I met my former partner, a Cambridge PhD student like me, at the end of 2015. Emotional abuse and manipulation were present from the start, though, being uneducated in the signs, I failed to recognise what was happening. I was very insecure, having come out of a long relationship which I was struggling to get over. He was charming, popular and intelligent and I thought he was wonderful.
To start with, we were happy. We had a huge number of mutual and overlapping interests which I enjoyed discussing with him. Within just a couple of weeks he told me that he loved me and wanted to be with me for ever. He told me he had never felt like this about anyone before and often bought me expensive gifts. I felt extremely lucky and happy to have found a partner I shared so much with.
The relationship quickly became very intense and he began spending every night at my place as well as coming to every social event with me. I often felt I wanted some space, but since he was always so eager to see me, I felt too guilty to bring up the issue. Each night he would want to talk until late, despite any protests of mine about wanting an early night. If I didn’t talk much he would usually initiate sex, which I felt obliged to agree to, though I often felt far too exhausted. I worried that if I turned him down too much, he might decide he didn’t want to be with me. He frequently told me how much his ex- wanted to get back together with him and I thought he might return to her. I thought he was a great catch, and insecurity on my part caused me to feel I did not deserve him, so I was quick to overlook behaviours on his part that I thought were unfair. I believed he was just very keen and that things would settle with time.
Chronic lack of sleep led me to become exhausted and ill, however. Some friends picked up on this but I did not speak to them much about the cause, for fear of them thinking badly of him. I thought we would settle into a better routine and were just finding our feet. I wanted to be with him and I wanted to make it work. However, being so over-tired and not having any of my own space made me stressed and grumpy. I would frequently snap at or nag him, and he would respond by lecturing me about it, often for hours. He would say that I didn’t trust him enough and if I fully believed he was on my side I would never snap at him.
When I tried to walk away from arguments he would pin me in place by my wrists or block the door. If I did manage to persuade him to let me leave and go to work, he would often turn up to my office to continue the conversation and I started to get behind in my work. He would frequently burst into tears, which made me feel very guilty and back down. He would also remind me for days, sometimes weeks afterwards, about things that I had said which had upset him.
He then began to react in similar ways at times when I did not snap at him but was just sad or quiet. He said if I truly loved and trusted him, I would have no need to ever feel sad. I began to believe that he was right, that that was how true relationships worked and perhaps I had just never learnt to love properly before. I felt very ashamed of my behaviour towards him and couldn’t understand why I kept snapping or why I couldn’t feel happier.
Feeling under such pressure to be happy, I became more stressed and upset. He started to tell me that I had mental health problems and severe trust issues. He told me he could put up with me being snappy because he saw the good in me and thought I would get better as I learnt to trust him properly. My insecurity became worse and worse and I felt guilty that, from my perspective, he was having to take the time to teach me how to be in the relationship with him and put up with my issues. However, I still had a small voice in my head saying he was wrong and that I was better than he said, and I found myself bouncing back and forth between these two mentalities. I had had good, long-term relationships before this one and so couldn’t understand why all these issues hadn’t come up before. I wondered if my ex-partners just hadn’t told me how bad I was. We continued to have intense arguments, usually ignited by me either snapping as a result of being miserable and over-tired, or disagreeing with something he had said or done. He would leap on anything negative on my part, however minor, and tell me how much I was hurting him, crying and pleading with me to say I was wrong, to trust and believe him. He would interrupt and talk over me, faster and louder so I could not respond. No matter the subject, he would always steer the argument towards me not trusting him. I felt very confused and began to doubt all of my opinions. He told me that my parents were to blame and that I had insecurity issues because of my relationship with them. He insisted throughout that he was trying to help me, to fix me and that I had to let him. Because I felt it was me initiating the arguments, I believed he was right and that I was in the wrong. I vowed to listen to him more and to change my behaviour.