The One Word That Ended My Five-Year Abusive Relationship

Designed by Mallory Heyer.
It took me five years to finally escape from my abusive relationship. That's how long it took for me to wake up. And this one word did it.

Five years of being an idiot. Of being too embarrassingly fat or ugly to be seen with in public. Of getting in trouble for chewing my food the wrong way. Of tripping in the hallway and being ridiculed because, after all, "Who does that?"

Five years of marriage, and it was always my fault. I was never enough, and there was always something I needed to do better. There was always something I needed to be more of in order to be enough — or maybe enough to make my husband stop abusing me.

I sat alone and cried for two hours straight on our first married Christmas while he sat downstairs ignoring me. I was too boring for him — and he didn't want me to ruin his holiday. How did I get here, into this abusive relationship? How could I have let this happen? How could I have been so dumb?

After one year of marriage, I had a mental breakdown. I had panic attacks every 20-30 minutes for 48 hours straight. I could sleep, if only my heartbeat would quiet down, but the constant thud thud thud thud in my ears boomed and my chest shook with every beat as I lay awake thinking to myself, "This is it. I'm dying."

I was terrified. His home was my prison, and he didn't speak to me for three days because I needed to be punished for going crazy. I thought he was my rescuer, my fixer, and my savior. But he left me all alone. I was too afraid to tell anyone else about my anxiety and about my marriage.

No one would rescue me. I needed to rescue myself.

It was the most terrifying and courageous step I have taken in my entire life, but it gave me the strength to take the next step.

Related: 21 Signs You're In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

I went through six months of anxiety. It took me that long to realize that his words didn't define me, and that my self-esteem didn't rely on what anyone said about me — what they liked or didn't like, what they wanted or didn't want, and what I was or what I would never be.

Growing up in a conservative Christian home, divorce was next to murder. Admitting to having marital struggles in the first year was common, but it's not something you talk about while you're in the midst of it. People can't handle that. They can only handle stories of redemption packaged with pretty bows.

"It's not grounds for divorce. It's grounds for separation. If he had an affair, that would be a different story," my counselor told me.

How could this not be grounds for divorce? How could a constant barrage of control and manipulation, verbal abuse, and emotional abuse not justify divorce? How could I be stuck for the rest of my life?

I wanted out, but I was determined to make it work. I was determined to someday have a healthy home, and if I couldn't leave him, then I would make him change. It would be a miracle, and I was set on seeing it to completion.

But as the years went on, he drifted further away. He acknowledged the abuse and said he'd get better, time after time. So I held out for him. He'd be nice to me for a week and then relapse. As time went on, the "nice" times became few and far between. Kind words lasted for 20, maybe 30 minutes. If I didn't seem grateful enough or repay him sexually, then the barrage would begin again.

Against all reason, I stayed.

This was punishment for my own foolishness.

Related: 5 Signs Of Verbal Abuse In Your Relationship

I saw happy couples and resisted the urge to punch them. I ran into men in the grocery store who treated me better than my own husband and a little voice inside of me whispered, "You could do better. You really could be loved."

I hushed the voice, put my head down, and I moved on. This was my lot, this was my cross to bear. This was punishment for my own foolishness. And I harbored it all as silently as I could, pressing through the pain, shaking off the insult, and plastering on smiles through tear-filled eyes.

At four-and-a-half years, my best friend pulled me aside. "You have to get out," she said. How did she even know? Was it that obvious? In that moment, I didn't even feel shame about his actions being exposed. I felt a tiny glimmer of hope. I reached for that glimmer and ran, but he snatched it away with empty assurances: "I promise I'll change. For real this time. You can't leave. Just give me one more chance."

So I did. And one more chance turned into six more months of chances, of abuse, and of lies. Two weeks after our fifth wedding anniversary, I sat on the phone with my best friend, and she told me it was time. I knew I had to take the leap, put myself on the line, and get out. I knew that this was my ticket to freedom. I just never knew the amount of bravery it would take to get there.

And so, with bags in hand, I took the first step. It was the most terrifying and courageous step I have taken in my entire life, but it gave me the strength to take the next step. This time, when he said "Give me one more chance. I promise," I looked back on those five years of abuse, lies, and shame.

And that's when I looked him in the eye and said the one word that changed the course of my life, "No."

Next: 5 Ways To Get Your Power Back And End Emotional Abuse

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