Ask Dr. NerdLove: I'm Trapped In An Abusive Relationship

Hello all you fiery sex meerkats of the Twitterhord, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that's the real King of Kong. This week, we're solving your dating dilemmas, dashing through your deal-breakers and helping you last all the way to the killscreen of love.

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How do you end a relationship when you're the primary breadwinner and dumping them would leave them out in the cold? How can you advertise what you do and don't want in a relationship without driving everyone away?

A warning in advance: this week's first letter involves descriptions of emotional and physical abuse.

It's time to gird your loins and insert coins. Let's do this.

Dear Dr. NerdLove;

I have been in a relationship with Dr. Jekell/ Mr. Hyde for 3 years. When we first got together and everything was fine until he lost his job….that was 3 years ago. He has yet to find one and blames me for "ruining his professional career" which I don't know if it is 100% my fault maybe 50%.

He goes to interview after interview and will even sometimes get a job for 2-3 days before being fired. He tells me it's because of a fight we got into when he first lost his job and the neighbour called the cops and it shows up on his record. I tell him maybe he should explain it beforehand. To which he called me an f*ing stupid idiot who should never have kids because they would be stupid f*ing idiots.

We both worked in the same field as IT help desk/electronics repair until this year when I took a full stack development course and was promoted to a Hadoop developer. Every time I try to get him to be involved in what I do and the code I write, he tells me I am a fat fucking stupid elephant who probably didn't write it because no one could be better than him at that.

Or, he will tell me that I have him to thank for it because I would be a lawyer if it wasn't for him and you know how messed up that profession is. (I stopped going to law school just after he lost his job because I couldn't pay my bills when I had to pay his half too.)

Since then he is prone to acts of violence, one time giving me a black eye and another leaving large softball sized lumps on my head and back. I know PTSD and his bipolar syndrome play huge roles in this. I also understand that he has had, in the past year about with cancer that nearly killed him and losing both parents. So I understand that life is hard for him emotionally. Despite all of this I do everything to be a supportive partner and answering at his beck and call.

I am alienated from my family and I have no friends because I hurry home to be there for him. If he wants something from the store I go get it even if it's a 45 minute bus ride both ways (I lost my car because with just my income I couldn't afford it). When he calls he screams and yells at me I am never fast enough to do something and I end up crying…I cry a lot.

I have noticed I have started to care less and less about myself and more and more about making him happy. I have stopped colouring my hair, cutting it, I haven't bought new clothes in a year. Yet, he will actually watch parts of movies and tell me how much he would like to do x actress and force me to watch that part over and over and over again. It kills me on the inside because I am not her and therefore am not making him happy.

Or tell rant telling me how stupid and white trash my mum is. It hurts so bad. I would take better care of myself if I had the money to. I would exercise more if I had a partner to go with me. However, I am too slow for him and it's too much of an effort to make me go his speed so he'd rather pass.

At other times he can be a really supportive partner. He went all out for my 31st birthday last week. His mum even sent me a gift. I called his mum to thank her and he took over the conversation. I can't give my mum our address, I am not allowed.

He can also be very loving, but sometimes, a lot of times, it's about what satisfies him and not us. He does clean the house when I am gone, cooks half the time, makes sure the bills are paid.

Yet, I worry, it's time for me to leave. But, I worry about him because I support us 100% on my income which leaves me 1. No room to save to actually find a place of my own while still paying the bills and 2. I couldn't ask him to leave the home we currently share because it's owned by his best friend and I am not on the lease. I know not being on it was a bad mistake but we were homeless at the time and living out of AirBnBs.

I do truly love him. However, I find myself, when I get home so physically tired, so emotionally drained and sometimes afraid of what he is going to do or what ridicule he will have for me. Today he got mad at me for some unknown reason and threatened to lock me out of the house. I have cried all day and I just don't want to hurt anymore.

I just don't know what to do to get out of this situation or where do I go from here….

Yours, Forlorn Femme

Hey FF, let me tell you the exact moment I knew how I was going to answer your letter. It was right here:

He tells me it's because of a fight we got into when he first lost his job and the neighbour called the cops and it shows up on his record. I tell him maybe he should explain it beforehand. To which he called me an f*ing stupid idiot who should never have kids because they would be stupid f*ing idiots.

Because this? Right here? This is the first — not the only, just the first — that you should have gotten the hell out of this relationship 4 years ago. Yes, I know you've only been together for three years, but you need to dump this dude so hard it goes back in time and creates a new universe. You need to dump him so hard that his great grandparents ask him what the hell he did.

Because holy hopping sheep shit, FF, you are being abused. That alone is a giant red flag. But the things you're describing in your letter are so full of red flags that it looks like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

I'm going to be blunt with you: I couldn't give a hot damn about what's going to happen to this dude or how he's going to pay the bills. Why? Because you've dropped little nuggets in your letter like:

Every time I try to get him to be involved in what I do and the code I write he tells me I am a fat fucking stupid elephant who probably didn't write it because no one could be better than him at that.

and:

Or, he will tell me that I have him to thank for it because I would be a lawyer if it wasn't for him and you know how messed up that profession is. (I stopped going to law school just after he lost his job because I couldn't pay my bills when I had to pay his half too)

Now I get that it can be hard to justify leaving when the abuse is emotional — abusers love to gaslight their victims into believing that it's their fault. But emotional abuse is still abuse and it takes its toll on you. He has put you in a position where you feel like you have to manage his behaviour, where it feels like you're responsible when he blows up at you and no, I'm sorry, fuck that noise. That's absolute, total and utter horseshit. 

Now this alone is bad enough; it's textbook emotional abuse. But then there's this:

Since then he is prone to acts of violence, one time giving me a black eye and another leaving large softball sized lumps on my head and back.

And this:

I can't give my mum our address, I am not allowed

Nope. Nope, nope nope, it is time to hop the Nope Train to FuckThatShitville so fast that you leave a human-shaped cloud in your wake.

I do not give a six-legged rat's arse about having his having PTSD or having cancer. In the last few years, I've had too many friends who've been fighting cancer and a grand total of NONE of them have abused their partners.

It is awful that he's had horrible things happen to him but literally none of it justifies or excuses abusing you. And I want to make this abundantly clear: none of this is your fault. You are not responsible for him or his behaviour. He has forfeited any right to your help or assistance. He has shit in his own bed and now it's time for him to lie in it.

Here's what you need to do, FF: You start making your plans for how you're going to get out. You need to start by gathering up or making copies of every important document you can — your driver's licence, your passport, insurance information, your credit cards and checkbook, your birth certificate. Make copies if you can, especially if he has access to them. Get several changes of clothes, any sentimental items, emergency cash, your valuables a burner phone and your address book.

If at all possible put them in a go-bag and get them out of the house. Lock down your social media, put two-factor authentication on every account you have and then get the hell out like all of hell and half of Hoboken was after you.

Because you're in the US, I also strongly suggest you call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE and talk to the advocates there. They can help you make arrangements to get clear, get help and be safe.

Because this is not going to get better, FF. You need to get the ever-loving hell out, and your soon-to-be ex can deal with his own shit on his own. Crash at a friend's house, contact your parents and ask for help, find a co-worker at work with a couch they can let you use but get out now.

Good luck, and write back to let us know how you're doing.

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

I'm a 29 year old. straight man with a question about listing dealbreakers on my dating profile.

I've been in a few relationships so far as an adult (ranging from three weeks to three years long, including cohabitation) and I tend to perform a postmortem afterwards and mentally catalogue shiny new bullet points for my grand list of dealbreakers, made possible in retrospect by understanding what caused each relationship to end.

This includes seeing where I personally went wrong, of course, in the hopes of growing as a person, cultivating empathy, being easier to date/live with, etc. (which has been largely successful; I never disappoint in the same way twice!).

I enjoy companionship when it's working for everyone, but I'm not a serial dater, and I'm not desperate to find the one by age XX, so my question isn't "Are my nutty standards unrealistic to the point that I'll never find love?" If that happens, it happens, and to a large extent I've made my peace with that! Solitude's a comfortable place, and I can easily picture myself dying alone with a shrug.

Rather, I'm wondering if it's sensible to write out the aforementioned dealbreakers in boldface on my dating profile. The big ones reflect real-life lessons I've internalized and are, in so many words:

- Only inquire if you're coming from a socially progressive family, or, after the fact of being born to conservatives, have made the decision to cut them out of your life.

- Everlasting monogamous partnership is great, but I'm not marrying anyone.

- I 100% never want children in any form (biological, step-, adopted, fostered, cloned, cyborg'd, inserted into reality fully-formed à la Michelle Trachtenberg in Buffy).

- I can't stand pets of any kind, and you being the most delightful person in my zip code would not convince me to appreciate/live with yours.

(I realise that that last one inherently excludes 98% of the human dating pool, and I'm ok with that. Because I know it is *not* the correct approach to ask the animal-lover to give up that element of her life "for me", since that just breeds resentment...which also applies to the family/marriage/kids issues)

So on the one hand, these things are deadly important to me, and it seems to the benefit of both parties that expectations are clearly laid out, reducing the chance of explosive breakups after investing time/energy/love into a relationship and later discovering a glaring incompatibility. Without extensive therapy, I'm too rigid to compromise on these specific points - admittedly a failing on my part - but isn't it better for potential partners to know that instantly and avoid this mess?

I'm not *trying* to waste anyone's time. Also, once I start falling for someone I tend to rationalise away any red flags, which is dangerous. Better to never interact at all?

On the other hand, I fear that writing those bullet points in true "old man yells at cloud" style could scare away women who might in fact be good matches in all those respects, but who just think I come across as a standoffish arsehole for stating it so bluntly, and would respond better to learning those things naturally, through conversation.

Or that all the negativity I'm projecting ("I despise fuzzy animals") would overshadow anything positive about me (exhibit A: this letter). ...But then again maybe a good match for me is someone who'd read that, tone and all, and think, "Yes, this guy gets it!"?

I'm leaning towards option A (blunt grumpus) because I don't mind dating less and waiting longer for viable matches (and neither would my ideal partner, who couldn't care less about her biological clock or a timely wedding band), rather than rolling the dice and causing disappointment (for all) over and over again when they slowly realise I can't play nice with their racist parents and I always wince when their dog/cat/snake jumps on me.

But I'd appreciate some external perspective on the matter! Or suggestions on how to make my hangups more palatable if I do list them out. Or a way to afford that therapy.

Yours truly, Dealbroken

It sounds like you've got a pretty good idea of what you do and don't want in a partner, DB; that puts you ahead of the curve when it comes to finding a partner. The key in this case is figuring out how to get it across that these are hard "no's" for you — preferably without making it sound like you're Oscar The Grouch.

Now, some of it is going to be context dependent. Some dating sites like OKCupid let you include information in your profile like "Doesn't have kids and doesn't want any" or "no pets"; this helps — but doesn't completely eliminate — people who aren't on the same page as you.

Other things are things that you can put in your profile. Going back to OKCupid, one of the question prompts is "what is the most private thing you're willing to reveal", which gives you a chance to say "I'd like a committed relationship but I don't want to get married," or "I don't like pets, period, the end."

Still other deal-breakers for you are things that you can weave into your description: bringing up how important socially progressive values are to you or how you bounce hard off of conservatives.

Just make sure that your dating profile and photos agree with the type of relationship you want. I've seen far too many people who don't want kids, ever, but have pictures of them playing with their nieces and nephews or who want short term physical relationships but their profile makes them sound intensely domestic.

However, unless you describe your hard nos in such negative terms that you end up chasing everyone away — telling people you'll only date someone who came from a conservative family if they have cut all ties, for example — it's somewhat inevitable that you're going to match with people who hit some of those dealbreakers. Sometimes it's just a result of the site's design.

Tinder, for example, doesn't give you much room to work with and making your description nothing but "thou shalt nots" wastes space and pushes people away. Other times, they may not have read carefully and missed something. Trust me, no matter how many blinking neon lights you listed all over your profile, folks can and will skim over things that you feel are pretty important.

In those cases, it's best to find out early on, either in the initial conversations or during a "getting to know you" pre-date date: 15 or so minutes over coffee to do your mutual due diligence and see if there's any mutual chemistry. These give you a chance to say things like "so, tell me about yourself? Are you a pet person?" or talk a little about politics; you can suss out how people feel without making it sound like you've hauled out a clipboard and a checklist.

Otherwise: if you're going to put your dealbreakers in your profile, make sure they're like a knife: short, sharp and to the point.

Good luck.

Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog, Paging Dr. NerdLove, and on the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His dating guide New Game+: The Geek's Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is available on Amazon. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.


Comments

    Yeah, that first story, cut and run!

    PTSD, illness, what have you. No excuse for putting hands on another loved one. You can still care about them but at a distance until they get the help they need.

    To Forlorn Femme, it might be difficult to accept the following statement, but if you want release from your situation, you must understand the below:

    Only YOU can fix this. Only you can make the choice to leave. Only you can decide that you deserve better.

    There is a lot of help and support out there, and there are many who know what you are going through. They can and will help you. But they can’t make this decision for you. You have to decide what you deserve and then start acting on it. Writing to Dr Nerdlove is fine, but it doesn’t cut it. Take responsibility for yourself now. It’s time. Best of luck.

    If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse in Australia call the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line - Phone: 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732. If you are in danger call 000.

    You are not alone, and you are not responsible for other people's actions.

    I have to say, a lot of the advice for FF at the end I wouldn't have even thought of. Taking precaution with your Social Media and personal documents is something that would've gone over my head. Good advice!

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