I stayed with an ex for three long years even after he pushed my boundaries when I said no.
My ex destroyed my mental health, crushed my self-esteem, and left me feeling like a dishrag, beaten down and worthless.
I felt ashamed for not leaving sooner. Still, I’m one of the lucky ones.
I sought therapy, healed, and leveled up. I put in the inner work to come out the other side, thriving.
Learn from my mistakes and avoid them altogether.
These tell-tale signs are begging you to run far and run fast. Block and delete will never feel so good.
1. You feel worse about yourself after you hang out with him
He’s the only one in your circle who negs you so hard that by the time you’re done hanging out with him, you feel like shit. Constant criticism wears you down as it would anyone.
You feel better after spending time with your close friends and family than when you’re with him. Red flag number one that you’re better off without him.
2. He neglects you
He pulls up an hour or later to the dates you both agree to. No call or text with any updates.
When he does arrive, he offers no apology or explanation. He does not take responsibility.
Even if he does say sorry, he does it again and again.
He is okay with making you sit around and wait for him. When you express your anger and disapproval, he remains unbothered with how it makes you feel.
He could not possibly disrespect you less. He shows complete disregard toward you and your time. He does not prioritize you or your well-being. He does not care.
3. He coerces you
He violates your boundaries and coerces you.
According to experts:
“Coercion happens when someone wants you to consent when you’ve already said no or otherwise expressed disinterest. They might use threats, persuasion, and other tactics to get the outcome they want.”
“If you don’t really want to have sex but agree because you feel obligated or don’t want the other person to get mad, you are not consenting voluntarily.”
“Any threats, wheedles, guilt trips, or other persuasion intended to wear you down counts as coercion.”
He acts regretfully in the aftermath despite clearly violating you just moments before.
The cognitive dissonance between someone who ought to love and care for you while at the same time, coercing you and disrespecting you, makes you feel like you’ve lost your mind.
His self-serving apology only gains him continued access to you. Distress ensues.
4. He disempowers you to the point where you feel you cannot leave
Victims of abuse face manipulation and disempowerment so intensely that they end up staying in a toxic, unhealthy, or otherwise abusive relationship.
A behavior so insidious, it’s hard to discern.
As soon as I saw red flags, of which there were plenty, I tried to leave. I broke up with my ex multiple times, including in the first few months of the relationship.
I failed to block and delete. This was a mistake so costly, I had to undo the emotional and psychological damage through years of weekly therapy.
New flavors of abuse, control, and manipulation make their way into the relationship in between periods of relative peace, making victims question their own reality.
At the earliest sign of disrespect, dump him. If he keeps trying to get you to stay, block and delete. Don’t ever look back.
This is what I’d tell my younger self if I could do it over.
5. He villainizes you when you call him out on his bullshit
When you put up a boundary, stand up for yourself, hold him accountable, demand more and better, he will paint you as the villain and make himself the victim.
He will make up a narrative to make it sound like you’ve abandoned him in his time of need.
He will act as if you owe him something when you never owed him anything, ever.
6. He tears you down instead of building you up
After a very stressful week in college during which I pushed out two 10-page papers and an exam, I received a very hard-earned A on one of my papers. Ecstatic, proud, and full of joy, I was excited to share the news and celebrate my achievements.
Instead of being happy for me and celebrating me, he said I should calm down and “stop bragging.”
He is so weak and insecure, he needs to tear you down to bring you down with him. He lacks the confidence to embrace your accomplishments and encourage your success.
He calls you dumb and stupid. He says you’re not smart. He calls you a bitch for not wanting to be with him.
He body-shames you. He calls you fat as an insult as if that’s the worse thing a person can be. It’s not.
7. He tries to control you
The shirt you chose isn’t cute enough, he says. Ditch the scarf, even though it’s cold where you’re going. Wear this, not that.
He is controlling on many fronts — one of which is by extension of what you wear. He’ll make you feel less-than for anything that doesn’t fit or flatter your natural body.
It’s one thing if you want his opinion on one dress over the other, or if you wear something you know he’ll like, and he actually appreciates it. It’s another when he criticizes you and your clothes as a way to break you down.
8. He ropes you back into his life after the breakup
It’s always the ones you never want to hear from again that will try to rope you back in during the midst of your healing.
He disrespects your process and your desire to move on.
After the breakup, my ex asked me to edit and proofread his work.
He asked me to perform emotional labor and explain to him why he was wrong after being dragged online for making ignorant comments regarding race, no less.
He found the nerve to ask me to host somebody’s sister and let them crash on my couch which would have invaded my personal space and privacy. It’s sad that I considered it. Thankfully, I said no.
To recap, you will be better off without him if and when you detect any of these tell-tale signs:
You feel worse about yourself after you hang out with him.
He neglects you.
He coerces you and violates your boundaries.
He disempowers you to the point where you feel you cannot leave.
He villainizes you when you call him out.
He tears you down instead of building you up.
He tries to control you.
He ropes you back in after your breakup.
Whenever I used to be hard on myself for having stayed, I think of the words by journalist, author, and feminist academic Liz Plank:
“We should not be asking why women are not strong enough to leave. Instead, we should be asking why men are SO WEAK that he has to tear her down to make her stay.”