It’s important for me to teach my kids about red flags in relationships.
I didn’t have anyone guide me in healthy relationships when I was a teen or young adult and I found myself in toxic patterns.
We seldom see the red flags while we’re walking past them or living with them.
We want to ignore the red flags. We’ve been taught to only see the best in people. We’ve been taught to be polite and compliant.
I realize there were so many red flags in my previous relationships that I should’ve seen, that maybe my parents and friends should’ve said, “Hey! This isn’t ok!” but they didn’t. Even when I knew I wasn’t healthy enough to protect myself and relied on them for help. They didn’t vet my relationships well. They didn’t see it either or didn’t care.
I was deceived about so many things. I had no power to discern the truth.
I was so naive. I was so gullible.
Big Red Flags
He made fun of me, belittling me, humiliating, shaming. I took it because he was “older and wiser” and I just thought I surely must really be dumb.
He was often distant. He monopolized conversation. It was always about him. He didn’t want to hear my stories. He didn’t want to know what I did at work that day. He only wanted to talk about himself.
As an introvert, I’m a great listener. This wasn’t a red flag at all for me. I loved learning about his past and hearing the stories that were important to him.
But I failed to realize that I wasn’t important to him.
I want to be trusting. I want to believe the best. I’m still devastated that people will lie and deceive.
Years later, I’m still realizing how he lied to me and about the stupidest things. Things that shouldn’t have really mattered.
He lied about dealing drugs. He lied about stopping the dealing. The gallon bag in the hall closet was not full of catnip.
He left me at a party with his friends. I wasn’t that comfortable with his friends. I didn’t know what to say or do around them. I had to wait hours to get a ride home.
After the separation and divorce, he lied about my daughter. I was a puddle of emotions every weekend she visited him. I wondered who she stayed with, what she ate, where she slept. I asked why she returned with infected bug bites all over her legs and the worst diaper rash anyone had ever seen in history of diaper rashes. He had no good answers. She stayed with his father, his niece, his girlfriend. He had to work and he wasn’t that involved or interested.
And I just recently found out (eighteen years later!) he plotted to start a custody battle. But he never paid the child support or the credit card that the court mandated.
His narrative to his family and friends about the divorce are vastly different than the truth.
He was addicted to porn. He made fun of me. He didn’t like my lack of experience. He said no one had every criticized him in bed. He didn’t like the way I looked. He didn’t like where I had hair. He wanted me to look fake and plastic like the porn models.
So many red flags before he ever hit me.
Then I really believed I deserved that first time. I calmly patched the hole in the wall of our rental house and fixed the windowpane.
The second time he hit me, I left. I didn’t want my daughter witnessing that.
He was furious with me for being so hands off while our daughter toddled around, learning to walk. She stumbled and bumped her head on the coffee table and he lost it.
Earlier that day, he had been talking about wanting another baby. I was barely hanging on financially. We had just bought a house near his parents. I was commuting to work about an hour each way. He made about $10/hour, developing photo film.
His family is Pentecostal evangelical. This was the first taste of any real religion or church I had. It all but broke me. They didn’t like questions. They didn’t like women being intelligent or leaders. It was hard and I tried to conform to what they wanted. I thought it must be right and good. I never could live up to their standards. We got married because his church said it was sin to live together.
I don’t even remember what my wedding ring looked like. I do remember picking out one together at a shop, but he lapsed on the layaway, so I didn’t get that one. He wore a borrowed, too big suit to our small wedding in their warehouse church. The “reception” was at his parents’ house. I remember cubing cheese in the kitchen and there wasn’t enough food to go around. My father didn’t go at all. My mother attended the wedding and went home. There was only one night in a local hotel I was comped as a kickback from work. Nothing was idyllic. Nothing was looked back on as charming. It was sad and devastating and embarrassing.
I can’t remember him ever giving me gifts. I remember maxing out the Best Buy credit card for electronics for him. I remember explaining and then arguing that the bank card was attached to our joint account and if he blew money on cigarettes and soda, I didn’t have enough for gas to work or monthly bills.
I was criticized by his family for negotiating the purchase of vehicles from his cousin, who worked as a local Chevy salesman. I was encouraged to use that dealer because that’s where his whole family went. I also went to another dealer just to check pricing and loan info. I was able to get a better deal than from his cousin. They accused me of disloyalty to their family. I still find it ironic that they thought it was better to pay more for loyalty.
I should have seen and reacted to the red flags sooner. Hindsight is always 20/20.
It takes a long time, years…to heal from abuse. Trauma reactions continue with my current relationships. I try to recognize where my triggers occur and deal with that so I don’t confuse my husband and children. It’s never about them.