How to ask for the love you need

 

worthy

I recently did something that I thought would be silly, or selfish, or outlandish.

I wrote a manual on how to love me.

It gives the basics about me and my background, includes a list of my favorite things, discusses how to best communicate with me, describes how I interact within each of the five love languages, and has links to blog posts and book recommendations to help understand my trauma and triggers. It even has tips on how to help me through a panic attack.

I posted about it on my personal Facebook page and I expected some laughs and comments about how I was being super type-A.

But the response was nothing short of love and encouragement.

It’s okay to ask for love

It’s okay to ask for love in the ways you need it. It’s okay to say, “Hey could you love me this way instead?”

For me, one of the worst things is to ignore me or make me do all the work of initiating conversation or contact. Feeling like I have to chase affection is deeply painful. I am still learning that love is abundant and available, that I don’t have to earn it, and that I certainly don’t have to beg for it.

An unexpected message from a loved one can light up my whole day, reassure me that they are thinking of me, and show me that they care.

When I shared my manual about how to love me, people thanked me.

The next day, I posted a status to “love me louder,” and I got some people sending gifs and hugs… but I also noticed several friends leaving comments about how great a friend I am, how they’ve been inspired by me, how proud they are of my writing and my work. And that small shift in the way I asked for love felt really good.

It can be scary to ask for love

When I was in sixth grade, I was living with my dad after my parents divorced. I told him “I love you” multiple times a day. It was an easy way to check in, to receive that “I love you too” back. I was trying to ask for love. And one day his response was not, “I love you too.”

It was “You say that a lot. Seems like you might be trying to convince yourself.”

It has never really felt safe to ask since then.

It’s been twenty years since I felt safe asking for love.

When I check in with someone to ask for something they aren’t giving me automatically, my heart pounds. Tears prick my eyes. My whole body feels hot. I want to be anywhere but vulnerably in front of them showing the truth of what I need. Risking myself like that is physically painful.

I learned as a child that love can be faked.

Every time I ask someone to change the way they love me, it feels like I’m being ungrateful and selfish. Like I should change the way I need to feel loved rather than ask them to speak my native tongue.

It feels like I am flinging myself off a cliff and hoping they might catch me.

Sometimes it feels easier to sit around wondering why someone doesn’t love me than to say what I need to feel loved. Vulnerability is scary, but it’s where we get our needs met. It’s where we find resolve in our worth and value.

It’s where we remember who the fuck we are.

Vulnerability at work can look like asking for a raise or promotion. You’re risking a no. If your boss says no, you might feel unimportant or not valued. If your boss reassures you that you’re doing great and puts together a six month plan for you to be in a place where they can offer that raise when they have the next budget meeting — that’s a reward for your vulnerability, even though it initially feels like rejection.

Vulnerability with a partner can look like saying, “I feel like I’m chasing you down for affection and I want to hear from you more during the day.” This feels scary, because they could say no. They could say that’s not how they operate their love languages and they aren’t willing to learn yours. They could say this feels like a lot of work.

Or they could say, “I’m sorry that I’ve been loving you in a way you weren’t receiving, and I will remember that you need loved this way. It is safe to remind me, and please do until I make it a habit.”

Being told I’m hard work is one of my top triggers. It’s something that has been said by a parent and by a partner, and its message is clear: My love for you is conditional on how easy you make my life.

Relationships take work, but people are not hard work

It’s rare for two people to connect in a way that is 100% flawless all of the time. But if you are important to each other and there is mutual trust, respect, and caring, asking for what you need is a blessing. It’s a road map and a manual. It’s cheat codes to making sure you feel loved.

Interpersonal communication takes practice, and this can feel like a tough job.

But if people didn’t want to do the work of learning how to best love me, they wouldn’t be out here loving me.

Tell your partner your love languages and be specific

Your partner can reference your top love languages for a reminder that you really get a boost from a love note in the middle of the day or them offering to pick up dinner on the way home so you don’t have to. Maybe they buy you an awesome gift because you feel loved when you receive a thoughtful present.

Whatever your love language, it is okay to communicate it to your friends, family, and partners. In fact, it should be a regular part of interpersonal relationships.

Not sure what your love language is? Take the quiz here to find out and learn about all five languages, which are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts

The hidden benefit of telling people how to love you

When you tell people how to love you, and especially when you tell people what makes you feel downright unloved or unappreciated, you have a measuring stick for people’s respect for you.

Once you’ve told someone several times what you need to feel loved and they repeatedly ignore it, it can help you see who doesn’t belong so close to you. You deserve an inner circle of people willing and eager to speak your language.

It doesn’t make people inherently toxic or bad for you if they don’t speak your language, but it is okay to place distance between yourself and them.

Normalize love

Normalize talking about love languages.

Normalize telling friends you love them.

Normalize asking for what you need, without apology.

Read more from me!

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The healing power of non-monogamy

polyamory meme

I couldn’t find a good image so I created this one.

In March 2018 I left an abusive marriage and entered into a new phase of life: the casually slutty phase. My dating app profile included the line, “I am dedicating 2018 to non-monogamous exploration.” I had my first one time hookups, met my first friend with benefits, and soon met my first long-term partner after the split. 

Me and this guy couldn’t get enough of each other, and I stopped putting energy into other dates because I was excited to see him again and again. (Real talk: Dating is hard work and takes a lot of energy). We dated a few weeks before he asked if I wanted to be monogamous. “No,” I said, “Staying non-monogamous is really important to me after leaving my marriage.” He said, “Okay, it just seems like a lot to balance, I thought maybe monogamy would feel safer.”

In retrospect, this was a yikes, but at the time I did not realize that. We continued dating and I met another long-term partner; both relationships lasted a little over a year each. 

A little background 

This was not my first non-monogamous rodeo. In 2010, my first husband and I opened our marriage at my request. It was definitely uncharted territory, as he was my first partner ever and he had only had one or two serious partners before me. Neither of us even knew non-monogamy was an option, but I had been researching online to try and figure out why I felt so unfulfilled in our marriage and thought that perhaps adding other partners was a great idea and would help me feel more worthy of love. My entire first 28 or so years of life were plagued with terrible self esteem and emotional abuse that led me to seek fulfillment and validation from others to feel good about myself.

I reached out while writing this blog to ask him what his thoughts were when I asked to open our marriage. He said he felt defeated overall that our marriage was so unhappy and he was willing to try anything to make it work. (PS. this is a bad reason to open a marriage, and I definitely made a mistake opening my marriage this way). 

We made some of your typical new-to-polyamory mistakes. First of all, we opened from a place of fear and desperation to make things work, rather than getting our relationship on solid ground first. We had lots of rules, lots of possessiveness, lots of “well you got to do it so now I get to do it too” tit for tat behavior. 

I made mistakes. I treated my partners like they were beholden to my expectations without treating them with the same respect. I treated other people like they were pawns I could move around my relationship chess-board, trying to find the configuration that would fulfill what I felt like I was missing. Maybe dating another couple would work better, maybe this, maybe that. 

By 2018 when I sought out to be my authentically non-monogamous self, I had learned much more by following polyamory-positive accounts on social media (like Poly.Land), learning about relationship constructs like relationship anarchy, seeing my own friends in my social circles practice healthy polyamorous relationships, reading books like More than Two, etc. 

When I left my abuser, non-monogamy the right way was my goal. Because monogamy had trapped me in a cycle of making my partner the most important thing in my life. More important even than myself. 

Weaponizing monogamy

When people say “toxic monogamy,” it might offend you as a monogamous person. You might think I’m saying that your way of living life in your romantic relationships is toxic or bad. That’s not what I’m saying. 

Similar to toxic masculinity, which is “masculinity that is toxic,” toxic monogamy is “monogamy that is toxic.” Examples of toxic monogamy include creepy wedding decorations with a ball and chain or handcuffs, not allowing your spouse to have friends outside of your marriage, expecting your partner to be your “one and only” person in life, being possessive of your partner, going through your partner’s phone to see if they are talking to other people or following accounts on social media you don’t approve of, threatening to harm other people who you perceive to come between you and your partner, etc. 

My mom and stepdad had a couple they were friends with whose origin story went like this: He beat up her boyfriend, so she went out with him instead because he proved how much he wanted her with physical violence. And they’re still together decades later. Aww, sweet. (No, not sweet). 

Toxic masculinity and toxic monogamy go hand in hand, but that’s a blog post for another day. 

My abuser had weaponized monogamy in our relationship. We met when I was in my first marriage, as was he. I had a girlfriend at the time, whom he was also seeing. He met with her for a dinner date, she talked about me on their date, and he then connected with me and feigned surprise when I asked if he was in fact the gentleman who was seeing my girlfriend. (Read: He lied about not knowing who I was when he made contact). He dated us both until he decided which of us was easier, and it became apparent when she started calling out his possessive behavior that he needed to get her out of the picture. 

He convinced me she was too jealous and unstable for us to attempt a polyamorous triad, which had been our initial hope as three people who were dating each other. I broke things off with her and he did soon after. Once I filed for divorce, my abuser suggested that we be monogamous with each other, because non-monogamy was clearly too hurtful and too complicated. I readily agreed, because I had just had such a bad experience with that “crazy girlfriend!” I didn’t want to have to guard myself against that again. It really was better to just be monogamous so I couldn’t get hurt again. I was enthusiastically in agreement. 

I was happily monogamous, so long as I accepted whatever treatment he gave me. He was in charge of the love, affection, and sex I received, and I had no leg to stand on to ask for more. 

Bisexual erasure in a straight-presenting relationship

I am bisexual: attracted to people of similar and different genders than myself. As a bisexual person in a relationship with a straight cisgender man, I was subject to some of your typical bi erasure tropes. His erasure took one of three forms depending on my behavior, confidence, doubts, etc. and the result he needed to achieve to maintain control in our abuse cycle. 

  1. You’re not really bi, you’re just narcissistic. Any time I looked upon myself favorably in the mirror, he’d say I was preening like a bird and joke that I wasn’t actually bisexual, I was just really into myself. Looking back, I now see that this was meant to poke holes in my confidence by judging how “into myself” I was. 
  2. If you need to explore your bisexuality, that’s fine… in a threesome. My husband routinely told me that he wanted to be monogamous, but if I felt the desire to explore my sexuality with a woman, he was open to that. All I had to do was ask! So once, I did ask. I asked if I could have sex with a close female friend of mine. My husband was livid. I called him a liar, because he said that I could explore if I wanted to, and I was communicating that desire with him. He then explained that what he meant was I could be with a woman if it was a threesome with him. 
  3. Your bisexuality means you’re twice as likely to leave me. If I had managed to get through the first two layers of bi erasure from my esteemed life partner, this was always an option for him to bring out. When we talked about my sexuality, he’d say “I take your bisexuality very seriously. It means twice the people you could leave me for.” I honestly can’t even begin to unpack this nonsense. I guess he was implying that any attraction I felt for not-him meant a risk of me leaving him, but it didn’t occur to him to maybe not be a shitty partner.

In his mind, bisexuality was a threat to him and therefore he did everything he could to reduce its importance in my identity. If I wanted him to feel reassured that I wouldn’t leave him, I talked less about my sexuality. If the only acceptable way for him to accept my bisexuality was in a threesome I was unwilling to have, then I just didn’t bring it up. What seems obvious in retrospect as psychological abuse was, at the time, just what I needed to do to keep my husband happy and reassured of my commitment to him. 

His undermining of my sexuality tied back into his skewed expectation of monogamy: that he and he alone should have been all I needed. 

Relationship orientation

Again, I am not saying that monogamy is unhealthy or toxic. It can be extremely healthy and fulfilling. Just like polyamory or other forms of non-monogamy can be healthy or unhealthy. I’ve had healthy and unhealthy friendships, I’ve cut toxic and abusive family members from my life, and I’ve quit jobs with toxic bosses — any relationship has the potential to be healthy or unhealthy. 

I’ve found that there’s a spectrum of identifying as polyamorous, non-monogamous, etc. similar to sexual orientation. This doesn’t mean straight polyamorous people should have a unique space at Pride or that they remotely face the same struggles as queer people. Polyamory is not a sexual orientation, but it is a relationship orientation. 

You can feel called to a polyamorous relationship orientation as a very important part of your identity. You definitely need access to multiple relationships to feel romantically fulfilled, and it’s a non-negotiable aspect of your dating life. 

Or maybe you enjoy non-monogamy and don’t feel that monogamy is an inherent default, but if you connected with a partner who preferred to be monogamous you could enjoy monogamy as well. 

Whether you are non-monogamous by necessity and identity or you simply don’t default to monogamy, your relationship structure outside the norm of monogamy is valid. 

The healing power of non-monogamy

For me personally, being non-monogamous has been a critical piece of my recovery from abuse and trauma. Being ethically polyamorous is part of who I am now, and I won’t be changing that. Dating multiple people helps me level set the bar for behavior and treatment I accept, helps me stay true to my boundaries, and just feels really good because I’m allowed to make connections with whomever I want. 

I clearly communicate my expectations, desires, and limits with partners, and because I know love and affection is plentiful and available to me, I don’t settle for poor treatment or someone repeatedly ignoring my boundaries. To me, polyamory means that there are infinite opportunities to make loving connections. I no longer feel like I have to “lock somebody down” to make sure they stay interested in me,  or that I have to be everything my partner wants or needs, or that I have to limit myself to avoid making people lose interest in me. More love is around the corner, and if somebody doesn’t love me the way I like to be loved, I don’t have to change the way I need to be loved, I need to change who is doing the loving. 

Read more from me

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll be thrilled to know there’s a whole chapter on relationship structures including polyamory and relationship anarchy in my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. Millennials didn’t invent these relationship types but we are fairly noisy about normalizing them. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I’ve also just set up a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

A Surprising Number of Things Elton John and I Have in Common 

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0 of them are playing the piano.

When I saw the trailer for Rocketman, I instantly knew I’d see the movie when it hit theaters. In the mid nineties, my mother and I would trek from our small village of Seville, Ohio into the “big city” of Medina to do grocery shopping. Our soundtrack, more often than not, was Elton John’s Greatest Hits, a 1992 CD with Elton’s top songs from 1970 to 1974. This early start meant that I have loved Elton John from the time I was very small and have continued being a fan throughout my life. So I was extremely excited to see his story on the big screen, especially considering that I hadn’t put much time into getting to know the man behind the music. 

Here is the list of things I knew about Elton John before I saw Rocketman: 

  1. Elton John is gay 
  2. Elton John plays the piano 
  3. Elton John wears costumes and big glasses and rhinestones 
  4. Elton John is the MVP of Disney soundtracks, save for Phil Collins because Tarzan was 100% a gift 

Spoilers Ahead! 

The opening scene of Rocketman follows Elton walking down a long hallway in full costume dressed as a sequin-adorned devil. He bursts through the door… into a group meeting at a rehab center. After some questions about his childhood, which he insists was very happy, we see flashbacks to Young Elton who was emotionally abused by both of his parents.

The first interaction between Elton and his mother was her chastising him, saying “You’re late and I’ve had to throw your dinner in the bin” (I’m paraphrasing). This smacks of the time my mother told my sister that if she wasn’t home by 5 she couldn’t come on a car ride to drop me off at dad’s for the weekend — we passed her walking home at 5:01 and she was running for the car and crying. Mom didn’t stop. Or the time my sister and I ate popsicles while putting away groceries only to have our mother deny us a promised trip to the movies because we hadn’t finished our chores before eating them. 

Denied affection and love altogether by his father, and only conditionally loved by his mother, Elton John wanted nothing but to be loved as a child. Through the grace of one blood relative who cared, his grandmother, he was encouraged to take piano lessons and cultivate his love of music. Even as an adult, Elton was still searching for his father’s approval and his mother’s love. 

Now’s where it starts getting a little freaky. Well, it’s not so freaky. But I, too, was emotionally abused as a child and adult by my parents. Conditional love and constant striving for attention and validation was the name of my childhood and young adult game. I only cut my parents out of my life at age 30. So right away, Rocketman had me hooked because of this parallel between my own story and that of an artist I had adored my whole life. 

Saturday Night

Elton ages on screen through a choreographed sequence of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” and this was the sequence in the film that first made me actually cry instead of just tear up. This song was my favorite to sing along with my mom in the car, and the juxtaposition of the upbeat song, the happy memories, and the truth of my emotionally abusive upbringing was overwhelming. Those memories of my mother are happy, and warm, and comforting. I loved listening to Elton John in the car with my mom. But my mother didn’t love me. And the grief of that was tangible while I watched this sequence in Rocketman. 

Elton’s mother was watching him perform. But did she care? Was she proud? My mother came to my choir concerts. But did she care? Was she proud? 

A Name Change 

Born Reginald Dwight, Elton desired a bit of a name change for his musical career. He borrowed both names, Elton and John, from bandmates. While in Rocketman, he appears to take inspiration from a photo of John Lennon, a fact check indicates that was more of a cinematic liberty than true historical fact. Which is a bummer, because if Elton John had selected his surname based on a favorite celebrity, that would be one more thing we have in common. 

As I left an abusive marriage (a nearly seven year relationship) and came to terms with my own abusive upbringing in childhood, I opted to select a completely new name rather than keep my married name or revert to my birth name. I chose Fisher, because without Carrie Fisher’s advocacy for mental health and medication, I likely would not have gone on the antidepressants that helped me see the abuse for what it was. Lexapro got me out of an abusive marriage. And Carrie got me on Lexapro. 

Serendipitous Encounters 

I was so happy to fact check and find out that Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin actually did meet through complete serendipity. Elton said he couldn’t write lyrics, so a studio exec handed him a sealed envelope from a stack of songwriting applications. Inside were Bernie’s words. The duo hit it off and have been working together ever since. 

Here’s where this completely rocks my world: I have imposter syndrome. I feel like my writing career is a fluke. That my published book is a fluke. That an agent reaching out to me and a publishing company picking me up as an author are flukes. I’ve made jokes time and time again that Twitter got me a book deal and it was all a complete accident. 

But I’d never say that Elton John was an accident. And this guy happened to get a random pile of lyrics from someone whose words were perfect. 

You could say that it was by chance that Elton and Bernie met up and made music together. But the fact that Bernie writes good lyrics and Elton plays mad piano and can sing with such talent and conviction… that is not by chance. 

Just like my writing is not by chance. I may have had some good luck, some good things happen, some serendipity in the modern age. But I’m not an accident. 

Abusive Relationships 

Speaking of careers and the people who help them along, let’s talk about Elton’s manager and first boyfriend, John Reid. Doing a bit of research about the couple, it didn’t happen exactly as portrayed in Rocketman. In the biopic, Reid seems much more cunning and out for power from the get-go, when in reality, the two were lovers who lived together before becoming professionally entwined. Additionally, Reid has even said that he wasn’t particularly enthused about being Elton John’s manager at first. 

Over time, the couple broke up but Reid continued to manage Elton’s career and accounts until a falling out and a court case over financial issues. Reid also reportedly had a terrible temper and had a string of assaults, punching and slapping people when he was angry. 

Across several moments in the movie, Reid’s obsessive control of Elton’s career was extremely triggering for me. My abuser took credit for my writing career, because he introduced me to my first freelance client. But just as it’s no accident or fluke that I ended up published, it was no fluke that my writing was good enough to pay for. If I was a shit writer, that connection would have done no good. My abuser spent years undermining my confidence in my own work because he so often took credit for turning me into the writer I was. 

Queer As Hell 

Elton John came out as bisexual in 1976 and married his wife Renate Blauel in 1984. The couple divorced in 1988 as Elton came to terms with his identity as a gay man, and he is happily married to David Furnish since becoming a couple in 2005.

In the movie, when Elton comes out to his mother, she responds, “You’ll never be loved properly.” I do not doubt that his mother said these words to him at some point, if not when he came out. The words of my parents in our final conversations are as clear in my mind as they were on the days they happened. And they hurt. “You’re a sweet girl. Fucked up in the head, but sweet,” were some of the words my dad said to me in our second to last meeting. “You’ll have to explain what you mean by abuse, because that’s a strong word and can tarnish a man’s reputation” were some of his words the last time I saw him in person. 

The end credits roll in Rocketman with a photo of Elton and David and a caption that Elton is finally being loved properly. I will admit that I got a little teary-eyed.

I honestly don’t even know if my parents know I’m queer or not. I do know that they’ve both taught me about conditional love. My mom raised me telling me I’d never get a boyfriend if I ate like a pig, and she shamed my body at every opportunity. She had me on a diet by age 12 and is a huge factor in my decades-long battle with disordered eating. And I no longer care what she thinks of me, just like I hope Elton has long given up caring what his mother thought of him. 

Healing the Inner Child 

In an emotional and, yes, pretty cheesy finale, Elton hugs his inner child as a symbol of his healing now that he is in rehab. Earlier in the film, Young Elton asks his father, “When are you going to hug me?” but his father does not hug, touch, or hold Elton. In fact, Elton visits his father later in his life and sees his father holding and being physically affectionate with his new and improved sons in his new and improved family, which is such a moment of pure emotional pain from the film that it still affects me when I think about it. So at the movie’s close, the inner child appears in Elton’s mind and asks, “When are you going to hug me?” Cue me, crying like a baby, because Elton drops to his knees and grabs the child version of himself in an embrace that is nothing but unconditional love. (Pause, I need a moment). 

Healing my inner child, as hokey as it sounds, has been a huge part of my trauma healing. In EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), I target specific traumatic thoughts, such as “I am not allowed to rest,” and the therapy process allows me to associate memories with the thought. Memories attached to this target thought include my mother saying we were worthless for not cleaning, being punished with excessive chores, and generally not being allowed to sleep in or take a sick day from school when we didn’t feel well. If you had time to lean, you had time to clean. Removing the belief that I can only rest when everything productive has been finished has been a game changer for my mental and physical health. 

Long Story Short 

I bought some rhinestone-studded eyeglasses because we all deserve to be fabulous. Do something awesome today, and do something amazing for the child version of yourself. 

 

Can emotional abuse be sexual abuse?

woman looking away

A black and white image of a woman covering her face with one hand and looking downcast. Her dark hair covers her shoulders and part of her face. Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas via Pexels

I got divorced last May, and in the midst of Justin Timberlake memes and shorts weather and anticipating my upcoming book launch, the anniversary of my divorce date looms near. And I am still mad at my abuser, which is frustrating because I thought I would have overcome all my trauma in a neat, tidy package by now.

The more I process out loud, in therapy and in online support groups and in conversations with my friends and in posts to my social media, the more the shadowy puzzle pieces of the seven years I spent with him click into place and are illuminated for what they really were.

It was not “irreconcilable differences.” It wasn’t “communication issues.” It wasn’t anything like that. He orchestrated our relationship, and my submission, from day one, and unpacking that level of abuse feels like a punch in the gut. It wasn’t love, it wasn’t happiness, it wasn’t anything I thought it was. I was preyed on, targeted, groomed, and controlled, and when I left, he was so angry about it that his entire facade fell apart.

I was scared of him for years, and went to therapy to figure out what about ME was wrong, was preventing me from trusting him, was causing these conflicts and doubts in my head about our relationship. I wish I could hold my former self and tell her that there was nothing wrong with her, and that the reason she didn’t trust him was because it wasn’t safe to.

When I first left him, I knew that he had been manipulative. I caught on to the cycles of treating me nicely, lots of sex and affection, lots of praise… followed by reminding me I was a lot of work, difficult to be with, and that he was the only one who would love me like that, whenever I expressed an interest in, say, sex without him watching porn the whole time.

When I was upset or doubtful about our relationship, he would say things like, “How can you think so little of me? There is a version of me in your head that you’re upset with that’s not the real me.” And I would go to therapy and ask what I could do to not be so anxious and distrustful. I wanted to be a good wife.

When mental abusers use sex to control

There are so many facets of our relationship that I’ve become more clear about since leaving. But the one that recently gobsmacked me is the sexual aspect of his control.

When I moved into his house, our sex life disappeared overnight. He always had a good reason. First he was upset about his divorce being final, then he was stressed at work, then he was not sleeping well, etc. And I was patient, and reassured him I loved him, and waited for him to feel better, for our drives to sync back up like they had when we had been dating.

According to him, me talking about our mismatched sex drives was pressuring him, me asking him to not fantasize about group sex or watch porn while we had sex was shaming his fantasies, and me suggesting we table the idea of getting pregnant while we worked on our issues was a slap in his face and the assertion that if I wasn’t sure NOW, we may as well never try.

He started Viagra to help things along, insisting that he had the mental desire for sex but just had some physical issues with the execution of it. He took 1/4 of a Viagra before bed, with the hopes that it would “be in his system” when he woke up and he could have sex with me in the morning. Spoilers: This is not how Viagra works.

Other reasons we did not have sex included:

  • He hadn’t slept well
  • He didn’t want to prevent me from my morning workout routine
  • He didn’t like evening sex, only morning sex (but see #1)
  • He felt I was punishing him by not providing (unreciprocated) oral sex

Finally, desperately, in an attempt to not totally screw up my life by having an affair to satisfy my carnal desires, I sat him down, told him I loved him, told him that I did not want to pressure him into sex, and asked if we could open our relationship.

He absolutely blew up in fury. He said things like:

  • If you get pregnant and it’s not mine, your options are abortion or divorce.
  • If you get pregnant in the next six months, even if we don’t open the relationship, I will demand a paternity test.
  • How could you risk our marriage by getting pregnant with another man’s baby?
  • How can I trust that you will use condoms?
  • For fuck’s sake, you should have had an affair.
  • You know this means I would be able to have another partner too.

He kept me awake past midnight, demanding to know why I had dared to ask him for this. I told him, “I can’t have this conversation right now, I am so tired and I need to sleep,” and he said, “You’d better wake the hell up then.” He wouldn’t let me end the conversation. Finally I said, “I guess I didn’t think it through,” and that was the only thing that made him relent and forgive me.

To my knowledge, he remains convinced that I was already seeing someone else when I left. The introspection it would take for him to realize that he pushed me to a breaking point with his sexual manipulation tactics is never going to happen.

After a year of distance from being in this day to day minefield of affection, I realize now that he had no issues having sex with me when he needed me to feel better about our relationship. When I was in my lowest lows, he managed to rise to the occasion. This was such a pattern that, when I finally told him I was leaving, one of his legitimate grasps at the straws of our relationship was, “Did our weekend of great sex confuse you?” To be clear, our “weekend of great sex” consisted of me setting a five minute timer for oral sex, asking him to continue after my five minutes was up, and then him telling me that I didn’t understand limits and boundaries, and this was another reason we couldn’t open the relationship. Because if I couldn’t be satisfied with five minutes of lukewarm cunnilingus, how could I be satisfied by protected sex with a new partner?

Realizing I was used

This part, the realizing that our sex life was never a fun and spicy time of physical affection and mutual desire, but rather a means to keep me on my short leash and happy about it… feels disgusting. I feel used, I feel dirty, I feel gross.

I struggle to call it sexual abuse. I don’t know if it qualifies.

But if I had known? If I had known that I was consenting to sex for the sole purpose of making my brain trauma-bond to the good times so the bad times seemed less painful? If I had known that sex was being used as a weapon to keep me in line, denied when I wasn’t performing my wifely duties of shutting up and looking pretty but freely given when I was at the end of my rope? I would have left him years earlier. And that feels awful.

You aren’t alone

In the year since I left my abuser, I’ve been sharing stories from survivors on my blog. Sometimes they’re mine. Sometimes they’re not. But I share them, and I continue to speak out loud about my experiences, because there is power in the story. For anyone reading this who has felt used, abused, and controlled… you aren’t alone. And you can be okay.

For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

 

 

 

 

Emotional exhaustion is as real as physical exhaustion

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Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

This week is full of anniversaries for me.

In 2012, my first divorce was finalized on March 19.

In 2018, I began the process of leaving my second marriage on March 17.

In 2018, my stepdad died just after 1:00am on March 22 and it was the first time I had seen or spoken to my mother in fourteen months.

In 2018, I last saw my mom on March 24.

In 2018, my ex-husband berated and harassed me via text message, Facebook messenger, and phone calls on March 20, March 26, and March 27.

In 2018, the last time I pet the five cats I left behind was March 27.

In 2018, I packed and moved all of my belongings in a matter of days, moving into a new apartment on my own on March 27.

At some point around this timeline last year, I also saw my dad for the last time in person. He came to visit me after I moved out but wanted me to explain the ways I was abused before he would believe me. I had no patience for this and stopped returning his calls.

I think my body remembers all this trauma, sadness, and honestly hard ass work.

I have been nothing short of exhausted all week. I even emailed my boss that I’d have to work in the evening on Tuesday so that I could take a nap during my normal work hours. (Props to me for not forcing myself to work when I seriously had no spoons).

When I say all this to my friends and ask why I am so tired, they remind me that emotional exhaustion is as hard on the body as physical exhaustion.

I’ve been focusing on rest for the past month and a half. I try to get nine hours of sleep each night. I take baths almost daily to relax my muscles so my legs don’t hurt. I eat what I crave and no longer restrict myself, which has really opened up a lot of space in my brain that used to be filled with arbitrary rules and self-loathing.

It’s all happening at once, so fast, and I am tired.

I am, without a doubt, healthier and happier than I was a year ago. But I was also running on fumes, and my body remembers. I wasn’t taking the time to process any of my emotions then, because I needed to haul ass and survive. And I have done more than survive.

I have been unapologetically running my mouth about my abuse, my experiences, my loss, and my grief. For a year. They are mine, they belong to me, and if the people who mistreated me are upset about their portrayal in my story, they should have thought of that before they hurt me. I own everything that happened to me, and it is my right to share it.

So I share it.

Another driving force behind my continued storytelling about abuse and the self love that grew from my own personal forest fire is the fact that countless people have let me know that my story has helped them realize they were in toxic relationships too. They have left abusers, they have done the impossible.

The more we talk about it, the more we help others see that they can do it too.

But damn, I am tired.

 

The realities of financial abuse

We’re at a point in society in 2018 where I feel confident people can acknowledge that abuse isn’t just physical. Mental and emotional abuse (through control, negligence, gaslighting, and other manipulations and mind games), sexual abuse, and financial abuse may not leave visible bruises but leave a lasting impression on their victims and survivors. Survivors of abuse often have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), but I’m not a doctor so don’t necessarily take my word for it.

What I can tell you is that I reached out to my social network to ask for examples of financial abuse from their own pasts and I was overwhelmed by the stories they shared with me.

It is financially abusive to neglect practical life issues in a way that requires your partner to compensate for them. Whether it’s paying a $25.00 parking ticket because you can’t be bothered to put enough quarters in the meter, or it’s paying $150 for unplanned groceries when the freezer is already stocked, or it’s cancelling income-generating work commitments to handle everyday crises, or it’s simply deploying emotional, social and logistical resources to solve practical problems to a degree that sabotages your partner’s health and well-being, it is abusive.

-Elle


My ex bullied and pressured me into having a credit card saying I must build a score. I didn’t want one but he pushed for months. When I had one, his pressure for me to buy one of or pay for half of tons of needless shit was relentless. I made minimum wage and he was bullying me to pay for half of DVDs I told him I didn’t want. Half of new couches I didn’t want. So on and so forth. It really made it hard to leave because I couldn’t make it as easily on my own now, and guess who was on me to pay those cards off. But after him I never took on another card and treated debt like bondage and while he didn’t teach me shit, I taught me a lot through that and now I teach others.

-Rosemary


My significant other used to take pride in having amazing hiding spots. On more than one occasion, I found money hidden throughout the house or his car. Once, we needed diapers and had zero money. I open up his glove box and find $20 hidden in there. I was livid because here I am freaking out about buying our child diapers and he has this money hidden. That he “forgot” about because he “put it up for a rainy day.” Well, I don’t know what’s more rainy than needing diapers for your child.

On a more long term occasion, he took over the finances and never told me anything. Where the money went, what bills we had paid, and when I asked to do a budget, he was always too busy. He told me every pay day how much money I could spend, and it was my responsibility to stay within that limit.

– Bianca


While we were separated he was still financially supporting me while I went to school. One night I asked him to not slam my door and he responded “who pays for your right to use that door?”

I applied for child support the next day.

After I filed for child support, he drained our bank account. Two months in a row. The first month I had been able to pull out money for my rent before he attempted to take out all of the money, his transaction bounced and he swore it was an accident, the second month we both did the transactions at the same time, over drafting the account $1500. He has been avoiding service and cut us off financially until it is court ordered, while he draws out the process as long as possible.

-Stephanie


My ex was laid off for about six months and was receiving unemployment at a decent rate because he his job paid really well. I had been saving up money for a trip we were taking, which we postponed in order to cash flow our budget while he looked for a job. The problem was that he wouldn’t talk to me about making a budget. ‘There isn’t a point in making a budget when I don’t even have a job,’ was his response when I wanted to take a look at the finances. All the bills got paid and we didn’t incur any debt during his six month stint of unemployment, but the housework was still all my responsibility and he continued spending at his previous levels while my savings account dwindled to keep him from using credit cards. He routinely used my belief in being debt-free as a way to leverage my extra cash flow to meet financial goals while he never had to be accountable for his own finances.

-Katie


My ex intentionally overdrafted my bank account by $600. He’d spend every dime I earned even if it meant I couldn’t buy necessities for myself or my daughter. He made me get a collateral loan on my car to pay his legal fees, then turned around and revealed he had $1200 stashed in the air vent in our room. He spent it on a mattress and an xbox, both of which he sold shortly after. He bought expensive items on credit in my name then didn’t pay. He pawned my engagement ring. He would sell anything I owned that had any value.

-Anne


My first live-in boyfriend used to spend all of his money (he made at least twice as much as I did ) on fast food and who knows what else and I had to work two jobs while going to school full time to make the bills. I didn’t have food for myself for a week because of that. Thank God one of my jobs was at a restaurant so I at least had one employee meal.

-Gen


Not every story of financial abuse is from a romantic partner. Many family relationships are also tainted by financial control, withholding, and abuses.

When I fled my father’s house because of all the yelling and etc, he took away my emergency credit card, which was in my name but for which he held the main account—because I didn’t have credit yet, being 18. He called me on my friend’s landline (I had fled to my college roommate’s house) to tell me that it was time for me to learn to be “responsible.” I had never failed to pay it off each month, so it was obviously about control and not any kind of lesson in financial responsibility.

-Martha


The woman who raised me for the worst parts of my childhood is a millionaire. Her money has always been of the ways she controls others. She’ll buy anyone close to her anything, but it’s a deal with the Devil. When I was struggling, she offered to buy me a car. I was desperate and picked out a $3000 used car. She took me to the dealer and picked out a brand new Ford Explorer. It was nice, all the bells and whistles. I sat down in the driver’s seat and I remembered another Explorer she’d bought, 12 years prior.
For my ex brother in law and all of the strings that came with it, how he danced like a monkey because she financed it in both of their names and how she eventually let it get repossessed because he wouldn’t dance like a monkey anymore.

I left the dealer without a car. The bus never felt more like freedom.

-Sherry


You mean like when my mom got pissed at me for losing my virginity and forced me to quit my job and closed out my checking account, pocketing the money from it? What about when I was required to pay for a car (and insurance, etc) that I was only sometimes allowed to use and had to share with my mom? What about when they threatened to report that car stolen if I left in it when they were berating me, since it wasn’t in my name even though I’d paid for it for a year and a half? They also threatened to make me lose my scholarships that I had through the district by transferring me to another one for the last 3 months of my senior year, because they were pissed at me for losing my virginity. I went to everyone I could think of at the school for all of this, and no one did jack shit to help me.

-Brianna


I used to help a WAHM in high school and I would hide all of the money I got from that and when I was gone my mom would search my room to find my new hiding places and steal my money. I also couldn’t have a bank account because she would have 100% access to it since I was a minor. I had to ask the lady I was helping to just keep the money then I would tell her what I needed/wanted to use it for. I had to spend birthday/Christmas money right away or it was gone.

-Gen


My aunt funded the difference between living on campus and living off campus for my college. My junior year of college my mother told me my aunt had changed her mind and would no longer fund college expenses. She also told me I was not welcome to stay with family and thus I would have to withdraw from college. I called my college finance office in tears ready to withdraw. They found a handful of scholarships for me to make up the difference and I was able to stay in college.

Years later, my aunt asked why I stopped sending thank you cards after my sophomore year for the college expenses. It turns out my mother pocketed $6,000 total over two years that my aunt had given her to pay my college bills.

This is the most egregious of several similar stories.

-Anonymous

Other readers shared stories of witnessing financial abuse, if not experiencing it directly themselves, as a result of divorce.

My dad lied and got primary custody of us and used to give us, as kids, handwritten invoices to give my mom for “her half” of things. He would nickel and dime her down to the penny for things like “three packs of pens for school” and “6 spiral bound notebooks.” When I refused, he made my brother (who is developmentally delayed) do it. I finally screamed, ‘Use a stamp or walk out to the car during pickup because I’m not going to keep being your mule and neither is my brother’ around age 15 and he finally stopped. The worst part was he was incapable of seeing what an asshole it made him. Like, he cried when I yelled at him. “I could have taken so much more I’ve been so nice” …he was horrified that I thought this was so villainous.

-Rae


My bio-dad would take me shopping with my three half-siblings and step mom, and he’d buy those kids things and not me. If I questioned it, he’d say it’s because he paid my mom child support already, so he wasn’t spending any other money on me.

-Leila

These survivors share their stories in the hopes that sharing and educating others about the realities of financial abuse can help others recognize and escape abusive relationships.

For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

http://www.thehotline.org/

The life changing magic of trauma

If you’re familiar with Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you know that her method of simplifying requires you to get all of one type of item together (clothing, books, toiletries, papers, whatever), touch each and every one, and decide if it gives you joy before deciding whether or not to keep it in your life.

I’ve come to realize that moving on from trauma has similarities. For me, being minimalist isn’t just about having fewer possessions. In fact, it’s not really about possessions at all. Minimalism is about letting go of the excess in order to focus on the things that let you live your authentic and most joyous life. And being a minimalist also means letting go of people, relationships, and obligations that don’t bring you joy (or that actively reduce your joy).

I’ve recently left an emotionally abusive relationship and I have been processing many of my experiences on my personal Facebook page, sharing with friends and family who only saw the pretty picture I shared for public consumption, showing them what my actual experience was like behind the mask. I didn’t even understand myself that I was living in an emotionally traumatic relationship until I began prioritizing my mental health.

At first, I shared because it was cathartic. It was validating. It was community. So many women reached out to me, via comments or private messages, to thank me for sharing my story. They shared their own. I’ve seen a ripple effect of women beginning to publicly share their own stories of leaving abusive relationships, and even women realizing their relationships are traumatic without them ever realizing it consciously before. Sharing stories has power.

I’ve come to realize that I’m also sharing my story because I have to touch it. I have to pick up the years in my hands, turn them over, look at the rough spots and the pretty spots and decide that it’s okay to let go of the happily ever after I thought I’d found. Even amidst good memories of laughter and comfort and companionship, I can sift through these experiences and realize that they don’t add joy.

What makes this process a little more difficult than admitting you don’t wear an old dress anymore is that a lot of the good memories involved in a traumatic or abusive relationship were just lies and manipulation. Charm. Part of the cycle.

The good times happened in a pattern, after I’d gotten upset at the inequalities in our relationship, after some inane multi-day discussion about something that shouldn’t have been a fight, after I called out a double standard. Suddenly things were better again, he’d treat me to a nice dinner out, we’d have sex that weekend, and our normal easy life was back. Until it wasn’t.

Every day I unearth memories through this new lens, and I see that what I once thought was sweet was actually possessive, what I once thought was supportive was actually controlling, what I once thought was misunderstanding was actually covert and deliberate gaslighting. It’s exhausting. But I have to touch it all to let it go. Hiding it and never thinking about it will just extend the amount of time it eats away at me, but by being so open and honest about my experiences, I’ve found that I feel less and less grief, anger, and resentment. I’ve touched it, realized it brings me nothing positive (aside from the power to tell my story), and let it go.

I don’t say these things to romanticize trauma or say that everything happens for a reason. But for me in particular, sharing my story has been cathartic. Touching the trauma has helped me set it aside. And opening up about my experiences has helped me realize that finding what I do want out of life includes a good amount of leaving behind what I surely don’t. 

To quote my beloved Space Mom, Carrie Fisher, “Sometimes you can only find Heaven by slowly backing away from Hell.”