“How do you explain ending an emotionally abusive relationship to people?”

11 Oct 2013

 Picture this: you’ve stayed in your emotionally abusive relationship until it got so bad that you had to leave.  It took you a long, long time to reach the decision, and stop blaming yourself.  But the day finally came when you realized that your husband was emotionally abusive, and you knew you had to do something you found almost unbearably hard.

What do you do under the circumstances?

You start sharing your momentous decision to leave your emotionally abusive relationship with people – the people close to you, as well as the people who are not so close.

You have a need to share.  You want them to know that what you’ve been through is emotional abuse.

You also have a need for support, and understanding.

 Sadly, you may well find that support, and understanding, are in short supply.

The bottom line is this: you cannot rely on your family, and friends, to support you.  It may happen; or it may not.  They may, or may not, have the psychological penetration, and sensitivity, to make sense of what you are trying to tell them.

Likely comments and questions include:

  • “But why?  I always thought you were so happy together!”
  •  “Surely not!  He’s such a lovely man!”
  • “I don’t get it.  If it was so bad why did you stay for so long?  Why did you never say anything?”
  • “There is conflict in every relationship.  Couldn’t you just work through it together?”
  • “It takes two to tangle.  What do you think you did to help create the situation?”
  • “Aren’t you worried about the effect on the children?  Have you thought about how they’ll feel?”

People ask you tough – often insensitive – questions.  They overstep boundaries without so much as a by your leave.  One woman I knew slightly made an urgent appointment to talk to me at 10 am one morning.  She explained to me that she’d seen the wasband (who was doing a nice job of playing unfairly rejected, loving husband) and he was so heart-broken, she just had to do whatever she could to get us back together. She knew how much the wasband and I loved each other!!!  (Good thing someone did, I say!) 

Guess what I discovered when Mother Cupid stepped in?

I discovered that it’s hard to reply to people’s tactless interventions without looking like The Bad One – which is obviously the last thing your poor, battered self-belief needs.

I discovered that people can be far blinder than you could possibly imagine.  (A few months down the line, I discovered – from her own lips – that Mother Cupid’s husband had slapped her round a few times.  But Mother Cupid could tell a lovely fairy story about LURV conquering everything.  She was much too romantic for – accurate – labels like; “emotionally abusive husband”, and Domestic Violence.)

I discovered that, when you’re at your lowest ebb, people just love morphing into Mr/Mrs Know-It-All.  They know everything there is to know about the reality of your relationship and, in their humble – but of-so-informed – opinion, you’ve got it completely wrong.   

How lucky we all were to come across people like that, who feel comfortable telling us exactly how we should behave.  If only we would listen to them, they could sort out our lives in about 5 minutes.  (Okay, so it would have to be 5 minutes, because otherwise they start to get peeved.  They’re busy people.  They have a ton of other people who could benefit from their wisdom.  So, they haven’t got time to waste while you bumble around trying to do things your way.  Who on earth do you think you are, anyway??!  Who are you to have an opinion about your own life?!!)

You will find some kind, supportive people out there, who are sensitive enough just to listen.  But  they stand out far less than the Know-It-Alls. 

You may end up asking yourself: “What did I do to deserve that?”

The answer – inasmuch as there is an answer – is that you violated their sense of the place they wanted you to stay in, in their world.  How very selfish of you!  It may be that you were a ‘bit player’ in their world, and they resent your drama suddenly being centre stage.  It may be that they have their own fears and secrets, like Mother Cupid, and they don’t need any reminders from you, thank you very much.  It may just be that they are insensitive, pompous beings who are addicted to the sound of their own voice and, until now, your relationship with them had run smoothly enough… on their terms.  And now you’re ROCKING THE BOAT!!!!

“So, how do you explain ending an emotionally abusive relationship to people?” you might ask, again.

My answer would be this: think very carefully why you want to explain it to them.  If you’d like to enlist their sympathy, you’re probably on a hiding to nothing.  If you have to ask them for sympathy, they probably have a serious  compassion deficit.  That’s NOT going to change just because you’d like it to.

They may be the kind of people who are  ‘so much of their own opinion’ that if you suggested to them that the sky was blue, they’d insist that they could see more clearly than you, you’re wrong, and it’s actually green.    Much as you might like to persuade them, they’re never going to give you the pleasure. 

Maybe you’d like to enlist them to your ‘side’ rather than your emotionally abusive partner’s.  You shouldn’t have to ‘enlist’ the people who truly care about you; and the ones who don’t, you can’t enlist anyway. 

Maybe you’d like to vent about what you’ve been through.  BAD  IDEA.   Most people don’t want to hear that stuff.  So, they’ll punish you for injecting a touch of ugliness into their carefully sanitized little world. 

You need to understand, you need to transform your mindset – and stop thinking like an emotionally abused woman – and you need to heal.  The urge to put it all out there is human.  But it may well not be helpful.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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