24-year-old Chloe* thought that because her partner never hit her, he hadn’t done anything bad enough to make her leave.
‘I met Adam* through mutual friends on New Year’s Eve, and we instantly clicked. We lived 129 miles away from each other, but that didn’t stop us desperately wanting to be together, so things moved quickly. Immediately after our first meeting we began seeing each other every weekend. Within a month we were an official couple, and two weeks after that we were saying ‘I love you’.
I was on cloud nine. I couldn’t believe my luck that I’d met him. I’m a real romantic, I dream of meeting ‘The One’ and having a fairytale romance, and that’s exactly how it felt.
Six months passed, and despite the fact we argued quite a lot – I’m a strong and fiery person and so is he, so we often clashed – the fights would never last long and I still felt incredibly happy with him. I had just graduated from university and planned to move back home to my mum’s until I found a job, but after months of long distance, Adam suggested I move in with him. He had a good job and said he would financially support me until I found a job because he wanted us to be together. I thought it was such a romantic gesture that I agreed without a second thought.
I moved more than one hundred miles away to live with Adam, but almost immediately things changed. One night, we were at the pub celebrating my friend’s 21st birthday. Everyone was drunk, but just as we were about to leave somebody I barely knew made a silly joke about me being into bondage. She was just messing around and I tried to tell Adam she had no idea about me, but he wouldn’t drop it. He was convinced she had revealed a side to me I’d never shared with him, and became angry that I apparently did kinky stuff with other boyfriends but not with him. It was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe the things he was saying.
The jealousy only worsened after that. Once, I mentioned I’d been somewhere on holiday with my ex-boyfriend and he said we could never go to that country together because ‘I’d just be thinking of my ex’. He insisted I never mentioned anyone from my past again.
While I searched for a job relating to my degree, I worked in temporary promotional work doing leafleting and hosting events, but Adam hated it and told me I was ‘selling myself’. I tried to explain that most of the time I was in an anorak desperately trying to hand out leaflets in the rain, but he thought I was putting myself in a position for men to gawk at me. I could see that he had trust and jealousy issues, but I just put it down to him being protective.
Despite saying he would support me if I moved in, Adam quickly began to resent my lack of income. He knew how little I earned, but would insist on buying the most expensive, branded food in the supermarket and then force me to pay half. He would surprise me with £40 theatre tickets and then tell me I needed to transfer him the money for mine that day. If I said I couldn’t afford it, he would tell me I was holding him back from living the kind of lifestyle he deserved. He belittled me for living ‘like a poor person’ and would constantly tell his friends and family how much he had to support me. I felt so embarrassed.
I became so eager to pay my way that I’d spend more than I could afford, and even ended up taking out payday loans some months. Eventually, I got a job full time in a shop, thinking that would make Adam happy because I’d have more money to live on. But in reality, it meant I had to work at weekends, and he started complaining that I was ‘abandoning’ him.
When you’re trying to find a job after university, especially in the kind of competitive field I was trained in, you already feel like you’re not good enough. A partner is supposed to be the person to build you up and reassure you, but Adam just made me feel worse. He exacerbated every insecurity I had about myself and I felt like a failure.
Adam’s mood and his treatment of me gradually became worse. He was irritable and snappy, I couldn’t do anything right, and it felt like even my presence was enough to annoy him. I lived in a city that I didn’t know, far away from my friends and family, in a job that I hated with not enough money to survive. Every night I’d come home and just stand outside the front door, trying to suppress my dread about what he might pick on tonight. He would take the smallest look or comment the wrong way, the dinner wouldn’t be good enough, the flat wouldn’t be clean enough, I worked too many hours, I was lazy, I had no money, I held him back. I started to just keep quiet and do as I was told to avoid him exploding. I had lost the strong person that I was and I spent my time living on eggshells.
I suspected Adam was suffering from depression, which he was eventually diagnosed with, so I put most of his horrible behaviour down to that. But it didn’t stop me wondering why, after being so cold and hostile towards me, he’d be able to switch to his normal, happy self so easily when we were around his friends.
Longing To Leave
I was desperately unhappy, but I still didn’t feel like I could leave. I felt financially trapped, unable to afford to break out on my own, and I knew if I tried to end the relationship he would blow up. I wasn’t ready to face that, I didn’t feel strong enough or brave enough to do it.
The problem was, the things Adam did were all such small things that I felt like I must be overreacting. Where would I begin telling someone? If I said he told me that I didn’t cook the dinner right, people would think, that’s not that bad. Or if I said he told me I hadn’t hoovered properly? They’d think, oh well, move on, get over it. It was so many little, insignificant things that I didn’t feel like I had a leg to stand on. I wished he would physically hit me, or cheat on me, or at least do something that would give me a solid reason to leave.
I didn’t see what he was doing as abuse. I don’t know why. But I did know I didn’t want to be there. Sometimes I even wished he would die so that I would be free.
When we’d been together for over a-year-and-a-half, I took a job that meant I had to work away from home for three months. Initially, he said he was proud of me, but after a while that turned into me ‘fucking off and abandoning’ him. I couldn’t wait to go, I needed the time away so badly.
While I was away, Adam would text and call me over 100 times a day. I was busy, working 12 hour days, but he wouldn’t stop calling. When I didn’t answer, I’d get emails saying my Facebook password has been changed, and I’d eventually log back in to find he’d posted statuses saying: ‘I don’t have time to text back my boyfriend’. He commented on old pictures, too, saying: ‘I can take photos of myself but I can’t ring my boyfriend’. It was humiliating, all my friends and family could see it.
While I was working away, I became very close friends with a group of girls. One night, I was on the phone to Adam and felt at my wits end, so I put the call on loudspeaker. My friends were shocked at the terrible things he was saying to me, and the looks on their faces told me I had to end it. My time away showed me what my life could be like; it helped me see I would be okay on my own.
I ended our relationship while I was still away, and when I returned home my mum helped me move all my stuff out. Adam continued to call and harass me for a while, but eventually he realised I didn’t want to be with him anymore and let it go.
That was last year, and it’s taken until very recently for me to realise I was in an abusive relationship. It’s one of those things you never think will happen to you. I was in denial. I didn’t want to admit it and have people think of me as a victim, or as weak, or as stupid for not having the courage to leave. Now I know that people who experience abuse aren’t victims, or weak, or stupid – they’re just people who have suffered at the hands of somebody they loved and trusted.
I was so convinced that Adam’s behaviour had just been a series of small things I was overreacting to, but the moment I vocalised it all and told my friends what was happening, they made me realise that it wasn’t okay. The small things may seem silly and insignificant, but when you add up them up they turn into a massive thing. I deserved better than that.’
*Name has been changed
AS TOLD TO CATRIONA HARVEY-JENNER
This article originally appeared on elle.com