[Please note this is not my own article. I didn’t write this. It was written by a friend of mine who gave me kind permission to share it as I wanted, but didn’t want their name attached – hence no specific credit being given.]
Emotionally abusive partners aren't bad all the time. That's literally what their partners will tell you. It's what you'll tell your friends and loved ones, every time the bad happens.
"There's good in there!"
"You just don't hear about the good times."
You're just waiting, really, for the bad times to stop happening. Each time the terrible thing happens—the thing that you promised yourself you'd never let happen again—you remind yourself of how good things have been, and cling to the good moments, and ask yourself: Do I really want to say goodbye to the person who's responsible for all that loveliness? You hear about other people struggling in their relationships and go: See, it's not just me. This must be normal. Who doesn't struggle? Who doesn't have to work on things with their partner? Who isn't habitually reduced to tears by the person they say "I love you" to? Who doesn't live with a knot of misery twisting in their chest?
The good times happen. The good times mean the one you're with is good.
Thing is, abusive people aren't moustache-twirling villains. They don't start every day calculating how to cause you misery. They just don't care if you're miserable. They have ways of behaving, modes of being who they are, and if they fuck you up over it... honestly, it doesn't bother them too much. Maybe they'll even apologise afterwards! But that won't keep it from happening again, and again, and again. Sometimes they're wonderful. Every day, you get to wake up wondering if they will make today magical for you. Some nights, you'll go to sleep feeling like they have. But when things go wrong...
In some relationships, they go wrong more often than in others. Could be most of your days are good—but the bad ones are just rotten. In other relationships, well, you're just trying not to drown, trying to keep your head above water, catching those glimmers of light as the dark, cold waves batter you down to the place where you may never feel light or warmth again.
But in both cases, you stay hooked. Because there's always that chance. Because, if you pull the lever one more time, this could be that opportunity to catch one more moment of happiness. And the honest truth is, if you stay there forever, the good times will never stop coming. Who knows when they'll come, and who knows what you'll endure to get to them, but you will in fact have new happinesses waiting for you.
It can be addictive—for the same reason that gambling is addictive. Because you're not just playing for the good moments. You're playing for the thrill. Past a point, the uncertainty is a part of the experience. That wretched moment where you await your future with bated breath, full of dread and hope all at once... that can be addictive in a way even happiness itself isn't. When people try to leave abusive relationships, they're usually—understandably!—hurt and angry and upset. Furious, even. They often want to lash out, and hurt their abuser like their abuser hurt them. They want to get even. They want to take back all the power they feel like they've lost. They want to prove to their abuser that they're alright. That they're happy. That they're better now. And that impulse, frighteningly often, is what brings them back to their abuser.
Because you can't get even with someone whose fundamental tactic was apathy. They hurt you because they didn't care about you—but your attempts to hurt them prove that you do care. The more you lash out, the more they see what they've meant to you. It's like a love letter, really. They'll take hate or love from you—because either way you're giving them more of you. You're trying to win the battle, but you're losing the war. Because your efforts to get back at them are just another round of slots. You're planning out your moves, choosing what to do... and waiting for the right response. Maybe you'll hurt them and get away with it. Maybe they'll find a way to hurt you back? Who knows? You're still gambling on that uncertainty—and you're still following the same old patterns of your relationship, even as you tell yourself you're moving on.
This is not a game of love and hate. It's a game of presence and absence. Either you care, or you don't. Either you're passionate, or you're letting those feelings slowly ebb away. Your abuser doesn't care if you win a couple of hands. They don't even care if you're on a real winning streak. They know that, the longer you play, the more you lose.
The game is rigged. The house always wins.