LESSONS IN LOVE

‘Lockdown made me realise that the person I loved never really existed’

One woman tells Olivia Petter how the pandemic and relationships counselling gave her the clarity she needed in order to leave her abusive ex-girlfriend

Friday 12 March 2021 17:03
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<p>It took a lot of strength for me to finally cut her out</p>

It took a lot of strength for me to finally cut her out

I

t wasn’t until she called my name that I realised I hadn’t stopped shaking for four minutes. I’d just found out that my on and off girlfriend of 10 years had slept with someone else two weeks previously. Just when we’d been trying to make our relationship work again.

For once, things had been good between us. We’d been getting on, doing each other’s washing, and cooking meals together. It was nice. At least, that’s what it felt like. The truth was that my ex’s cheating confession was just another blow to what had been an emotionally abusive relationship that had isolated me from friends and family members for the better part of a decade.

My ex, Amy*, and I got together when we were both in our early twenties after meeting at a dinner party. Confident, intelligent, and always making people laugh, she lit up the room. Everyone wanted to be near her, if only to feed off her energy. I fell in love almost instantly, and it wasn’t long before we were in a serious relationship.

But looking back the dynamic between us was always off. Even in those early days, I idolised Amy. I felt so lucky to be with her and couldn’t believe she wanted to be with me, but this, I now realise, was deeply unhealthy. And it’s the very thing that meant I refused to let go or walk away, even when she became abusive.

Amy drank a lot, and it would often make her aggressive, particularly towards me. She also had issues with gambling, something I only discovered six years into being with her, which is a testament to how good she was at lying. Whenever I tried to help, either by suggesting rehabilitation programmes or holidays away together, she’d threaten to leave me and say I was the one that needed help, a comment that frequently made me doubt my own sanity – I now know this is called “gaslighting”. 

She cheated on me several times, too, something she also became incredibly good at hiding – she deleted messages and turned off the notifications on her smartphone so I’d never see who she was talking to behind my back – and denied it whenever I confronted her.

She deleted messages and turned off the notifications on her smartphone so I’d never see who she was talking to behind my back

This became a torrid cycle that would repeat for the next few years until finally, we broke up towards the end of 2019. Despite the fact that we’d broken up many times before, this time felt real. She moved out of our shared home and we blocked one another on all forms of communication bar email, in case of emergencies.

But like all the breakups that came before, this one didn’t last, and before I knew it, she was back living with me and drinking excessively most nights. It was 2020 when she finally left again after yet another argument. This time, though, she couldn’t stay away. There were evenings when she’d break into the house. On one occasion she sat in my garden for three hours, just so she could beg me to take her back. When we spoke on the phone, she’d make comments about driving past my house at night, which made me feel very unsafe. 

There were a few occasions when Amy made very real cries for help that resulted in her going to hospital and me picking up the pieces once again. It was after one of these that she ended up moving back into my house, not as a partner but as a friend in need. I knew it was toxic, and maybe even dangerous, but I still couldn’t let go. Whenever a friend or a family member would raise concerns about Amy, I’d defend her furiously. This would never sit well, and often resulted in said friend or family member distancing themselves from me, tired of trying to offer support.

After a few weeks of her living with me in lockdown, we decided to try and give things one final try. This time, we’d be completely honest with one another. No lies, no clandestine lovers, and no blazing rows. For a while, it seemed to be working. Then I received a message from a mutual male friend of ours confessing he and Amy had recently slept together. That was my breaking point: I realised I could no longer discern what was fact and what was fiction in our relationship. Amy really had been lying to me the entire time we’d been together, I’d just been too blinded by my love for her to see it.

It took a lot of strength for me to finally cut her out. Having gone through counselling in the wake of my mother’s death a few years ago, I sought it out again and managed to find a wonderful relationship therapist at Relate, whose support I will always be grateful for. She made me see how abusive Amy had been almost the entire time we’d been together. How she’d manipulated me even when I thought she was being kind. How it was because of her that I no longer spoke to so many of my friends. How I was actually clinically depressed as a result of our relationship. It was the wakeup call I’d needed for years.

That was my breaking point: I realised I could no longer discern what was fact and what was fiction in our relationship

The day I asked Amy to leave, she was drunk. I had hoped to have a constructive conversation with her about why this was the best decision for both of us, but instead she simply stormed out of the house and that was that. It was a horrible way for her to leave. I blocked her on everything (even on email this time) and changed my phone number. The only way she could reach me was via letter, and while she has tried, I’ve managed to ignore her attempts thus far.

It’s been several months now, and while I still speak to my counsellor on an ad-hoc basis, I’m in a much better place. I’ve started seeing someone new, and I feel much stronger and more confident in who I am and what I want from a relationship. Despite all of Amy’s misgivings – the drinking, gambling and breaking into my house – I’ve realised now that it was her perpetual dishonesty that hurt me the most, because I failed to believe the person I loved could lie to me like that. “Not my Amy,” I’d tell myself, “the one who made me soup when I was unwell and held me when my mother died.” The truth is that the person I loved, she never really existed.

Relate provides relationship counselling to couples, families and individuals. They are also offering FREE 30 minute WebChats with Relationships and Wellbeing Advisors to anyone aged 18+ who is living in England and affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Find out more at relate.org.uk/relatehub.

Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via their website www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article, please visit Drinkaware for a list of useful support services.

*Names have been changed to maintain anonymity

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, relayed her story to Olivia Petter

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