My Abusive Relationship Was Typical

My Abusive Relationship Was Typical April 24, 2014
In PCC’s Student Commons, taken during the relationship

by Samantha Field cross posted from her blog Defeating The Dragons

Trigger warning for abuse and sexual violence

Last week, I wrote an article for xoJane and I shared some things about my past that I haven’t shared on the internet before. I don’t enjoy talking about my abusive relationship at all, and I especially avoid thinking about my last semester at PCC, which was nightmarish with exceedingly few good memories. I was extremely vulnerable in that piece, knowing that there would be people around the internet that would shit on it.

And shit on it they did. Thankfully xoJane actually moderates their comment section and they don’t allow rape apologia, so most of the truly horrific comments have been removed. However, several people expressed confusion about the events I had related in the story, and I was slapped in the face, again, with how much people just don’t know about what abusers do and how abuse functions in relationships. Most of them thought that the events, as I related them, falsified my story in some way and opened the door to some “other side” that could offer an alternate explanation.

Before I start talking about what these people don’t understand, I’m going to share a brief timeline so that the basic facts are clear.

  • I started officially dating “John” in February 2008, although we’d been casually dating since September 2007.
  • He’d always used emotional manipulation and coercion, but he escalated this in March.
  • The physical and sexual abuse began during summer break.
  • He proposed in August 2008.
  • He raped me in January 2009.
  • He raped me again in July.
  • We had a rather significant fight during the first week in September, and then another. On September 14 I told him that he could not call me a “goddamn fucking bitch” anymore.
  • He ended our engagement on September 25.
  • He began calling my dorm room/cell phone repeatedly, even after I told him to stop.
  • He began physically stalking me.
  • I was assigned a chapel seat near John at mid-terms.
  • I went to Student Life in early November, requesting a seat change. They refused.
  • I stopped going to the cafeteria for meals, afraid that he would be there.
  • He stalked me for six straight hours on Thanksgiving. The last two hours was a constant barrage of “why won’t you just talk to me?!” that ended with me screaming at him.
  • I started spending most of my time in my friend’s apartment.
  • I graduated in December 2009.
  • He sent me a facebook message on New Year’s Eve, which I ignored, which led to him sending me another dozen messages saying “Sam. Sam. Sam. Sam. WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME.”
  • He sent me another facebook message during the summer of 2011, saying “I was thinking about you, if you ever wanted to talk…” I told him to never contact me again, then blocked him (again, not sure how he became un-blocked), blocked his entire family, and blocked  any “mutual” friends we had.

To anyone who has escaped an abusive relationship, or to someone who knows how abusive relationships operate, this will all seem very familiar. There isn’t a single thing about this timeline that isn’t shared by thousands of other intimate partner abuse victims. However, to commenters on xoJane and reddit and other places, this timeline makes me seem like a liar.

He broke your engagement?
Why didn’t you break it off with him if he really raped you?
Why would you be engaged to someone like this?
Seems like you’re just a bitter bitch because he dumped you.
Why would he want to talk to you if he broke it off?

All of these comments revealed that an awful lot of people have absolutely no clue how abusers work. Which, in one sense, I suppose is a good thing. I learned first-hand, and I would never wish this experience on anyone. However, the one thing that these people desperately need to understand is that my story is typical. There is nothing unusual, or in the words of one commenter, “fishy” about it.

There’s plenty of amazing resources already written on things like the Cycle of Violence/Abuse (first written about by Lenore Walker in Battered Woman Syndome). We also know that it can be extremely difficult for people, especially women, to escape intimate partner violence– and that many women have attempted to leave their abusive relationship six or seven times. Complicate all of those factors with the ingrained belief that you are literally ruined for any other relationship and no one else will ever want you, and you have something close to approximating my situation.

Most of the commenter’s questions oriented around what happened after he ended our engagement, though– if he broke it off, why would he follow you all over campus begging to talk to you? Couldn’t it be possible that you were exaggerating how bad things really were and he’d had a change of heart? That he really did want to be with you? That he’d changed?

First of all: there’s a reason why the Cycle of Abuse is so damn effective, and that would be it. Women don’t start believing in the Cycle of Abuse because they’re in an abusive relationship– they already believe it before the abuse even begins. Every single time the abuser apologizes and they enter the “Honeymoon Phase,” that is exactly what the victims says to themselves. It’s not actually that bad. Look, see, he’s trying. I just have to make sure he doesn’t lose control again [hint: abusers don’t actually lose control]. And we believe those thoughts because they are given to us by our culture.

Second, abuse is about dominance and power. Abusers abuse because they want to control other people. Just because John had ended our engagement does not mean that he no longer wanted to control me– in fact, it was the exact opposite. When he broke it off, his justification was “I just can’t trust that you’re going to be a godly, submissive wife.” He ended our engagement because I was finally only beginning to realize that I could stand up for myself. I looked him in the eyes and said no and enforced that no. That was why he ended it– it was a tactic in order to re-assert control.

For a month, it even worked. For four miserable weeks I was eager to prove to him that I could be submissive. That I could obey. That I would be what he wanted. For those weeks he manipulated me– encouraging those thoughts, telling me that he didn’t really want our relationship to end, that he’d consider getting back together.

But then I got angry. Furious. It was like I woke up from a dream and I finally saw all of his fucking shit and I got mad. I was angry at him, angry at my parents, angry at my friends, angry at the world, but mostly I was enraged with myself. How could I have let him do that to me! I didn’t understand anything I know now– that I’d been groomed basically my entire life for an abusive relationship by complementarianism and biblical patriarchy. So, one night, when he called my dorm room at one o’clock in the morning asking if we could have a “do-over,” if we could just “erase everything that happened,” if we could just get back together like nothing ever happened

I told him no.

I said fucking hell no.

And that’s when he started stalking me.

Because he’d lost control.

He knew that I’d woken up– that I knew who he was, and he was desperate to make sure that everyone believed that he was the victim, that I was the stone-hearted bitch that wouldn’t take him back, that I was the crazy one, that he was doing everything he could, but, well, I was the problem because I didn’t “want to make it work.” I became the bad guy, and he made sure everyone knew it. He’d lost control of me, so he’d control what everyone else thought of me. He would not allow anyone to believe me.

That’s what abusers do.

Comments open below

Read everything by Samantha!

Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverfull, and fundamentalist movements, and experienced first-hand the terror and manipulation of spiritual abuse. She is now married to an amazing, gentle man who doesn’t really get what happened to her but loves her anyway. With him by her side and the strength of God’s promises, she is slowly healing.

Samantha blogs at Defeating The Dragons and is a member of The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Michelle M

    Samantha, I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I’m SO glad you got out of it before you married him, as many women end up doing. I wish I had the light bulb go on when I was younger, but I was too wrapped up in complementarianism. It took me 12 years of marriage before I finally found my anger and said NO MORE.

    One of the things I had to let go of in divorcing him was trying to make people, especially Christians, understand abuse. It was completely hopeless. I mean, look at him, he provides for his family. He’s nice whenever WE are around him. WE’VE never seen him abuse you. My husband has bad days, too, you know. Marriage is hard, you know. Maybe you are a contentious wife. Look how willing he is to “work on the marriage.” Look how willing he is to go to counseling. He goes to church every week. He’s a damn bible study leader, for chrissake.

    I found a lot of freedom when I finally let go of trying to convince them. I let people fall away from my life who judged me. And guess what? He still tries to control me through the kids, and some of my childhood Christian friends still judge me, but I’m over it.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your story (again).

  • Allison the Great

    Samantha,
    The first thing I want to say is how incredibly proud I am of you. What you did took great courage. I’m sorry that you went through that, and I’m sorry that people tried to poke holes in your story. How dare they call you a bitch? I’ve seen some of the Super Duper True Christians ™ try to pull that “I don’t think you can be Godly/submissive/what-the=fuck-ever enough, but if you change, if you act more Godly then we can…” it’s bullshit. It’s just like you said. They’re just trying to change you, beat you down and be in control over you. Im glad you got out of that, and I hope you’re no longer a part of that toxic culture.

  • KarenH

    I”m so sorry you had to live through that. I am so grateful that for the young women of your generation (I suspect I’m old enough to be your Mom 🙂 ) you are telling your story. it needs to be said. Over and over. For as many young women who have experienced it and are not yet in a place to tell their story.

  • KarenH

    I’m sorry you had to go through that, too.

  • TheeLoveCats

    <3 I totally understand you. I am sorry for all the dipshits on the internet and the world who don't get it. Thanks for sharing your story; it will inevitably help someone who would be in the same situation. I am glad you got away and are safe.

  • Christie

    I am so sorry. You are one tough smart lady. You got out. That took guts. Good for you.

  • Liz R.
  • SAO

    I think it’s really about comfort of the reader.

    We don’t like to be confronted with the idea that there are bad people out there, particularly that they are hard to identify. It’s safer to believe that some women get in a snit and exaggerate, than that an abusive rapist can appear to be a nice, Christian boy. If the victim did something to cause the rape, through her actions or dress, then the rest of us are living safely in a safe and just world.

    I think one of the most difficult issues of any religion is why God would allow bad things to happen to good people. The easiest way to reconcile this dilemma is to assume that bad things only happen to bad people. While God moves in mysterious ways, it’s very hard to suggest that rape is part of “God’s plan” for anyone.

  • Can you go after him, Pensacola Christian College with a civil lawsuit, for mega damages, to expose how disgusting they are? I read the article. The only way to truly make these jerks ‘repent’ is by hurting them where their heart is – their bank balance.

  • Astrin Ymris

    (((Samantha)))

    The movies and TV shows we watch (as well as the books we read) also normalize abusive relationships. We’ve all absorbed this at such a deep level that we don’t even think about it– until someone points it out to us. The recent ‘Game of Thrones’ rape scene shows this.

  • Mel

    Thank you for writing a powerful article about how abuse happens. When brave women like you speak up, the rest of the world starts to hear the truth about abusive relationships.

  • gimpi1

    Congratulations for being strong enough to walk away from his abuse. Ignore the dolts who don’t understand the nature of abuse, or how psychological manipulation works. You left. You made a life for yourself. You won. Well done.

  • gimpi1

    Good for you, being strong enough to cast off those toxic “friends” who won’t make any attempt to understand the truth. You’ve earned your freedom. Enjoy it. Nuts to anyone who judges you for claiming it.

  • gimpi1

    Good idea, SJ. A lawsuit might also make Pensacola think twice about their policies. Bad PR and a punitive financial penalty. A double-wammy.

  • Kendra

    The Game of Thrones scene controversy makes me sick. The problem I have is not with the scene itself, but with the director and writers’ inability to see it for what it was; they genuinely don’t believe they created a rape scene.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Yeah, that seems bizarre to me, too. Do they really believe that because Cersei is in a continuing relationship with Jaime, he has the right to force her to have sex? Or that because Cersei is a despicable character, anything bad that happens to her is poetic justice, and thus okay?

    Most likely, they just believe that if a woman says no, it’s okay for the guy to continue on, and eventually she’ll start liking it. I can remember seeing a lot of scenes in which the lead actress is angry at the romantic lead, he grabs her and starts kissing her forcefully, she tries to fight free at first… then relaxes and starts kissing him back. When they finally break the clinch, she’s all lovey-dovey and dulcetly affectionate. See? She just needed a “masterful” man to tame her!

    We’ve all seen it all our lives, without realizing what it was we WERE seeing– a G-rated lesson in Rape Culture 101. Male and female alike, we absorbed the message that THIS was what a desirable man behaves like, and THIS is what turns a desirable woman on. It’s a dramatic trope that wormed its way into our definition of “acceptable sex”.

    Now, that’s what is truly “defrauding”.

  • mitzilani

    I have soooo been there. It was exactly that scenario to a tee. You could have been describing the timeline of the abusive relationship I was in. Minus the religion. It happens everywhere.

  • All it will take is the 1st lawsuit, and others will follow. They only worship one god – $$$$$$.

  • Astrin Ymris

    And here’s another example of an abusive relationship in popular culture, from the POV of the stalker ex.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqRC5tquyU0

  • Andre Leonard

    “We also know that it can be extremely difficult for people, especially women, to escape intimate partner violence– and that many women have attempted to leave their abusive relationship six or seven times. Complicate all of those factors with the ingrained belief that you are literally ruined for any other relationship and no one else will ever want you, and you have something close to approximating my situation.”

    Poor self-esteem seems to be the common denominator in all these episodes. People meet, they make poor choices and then have to learn how to reverse their poor choices.

    No outside entity can resolve what two people embark on. People get restraining orders, they call the police, they always look for an outside assist. It must come from within.

    Society functions best when people make good informed choices.. I am convinced that for whatever reason, opposites do attract each other and the fascination or drama seems to overcome some. To be drama free and stress free in a relationship requires effort.

  • lodrelhai

    I remember one movie – one – where after the guy releases the woman, she slaps him. The movie version of the play “Guys and Dolls.” Though the same couple ends up married at the end.

    But the most horrifying example of how normalized this trope is was something that happened to me in grade school, and which I’ve seen in cartoons and family shows. One boy in my class was incessantly and hurtfully picking on me – and I mean hurtful as in throwing balls at me with all the force he could, so they left bruises. My teacher’s response when I reported him?

    “Oh, he just does that because he likes you.”

    Nothing was done about it. And thus it was demonstrated to a full class of 5th graders that hurting a girl is an accepted and expected way for boys to show affection.

  • Astrin Ymris

    *shudders*

    It also demonstrated to this whole class of fifth graders that girls are expected to accept this kind of “affection” from boys without complaining, like it or not. What she wants is immaterial: The boy “likes” her, and wishes to express his liking in this way, and his opinion is the only one which matters.