. You abuser may be a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, parent, friend, or some other relationship to you. Maybe you’ve spoken with us about your abuse, maybe you’re not yet comfortable sharing it, or maybe you’re not even comfortable labeling the treatment you endure with the “A” word. This letter is to you, the one we love who is enduring abusive behavior.
There are some things we want you to know, and the first, the most important, is this:
You are loved.
I love you, and many other people in your life love you. My love for you is not dependent on whether you choose to stay in a relationship with your abuser. I love you because you are good, smart, funny, kind, sassy, sweet, and brave. I love you because you are wonderful. You are.
Even if I didn’t exist to see it and love you for it, even if I don’t say it to you enough: you are valuable. You have intrinsic value. Please never forget that, even if your abuser sometimes tries to convince you otherwise. You have value, you have worth that he can neither give you nor take away from you.
You have a right to your reactions.
Your abuser will tell you that you are wrong, that you are unreasonable, that you just misunderstood. They will do this to you over and over until you’re not even sure what’s real, until you feel like you can’t trust your own memories.
And so you end up agreeing with them. Of course you do. Of course you must have misunderstood – because how could someone as good and sweet and loving as you know your partner to be, do or say such a horrible and hurtful thing? The darkness and the light can’t coexist, they don’t make any sense, so one of them must be false.
But they are both real. They can and do coexist. And the darkness in your partner is not going to go away. You are not imagining it. It is not the punishment you bring on yourself by not being selfless enough, giving enough, good enough. It is real. And it is not your fault.
It’s not your fault that you’ve been stuck for what feels like forever. The screaming fight you had, where you ended up groveling for days in apology? Not your fault. The time “you made him so mad” he punched through a wall right next to your head? NOT YOUR FAULT.
Not your fault. Not. Your. Fault.
You are not a monster.
Just because you have good memories with her doesn’t mean the bad times are worth enduring. It can be hard to end a relationship, but please look back to see how the good times and bad don’t just come in the natural rhythms of life; the good times come just when you’ve almost had enough.
Maybe you have difficulty calling what you are enduring abuse. Maybe that’s hard because you love them–but just because there’s love does not mean it isn’t also abuse. Or maybe you think it can’t be abuse because of who you are. Maybe your genders aren’t the genders you’ve associated with abuse from Lifetime movies: if you’re a man and she’s a woman, or you’re both women, etc. Or maybe you think that because you have relatively greater power in the relationship–physical power, economic power, social power–you can’t possibly be being abused. Yes, you can.
Maybe you think that just because you’ve never visited the hospital, just because you’ve never bled, it’s not abuse. But emotional abuse and sexual abuse are abuse. Maybe you think just because you’re not the “perfect victim” (if you’ve used drugs, if you suffer from a mental illness, if you chose to go back to her), your experience doesn’t count. Yes, it does.
Abuse can take many forms, some easier to recognize than others – although when you are deep in your relationship any abuse can be difficult to see because it has become normal for the two of you. But that doesn’t make it not abuse. When you cry for hours after hanging up the phone. When you hide things from the other person, because you know it will make them angry, and their anger terrifies you. When fights you have or things they do seem impossible, irreconcilable with the person you thought you knew. When they tease you, and once it used to make you laugh, but now it makes you shrivel up inside. When they do something that hurts you, and maybe apologize but then keep doing it and DOING it. These things are not okay. These things are abuse.
It can be so hard to see what is happening when you live inside it. It seems impossible for concerned friends and family to understand, because they just don’t see all the good parts. But I promise. They understand. They see clearly, in ways you can’t right now, how much this relationship is changing you and damaging you, just as you would be able to see clearly if it were happening to them.
If you wrote out every story of every thing she said and did to you, and imagined it happening instead to me, would you still think it was deserved? Would you still think it was worth it?
I know that you love him. I know you see good in him, that he is good to you sometimes, that the relationship you two share is real, that the bond is deep. You love him. That doesn’t mean the way he treats you is acceptable. That doesn’t mean you should stay.
Leaving isn’t going to be easy. But there’s support out there. I will support you. I promise. Things may suck for a while, but it will get better. So much better. And in the meantime, I will be here. I will help hold you up until the ache begins to dull, until you can stand up on your own again. I will also be here with material help, to keep you housed, fed, and safe.
And if you go back to him, I’ll still be here supporting you regardless. I meant what I said: I’ll love you regardless.
I have some practical advice for you, too. Talk to me. Whoever the people in your life are whom you trust the most, let us know enough about the situation that we can be here to help if you need it someday–even if you feel like you don’t need it now. Let us put together a safety plan for you. Ask us to tell you exactly what kind of help we can offer you: storing a copy of your personal documents, helping you move, paying for cab fare out of the house, giving you a place to stay, going back with you at a later date to get anything you left behind, caring for your pets. And speaking of personal documents, it really is a good idea to make copies of them: account information, birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, bank checks, money, etc. If there is or may be physical violence in your relationship, memorize the domestic violence hotline number: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233). Even if you don’t need these right now, please be prepared in case something changes.
Your abuser may not always recognize what they are doing to you as abuse. Some abusers are predators, but not all. Sometimes they are hurting themselves, and lashing out in abusive ways because that’s what they know. That’s the deepest groove that they most easily slip in to. I know this well from the abusers I’ve known in my own life. They are troubled people. But the abuser hurting or being unwell doesn’t absolve them of responsibility: abusive behavior is ALWAYS a choice. And it doesn’t make “fixing them” your responsibility. It doesn’t have to make them a monster or a horrible person. But it does make them not a good person for you. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
Darling. You can’t change them. I know you want to. I know you want to save them from themselves, save the relationship you have poured so much love into. But you can’t, you can’t, you CAN’T. No matter how much you love them. No matter how good you try to be. Nothing is going to stop the abuse. Nothing is going to change, not in the long term. The best thing you can do, the only thing you can do, is leave.
Please. My friend, my brother, my poor broken past self. Get OUT of there. I love you.
PS: Here are some resources you may find helpful: