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Can you be in a relationship you think is great but is actually abusive?

(151 Posts)
evanescence Thu 13-Aug-15 13:50:48

My counsellor told me today she felt my ex was abusive, my captor in fact.

I never saw him that way - I saw him as my best friend, partner and the most loving partner I could think of so what she said has be caught off a bit.

Is it possible I was being abused and still thought our relationship was wonderful?

Basically he was a very loving partner, affectionate, always talked about everything, kind to me, shared chores, looked after me, never said bad words to me once and treated me in a way that made me feel extremely loved. All my friends and family liked him very much and thought we were so happily settled until he left me which suprised everyone. Especially me.

The convo with the counsellor today was bringing up some things that niggled at me as I have been quite broken since he left me. The reason he gave for leaving me was basically that he didn't love me anymore because I wasn't the girl he first met. I'd had some depression and gotten a bit down (nothing bad or just a bit down)

I got ill because I was very isolated in our life together. I had to move overseas to be with him and left behind everything. We had young children (some his some mine) and I found it hard to adjust.

Basically he didn't include me at all in his life once I moved and nothing was as he'd promised.

He was very loving to me, and when we were together it was fantastic but he was away quite a lot and quite selfish really.

He went to work, I was a SAHM for the first time ever. I had no friends locally, but he never invited them over. We had my children all the time, and his children every weekend and he would never get a babysitter (he said it made him feel guilty to have his children and get a babysitter) so we never went out. We never had a weekend off from his kids so I think in the four years we lived together I went out probably 3 times and he invited his friends over once.

He had quite an active life...sports clubs, social activities with his old friends and even weekends away with his mates occassionally but because these groups were mutual with his ex wife I was never included as he felt it was arkward and he did not want to cause problems with the kids Mum.

We lived in a very isolated place (I am a city girl so that was hard on me too) and while he said we could not afford a second car for me, he spent a lot of money on silly things that were less important.

He never expressly told me I could not go anywhere or do anything- in fact when he saw I was down and came home to me crying he would tell me to go and have fun and do whatever I wanted but but the lack of money, car and him being at home and the fact I didn't know anyone made it so difficult so I became a bit of a hermit.

He wasn't ever fact he always asked if I minded him going to things, but basically I loved him and wnated him to be happy so I said it was ok. Sometimes I asked him to change things or include me more and he'd cry and tell me that he really loved him and he'd die if I lieft him but that his kids had to come first.

He was always making me feel like I was asking him to choose me over his kids.....and I wasn't. I was asking him to treat me like his partner, which he didn't. I felt excluded from his life even though we were meant to be a family.

I never ended up with any sort of life, and I know I was largely responsible but I do feel like he made it really difficult and I am not that good with new people and I'm not sporty or into any hobbies and I get quite shy around people I don't know. In the end it just got me down.

I got fat, I got depressed and then he left me and told me it was all my fault because me being down had drained him and I had become a burden.

My counsellor says he was abusive and manipulative.

If that was true why did I feel so lucky and so loved? I'm very confused.

Walkacrossthesand Thu 13-Aug-15 14:31:18

People who are feeling lucky and loved don't usually feel depressed, down & need to comfort eat. Perhaps your counsellor can help you unpick the cognitive dissonance that seems to be at work here?

Twinklestein Thu 13-Aug-15 14:35:53

Your counsellor is right.

He made you feel lucky and loved because he was very good at manipulating you. In fact he treated you appallingly.

evanescence Thu 13-Aug-15 14:38:34

I'm really confused.

I had such a high opinion of him it's hard to see he was treating me badly.

It never seemed that way. He made it seem like he was doing his best in a tough situation and that we were a team.

I feel just confused.

trackrBird Thu 13-Aug-15 14:43:46

I think your counsellor was right.
Your ex gave the appearance of caring about you but put himself first. However, I think you saw the act, thought he meant it, and wondered why you were miserable and depressed.

You said he was very loving to you, for example. Yet he didn't include you in his life. He had clubs, a social life, weekends away. You got nothing. That isn't loving or caring in any way. That's using you as a prop.

MrsMummyPig Thu 13-Aug-15 14:44:22

I was in what i thought was a good relationship and also felt like you do.
He eventually left me using similar reasons as excuses and I felt my world had ended. I had lost all my friends during this relationship and had no life of my own. I even cut contact with my family while i was with him as they could see what was happening and tried to make me see what he was like but I couldn't see anything wrong in him at the time. He had chipped away at my confidence and suddenly i was on my own and suffering from anxiety and depression.
It wasn't until I met my wonderful new/present patner that I realised how controlling and manipulative my ex had been and that the relationship we had was wrong in so many ways but I definitely didn't think that there was anything wrong at the time.

Twinklestein Thu 13-Aug-15 14:44:38

It wasn't a tough situation for him, he had a really nice life.

It was tough for you because he didn't allow you basic freedoms.

It's a bit like joining a cult: he brainwashed you into thinking he was a great guy who had your best interests at heart, when in fact he only cared about himself and treated you badly.

Katie2001 Thu 13-Aug-15 14:47:44

Out of interest, were you in a worse relationship before this one, so by contrast this felt much better? This happened to a friend of mine, her first husband was absolutely vile and her second was still controlling and mean but looked like an angel compared with the first. Sometimes when you've been treated badly, a small amount of kindness feels like the world.

MrsMummyPig Thu 13-Aug-15 14:49:07

Think you've hit the nail on the head there twinkle with the Cult and Brainwashing. My mum says the same now when we look back.

RolyPolierThanThou Thu 13-Aug-15 14:55:33

His words were loving but his actions were not. He sounds a bit like me exh, actually.

I moved to his country and became lonely and isolated, too. He bought himself nice things an expensive car while I felt undeserving of food, because i was unemployed and a 'kept woman'. Ate about two meals a week and lost tons of weight . He never really noticed I was disappearing before his eyes. Nor did I.
I was not allowed to learn to drive and to do it myself would have been difficult in that country. I had no access to money, anyway.

Basically he prioritised his own needs over mine - his status symbols, his toys, his entertainment and nights out, his hobbies, his social life. And he failed to see I had nothing. In fact it suited him very well to have me at home, like a piece of furniture. They're when he wanted, ignorable when not.

He would say sweet things (in that dress I fall in love with you all over again) and behave the opposite (later that evening tell me he's going away for the weekend again with his work colleagues and wives aren't really invited, so sorry, wishes I could come too. Kiss and see you Monday).

He was out most nights until early hours and id hardly see him. Stayed at home like a pot plant.

But I would not have seen sense and left of it hadn't been for the sexlessness of our marriage. And funding condoms in his wallet one day. If he'd continued sleeping with me I might never have noticed the depression I was slipping into, the erosion of my mental health, the neglect. Id have thought everything was fine or all my fault.

I left him, went back to my home country and the anorexia disappeared. Just like that.

3mum Thu 13-Aug-15 15:09:04

The short answer to your Q is absolutely, yes you can. Here is my story.

It was only with 20:20 hindsight, time and distance and some counselling that I realised my exH was abusive. We were together for thirty years. During all that time I did everything, worked very long hours (to be fair so did he, but that was all he did), childcare, house work, cooking (barring the odd "performance" of him cooking a special dish where I had to buy all the ingredients, lay them out for him, act as his sous chef and do all the clearing away afterwards), all logistics, all appointments for our SN child and so on. During all those years he never gave me any support or praise, even when I was weeping with tiredness, and I can take a lot of punishment. I was very isolated socially because he told me all the time how dull I was - a favourite way to start a conversation was to demand "Say something interesting!" which, of course, had the effect of making my mind go blank.

I didn't mind because I thought he loved me as much as he was capable of, and that we were building a family life together. If you had asked me I would have said I was happy. In fact I was the classic frog in a pan of boiling water.

Of course he had another woman, the latest in what turned out to have been a long line of them. He dicked me around absolutely shamefully for 18 months promising that the affair was over, then I found out that it wasn't, over and over again. I kept giving him chances when in hindsight it was clear that chances were not what he wanted. He wanted me to be the "baddie" by initiating divorce proceedings and eventually I obliged him. His girlfriend eventually refused to leave her husband for him and he had another girlfriend within two weeks of me throwing him out and they are married now.

Looking back I can't believe I spent all those years with such an abusive man. I was just a convenience to him, to cook, clean, bear children and earn money. He was expert at the sly dig and eating away at my self-confidence. I too turned to food to control my feelings and my weight was another thing for him to get at me about. Even now three years after our divorce I still get moments when I recall something, some example of his contempt, that makes me writhe.

Your ex might not be as bad, but I do see some parallels between our stories. I hope that is useful.

RolyPolierThanThou Thu 13-Aug-15 15:09:18

Btw, I never proved he was having an affair. Didn't need to. He was so into his own world, his own interests, his friends, his nights out, his hobbies that I realised well, he might as well have an affair. I've got as much of him as if he were.

I was a thing to him. Something at home that was low maintenance. Taken for granted.

Werksallhourz Thu 13-Aug-15 16:17:28

OP, your story sounds very familiar to my experience with my ex-fiance back in my twenties.

I went from being an independent, slim, active and healthy woman who had a full life and a good career to being an isolated, overweight, dumpy, unemployed "housekeeper" with a serious anxiety problem -- as in my agoraphobia and panic attacks were so bad, I couldn't leave the house. When I sought treatment for my anxiety, the only thing I thought was good in my life was my relationship with said fiance.

Now I look back, I realise the actual cause of my plight was my ex-fiance. When he left me (because, he said, I was never going to get better from my mental health problems), my life changed overnight. The anxiety just disappeared. No joke. I felt like I had been released from a prison cell. It was only that that I realised just how oppressive my relationship with my "perfect" fiance had been.

A lot of what you mention were also features in my life. He went out a lot, did loads of sports activities and saw his friends, yet I ended up always at home because "we were being careful with money" and "we had to work on our business ideas." He seemed lovely, nice and caring, but, in reality, what he wanted always came first, and when something I wanted to do clashed with his plans, he would get very annoyed. I supposedly could do "anything I wanted", but somehow I ended up just doing endless domestic work.

When I try to unpick exactly what influenced my behaviour back then, I realise it was a very subtle control mechanism of almost imperceptible disapproval and judgmentalism. In short, he created an environment where I policed myself, and he did this through discussing "life goals" and "objectives" with me (in a very modern fashion), goals that required we sacrifice certain aspects of our lives for a time -- say, that we wouldn't go on holiday or go out for dinner so we could save for a house deposit, or that we work in the evenings to advance our projects or business ideas.

As I had been fully included in this lifestyle change towards a positive outcome, which, of course, is supposed to be a sign of a great relationship, I would be totally on board ... only I now see that, in reality, I was the only one actually making these sacrifices; he would pretty much carry on living as he always had. However, when I deviated from "the plan", well, that's where his "disapproval" would kick in. If I wanted to do something, say, go out for something to eat, it would be a case of "but we agreed to save for a house"; yet he would go out on bike rides for the entire day and I would later discover that it would include a meal out at a pub with all his bike mates.

Interestingly, he appears to have done the same thing to his now wife. She used to be a vivacious, lithe, active woman with a fascinating and creative life; now she has become a dumpy housewife that just stays at home and never goes out. When I last saw her, I recognised myself in that final year ex-fiance and I were together -- even down to her clothes and mannerisms.

evanescence Thu 13-Aug-15 19:14:30

Thanks everyone.

To answer a question there, yes, my relationship before was very bad to be honest. He was into drugs, was aggressive, would not talk to me, would not support the kids and was generally unreasonable and unpleasant and I was single for a long time after that.

The new man came along after a lot of years single and he was sweet, kind, attentive, open, talked to me, was fair, resolved conflicts with care and was a great Dad / Stepdad.

Life (although I was isolated) felt good in many ways. He always desired me physically and told me how beautiful I was, how nice I looked, and gave lots of cuddles and held my hand and all that physical stuff.

Mentally he was so interested in me and everything I said, was always calling or texting and was consistent and reliable and always asked before he did things if it was okay.

He was great with the chlildren, always fine with financially supporting us all with me being a SAHM and he devoted his weekends to the children and planned family activities.

It felt to me very much at the time like I was lucky and was very deeply loved. I think if I am honest if he read this thread he would be flabberghasted because he saw himself as the perfect partner /Dad (as did I and everyone else).

The way he contributed strongly to isolating me was very subtle. He gave me the option to take all the money I wanted, but then there was no money there to take. He gave me the choice to go out whenever and he would watch my kids, yet I actually had nowhere to go and no one to go with. He would have driven three hours to pick me up if I wanted to go anywhere special, but he'd not contribute to helping me get my own car.

The way he did so many activities which did not include me was done in such a way I felt it was my idea and not his.

For example.....if one weekend we decided to have a night out and as a result he did not have his kids that weekend, on the Sunday he'd be sad and down at the mouth so I would not suggest going out again because I hated seeing him sad.

For another example......if I asked him to stop one of his activities or to change it to a club that did not include his ex so I could ALSO be invited, he would tell me how sad he'd been after the divorce to lose the social life and how much he needed those people.

It was like he was saying "okay I will do what you want, but if I do I will be sad and it is your fault". So I stopped asking. I martyred myself and know I should take some responsibiluty for that but I felt like I was lucky to be loved and looked after so well and felt it was normal for Mums of young kids to make sacrifices.

I guess it was only today that I acknowledged I was the only one making them.

Yes, I felt at time like a week would go by without me talking to another adult. I cried a lot and told him I was lonely and felt like I was going out of my mind and he would hug me and tell me he loved me loads and suggest I join a club or whatever.

It never occured to me that what he should have done was taken steps. Like giving me one weekend a month without his kids so we could go out. Like prioritizing getting me a car over holidays or a new road bike. Like taking the trouble to invite people he knew to our house for dinner or bbqs so I could be part of his circle. Like walking away from social clubs and events that incuded his ex wife.

I am finding it hard to accept that he didn't care...but he obviously didn't.

I know at the every end when he left me because I was ill and had changed I just could not believe it. I'd asked him so many times to make changes to help me feel better and have more of a life but he acted like it was completely my fault.

evanescence Thu 13-Aug-15 19:17:19

Oh and by the way, I was devastated and completely broken when he left but my depression and panic attacks went away and have never been seen again.

This all makes me very sad, because I really miss him a lot and feel lonely (especially miss cuddles, how he always wanted to talk to me about anything and everything, affection) but at the same time it's realising he was making me ill.

evanescence Thu 13-Aug-15 19:21:31


I went from being an independent, slim, active and healthy woman who had a full life and a good career to being an isolated, overweight, dumpy, unemployed "housekeeper" with a serious anxiety problem -- as in my agoraphobia and panic attacks were so bad, I couldn't leave the house. When I sought treatment for my anxiety, the only thing I thought was good in my life was my relationship with said fiance.

This is exactly how I felt. I felt like everything was awful in my life except for him and he felt like my savior. Never occured to me I was fine and happy before he came along and not anxious or dumpy.

When he left me (because, he said, I was never going to get better from my mental health problems), my life changed overnight. The anxiety just disappeared. No joke. I felt like I had been released from a prison cell. It was only that that I realised just how oppressive my relationship with my "perfect" fiance had been.

Yes same. Although at the same time as feling a weight lifted I was also absolutely devastated and am finding it hard to heal or trust people in relationships hence the counselling.

He went out a lot, did loads of sports activities and saw his friends, yet I ended up always at home because "we were being careful with money" and "we had to work on our business ideas." He seemed lovely, nice and caring, but, in reality, what he wanted always came first

Yes he was like this exactly.

What he wanted always came first.

He just made it so subtle I never noticed it and actually felt like it was the other way around.

If I wnated a chocolate bar for example at 12am he'd get in the car in the snow and go get me one! He was SO absolutely worshiping towards me I couldn't see he was not being nice.

trackrBird Thu 13-Aug-15 19:37:44

He was very subtle in his manipulation, wasn't he. But it's very clear from your postings that he always got his own way, and that this was probably at your expense.

For example: "We're a team" is quite a common exploitative technique. He used it to show that you couldn't afford a second car between you. But somehow that meant only YOU couldn't go out, while he still had a social life. And while he had that social life, he knew exactly where you were. And, somehow, he could afford other things - just not that second car.

When you protested, he said nice things and hugged you .....and absolutely nothing changed. So you are thwarted, you don't get what you need, but hey, isn't he such a nice guy? No - he was not! He was merely acting out the role of a nice guy, without doing any of the required work, or caring in the slightest about you, how you really felt, or what you needed out of life.

trackrBird Thu 13-Aug-15 19:42:45

X post. That's really treating you like an indulged pet. He'll buy you a nice treat, but you have to sit at home, and be nice and sweet when he wants to see you - or entertain yourself if he's busy elsewhere.

But you don't get to have a life of your own. You're merely an accessory for his life.

Twinklestein Thu 13-Aug-15 19:43:33

So he continuously love-bombed you so that you didn't rattle the bars of the cage you were in.

sanityforlunch Thu 13-Aug-15 19:50:23

I am trying to fathom out the kind of relationship you are describing and it is ringing bells for me.

It sounds as if all the little things were there eg complimenting you, helping out with the chores, acting as if he cared, being attentive, spoiling you. But the big things, he controlled eg money, transport, socialising, friends, work so you were completely isolated.

I had a relationship with a man who used to fuss all over me, helping me around the house, going out to get me something I had mentioned in passing. It was a difficult time for me as I was going through a divorce and barely went out for a year. He used to say, you need a night out, you deserve it. When I finally arranged a night out, he called me back after half an hour with an 'emergency.' Another time, he asked me about 100 times who was going, as if to catch me out, and followed me around the house as I got ready, taking photos of me, making a big fuss, giving me a lift there and back. I never felt free.

He used to ring and text all day long as if to check up on me. When I told him I found it stifling, he said he was only interested in me and my day and acted hurt.

I could give loads of examples very much like yours except thank god I didn't marry him.

evanescence Thu 13-Aug-15 19:54:18

Yes he always got his way with everything but I willingly gave it to him. I think that looking back he was just too selfish to see how life was crushing me or to think of what he could do or change to make me happy again.

Yes it did mean only I could not go out. He still did. He carried on life exactly as it was. He needed new suits for work and I loved him so we'd spend hundreds on that when it could have paid for a little old banger for me. It was always something else more important.

I martyred myself, but he should have said "no way, priority one is getting you transport". That's what I would have done.

Yes he said wonderful things and hugged me, probably got me flowers or arranged some big romantic gesture to show me how much he loved me but nothing changed. No, it never changed.

He managed to make me feel like I was in control, like i was the boss. It was weird. I didn't even notice it.

Was I just so love starved that it was enough?

pocketsaviour Thu 13-Aug-15 19:57:14

he'd cry and tell me that he really loved him

Freudian slip there?

It sounds like you went from a Grade 10 bastard to someone who saw your vulnerability and exploited it. Did you have any counselling after your previous relationship?

Your current counsellor seems really on the ball. flowers

evanescence Thu 13-Aug-15 19:57:59

And no he didn't control the fact he paid his salary into my account every month and gave me control.

What he did was very subtle!

For example he would have sleepless nights, or go quiet and sad and say he was worried about money. So I would therefore cut all my luxuries but he wouldn't cut his. It was more like that.

It felt like he wasn't controlling me at felt like it was my idea.

But I had no life and he had a wonderful life and he had the power to change that (without spending a penny) and he chose not to.

He made me feel adored, free, in control...but he was subtly manipulative in that he made me feel like asking for things that I needed to have a normal / functional and full life meant asking him to sacrifice things that would hurt him.

He used my love against me if that makes sense, and I very much doubt he was aware of doing it.

saltnpepa Thu 13-Aug-15 20:07:50

I'm wondering why your therapist told you what she thought rather than follow your lead which is what she is meant to do. I'm not sure her labeling your relationships, past or present as abusive is standard practice. Are you not meant to come to your own realisations? Why is it useful for you to see this relationship as abusive, what is her aim here? Doesn't sound quite right.

evanescence Thu 13-Aug-15 20:18:54

Ironically the grade 10 bastard did not crush me, hurt me or damage me and I never considered counselling. I saw him as he was "what you see is what you get" and felt in control and like I understood. He was horrible to live with and would have made an awful husband and Dad so I left and never looked back. Oh yes he was nice at first, but I suppose always something was a bit off and him being quite abusive never shocked me.

This ex was diferrent. He crushed me because I didn't see it coming. It's very hard to go through that.

I waited a long time to find a guy I felt was a truly good guy and he appeared to be that right the way through really.

It was so hard after all those years and all those things I willingly sacrificed, how he had said we were always a team and how lovely and perfect and how he hugged and kissed me when I was depressed and told me it would all be okay to have him wake up one day and say; "actually no, I lied, the depression is a problem, I don't love you anymore I am leaving".

It was impossible at the time for me to really comprehend, after all he'd cried and said he could not live without me about 3 weeks beforehand when I'd told him things needed to change because I had no life.

It was so weird!!!!

I also lost a lot more. When I split with the 1st ex, my kids were babies and had no real relationship with him (he wasn't interested anyway) and I was at home, in my own country and had my job, friends and the rest of my life.

When 2nd ex did it I had the element of shock, I was at my lowest point mentally and lost stepchildren and a man who was very much a father figure to my children and had to move country again. It was much more difficult to cope with in so many ways.

The whole thing has left me very much a mess for a few years now and I started the counselling quite recently to try and get myself better. I have felt just stuck and confused over how someone "loves" you so much then suddenly doesn't.

He also made me very much believe it was all my own fault.

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