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The First Straws: Learning From Past Abuse

Updated: Aug 27, 2022

I recently broke up with my longtime boyfriend. There were a lot of red flags, many examples of emotional and verbal abuse, and all-around problems I realized I could no longer move past. It was a six-year relationship that at some point I honestly thought would last forever. Now I'm glad it didn't.

But this also leaves me with six years that, on some level, feel wasted. I spent six years putting up with a depressed alcoholic through his mood swings, often leveled at me. Six years of trying to put him back together when he fell apart and comfort him. Six years of him taking all that treatment for granted. Six years of not being allowed to have any issues or need support of my own, because the idea of my needing help triggered his panic response and it would fall on me to comfort him. I'm now left with the challenge of finding out what kind of woman I am, if not his "rock."

How did things get so bad, you ask? By the time I saw his shortcomings, I was already attached. And I won't pretend I am blameless here. I fully own my codependent tendencies and the need to work through them. But I also realize my codependency is part of what made it so hard to walk away before.

The best thing to do here is learn from what happened. The key is to know what to look for early in a relationship so this situation never happens again. But how can you spot an abuser before the abuse happens? Instead of waiting for the "last straw," look for a "first straw."

I guess the first straw was during our first date. It took place at a bar near my apartment. He drove to me, he paid the bill, we spent six hours talking and enjoying ourselves before the bar closed. Most of that sounds good, right?

Not quite. For one thing, I wouldn't recommend a bar for a first date anymore, especially if you end up sitting there for six hours. And while neither of us had more than two drinks, it did set a precedent of most subsequent dates surrounding alcohol in some way. A lot of personal talk comes out with long dates and alcohol, and he went in detail about his late wife and the abusive girlfriend he had before her. There was a lot of information meant to trigger my "fix-it" instinct, to comfort him and make everything better. He topped it all off with a, "do you understand why I drink so much? With all these problems?" and laughed it off.

But the first serious straw came four months in, when I had a medical issue that in hindsight was pretty minor. I was worried at the time, and I texted him to let him know what was up. Unfortunately, I had the misfortune of reminding him of a similar issue that his late wife had years before. He didn't want to deal with it, so he shut down. Didn't want to see or talk to me until it was resolved, and was close to ending things completely. He relented the next day after I sufficiently panicked, and we agreed to meet up a few days later.

He showed up at my place, in the morning, drunk off his ass. Wouldn't shut up about his self-pity or all the traumas that led to it. I was in denial about the booze and manipulation, and made him breakfast and cuddled him until he sobered up. Another precedent set. From then on, he was the one who always needed support and it was on me to provide it.

Clarity comes in hindsight, and I see these situations for what they are now much better than when I was in the middle of them. Red flags are more visible without the rose-colored glasses. Because of this, I've been able to add to my list of personal red flags, and identify potential problems to spot when vetting. Keep a critical eye, and you'll never fall for the same trap twice.

What are some of your "first straws" from exes?

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