I was in a relationship with Karen for 3 years. Even though I started seeing the warning signs, I agreed to live with her. Our fighting started getting worse and more regular. It got so every day I would wake up worried that my day would begin with a fight. I did everything to avoid her getting mad, but everything I did seemed to get her upset.
After every argument or fight, she and I would process about how she handled frustration. She had thrown a cup against the wall so hard that the plastic split and shattered. She had gotten out of the car that I was sitting in and slammed her hands on the roof of the car as hard as she could. She had hit her head against the bathroom wall and slammed the sink top with her hands. She had thrashed her legs around under the covers in bed and kneed the wall when she was mad that I hadn’t brushed my teeth. She would yell, curse and literally sprint away during a disagreement or argument.
We had processed and processed about it and had moments of shared understanding about why she experienced things and behaved in the ways she did, how she had learned it, what she was reacting to, etc. She came to understand that although she never physically hurt me and wasn’t a ‘batterer’ using threatening or controlling behaviours against me, her behaviour made me anxious, uncomfortable, and eventually full of contempt.
She learned that it was hurting the relationship. But all of the talking did not result in actual change. Finally, a couple years later, after one incident, I told her that I would assuredly leave her if she did not change this aspect of her behaviour. I asked her what she thought would work—what would make her change her behaviour, since talking together about it wasn’t working. We had long passed the point where talking had any chance of stopping her from escalating her anger.
She didn’t want me to leave and knew that I was serious. She came up with something herself, and we agreed upon a rule. If she began to get upset, she would try to use calming, self-soothing practices for herself. And if she expressed her anger and frustration with physical violence even once—including throwing things against the wall or pounding on things without necessarily touching me—she would arrange for herself to stay in a motel that night, and cover the costs and transportation on her own. She would take a taxi and not walk to a motel at night (even if she wanted to walk), because putting her as a queer woman on the street alone at night was not going to be part of the plan. She could get hurt. And even if she didn’t, I would worry so much that I would get no rest. She agreed that she would take the cab so that she would be safe and I wouldn’t have to worry. The whole decision around these consequences seemed like such a small thing, but it made a big difference in her behaviour.
We eventually broke up. Her agreement to stop her abuse, and her plans to take steps to avoid further abuse made a difference. I think it also helped her understand that she really could take steps to control her abuse. It took years of me explaining to her how I felt and years of tolerating what I now find to be an intolerable situation. But she did finally admit that what she was doing was wrong or at least wrong to me. And she finally took steps to change her behaviour. She stopped the most immediate violence and took responsibility to make plans to make sure that she would either stop or at least remove herself from our home if she couldn’t make herself stop in any other way.
This was a first step and an important one. She could finally recognise with my insistence over and over again that her abusive behaviour was wrong. We were able to take a break from the continued cycle of violence for a while.
But she chose to go no further. She would not change her underlying attitudes and behaviours. She refused to admit how deep these problems were and how simply stopping the most immediate behaviours would not be enough for me to trust her and relax enough to enjoy our relationship together. We had a moment of relief, but without deeper changes, I knew it would be just a matter of time before her abuse would start again.
Stopping violence takes many steps. Changing violence and becoming someone who can truly enjoy human connection, love without control, communicate without having to make every conversation into an argument or a contest, and be open, curious and appreciative about one’s partner are things that I now seek.