Conscious Girlfriend: How I managed to get into (and out of) an abusive relationship


It all started out so wonderfully, as many lesbian love stories do. Mary was smart, cute, insightful and interesting, and we connected on many levels. We first met while working on a feminist newspaper together, and although we came from different class backgrounds, I could understand the ways she’d been wounded as a child. We were co-activists, engaged in many of the same activities. She introduced me to a beautiful pond nearby, and I could see how nature fed her, as it fed me. She became fast friends with my cousin, who was in prison at the time, and I grew close to Mary’s younger brother.

But after we moved in together, things started to go awry. Mary lost her job, and then decided to “take a break” from working. I had a good academic job at the time, and it wasn’t too big a deal for me to pay our bills for a while. But then she started controlling what I spent my money on. When I signed up for a gym membership, she berated me, telling me that “we” couldn’t afford it. I ended up supporting her for more than 4 years, and even after I started a business, and had a lot of expenses, she didn’t attempt to go back to work. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t feel the agency to stand up to her.

The worst part, though, was the constant criticism and verbal abuse. I remember one day I decided to count how many critical comments Mary made toward me, and when I reached 50, I gave up counting. There seemed to be something wrong with everything I did: where I left the dishrag, what I said or didn’t say at an activist meeting, even what books I read. “You aren’t doing your fair share!” was Mary’s constant refrain, even though I was supporting both of us, and also cooked most of our meals. And when I tried to speak up for myself, she’d stop talking to me, sometimes for days. It was heartbreaking, because no matter what I did, it never seemed to be enough. Yet I knew that other partners had left her, and I’d promised her I would stay. So I tried as hard as I could to give our lesbian love story a happy ending.

Eventually, it got to be too much even for me. I realized that I had completely lost myself, and that I needed to move out to find my own way again. At first I thought Mary and I could stay together while living separately for awhile, but when I suggested that, Mary became physically abusive. One night she shook me. Another night she upended a dining room table, deliberately breaking the precious candlestick my grandmother had given me. And then she threw a chair at me. Finally, I saw that I had to end the relationship.

We did try couples counseling briefly. The therapist sided with me, which of course upset Mary. When the therapist heard about the chair Mary had thrown, she said very directly to Mary, “You need to get help!” To her credit, Mary did go to an anger management class. But it was too late for us.

You might ask why I stayed so long. It’s complex, but I think at the core was my deep feeling that I wasn’t worthy of anything else.

Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot since I left that relationship almost 15 years ago. I’ve come to understand that I co-created the situation by not taking care of myself. It’s not my fault that Mary was abusive, but it is my responsibility that I let it go on for so long. In the aftermath, I’ve worked hard on healing my sense of unworthiness.

Metta, a form of meditation that helps to cultivate loving kindness, has been an incredibly important tool for me in my own healing process. Here is a metta prayer I wrote for my own use, which I offer to you, in case it may help you, too:

May I be happy
May I know my true worth
May I know that I am lovable
May I love and be loved with ease

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