Traumatic Bonding

1, May 2011 at 11:21 AM (conflicted, solution-oriented) (, , , , )

From Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft (italics in original, underline mine):

One of the great tragedies of all forms of abuse is that the abused person can become emotionally dependent on the perpetrator through a process called traumatic bonding. The assaults that an abuser makes on the woman’s self-opinion, his undermining of her progress in her life, the wedges he drives between her and other people, the psychological effects left on her when he turns scary– all can combine to cause her to need him more and more. This is a bitter psychological irony. Child abuse works in the same way, in fact, children can become more strongly attached to abusive parents than to nonabusive ones. Survivors of hostage-taking situations or of torture can exhibit similar effects, attempting to protect their tormentors from legal consequences, insisting that the hostage takers actually had their best interests at heart or even describing them as kind and caring individuals– a phenomenon known as Stockholm syndrome. […]

Almost no abuser is mean or frightening all the time. At least occasionally he is loving, gentle, and humorous and perhaps even capable of compassion and empathy. This intermittent, and usually unpredictable, kindness is critical to forming traumatic attachments. When a person has suffered harsh, painful treatment over an extended period of time, he or she naturally feels a flood of love and gratitude toward anyone who brings relief, like the surge of affection one might feel for the hand that offers a glass of water on a scorching day. But in situations of abuse, the rescuer and the tormentor are the very same person. When a man stops [abusing his partner], the typical response is to feel grateful to him. […]

Your abusive partner’s cycles of moving in and out of periods of cruelty can cause you to feel very close to him during those times when he is finally kind and loving. You can end up feeling that the nightmare of his abusiveness is an experience the two of you have shared and are escaping from together, a dangerous illusion that trauma can cause. I commonly hear an abused woman say about her partner, “He really knows me,” or “No one understands me the way he does.” This may be true, but the reason he seems to understand you well is that he has studied ways to manipulate your emotions and control your reactions. At times he may seem to grasp how badly he has hurt you, which can make you feel close to him, but it’s another illusion; if he could really be empathetic about the pain he has caused, he would stop abusing you for good.


The trauma of chronic abuse can also make a woman develop fears of being alone at night, anxiety about her competence to manage her life on her own, and feelings of isolation from other people, especially if the abuser has driven her apart from her friends and family. All of these effects of abuse can make it much more difficult to separate from an abusive partner than a nonabusive one. The pull to reunify can therefore be great. Researchers have found that most abused women leave the abuser multiple times before finally being able to stay away for good. This prolonged process is largely due to the abuser’s ongoing coercion and manipulation but also is caused by the trauma bonds he has engendered in his partner.

One exercise that can help you address this trap involves making a list of all the ways, including emotional ones, in which you feel dependent on your partner, then making another list of the big or small steps you might take to begin to become more independent. These lists can guide you in focusing your energy in the directions you need to go.

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Moving Him Out

24, April 2011 at 5:09 PM (conflicted, sad or sorry for myself) (, , , )

The other day my ex wrote, not to ask if I could be available for him on short notice to get the rest of his things, but to tell me to be available for him on short notice to get the rest of his things. As if it weren’t enough that he feels so entitled to my time, he included a paragraph of things I shouldn’t forget to pack up for him:

“There are some things of mine I was thinking you might not know to pack. I have notecards and notebooks in the desk drawer. My baby book is mixed in with your books. I have my lightbox in the hallway bookcase, and somewhere around there is a sheet of dirty plexiglass and a T-square. Then there’s the Raccoon plate in the kitchen. I could use that gray drawer unit as well. There’s some stuff of mine in the linen closet, but all I can remember besides a bunch of random pills, is the jug of Greased Lightning. There’s probably more I can’t think of now.” (emphasis mine)

The plate was a gift from me (he likes raccoons; it’s a decorative plate, not one for eating off of, though he was unappreciative enough to do that too). While packing his things, I have been truly surprised by how many things there are that I have given him as gifts. As I said in my earlier post Helpful and Unhelpful Reminders about the sad process of packing his belongings, the only gifts I ever got from him were a t-shirt for my birthday just two months after we started dating, and a couple of refrigerator magnets from his favourite coffee shop. Even besides all the other neglects and mistreatments, no wonder I never felt appreciated.

But what bothers me here is in this list of random and generally petty things, he inserts a gift I gave him like it’s just another thing of his he wants to make sure I don’t overlook. It seems so rude. See, if it were me, well for one thing I wouldn’t feel entitled to get back things that were given in a loving spirit, but if I really felt strongly for some reason that I wanted to have it, I might say something like, “And if you don’t mind, could you remember to pack such and such? I’d like to have it to remember you by”. But he does not express any such sentiment. No, it’s just another thing amongst the many, many things I’ve given him over the years for him to use and display in his new bachelor pad.

It kinda makes me sick. People will come in and look around, one of whom someday will be some girl he brings home for the night, and their glances will fall over all these things I picked out or found and gave to him because I wanted to make him happy, feel cared about, thought of, loved. They will learn things about him: a band he likes from a rare poster I acquired for him, how much he likes raccoons and other animals from many assortments of things I gave him, what subjects he’s interested in and what his ideal life is from the many books I’ve found and bought for him, etc. They may even ask or think, “Oh, do you like/are you interested in such-and-such? Me too!” And thus my caring and giving spirit is used to facilitate others getting to know him without me, including the aforementioned future new love-interest. That’s awesome. I never gave him a single thing expecting that it would someday function as decoration in a bachelor’s apartment, or as something for him to do or share with a new girlfriend. The plate was supposed to someday be displayed in our new place, not his new place (maybe someday even their new place). Again, it just seems so rude to remind me to make sure I don’t forget to give him the gifts I gave him!

A friend said expecting me to give him these gifts is “really pushing it”, and that it sounds like he doesn’t really care about the gifts, he just wants to put me through the discomfort of finding all of them and giving them to him (again). They’re probably right. I consider not giving these things to him, but it’s not my style. I guess my ex knows that about me, and is counting on it. What an incredibly insensitive person he was (and still is). How unappreciative he always was (and still is), what an incredible degree of entitlement to my generosity he (still) displays. I should be jumping for joy that I am no longer attached to someone who showed me only violence, neglect, meanness, rudeness, insensitivity, selfishness, who lacked compassion and kindness, who didn’t appreciate but rather felt entitled to my skills, talents and better qualities. But right now I can’t shake feeling disappointed and heartbroken.

Meanwhile he’s irritated (expressed being really put out) that he had to cancel the truck reservation he made without discussing anything with me, because I wasn’t available for him on short notice to get his things. This is a man who is very far away from being a loving, or even semi-functioning, partner. I need to always be reminding myself of that, but it’s so disappointing. I really liked him (when he was in the “nice” phase of his abuse-cycle), and wanted to live with him the rest of my days. He will take away many but mere symbols of my feelings for him and hopes for us; I, not being left even with that, I guess I am left only the many wounds his mistreatment inflicted on me. Thanks, sweetie, but those are gifts I could have lived without.

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Why Couples Counseling in Abusive Relationships Doesn’t Work

15, April 2011 at 11:06 PM (conflicted, scapegoated, trapped) (, , , , , , )

I had no idea it was so common for abusive partners to insist on couples counseling, but apparently it is downright cliché. I always felt couples counseling was not the right solution, but could never make to my partner an effective enough argument why I felt that way (please note I was never just “allowed” to have my own feelings or opinions but through untold hours of argumentation the onus was always on me to convince him why I felt some certain way). I have just read today about why an abusive partner would think couples counseling is not only the right solution but the ONLY solution to the problems in the relationship: because it helps him believe the problem is not his abuse, but “our relationship”; because it enables him to look only at his feelings and my behaviour instead of looking at my feelings and his behaviour; because he thinks the counseling will fix what he sees as the true source of every problem in the relationship: the person being affected by and not keeping quiet about his abuse; or: anything and everything besides himself. In the next two posts after this one, I would like to provide a link and excerpt from a website I found which states all of this more concisely and effectively than I can, then an excerpt dealing specifically with abusers in couples and/or individual therapy from the book Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. For now, this was my experience with an abusive partner and couples counseling:

At some point in our relationship, very near after I started calling my ex’s behaviour out for what it was– abusive– he began to insist that we go to couples counseling. He stated his belief that “we” had a bad “relationship dynamic” and cited “communication” problems and my inability to “get over” things on his schedule. I balked because the only issue for me was his abusive behaviour, and I did not think sitting around and talking about our feelings was going to accomplish anything. I made many other suggestions to deal with what I saw as the problem, such as participating in groups or programs at the local men’s center which specifically handle domestic abuse, or his participation in non-violent communications workshops with Friends for a Non-Violent World. I pointed him in the direction of websites, podcasts, and books. My partner rejected all of my suggestions out of hand and never pursued any of them. Clearly, it was his way or the highway.

His abuse and blame-shifting escalated, and I became increasingly confused and depressed. The more I resisted couples counseling as the only solution, the more personal my partner’s attacks became. One day he came home and approached me with something that he said had been on his mind for some time, and he was finally going to tell me because he cares, because he thought it was for my own good: I am “too sensitive”, he said, and he gave me many reasons for how he thinks I got this way, none of which had anything to do with his behaviour toward me, none of which had anything to do with the abusive relationship or environment I was in; all explanations blamed other people in my past and my supposed inability to separate my past experiences from my present one. Repeating that he was only saying this because he cares, he stated that he believes my character is “deeply flawed”, and thus I am and have been “unable to see” the things about myself which were causing all of our problems, and causing me to “interpret” his actions as abusive (see also: What is Gaslighting?).

Thankfully I was still me enough to recognise this as blame-shifting and even more abusive, and I called him out on it. The subject of couples counseling fell off the table for a short time. Our relationship, of course, did not improve. But the only thing my ex would allow as a “solution” was couples counseling. Because none of my original concerns regarding whether couples counseling could be effective in dealing with his abusive behaviour were ever addressed, I still had the same concerns. Finally, at the end of our relationship, after he had already moved out, he made it an ultimatum: either I agree to couples counseling or our relationship will be terminated. He made it very clear that what he wanted out of it was to “discover” if there was any way for him to feel we could work things out (please note: the couples counseling is for his benefit alone); he stated quite plainly several times “no one can have or will have any influence” on his decision regarding whether we could work things out– not me, not the couples counselor, not his individual therapist, and not his mother– that this is a decision he needs to make for himself. This was of course bizarrely confusing to me; I did not know why I was being asked to go, then, and moreover I wondered what kind of “relationship” this was supposed to be where I do not have any influence whatsoever on my (supposed)-partner’s opinions of or life with me. In any case, I was afraid, and the relationship was now being held hostage by him, so I capitulated.

The first session ended with the counselor asking us to make an “agreement” that we (meaning he, since I do not threaten him this way) will excuse ourselves/himself from any situation in which we/he begins to feel violent, and we (meaning me, since he was the only one claiming this occurs) will agree not to “push each others’ buttons.” She made suggestions for us to cope with an escalating situation which, unbeknownst to the counselor, my partner used frequently as punishment and for which I had been punished by my partner for exercising (example: she suggested I go for a walk if things got to be too much; the one time I did this in the past, I was barely across the street before I saw my ex speed past in his car. I did not know where he was going, I did not know when or even if ever he would return. So even though he often left when things got to be too much for him, the one time I did the same, my partner abandoned me/our relationship. Although it occurred so many times I get them mixed up, I believe he was gone for two weeks in that instance.) This scared the shit out of me, honestly, because the suggestions and agreements sounded enabling. Was he not in effect being given permission to be abusive if given a “good reason”? I was reminded of my partner telling me only AFTER I agreed to go to counseling that he actually thought I would be disruptive or un-cooperative in counseling because of a single incident a year and a half prior in past family therapy with my (verbally and physically abusive) son, when my son’s therapist said I was “making him angry” and “pushing his buttons” by crying or saying how I feel or telling of my experiences. Let me underline: the family therapist’s enabling, blame-shifting remark was now being used by my partner as “advance proof” to justify any anger/violence he displays in the future, to shift blame for his anger/violence onto me, and to hold me responsible for whether or not couples counseling can be effective. Whoa. Double-triple-bind! (And how’s that for “collecting grievances for later justification”, another thing abusers do: at the time the family therapist said I was responsible for my son’s anger and violence, my partner gave me a hug, because it made me cry more to be told my son’s anger and violence was my own fault. But yet he saved this one remark and his never-before-expressed agreement with it for well over a year before he took it out as evidence that I’m potentially too “disruptive” for couples counseling, defined no less by him as our relationship’s only chance to survive.) So, if he gets angry or violent, it’s all my fault: I pushed his buttons! If counseling is ineffective, it’s all my fault: I’m disruptive and non-cooperative! If the relationship ends, it’s all my fault: I sabotaged the effectiveness of counseling! This was too much entrapment for me to navigate.

Before our next session, I was freaking out. I was incredibly afraid that counseling– since it would take much too much time for the counselor to start to get a picture of the abusive environment I was in– was going to have an adverse effect, escalate and justify his abusive behaviour, and further validate his belief that this is all just a “bad dynamic”. I tried to go in to see another counselor alone ahead of the next couples appointment to see if I could get advice on how to communicate to the couples counselor that there was abuse present in the relationship, that I feared retaliation, and that I needed her to understand and be careful not to “give him permission” to abuse me. Because I did not have the money or personal strength to get to the counseling center by myself, I asked my partner the night before for a ride (I did not tell him why I wanted to go). He was very supportive and agreed to help. The next day he called me in what I wondered was an aggressive and hostile mood. I did not feel safe going anywhere with him, but I really wanted to talk to another counselor before our next couples appointment, and this was my last chance to do so before then. He argued with me over the phone while I tried to figure a way out of yet another double-bind, until finally he yelled at the top of his voice that he can’t help me. Alarmed, I hung up on him before he could say anything else. I was on the phone with him just exactly the right amount of time so that even if I tried to get myself to the counseling center on the bus, I would arrive too late and they would be closed. My partner had effectively prevented me from getting help. My reliance on his word and expressed wish that he would tone down his hostility so that I could feel safe getting in a car with him prevented me from helping myself.

I called three hotlines and explained I needed advice on how to communicate to the couples counselor my concerns. I told them only about how I wanted to but couldn’t get to see another counselor before our next couples session, and gave as an example of my experience in the relationship only one incident of physical aggression. Without even knowing how many such incidents there were, and without knowing anything at all about the emotional and sexual abuse, all three stated plainly, “He is an abuser. You need to get out of that relationship NOW, and never look back.” I kept their bluntness in mind during the next session. Abuser’s name removed. By their fruits ye shall know them. Matthew 7:16

In the second session, the counselor called my partner’s physical aggression threatening; when he tried to make the “she pushes my buttons” and “I can’t control myself” excuses, she did not allow it. She asked him how he could communicate his anger without blaming me, and he had the right answer immediately. I asked him afterwards why he knew without hesitation the right way to express himself without threats or blame while in the counselor’s office, but all the times I gave him examples of how to express himself without threats or blame he said he didn’t understand or that if he “was the kind of person who said things like that we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with”. His answer to why he knew how to act non-abusively in the counselor’s office but acts abusively at home, and I quote: “Because it’s you.” There we have it again in one tidy little sentence: I “push his buttons”, he is not responsible for his behaviour, it’s my own damn fault, and I deserve it.

Before that second session, immediately after speaking with the hotline workers who advised me to get out of the relationship, I had written my partner a letter in which I stated that the only circumstance in which I could continue having a relationship with this man was if he admitted to his abuse, without blame, without excuses. He needed to admit it to me personally, he needed to admit it to an abuse counselor, and he needed to admit it to his parents and friends he lied to about it. I also outlined many ways in which I would support him outside of the relationship becoming a non-violent person. It just so happened that without knowing what I wrote in my letter, and unsolicited by me, my partner did admit to me personally over the phone that he was abusive toward me and that I did not “ask for” or deserve it. I had hope. I mentioned in the second session that I had written this letter, but that I had not given it to my partner or read it to him because I was afraid of his reaction. The counselor thought I had done something really good, and assigned him to also write what he wanted from our relationship; she said we could exchange our ideas in the third session, and she would be a “translator” for us, since it “sounds like we’re both walking on eggshells”. Suddenly my partner changed what he wanted from counseling: he just wanted “closure.” Interesting. And in the car after that appointment, he took back his no blame-no excuses confession that he had abused me and reverted again to “we abused each other”. I have no doubt that he really believes this, that he cannot understand the difference between reactions to chronic abuse (fear, anxiety, depression, etc), and the initial abuses. But one thing I knew for sure through all this, he was hopeless and would not change.

Though there is a “rule” in this house not to ask me for permission for anything while I am sleeping (as a single parent of a clever child, I have become skilled at “sleep-talking”), he called the next morning because he wanted to cuddle before work. What? Oh yes. We went out after our appointment the night before to talk, and somehow had a good time– like no good time he ever showed me during our whole relationship (I have since learned that it is typical of an abuser losing control of their partner or the relationship to flip on the “nice switch” to keep his options available; this sudden charm contributes to a tremendous flood of relief and gratitude from the abused partner, resulting in traumatic bonding). Naturally he wanted to take advantage of these good feelings, and I was not alert enough to resist (I was asleep with the phone still to my ear when he appeared at my bedside). Until he got here. I was not cuddly, I talked nervously the whole time, and eventually just got up out of bed. He went to work. I did not hear hide or hair from him again for four days, and when I did, he was all business, totally impersonal. I could see what was going on: as long as I am nice and cuddly, he’ll be sweet to me. If for any reason I can’t/won’t/don’t put out whenever he wants me to, he desires me no more and openly displays a total lack of interest in the fact that I still exist (and have feelings that are hurt by his Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde routine).

So before the third session, I told him I wanted to go to the next appointment alone, and sent him an email saying our relationship was over. I could tell he was very far away from being able to take responsibility for his actions, his treatment of and his attitudes toward me. He came back some days later with the dubious claim that he had written his assignment prior to receiving my break-up message, that in his letter he states he wants to terminate the relationship, and I could read it “if I wanted to” since he would not be present at the next counseling session. I asked him if it was going to be just another of his many letters detailing all the ways he has been “victimised” by this relationship. To this he said no, of course, because he “has a different perspective” than me (what he calls my “perspective”– but was in fact my factually lived experience: that he emotionally abused me, physically threatened me, and sexually assaulted me– is in his mind totally wrong; his perspective– that he is the real or greater victim of “our bad relationship dynamic” is right). Because of a series of mishaps and time-wastes, he drove me to the third appointment. We were early, I talked to him in the car about his abuse and my great hope for him to seek real help for it. He started crying a lot, especially about needing to know I’m “still here” (for him? with him? in physical proximity? emotionally attached? I do not know), so I invited him in to the session. I can’t leave a person in such pain, and knew I could always have my appointments alone the next weeks. It was explained to the counselor that he would no longer be attending, that I had ended the relationship once and for all, and that I desired future counseling only for myself. There were some diversionary topics which were irrelevant given the circumstances, he did a little begging for understanding. I expressed my relief that it was finally over, and expressed some sorrow that he will remember me so negatively. It ended with his head in my lap and me bawling.

The next day he brought the letter which inspired this blog, the one he claims to have written to fulfill the counselor’s assignment to be read in the next session. Compared to my page and a half of solutions which inspired the assignment, his was six typewritten pages long, would have taken most of the appointment to read, and offers not much more than blame, blame, blame, blame, he is so victimised, I am so in denial, and “we” just had a bad relationship dynamic. There are very many points detailing what a monumentally judgmental, intolerant, impatient, cruel and oversensitive person I am, and as such I cannot even think correctly (one almost wonders why he insisted to the very end that he loves such a terrible person). An incredible lot of things I said over the past two years are taken completely out of context; in some cases I see he has narcissistically taken things I said about myself to “really be” statements about him; my childhood experiences (not his abuse, of course) are THE Explanation for why our relationship didn’t and couldn’t work; many times he understands something to be the exact opposite of what I actually said; even a self-deprecating joke I made recently about myself sounding “like such a stereotypical woman”, after which I did say I do not mean to give that impression, is leveraged as evidence that I am belittling of him and do not take his music seriously. -???- It made me wonder about his mental state, and it made me sad. I honestly don’t know what he expects me to believe would have been accomplished by bringing this to “couples counseling”; not only would there have been no time to discuss anything in it, there was nothing to discuss. He laid down his experiences, and that is that. He really wanted me to read it, too, he had been saying for days he wanted me to have it even though there was now no relationship nor couples counseling to bring it to. When he handed it over, I asked if it was written for himself, or for me. He said he did not know. I asked him if he was giving it to me because he thought reading it would be good for me, or if he was giving it to me because it makes himself feel better. Again, he said he did not know. Perhaps he made all these accusations and claims in his letter just to hurt me, or perhaps he really believes these things occurred; perhaps he wanted me to read it so badly because it was his last chance to hurt my feelings, or perhaps he is simply just so insensitive that he can’t tell what feelings I have to hurt. Well I can say now, it did make me feel bad– for him.

In the letter, and throughout our last weeks, and even the last time I saw him, he repeated over and over again that it was he who tried to “save” our relationship so many times by suggesting couples counseling, and that if only I would have co-operated with his solution, maybe we would have had a chance. This has caused me to doubt myself a great deal, is it really all my fault? If I would have stopped being stubborn, or resistant, or having my own opinions about counseling, or any of the other criticisms he had of me, things could have been alright?  I have learned today that couples counseling absolutely would not have worked. Not only would it not have worked, it would very likely have made things worse. I learned also that my instincts about it were valid and correct. Most incredibly to me, I learned that rejecting all other solutions, making only this one solution available to me/us, is typical of abusive and controlling partners. And that if I insist that his abusive behaviour be the focus of the therapy, abusive and controlling partners would rather end the relationship than face themselves— just exactly as my partner suddenly said he wanted “closure” from therapy the same day the counselor showed him he was being abusive, and challenged him not to be. He has portrayed himself to me, and I suspect also to his individual therapist and family at least, as a would-be hero of our relationship, the one who had the right and only “real” solution to our “dynamic”, whose noble efforts to save our relationship were constantly thwarted by my wide variety of personality flaws (sensitiveness, stubbornness, judgmental-ness, ignorance, unreasonable way of thinking, and everything else he had complaints about regarding me as a person). The thing that makes me the most sad is that I think he really believes this, and feels he should be commended for having “tried so hard” to fix our relationship. My wish for him today would be that he would come someday to understand that what he feels he should be commended for is something that very many abusive partners also feel they should be commended for. But coercion, double-binding, blame-shifting, and denial are not commendable. Accepting responsibility, striving toward personal improvement, developing empathy and making reparations, only these could I ever commend him for, even though, as the target of his abuse, there would be absolutely no obligation for me to do so.

I wish him clear vision, and I wish myself healing.

(I also wish my posts were shorter!) 😆 😉

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Helpful and Unhelpful Reminders

13, April 2011 at 9:34 PM (conflicted, sad or sorry for myself) (, , , , )

The last time I heard from my ex, he sent one of the longest emails I have ever received from him, 556 words outlining his plans for his new life. At the end he offers two brief (totaling a whopping 38 words)– what should we call them, sentiments? condolences?— , the first of which is this: “I love you and part of me just hates this.” I wonder what the other part of him is doing: loving it? feeling neutral about it? thinking about bottlecaps? Part of me… only part of me hates this. I cannot stop re-running this statement over and over in my head. I understand it is best not to have someone like this in my life; before I met him, I wanted someone whose love for me would cause all of him to hate it if he never saw me again. I still do want that.

Expecting him to stop by tomorrow to pick up some more of his things, I busied myself throughout the day gathering up what he brought to my life. Clothes, two toolboxes, a lamp. I resent that he does not have to go through anything like this. He doesn’t have to fold my underwear. He doesn’t have to put presents he gave me in a box for some future boyfriend to look at or play with. There are no presents from him except for a t-shirt he made me for the only birthday he (barely) acknowledged (likely because it was only two months after we started seeing each other). I found lots of shirts in his drawers I never saw him wear, all dress shirts. Well, I never saw him in them because he never took me out on a date. There are small objects all around, things that make a person’s life seem so petty. Guitar picks, pens, receipts. Is this all one’s life amounts to? I found reminders of so many things he always said he was going to do for me or to improve things around the house, but never bothered with: the dresser drawer was never fixed, now it never will be; the coffee pot handle, still broken; stuff from old, half-functional computers never got consolidated, now it never will be. No, he never had the time. All his precious time for straightening out the computers was spent instead complaining about me and all my damn computers, long-distance to a childhood friend of mine. I wondered if I should give him half of the new dishes, there are now way too many for just my son and me and the cupboards are unnecessarily crowded. But then I imagined him doing all the things he learned in this relationship that he should do to make a girl feel special or appreciated, things he never did for me; so for his future girlfriend, a romantic dinner, perhaps, because she is worth it. And as they cuddle in bed the next morning (after wonderful, perfect, comfortable, easy sex like it never was with me, of course), she will sip her coffee out of a cup that had before been next to my bed. Hell no. It is bad enough that when he brings her home next winter, he will pull off one of the mittens I knitted him so he can stroke her cheek while gazing happily into her (much younger, of course, and more) beautiful eyes. She will playfully tug on the ends of his scarf, which also was knitted by me. She might even say, “This is a really nice scarf, where did you get it?” And at this rare demand on his memory which might bring him to a vague association with me, what else can he say but those three little words he said to me more than any others: “I can’t remember.” Oh, and “our cat” for the past sixteen months is now “my cat” for the next sixteen years. Even she had anxiety and developed separation issues in response to his sudden disappearance, and she has a brain the size of a walnut.


He isn’t having to think about or make decisions about any such things, and I hate him for it– for being able to skate away from it all completely protected from anything which could threaten to tug at any heartstring he may have. Just a few clicks on the internet, and I and our life together essentially vaporises. He will never find a stray hair of mine on a pillow at his parents’ house. He will never find a lost earring of mine under the nighttable at his new bachelor pad. His experience is sterilised, completely scrubbed free of any unexpected and poignant reminder of my existence, cleansed of the toxicity of me, a disease which apparently attacked his brain and paralysed him for just exactly the same amount of time he spent in my life (at least that’s what he tells other people: he is not responsible for anything, “things” just “happened”). While I’ll be nothing but a few amongst the hundreds of photos on his computer of all his other ex-girlfriends, crushes, their cats, and other projects he involved himself with, I will never have the luxury of pretending he didn’t exist. I’ll probably never stop finding scraps of paper everywhere, little notes he hid all over the house (he wouldn’t give them to me directly, I just always had to go on a sort of Easter-egg hunt) about how sorry he is about such-and-such, about how he didn’t mean to do some other thing, about how he “probably” (probably??) should have told me what he liked about me before it was too late. There are so many of these notes. Passive, half-hearted apologies, continuations of arguments, compliments or romantic expressions which came only AFTER I was crying for hours the night before about why he won’t just tell me the truth: he doesn’t love me, he doesn’t seem to even like me.

Oh yeah, his second sentiment? condolence? from his last message: “I was thinking about being with you in the car the other day, and I think what I was feeling was what you once described as ‘coming home.'” (referring to the feeling a person has upon returning from a long trip or from far away, the sort of exhaustion turned to relief, renewed energy and comfort when you are re-immersed in familiarity. I once said I was having a feeling similar to that in his arms– after another of his returns, after another of his moving-aways…) I must infer, after reading 556:38 words outlining his plans for his new life which only part of him hates to get on with, that this sensation moves him very little to not at all. I wish I could be touched, I wish I could be moved. But concessions don’t inspire me, the paucity of emotion expressed does not infect me with similar feelings. I just look at it and feel… disconnected. After all, he can only feel like he was “coming home” because he chose to go significantly away. No one need tell me he just wasn’t into me. I read that book the very next day:

“A man who wants to make a relationship work will move mountains to keep the woman he loves. If he’s not calling you to tell you he loves you and wants you back, it should only be because he’s showing up at your door to do it in person. If he’s not trying to romance your socks off with dates, flowers, and poetry, it should only be because he’s too engrossed with his couples counseling workbooks and is prioritising getting back on the right track. If he’s not doing any of that, he may love you, he may miss you, but ultimately he’s just not that into you.”

“Remember, the only reason he can miss you is because he’s choosing, every day, not to be with you.”

“Just remember [this] is the same person who, not long before, looked you in your beautiful face, took full stock of you and all your qualities, and told you that he was no longer in need of your company.”


But it helped me keep packing. Afterwards I watched the last movie I checked out from the library that I got for us to watch together. It’s due tomorrow, which means he has been gone a month. Having now uneasy associations with originally imagining we’d have watched it together, I waited until the last day to watch it alone. (Turned out to be about loss and coping and monsters inside us, but then at the end it seemed to forget what it was about and just got weird and stupid. Exactly?) Tomorrow the last movie he asked me to get for us from the library will get placed on the hold shelf, I couldn’t stop it while it was in-transit. I guess I’ll just let it sit there until it expires. A book he had a few months ago sits on my account marked “returned” but inexplicably not disappearing off the list. All these things keep popping up, reminding, “Here he was, this guy who didn’t give a damn about you.” And he still doesn’t have to give a damn. He never has to think about me if he doesn’t want to. He never even has to come near this neighbourhood. I have to live in it every day. His disinterest in me, his indifference toward me, his neglect, and the pain it caused every day; his constant goingawayness, his absenteeism. He’ll never see the nightgown he never saw me in. No, only I get to be reminded of that, only I get to be reminded how if he had cared at all about me, it wouldn’t be the nightgown he never saw me in in the first place. Unlike he was in mine, I was never woven into the fabric of his life.

Sometimes I think I hate being me, because it sucks to invite others in and to care about things as much as I do, to be always living in truth. But then I think, it must suck to be so dull and closed inside, to live in such a way that denies, that leaves people so easy to avoid or forget about, and eventually easy to replace. When it seemed he was wholly unfamiliar with a significant part of the letter I sent to finally end things with him, and I asked if he even read it at all, he told me he only just “glanced through it quickly.” He wouldn’t give up his time– his precious, precious time– to give proper attention to even that. What a disrespect to the time I spent writing it. What a dishonour to the last two years of both of our lives.

I remember before I met him, I dreamed of being with someone who cared, who would be kind and compassionate, who would be loving and have appreciation and enthusiasm for the little things in life. I exchanged that dream for someone who was never so much as even curious toward me and could never be bothered for anything more than the use of his drivers license; who chose, every day, even every day he was here, not to be with me; who looked me in my beautiful face, took full stock of me and all my qualities, and told me with his actions every day that he was never in need of my company. I mean, that’s the bottom line, isn’t it. It was wrong for me to give up on myself.

Correction: I found a second present my ex gave me, two refrigerator magnets from his favourite coffee shop; however, another fun thing I came across which I resent having to deal with as part of the breakup while he just gets to go have a squeaky-clean, brand new life: dried urine under the toilet seat, I mean…? Geez, totally not worth it.

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In the Neighbourhood of Make-Believe

8, April 2011 at 4:24 PM (conflicted, defeated, this is madness, trapped) (, , , , , , , , , )

One of the things I struggled with most during this relationship was trying to pretend various things: pretend I didn’t know what I did, pretend I don’t think the things I do, pretend I didn’t feel the way I did, pretend things weren’t happening the way they were, pretend I didn’t have things on my mind that I did, pretend he cared more than he was showing me, pretend he hadn’t told me so many lies or broken so many promises, pretend I forgot things I couldn’t, pretend he didn’t just say that, pretend I could get over something I couldn’t, pretend I didn’t have desires, pretend I could live without affection, appreciation or praise, pretend I’m someone I’m not, the list goes on and on. I value and strive for honesty, perhaps above all other things, and that includes being honest with myself. I am not very good at pretending; I cannot do it for very long, and even if I’m trying, I cannot do it completely. So here too I was no good at it, and the only thing it resulted in was tremendous and near-constant internal conflict. I knew every time I expressed how I was feeling or said what was on my mind or tried to get to the bottom of something, I’d get arguments, hours and hours of arguments; I also knew if the arguments went on too long or happened too often, his unhappiness and displeasure would trump all other subjects and all he’d want to do is leave. Another double-bind: either pretend everything inside and out is fine– and in order for me to be able to do that, I’d have to learn how to believe things which weren’t real or true– or get left. For me, that’s a lose-lose situation. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know that.

From his point of view, which was oblivious to and of me most of the time, things probably seemed like they came sometimes out of nowhere– gently-expressed suggestions, requests, reminders or concerns were never heard, things I told him about myself and my life either never took hold in his memory or were discarded from it. In an attempt to bring levity or humour to this situation, I often said it was like being in “Groundhog Day”: he was like the characters who started every day the same brand-new, having no idea anything was out of the ordinary, and I was Bill Murray not able to figure out what was going on and wanting to throw myself under a bus. I can’t function in that universe. Unlike Bill Murray, I do not nor do I desire to get to the point where, after I have learned and can anticipate everyone’s response, I can manipulate everything to my own personal advantage. This gets dull even to Bill Murray after awhile, because he can’t pretend there’s any truth in his interactions with others. In the back of his mind, he still knows it’s just pretend, and pretending isn’t stopping the maddening tape-loop. So to my former partner, I’m sure I sometimes looked just as irrational as Bill Murray did to the other characters, who couldn’t understand what he was yelling about or why.

I was suffering in every sense of the word, trying to reconcile what I knew with how I felt with how he wanted things to be with how I needed things to be with how things actually were, and all the while doubting the validity of my feelings, my needs, my thoughts, my concerns and even my reality or existence. Madness. All I wanted was a little truth. But with all the lies, contradictions and broken promises, my confidence, my ego, my boundaries and my ability to trust even myself were in tatters. I didn’t want to end the relationship, I wanted it to get better. But what constituted “better” just kept getting more and more watered-down, until finally I just started looking for some way to cope.

One day I found this quote from Fred Rogers:

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.”

I was blown away by the insight, sympathy and wisdom of it. At the time I found it, my partner happened to be in a phase of reflecting upon his life-long inability to make substantial emotional connections with people, his difficulties with articulating his feelings, his dissatisfaction with life, his inability to open up, and his problems with how he expresses anger and frustration. So not only did I think the quote described him exactly, I thought he would be receptive to the spirit of what Mr. Rogers was getting at with it. I added the quote to, a social-networking site organised around reading and books that my former partner and I are on, hoping he would see it and think about it (and yay! 11 users have liked it so far and added it to their profiles too!). Maybe we could even talk about it. Maybe there’s a new way of looking at what was going on. Maybe I could cope with our relationship difficulties better if just saw him differently– not as someone who was treating me or behaving as he did out of ignorance, carelessness or meanness, but as someone who can’t help it or who doesn’t know any other way, and who can’t simply “get up out of his chair and walk” just because our relationship needs him to. I don’t mean to give the impression that this new perspective would have made me think I should just learn to live with poor treatment, but rather that maybe I/we were going at the problems from the wrong angle and with the wrong attitude. Maybe some kind of emotional therapy was needed, and with that, more time because progress would be slow, and more patience, because success would be measured in baby-steps.

Well, I probably thought that because all that was being drilled into me our whole relationship was that I wasn’t patient/understanding/tolerant/supportive/etc, enough. 🙄 So, go figure.

After reading glowing reviews about the book this quote came from, The World According to Mister Rogers, I ordered the book for my partner and gave it to him for Christmas. He was reading a lot of self-help books at the time, and this was just a tiny book of quotes about life and love and people and relationships that takes an hour or less to read. I figured he could fit an hour in somewhere, or just look at it now and then. I figured it would give us some things to think about, maybe even provide talking-points about ourselves, what we want from our lives and this relationship, or what we can and cannot do about what was going on. I also gave him a calendar with his favourite animal on it (raccoons), so he could better keep track of and communicate his schedule (which was getting busier as he was adding more days he wanted to “do things for himself alone”); a raccoon sticker to put on his new car; a raccoon pin for his new book bag (his previous one got stolen from his old car); a stainless-steel water bottle (with a raccoon on it, of course) so he didn’t have to use plastic anymore (coincidentally his other had just broken, too); and a blank journal (his old one also stolen) with an opossum on it, for his drawings, the million little notes he makes for himself, or whatever he wants to put in it. From him I got a cutting board. Which I gave him the money for that I’d saved out of my tax return so we could all buy each other Christmas presents. I’m such an idiot.

Abuse experts identify caretaking nurturers, “fixers”, givers and optimist-idealists as the most likely victims, the most obvious targets, or the longest-suffering enablers of abusive or controlling men. Hey me, way to go.

Last I asked, and even though I’ve mentioned it several times, he said he still had not seen the quote on my goodreads page. He barely used the journal (he decided to start using index cards bound by a rubber band instead), and he never used the calendar or the sticker. I half-wonder if he’d even be using the water bottle if water weren’t necessary for survival. He broke the pin in an angry fit while grabbing his bag in a hurry to leave me again. And of course he never read the book.

So at least something I did spoke to 11 strangers on a website, but no matter what I tried I could never get through to the one in my house who said he loved me. 😳

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