Abusive relationships . . . when most people think of them they immediately think of domestic violence. But that is not always the definition of an abusive relationship.
One year ago I sat on my couch and wrote a letter. I placed the letter in a stamped and addressed envelope. That envelope went into the mailbox, and a few days letter found its way into the hands of the addressee. That letter told the recipient that in no uncertain terms was she ever welcome to contact me again. She is my husband’s ex-wife.
She and I had been friends. Then she started taking advantage of me, and of things I would do for her and her children. She is a narcissist. She suffers from a severe sense of entitlement, and feels she is always the victim. I wanted to help her. All I did was enable her behavior. She also has an explosive temper that would put Mt. Vesuvius to shame. People like her will take and take and take. Eventually the more they take the more they want, the more they expect. There were times when I was unable to do whatever it was she claimed to need. That’s when I became like the village of Pompeii buried, unexpectedly, under ash and suffocated by toxic fumes. Later she would cool off and come begging for forgiveness. She would tell me how important I was to her, and that she valued our friendship so much, that she didn’t deserve a friend like me, and that I was such a blessing to her.
It was the cycle of abuse. I experienced the exact same thing with my former step-father when I was a child. He was an abusive alcoholic. The worst event ended with his offering me a new, pretty pair of socks as a peace offering.
This friendship had me in knots. I couldn’t express my frustration with her because to do so would ignite her temper. So I took my anger and frustration out on the closest person . . . my husband. A year ago my marriage was on the verge of falling apart. I was miserable. My husband was miserable. I blamed her for making me so unhappy. I blamed him for allowing her to control so much of our life. I blamed myself for allowing the friendship to dissolve into what it had become. But I thought, “if I do enough for her, if I help her enough, then she will see that there is good in the world and she will turn around. It is my duty as a Christian to help those around me, and the Lord put her in my life for that reason. She never means what she says. She always apologizes. She isn’t really a mean person. She just needs me to fix her, if I can care about her enough.”
Eventually she threw some extremely ludicrous accusations at my husband and then got angry at me for taking his side. In her anger she threw the same accusations at me. She screamed. She yelled. She made threats. She called and texted to the point where I had to block her on Facebook, and through my phone provider. I also had to block every member of her family because I knew that she would use their phones or Facebook pages to try to contact me. She contacted my friends, and even my pastor, and plied them for information or tried to fill them with the perceived awful things I said or did to her. When confronted by all those people I told my side of the story and showed them her text messages.
A few months later, under the mentality of forgive and forget, I made up with her. I can look back now though and see that the truth was that I was weak and didn’t know how to function without that dynamic in my life, as twisted as that my sound. I told myself that it would be different. People can change. A few months should have given us both time to see the errors of our ways.
I set a line in the sand and expressed to her my limits for our continued friendship. Red flags should have started going up in my head at that moment. You should not have to say to a friend, “alright, here are the rules if we are going to be friends.” That is what I had to do though. Things were peachy for a few weeks, but over the following four months things eventually went back to where they had been, ending with the night she called my husband demanding that I unblock her from Facebook and my cell phone (which I had never gotten around to doing, because my gut told me it was a bad idea . . . should have been yet another red flag!). That was the night I sat down and wrote the letter to her. It was a year ago, almost exactly one year ago to the day.
That was an abusive relationship. It was mentally and verbally abusive. She ran me down to make herself feel better. She berated me when she didn’t get her way. She made terrible accusations when she had no other ammunition. And then her skies would clear, the hurricane of her anger would roll out, and she would come crawling back, begging for forgiveness. And the cycle would go on. Yes, I enabled her behavior. I needed to do it. I thought I was doing a good thing for her. I thought I was helping her. What I was really doing was looking for validation. If she told me that I was a good person then that meant I must be a good person. If she told me that I was a selfish bitch who cared about nobody and nothing, then she must be right about that, too. So I did whatever I had to do to keep her happy and thinking I was good. It was safer than the alternative.
I have spent the last year in Celebrate Recovery, predominantly because of her. I have not spoken to her in a year. I have forgiven myself for my behavior during that period of my life. My husband has also forgiven me for the way I treated him during that period. Our marriage is doing much better, but I am still working on letting go of the anger and resentment I have toward her. I wear it like a shield, and shield that I want to get rid of, but I am so afraid to. I am still afraid of her.
Tonight she texted my husband. She does that occasionally because the have a daughter together from their marriage. In her text she said that she would like to talk to me so that she can apologize. My heart immediately began to race. The thought of facing her still clenches ever muscle in my body. I told my husband to not even acknowledge that portion of her text, because I know what will happen. She will apologize and I will tell her that I appreciate the apology but still wish to not continue our friendship and then she will flip her lid. OR the worst case scenario . . . she will apologize, and the cycle will start all over again. Because that is how abusers operate.
I have enjoyed this year of my life free of her drama and toxicity, and I don’t want to go back to where I was. I am still working on healing from what I allowed her to do to me, and I can not compromise myself for her. She will have to find from another source the forgiveness she seeks. One day I hope to be able to look at the past and say that I forgive her, but that day is not today.
So, see? Abusive relationships can happen between anyone . . . even friends. One beats the other down so much that the weaker one is incapable of walking away. Like an abused dog always going back to it’s abusive master. “Maybe tomorrow will be different, because I know they really do care about me.”
Until next time . . .