No one knew we were in an abusive relationship – not even me…

In the beginning, he was kind and patient. In the beginning, I was, too. We were 18, fresh into college. He liked to play computer games, while I sat next to him reading my book. In the library, he’d pick me up so I could reach a book on the top shelf. My social media was filled with our smiles side-by-side.

No one knew we were in an abusive relationship – not even me.

But about six months into the relationship, I began seeing signs of an abusive relationship start to pop up one after another. I ignored them. True love came with intensity, didn’t it? Sure, our fights got rough sometimes, but we couldn’t have our highs without our lows, right?

The abuse started in subtle ways, rising like a tidal wave over months

I didn’t stop swimming. I didn’t rush to safety. I dove deeper and deeper into the salty water. My eyes burned, and my lungs ached. Love was pain, right?

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At some point, we stopped being kind to each other. I grew tired of his lies. He embarrassed me in my front of my friends and family. He grew tired of my mood swings. My irritability that stemmed from anxiety pissed him off.

“I would date her if I wasn’t dating you,” he’d say, as we passed a girl walking out of her dorm room.

“You’re an idiot. Why would you tell me that?” I’d scoff, and then another fight would begin.

“Did you know that the sun burns your eyes through your glasses? The lenses act as a microscope, and your eyes burn like an ant on the pavement,” he’d tell me.

I’d roll my eyes. “Do you really think I’m that dumb? You’re so stupid. You’re such a child!”

It was a vicious cycle in an unhealthy, abusive relationship

He lied often, and I called him names often. It was a vicious cycle in an unhealthy, abusive relationship. I knew that something was wrong, but I thought maybe we just had a communication problem, something that could be sorted out in couple’s therapy.

I never thought I was verbally abusing him. I never thought he was manipulating me

The abuse was there all along, I just never noticed it

I tried to break up with him many times, but he’d push me up against the wall, pinning my arms behind me and sneering. I always gave in, insisting on couples counselling for a day or two. He would stop lying for a little while and be on his best behaviour.

Then, we’d act as if nothing had happened. I’d forget about couple’s counselling. The vicious cycle common in abusive relationships would begin again.

When we got into an argument in the car, he’d slam on the breaks so my head would smash into the dashboard. When I yelled at him to leave my dorm, he pretended to while I used the bathroom. When he jumped out of my wardrobe to scream at me for not running after him, I realised he had been spying on me for the past 10 minutes.

Still, it never occurred to me that he might be dangerous. At least, not until his hands were around my neck…

It was a Saturday in January. The wind whipped against the door of my dorm room. He was sitting on the floor with my computer, waiting to watch Breaking Bad with me. I wouldn’t stop scribbling in my notebook and he grew tired of waiting. He wanted my attention. He wanted to be loved, but you can’t force someone to love you.

I did so many things wrong during our relationship. I ignored him. I spoke down to him. I called him names. Instead of breaking up with him, I became a toxic partner. To this day, I am ashamed of the way I acted. To this day, it is hard for me not to blame myself for what happened.

We started fighting, and my voice rose. I was yelling, then screaming at him to get out of my dorm room. He stalled, walking around my room leisurely, claiming he was looking for his things. I saw it as an excuse. Exasperated, I picked up his phone off the ground to hand it to him.

All at once, my feet were off the ground. He was choking me, his thumb digging into my trachea. My feet searched against the wall for a foothold. I slapped and scratched at his hands around my neck. I looked into the eyes of a guy who still slept with a teddy bear. His eyes were ringed with red, his lips a snarl. He was unrecognisable, a monster.

And finally, when my lungs were screaming for oxygen, when I thought I would surely pass out, it was over. He threw me across the room, the gray-blue carpet of my dorm dragging burns into my elbows. I ran to lock myself in the bathroom, while he pounded on the door: “You better not tell anyone!”

Instead of breaking up with him, I became a toxic partner

Even after that day, I told myself it was my fault

My name calling, my irritability, my yelling caused him to snap. I caused him to hurt me. I brought the pain into our relationship, and he had only responded to it.

When I did break up with him months later, it was because I knew I didn’t love him. I didn’t want to hurt him anymore. It wasn’t (at least not consciously) because of his abuse.

His manipulation only continued. He threatened to commit suicide. He came over unannounced with presents to win me back. He spun lies about others beating him up. He told me that he only hurt me because he thought I was going to throw his phone that Saturday in my dorm.

He choked me and threw me across the room because he thought I might throw his phone? The reality of what happened didn’t sink in until months later.

In working with a therapist, I began to understand that while I did do things wrong, nothing I did warranted the physical abuse that occurred. It was his choice to get physically abusive, and that’s not my fault. It never will be. I have to remind myself of that often.

August Blair is a freelance mental health writer and student. Passionate about writing and psychology, she is dedicated to helping other writers with mental illness at Writers With Mental Illness. You can find her ramblings on Twitter.

This article was republished with permission from YourTango.