“I see the words “I know he would never hit me/physically harm me” in a lot of letters I get. Far more than I could ever, ever, ever answer or publish.
Those words break my heart, every time, because the people who write them are offering them up as an example of how the relationship can be saved and how I shouldn’t judge their partner too harshly. They mean “he’s not ABUSIVE-abusive (even though he does all these abusive and controlling things to me). I’m not like those abused women, I would leave if someone actually hit me.” They break my heart because the letter writers have had to do the calculus, the calculus called Would He Hit Me? and they offer the answer up as proof that he wouldn’t but all I can see is proof that he almost did, that he’s thinking about it, that he’s a week or a year or a hair’s breadth away from it. It’s proof that she’s thinking about it, too, that she’s had to do the math. Nathan wouldn’t hit you, but he’d punch a wall in front of you, so you can see the force of how his fists slam into things., so you can see how hurt his hand is afterward, so you know that the damage is your fault. When I read those words about how the partner doesn’t harm or hit, I can hear the echo of the guy saying them, too, like “Well, it’s not like I physically hurt you! Come on! Be reasonable (and do what I say)!“(Mentioning how “at least you don’t hit” someone kinda sorta exactly like reminding them that you could hit them, that you might hit them, that hitting them is on the list of possible things that could happen, you are a fucking goddamn hero of a man for making the difficult heroic choice not to. Someone saying this to you should always make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and prompt you to look around for the exits).
And then the letters, like your letter, contain the most heartbreaking question of all, which is how, how can I be better/fix it/make it right/not make him scary and angry anymore. How can I be perfect (give up caffeine), how can I show him (check in with him by cell phone every time I change locations or company) that I’m worthy? Because the abuser-logic has worked. “When you make mistakes it’s your fault, when I make mistakes (like scaring you) it’s also your fault.” Someone doesn’t have to physically hurt you to harm you.
People in non-abusive relationships don’t have to do this constant calculus. Non-abusive dudes don’t get described as “intimidating” by their girlfriends, because non-abusive dudes, even the big strong burly ones who might look pretty intimidating to a stranger don’t intimidate their girlfriends. They don’t punch walls, or throw things, or put 10,000 tiny conditions around everything, or monitor their movements or their phones. When those dudes feel lonely, they fucking call a friend, or they muddle through those lonely feelings. Non-abusive dudes don’t pat themselves on the back for not hurting women, because it doesn’t occur to them to hurt women.”
~ Captain Awkward, #640: “I Know He Would Never Physically Hurt Me” and Other Fairy Tales.
Been there, done that. I’ve seen a boyfriend that I loved, who claimed to love me, hit the steering wheel over and over, when in a rage at me. I went numb. I froze, I didn’t react, I was shut down, there was nothing in me to react. It took me four years after the relationship to understand this too is abuse.
He had lots of rages, in lots of places, for lots of reasons. He always blamed me.
I don’t recall explaining him or calculating in my mind how to explain it all to someone else, just didn’t tell others what he was doing to me and how it felt and how it affected me, changed me. And yes, he hit me, he physically assaulted me, and that was the last he got to see of me. I always told him never to hit me and that in itself shows how yes he was calculating it in his mind, and so was I.