I’m going to make sure that I respect this subject matter and not be too glib here. Because acclimatising to the violence or emotional abuse of a relationship and not knowing how to safely get yourself out is one of the greatest cultural issues that plagues the modern relationship. This is not a ‘men are trash’ article that just scours different adjectives to condemn the chaps from Mars en masse. It will, however, need to make a few sweeping statements in order to stress my point and ensure that whoever needs to hear it, hears it loud and clear.

If he hurts you he doesn’t love you like you think he does.

I sincerely hope that the below list can provide someone that needs it with some clarity, perspective, and control in what can truly be the most confusing and intense experiences that one can suffer through, when love and hate are so cruelly blurred.

  1. He is telling you where you can or can’t go.
  2. He is trying to limit or direct who you spend time with around him. If he senses that your friends don’t approve of him anymore he will know the impact and influence that they rightfully have from your perspective. And he will try to exclude you from them so that he becomes the extent and boundary of your whole world.
  3. You start using the word ‘allowed’. Sentences that start with ‘I’m not allowed to’ aren’t acceptable for anyone over 21 with their parents, let alone their significant other. Listen to yourself.
  4. He is expressing jealousy and feelings of insecurity in anything resembling a violent or abusive way.
  5. He is withholding emotional support or something that is materially important to you (family heirloom or using money in general as a reason to be with him or need him).
  6. He threatens you in any way or uses emotional blackmail.
  7. He paints himself as a victim; that you have changed, or ignored him, or accuses you of cheating, or just generally seems to be spoiling for an argument.
  8. You notice a change in him – he’s going to the gym more, doesn’t see his friends as much. He seems to consider the relationship as his, rather than a shared enterprise predicated on the give and take of respect and support.
  9. You start to feel nervous around him, or uncertain of how he will react to things.
  10. You stop confiding in him and start lying to him to cover up things that you know he will be upset by and lash out for. You might not admit it to yourself but this stage in and of itself means that he can scare you. Don’t let the presence of the word ‘care’ within that, trick you into thinking that it’s acceptable to be scared of your partner. It really isn’t.
  11. He gets more physical with you, either sexually or in public gestures of control; grabbing you or pushing you around, boasting violently to you or his friends and generally using his strength as a means of keeping you in place. In his line of sight.
  12. He changes what he shares with you, either closing off or dumping emotionally exhaustive rants on you. Or starts to act inconsistent and bewildering.
  13. Neglecting you or your needs, lashing out and emotionally manipulating you. It won’t be accidental; he very likely knows exactly what he’s doing if you’re feeling attacked or vulnerable after just a short conversation with him.
  14. He hits you. Please listen to me when I say that he will do it again, and it will get easier each time it happens for you to convince yourself it’s normal and for him to think it’s acceptable.
  15. You ever feel unsafe. That’s it. That’s the only signal that you will know deep in your gut.

It might change overnight, and it might be over a year. But there will be a point that even you can’t ignore.

At this point, it is essential to ensure that you keep up a dialogue with your friends and family, or even a random stranger you find on the street. Or even an anonymous internet forum to bounce your experiences off of. It is likely that they will see clearly what you could not, and that is no fault of yours. Nothing is your fault, even if the relationship deteriorated on both sides.

Even if you made mistakes. One person’s mistake is not another person’s excuse. The fact that my sister took my jumper to university three years ago doesn’t mean that I can steal one from John Lewis this week. That’s not how it works, and you have to know your worth. You are worthy, in or out of a relationship, flaws and all.

You don’t deserve to not feel safe with the person that should protect you, emotionally and physically.

So, what to do?

I won’t pretend to have any or all the answers, because a toxic relationship is among the most difficult things to resolve or even unravel. It’s important too, to note that it’s possible to love, hate and fear someone at the same time. Such are matters of the heart. So don’t expect a moment of clarity or epiphany in terms of how you feel or feel able to proceed.

But, you can take the following steps in the right direction:

  1. TALK to friends, family or therapists for advice.
  2. TALK to your partner, as long as you feel safe, maybe some middle ground can be reached or he will recognise his toxic behaviour.
  3. LEAVE if you feel unsafe. Leave, even if it’s for a few days and you stay on a friend’s couch. Leave for two weeks and go back to your parents. They’ll always have you back. But show him and yourself that you can leave and that you can identify how you are being treated and recognise what you need.
  4. VALUE YOUR INSTINCTS – if it feels off, you know the relationship dynamic best, something probably is off.
  5. LISTEN to others, even him, if you feel like it. You don’t need to believe him, but honestly, if you are feeling controlled or claustrophobic, I wouldn’t give him more airtime in the immediate aftermath of this recognition. Give yourselves a break from each other. The relationship might not be doing either of you any favours.

Here’s another golden rule, though:

He may have ‘reasons’ for his behaviour, and they may even be valid. You can acknowledge this but you are not responsible for it, nor should you be the collateral damage.

Stay safe, friends.