My initial intent when sitting down to write on this subject for this book was to gather people’s true stories from social media, create new characters, and mesh all those stories into one. But as people shared their real-life experiences, I realized there is nothing I could write or create that would be as powerful as the stories they were telling. So, I decided to share their experiences with you. I asked for their permission to include their stories in this book, and these are five of the many stories told. The names and locations are made up, but the events they share are real.

From Men Cheat More, Women Cheat Better: Stories and Conversations About Love, Life and Everything in Between (2017)

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Abuse & Forgiveness by Chenai

Unhealthy relationships are scary, but I believe it’s important to forgive the person. I was in an unhealthy relationship in high school. He didn’t physically harm me, but he was verbally and emotionally abusive. This left me feeling terrible about myself for the next couple of years. I fell into deep depression as my self-esteem and confidence faded. I distanced myself from family and friends. My grades slipped, and I got into trouble at school because of him. I kept everything to myself and never reached out for help, because I feared losing him. Weirdly enough, I felt like I could fix him. My friends and family noticed something was off, but I never really spoke about it until I was out of the relationship.

After several months, I finally realized it was something I couldn’t fix. I realized I was in a bad situation, and I missed my family, friends, and just being happy and enjoying life. Missing my old self gave me confidence. I had changed so much I didn’t even know who I was. I finally broke up with him and immediately felt a sense of freedom and safety. I then contacted my friends and family and told them about my relationship. They helped me heal and get through it.

However, the reason I say it’s important to forgive is he committed suicide about two years after we broke up. It turns out, he was going through a lot when we were together, and his struggles continued after we had broken up. There were numerous times he contacted me to ask for forgiveness, and I never replied. And on the rare occasions I did, I was often rude. I couldn’t get over what he made me go through. If I could change one thing, it would be letting go of the pain and forgiving him.

My abusive relationship taught me a lot. It taught me to be strong and to reach out for help when I need it. It also taught me to forgive, even when it’s hard. And it taught me it’s important to forgive yourself.

 Him or Me by Lucia

 I was once in an abusive relationship for two years. My breaking point was when he brought a gun into our house. I realized that either he would use it on me or I would use it on him. I seemed to start mentally preparing myself for the day when I would have to kill him for the abuse to stop. Fortunately, that day never came. One day, I packed what belongings I could fit into my car and moved back home to Michigan. I left college and everything I knew. I left during the day while he was out of the house, and I never saw him again.

Strangers that Care by Sarah

I don’t share this with many people, but I’ve recently become comfortable with talking about it, hoping telling my story will help someone else.

I got into a relationship my freshman year of college. He was the opposite of what I would have seen myself dating. He was a bad boy and trouble seemed to find him, and sometimes, he would seek it out. He was great at pushing me around and making me feel worthless then turning around and making me feel beautiful and loved. He would say I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough. Then he would turn around and tell me I’m beautiful. He cheated on me multiple times. I even caught him in the act. I knew I needed to get out of that relationship, but I was too afraid to try. He would threaten to kill me. He would say, if he couldn’t have me, nobody could. One day, he got violent and my neighbor heard it. She called the cops, but he was gone by the time they showed up. My neighbor helped me clean up, and as she was doing so, she told me I deserved better. She asked me why I stayed and subjected myself to such abuse. It was at that moment, feeling a little embarrassed but touched by how much concern a stranger was showing me, I decided to get out of the relationship. For a while, he harassed me. He would show up unannounced, and I would leave through the balcony and drive to the police station or a friend’s place he didn’t know.

I filed no charges against him. I can’t give a reasonable explanation why I didn’t. A part of me feared how long the process would take: filing charges, restraining orders, affidavits, testimony etc. I just wasn’t emotionally prepared for the toll that would take on me.  I just wanted it over and behind me the quickest way I could. So, at the end of the semester, I changed my number, transferred schools, and never heard from him again.

 He Is Now Someone Else’s Problem by Sophia

He was an angry person. I thought it would go away. Over time, I felt unsafe. I was not only worried about myself, but our daughter, as well. Sometimes, I would think of calling the police then I would stop myself. I tried to move so often, but my daughter would cry for her father, and so I went back. I would pray for things to change, but they didn’t. The relationship ended, not because of me, but because of him. He left me for someone else. As much as it hurt, I’m glad it’s someone else dealing with it. It’s sad that I didn’t have the strength to leave the relationship on my own. At the end of the day, though, it’s over either way, and that’s a good thing.

 The Cycle of Abuse Is Real by Megan

My father was abusive. If it wasn’t my mother he was tormenting, it was us. You would think my sisters and I would never date people who were abusive, considering what we had endured in childhood, but unfortunately, we all did. The cycle of abuse is real. I think, as parents, we don’t understand what impact the environment we raise our kids in will have on their adulthood. As parents, we make excuses about why we stay in that abusive relationship. We say it’s for the kids or for love, but most of the time, I think it’s either fear, shame, or the silly belief that things will change and the abuser will treat us better. Had our mother left that relationship or at least tried to protect and defend us, perhaps, my sisters and I would have had happier and healthier relationships once we were grown.

My mother had me when she was seventeen. She was disowned by her family, moved out, and so she was on her own from a very young age. She raised me on her own until I was around four years old, when she met my stepdad, the father of my two younger sisters.

Parents think kids don’t notice the abuse, but we do. He would beat her often and for the smallest of reasons; although, I will admit that, sometimes, she would provoke him and try to get him to hit her. She was awful when she was drunk, and she knew how to set him off. I saw her try to leave the room once to save herself from a beating after they had gotten into a fight, and he pulled her back in, slammed the door, and continued. And with each skirmish, all I could do is take my little sisters and hide with them in the closet and wait until it was over. This was our childhood.

Some studies show that children who grow up in an abusive household battle mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and can even show symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress. Some of these children seek partners that are abusive, or they can become the abusers. This was the case with me and my sisters. We struggle with anxiety and depression and have dated men who were physically and emotionally abusive.

In a lot of ways, our lives were beginning to mirror that of our mother’s. Maybe counseling at a younger age would have helped us deal with the trauma, but it’s never too late to get help. After having my son, I have vowed to break the cycle, and going to counseling was the first step. I have also pushed my sisters to do the same. It’s not easy, but I’m happy to say I am in a better place now. I have a good man, and my son is growing up in a happier and healthier environment than I did.

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Sometimes, we fall for the wrong person, and we end up in a bad, abusive relationship. It happens to the best of us—women, men, gay, lesbian, educated, uneducated, military, civilian, Christian, Muslim, and so on. Often, though, I’ve known women to be on the receiving end of abuse more than men. However, usually, it’s easy for many to keep their pain and ordeal invisible to the rest of us. Makeup is an amazing thing; you can camouflage split lips and black eyes with a powdered brush, a tube of lipstick, and a delicate flick of the wrist. Fingerprint shaped bruises around the neck and forearm can be explained away with a simple shrug and a plausible explanation. In other instances, this abuse scars the heart and mind, not the body, a mental and emotional burden that can leave one’s soul and self-esteem in tatters. Meanwhile, to those on the outside looking in, everything seems intact.

I think anyone in an abusive relationship, male or female, knows they are in one. The challenge they face is finding the courage to leave, the strength to stay gone, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing they are safe and they did the right thing. I don’t know how those challenges can be faced, but what I will say is that, for many, it starts with knowing there is help out there and it’s in their best interests to seek it: friends, family, police, hotlines, hospitals, and more.  While, for the rest of us, we make sure we let them know we’re here for them, without judgment or shaming, should they need us.

Sincerely, Kwapi Vengesayi

FB: @kwapivengesayi | IG: @kwapiv | SC: @kwapiv  |  Twitter: @kwapiv

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