Get Real: I’m Trapped In an Unhealthy Relationship and Don’t Know What to Do


Anonymous asks:

I am 17 now, live in Northern Ireland, and started dating this one fellow when I was fifteen. At the time he was 44. Of course, now he’s 46, but that’s not really the point. He’s divorced and has two kids, one son 2 years younger than me, and a daughter the age of my own younger sister (12). I look after them for him sometimes. I feel like I really love him, but I don’t really feel the same way about him. I think he’s been seeing his ex-wife behind my back, as she is now pregnant and she’s not in any other relationships, and Steve (my boyfriend) doesn’t really want to talk about it, meaning he acts guilty. Our relationship has pretty much been sex, sex, sex, and me doing stuff for him from day one. I want to get out of this relationship, but I have never been able to stand up to him. I live with him, and I don’t have anywhere else to go, as my parents kicked me out some time ago. I’ve kind of been seeing another guy, who is 19, but nothing really serious. This new guy is American, and he’s making a life for himself (in a good university, etc.), so the choice is kind of obvious. But if I try to break things off with Steve, either he gets angry and hurts me (nothing too serious, just bruises) or he swears he’ll spend more time with me. Which he doesn’t.

Basically, I’m stuck with a man who has been my only sexual partner for two entire years, he’s not the nicest bloke around, and he’s nearly three times my age (older than both of my parents, too). I don’t know what to do, and honestly, I’m a little scared.

Heather Corinna replies:

There are a few things you mentioned here that I suspect you wanted to have addressed in depth, but I think it’s really important that for right now, I do what I can to help you with what seems the most critical. I think it’s crucial you get some help as quickly as you can, and I don’t want my words to hold those steps up.

Ultimately, I could answer your post with just two words: get out.

There isn’t any “just” in bruises. I also don’t think anything you’re saying here is anything less than very, very serious. Abuse is always serious, and always needs to be taken very seriously, even when someone’s abuse doesn’t leave any obvious marks at all.

You express feeling very trapped in this relationship, and I can see why. You are reporting at least one kind of abuse by this current partner, and I suspect there’s been more than one, and that some of it may have even started before you realize it did. Given the chasm of an age difference and how young you were when you met, his behaviour, and the very vulnerable position it seems this person likely met you in, it seems very likely you got roped into this by someone who knew they could exploit you and intended to do that. You make clear you have been mistreated in several ways. You make clear this has not been a healthy relationship of equals, nor something you feel good being in. We don’t feel afraid of our partners in healthy relationships. You make clear you have wanted to leave, but don’t feel unable to, including because this person has done you harm when you have tried to leave in the past.

I understand that you’re scared and why you feel scared. The fact that you recognize you feel afraid is a very good thing, because there is good reason to feel afraid. This is scary. And abuse almost always escalates, so, however bad it is now, the longer you stay, the more likely it becomes that it’s only going to get worse. So, it’s incredibly important that you pay attention to those feelings or fear and give them real weight, doing all you can to use them as motivation to get out of this, far, far away from this and to get yourself somewhere safe as soon and as safely as you can.

I understand why you feel stuck, and know that getting unstuck can seem impossible.

But it isn’t impossible. I absolutely promise. You can get out of this.

You’re not stuck with or in this, it just feels like you are. I know how strong that feeling can be, and how debilitating it can feel, but while those feelings are real, the reality of you having no way to get out of this is not real.

You can get out of this and away from this, even if it isn’t easy. The fact of the matter is, that while getting out of relationships and situations like this can be challenging and tricky, it’s a far more temporary kind of hard than living a life in them is and will turn out to be. I’m so glad that you reached out for help.

I’m tremendously sorry to hear that your parents kicked you out, and tremendously sorry if they will not help you now. You don’t need me to tell you that has been a serious injustice done to you. But even if they won’t help, there is help for you in this, all the more so since you are still a legal minor.

In your area, you have the following resources you can seek out and get help from:
Women’s Aid: Their 24-hour hotline is at: 0800 917 1414

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (England, Wales and Northern Ireland): 0800 800 500

Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children: 00 353 742 9744

Council for the Homeless, Northern Ireland: The current contact listed for people under 25 to contact regarding youth homelesness there is Kathy Maguire, Youth Homelessness Officer, at: 02890 246 440 or you can email her at: kathy@chni.org.uk.

Network Of Rape Crisis Centres Ireland: Their hotline number is 1800 77 88 88. I understand this resource may not seem relevant to you, however a) given some of what you’ve said, it may be (even if he became sexual with you at 15, he committed a crime based on age of consent laws alone) and b) if it is not at all, a resource like this could most likely still direct you to the services you need to get the help you need.

Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90 in the UK and Northern Ireland

You could start by making a call or contact to ANY of those resources, whichever you feel most comfortable calling. Or, if you try one and get a busy line, you can move on down the list and just keep calling until you can get through to one of them. Any of them will help you. You can also always just go to your local police or a hospital and tell them everything, too, making clear you do NOT want to go back there.

I can’t encourage you enough to make a call to one of those resources the very second you finish reading my reply to you.

In the case that your phone or internet use is monitored by Steve, write down these numbers and go find a pay phone or ask a neighbor to use their phone to make these calls. Do NOT tell this person you are seeking out this help and looking to get out. It’s really important you keep yourself safe and sound while getting help, and that includes making sure you’re not doing anything that could trigger more abuse.

When you call any of them, it’s very important you’re honest about your situation. Don’t make excuses for this person, or downplay the spot you’re in and have been in. Make clear when the relationship started and how, if they ask, including sexually. Let them know you were kicked out of your home, when, and under what circumstances and that part of the reason you are staying in this is because you do not have anywhere else to go. Whatever kinds of abuse this person has engaged in, when they ask about abuse and your safety, be honest and forthright. What kind of help you need and can get is going to be determined by all your situation involves. Agencies like those above are often limited in how well they can help if you’re not honest. If feelings of embarrassment or shame creep in, please know you will not be the first person they have heard from in the kind of circumstances you’re in, and help agencies don’t judge. Their job is to help, and people working for them take that job very seriously. And you’ve got nothing to feel ashamed of here: you wound up stuck with what sounds like a creep, and in very precarious circumstances of your own, and this is not your fault.

Any resource like these helping you to get out will usually talk you through how to get out safely, or even, in helping you to do that, send over an officer or other person to assure your safety.

In the case that you are not certain if your parents or anyone in your family will help you or not, and you know them to be safe for you, you might also try being very honest with them about the whole of this situation — that means no downplaying it, even though I know it can feel humiliating — just to make sure. When it comes to leaving someone exploitive or abusive, people really need all the help and support they can get, so more help is always, always a good thing.

It sounds like you’ve already managed to survive some pretty rough things already, so I feel confident that you can stand up for yourself in this with some help, get through this and come out on the other side.

One last thing? You didn’t ask for my advice on this, and I try not to give advice unsolicited, but I do want to offer some up. Right now is not likely to be a sound time for any new or additional romantic relationships. Right now strikes me as a time that you really, truly need to spend only taking care of yourself, getting yourself out of this situation, landing on your own two feet, and getting help learning how to step forward from there, including learning how to only step into healthy relationships when you’re in a position to be able to have them. For instance, when we are in survival mode where we have nowhere to live, it can be all too easy to wind up with people who aren’t good people because we just can’t think past getting some food in our bellies or a roof over our heads.

When we’ve been in abuse, especially when it’s happened in times of our lives or personal development that are formative, like our very first dating relationship, it is terribly hard to be able to know how to identify and have healthy relationships. In a word, you’re going to have some healing to do and some learning to do about what is and isn’t healthy, and that’s all going to take some time. I’m certain you don’t want to have to struggle to get out of this only to land in something just as bad or worse.

Even just hearing that you’re concerned with the man you’re with possibly being sexual with someone else, or not spending extra time with you, at what sounds like the same level of his being abusive to you suggests to me that you’re going to need some time to do some real work sorting out what is and isn’t healthy in relationships. It sounds to me like you just may not know that yet, or be able to see that yet, which isn’t surprising. It’s pretty tough to be able to know anything we haven’t learned, after all, or which hasn’t been real to us.

None of that is anything to feel ashamed about. I know it can feel really cruddy to be in this kind of a spot, and I also know how appealing what looks like a “normal” relationship can be when you’re in the kind of spot you’re in now. At the same time, there aren’t white knights in the world — save the white knights we can be for ourselves — and people who are healthy folks with their own you-know-what together generally are not going to race into a situation like this romantically or sexually. If anything, folks with their heads on straight might offer to be supportive friends while you take care of yourself, or to get you to the help you need, and maybe, when all the dust has settled, revisit the idea of dating then. But not in the thick of something like this (assuming you’ve been honest with him, mind: obviously, if he has no idea what your situation is, no one can expect him to respond to it).

If this new guy knows what you’re living in and doesn’t even recognize that what’s critical right now is getting you to a safe place, not going out on dates, I think you need to know this person probably isn’t any kind of gem, either.

So, unsolicited from me to you? You really need to take care of you, right now, and your most basic needs: safety and shelter. Those are serious life basics, and when you don’t even have those going, there is no room at all for dating anybody. I don’t think you can afford any distractions at this point. You need your bare basics first, okay? The person to choose right now is yourself. Choose you, Mary.

Please know that if you need additional help in this, on top of the help any of those resources provide you, I’d be happy to offer you that. If what I gave you here turns out not to be fruitful, feel free to drop me a line and I will make some calls to help you find a service which can help. In the case you feel too scared or nervous to even make those phone calls, we are absolutely willing to help by making initial calls for you to help you get the ball rolling with this so you can get somewhere safe and get started in having a life where you stay safe and have the opportunity to have a much better life than you’ve been living.

You can come talk to myself or any of the Scarleteen volunteers over at our message board here, anytime, too.

Like I said, I didn’t mean to shortcut you here, as there is a lot to talk about, and probably a lot you’d like to have addressed. I didn’t talk about the possible dynamics around how this relationship even started, or how it’s gone on, which you might have wanted me to talk about, or about this issue of Steve potentially having sex outside the relationship with his ex and what that might mean for you and how you feel about it. The reason I’m not going there now is only because I just don’t think now is the right time for that.

When you can get yourself to a safe place, and sitting around and reading and chatting doesn’t potentially contribute to you staying unsafe, I’d be happy to talk with you more if you like. We have one volunteer in Northern Ireland right now, too, so you could even talk with someone local if you preferred. In the meantime, I hope that you can pick up the phone and take a step to get yourself safe and to move away from this life and towards the kind of life that’s full of the kind of safety and happiness everyone should be entitled to.

I know how scary that step can feel, and I understand that, but I think the alternative is a whole lot scarier. Please take that step to care for yourself, and know that if you need more help with that, all you have to do is ask for it.

Addendum: Since I know many readers remain concerned for advice-seekers like this, know that she was able to get out of her abusive situation and into a safe place with a supportive extended family member.  She’s doing very well right now, and utilized excellent help from Samaritans to find her solution and create a sound exit plan.

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  • sweetchild92

    Thanks for the update, so glad she got to safety, and hope she continues to do well