We all strive to build a relationship, a ‘happily ever after’, where both partners’ needs are met.
No one ever sets out to be in an unhealthy relationship, but in my case, my relationship turned out to be toxic.
3 years of my life with a person whom I loved with all my heart and soul, and I did not notice the red flags because I was blinded by love.
It started off with controlling who I spend my time with. Minor arguments growing into bigger, more extreme public ones. And then belittling and name-calling, and finally, verbal and physical abuse.
Everything was amazing in the six months of the relationship. My partner, Rafiq* (*Not his real name) would surprise me with flowers, and shower me with gifts. He would also take me on surprise dates at fancy restaurants and surprise vacations, and would call me constantly
That six months was the ‘honeymoon phase’. It is the phase where you meet your partner almost everyday because you can’t go a day without them.
That was me. I had focused all my time on him throughout the six months, not meeting any of my friends. He even encouraged me to quit my job to spend more time with him — he claimed that he would pay the bills. So I did.
The Beginning Of A Toxic Relationship
Six months later I introduced him to my circle of friends. It was my biggest regret.
My college friends were my closest friends back then. There were at least 15-20 of us in a bunch including my previous ex-boyfriend. When he met them, he was all nice. When we headed home, he asked me: “How can you be friends with your ex-boyfriend if he is in the same group of friends as you?”
I explained to him that it was nothing wrong, because we had a mutual break-up previously but decided to remain friends because we had been friends for more than 5 years even before we got together.
Rafiq was not pleased about it, and the argument went on for three hours. Finally, he insisted that he would come along if I were to hang out with this particular bunch of friends. At first, I agreed to stop our arguing, but eventually I could not keep my promise because it was not normal to have my partner there 24/7 of the time I’m with my friends.
I needed my own space and time with my friends too. But he could not accept that. He lashed out and unleashed his temper at me, saying that I had chosen my friends over him, and all he did was wait for me every time I went out with my friends.
From then on, all the arguments started to become even more extreme and aggressive.
I was finally told to cut off my friends completely because he could not accept it.
And so I did. Once in a while, they would text me or I would secretly meet up with them but that was it. I had to keep my friends a secret. There were times where I bumped into them at the bar or in public, but I had to keep conversations short. They would walk up to me to say hi, and catch up a little, but Rafiq would get really upset about it.
I remember a time where he was so angry about another ex-boyfriend saying hi to me that he yelled at me in public, and was on the verge of throwing a glass bottle at me. He then ditched me without any means of transport or a place to stay because he was mad out of his mind.
The constant arguments continued throughout our 3-year relationship. And yet, there was never a time where I actually thought of leaving him. I always told myself to put up with this, because he needed me since he had a lot of family and financial issues.
At the same time, it was also me who needed him, and I thought he would change eventually. I stayed on till the very last straw — which finally brought me back to reality.
We were out at a bar one night just having a drink or two.
My friend had sent me a DM asking me where I was, and I replied with a picture of the bar I was at. My friend had not been to that bar, and I wanted to show him how this place looked because we spoke about it before.
My ex-boyfriend saw me sending that picture to him, and immediately grabbed my phone and started shouting at the top of his lungs, saying, “Are you f***ing this guy? Want me to call him and ask him to come here so I can punch his ugly face? Are you that desperate for attention?” There were so many disgusting things coming out of his mouth.
I told him no, and explained myself. He stepped outside and started yelling at me even louder till everyone was staring at us.
We left the bar to eat nearby, and I was still trying to explain the situation to him but instead he got annoyed and punched me in the face. He claimed that all I say is ‘lies’ and I should just shut up.
He then stood up after eating and started walking while I was behind him still trying to explain the situation to him.
On the way, he bumped into his friend, and immediately told his friend, “This b***h is cheating on me and is sleeping around with every other guy cause she needs attention and is a desperate s**t.” His friend looked confused, and did not have anything to say. I was standing there in shame and embarrassment.
He came back over, pushed me to a wall and told me to get lost. At this point, I started crying and begging him to stop it, but he went on screaming and left. Everyone just stared and did not do a thing about it.
I was punched, slapped and verbally abused in public, while everyone just stared at us, thinking it was a couple’s quarrel.
I stood there in panic, rooted to the spot.
As I stood there in embarrassment and panic, I could not move or run away from the situation.
In that situation, all I could think about was ‘How do I calm him down?’ ‘Is he going to break-up with me?’ ‘Is he going to leave me for someone else?’ ‘I need to say sorry and beg him’. Could you imagine after all that he put me through, at that very moment I was only thinking about him?
I couldn’t believe myself. I was solely concerned about him leaving me or what I can do to say I’m sorry, even though what I did was not even wrong.
I used to think the abusive traits started when his parents got a divorce, when he had financial issues and because his ex girlfriend cheated on him. But those were just excuses to lash out.
I was wrong.
It was because my self-esteem and confidence was slowly running out.
My ex manipulated me into believing the lies about how he was the only one that cares for me and that is why we are always arguing all the time. He said I was the only one that could bring out the devil in him, and for some reason that made me feel special.
He made me believe these things, and it eventually made me continue wanting to be with him. I could not leave him because I was afraid that I would lose the one person that actually cared about me.
I thought this was how a relationship was supposed to be because if someone constantly argues with you, it means they care and love you.
I finally, finally realised that’s not what love is
Love is not supposed to be so hard.
It was not supposed to feel like I was suffocating inside.
I was desperate to find the answer to this problem. I remember trying to find the answers on Google, and I stumbled upon this article about being with a ‘toxic and narcissistic partner’.
The article had helped me understand why it was so hard to leave this person. I did more and more research, watched videos about it and it finally gave me the courage to leave.
The signs were so obvious:
- A partner that frequently demeans, intimidates, bullies or belittles others
- A huge sense of entitlement
- You’re always walking on eggshells
I was constantly worried about bringing up any stories related to my friends as I was afraid I would provoke extreme tension, hence I became conflict avoidant and kept all my issues to myself.
There were more than just 3 signs. If you notice these signs, RUN. Those are red flags that you might not be noticing in your relationship.
I finally found the courage to walk away. That night, I sent him a text and told him that I was done with this relationship. He kept calling and texting me trying to say he is sorry. But I blocked him on all social media platforms including Whatsapp.
He tried to call me using other numbers and even tried to come over to my house but eventually it all stopped. This year, I bumped into him once, but we pretended like we were strangers and moved along. He texted me after with another number to tell me that he was sincerely sorry. But I did not reply and that was the end of it.
Healing From The Past
Today, 1 year and 7 months later, it is safe to say I have finally healed and moved on completely. For those of you who are going through a tough time like me, you could follow the steps I took to get over this situation.
I worked on myself before getting into another relationship
I lost myself in the process of trying to please someone else and it took me at least 8 months till I could find myself and heal from the damage caused by the relationship. I am now finally healed and free from my past, and in a relationship with someone that loves me for who I am.
I picked up hobbies that I have always wanted to try
Hobbies helped with boosting my self-esteem. I started working out to boost my self confidence, I have a journal to pen down my thoughts even till today whenever I am angry or sad, and I wanted to be independent again, so I started doing new things on my own and learnt how to enjoy my own company.
I spent time with people and animals who built me up
I spent most of my time with people that love me and the ones that help build me up rather than tear me down.
My cats were my source of happiness apart from my family and friends. Spending time with my cats that loved me unconditionally, helped alleviate the loneliness. I learnt that you can’t push or force healing, so I took my time to breathe, forgive myself and be surrounded by positive people.
I cut off all communication with the toxic person
It was impossible for me at first to cut off all communication with this person. I was so dependent on him for 3 years that it felt like I couldn’t live without him.
The first week felt like the worst. There were many times where I wanted to call him, but I chose one thing to do every time I have the urge to contact him. I would call a friend instead or head out to the gym.
I never thought I would be set free, or I would ever be able to trust and love again, but trust me, the process is really hard at first, but it will get better.
There is always a rainbow after the rain. Don’t give up on yourself and always remember to love yourself first.
If your partner is abusive, it’s not because he loves and cares for you, but it’s because he has the power to do so when you’re vulnerable, insecure and weak. Stay strong and don’t give in!
For more stories like this, read: I’m a Survivor of Domestic Violence — Here’s What I Did After I Left My Abusive Relationship and How We Miss the Signs of Being in an Abusive Relationship
If you are a survivor of gender-based violence, you may contact the following organisations for free and confidential support:
All Women’s Action Society
For counselling, legal information, and case management.
Telenita helpline: 03-7877-0224
Email: [email protected]
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group
SAWO Helpline: 088-280200
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
For counselling, case management, and shelter.
WAO Hotline: 03 7956 3488
WhatsApp: 018 988 8058
Women’s Centre for Change Penang
Tel: 04-228 0342
Talian KASIH (government-run hotline)
Association of Women Lawyers
Contact us at [email protected]
Getting Help For Domestic Violence