It took me a long time to realise that I was in an abusive relationship.

I thought I knew what domestic abuse was – a 6-foot thug beating his poor defenceless wife every night while the children cowered in the corner. I felt a lot of sympathy for the women involved but didn’t think their experiences had anything to do with me or my life.

I didn’t know that domestic abuse could be sexual, emotional or financial as well as physical.

I didn’t know that it could happen in lesbian relationships.

I didn’t know it was happening to me.

It was the first relationship I’d been in with another woman. Abusers will often (but not always) target women who’ve never had a serious relationship before, or who have only ever been in straight relationships. It means that she can take advantage of our lack of experience and knowledge about what being in a lesbian relationship is like. She can present her behaviour as normal and acceptable – “this is what gay relationships are like”, “all lesbians have sex this way”, “all the women I’ve been with have loved doing this, I don’t know what’s wrong with you”… and of course “we don’t need to spend any time with other gay people now that we’ve got each other”, “the scene is really predatory, you wouldn’t like it” to make sure we stay away from other same-sex couples who might give us any information that contradicts what she’s telling us.

So the first lesson I was taught was “everything that happens in this relationship and everything about this relationship is normal. If there’s anything you don’t like or that makes you uncomfortable, that means you have a problem.”

From there, over time she made me feel that everything that happened in the relationship was my responsibility, and anything that went wrong was my fault. It worked just great for her – verbal abuse? Angry rage? My fault for provoking her. Making me have sex when I didn’t want to? My fault for not caring enough about her sexual needs. It got to the point where she actually blamed me for the weather – when it rained on our seaside holiday that was somehow my fault! – and I believed her.

There were so many other steps I had to go through before I could name my relationship as abusive. Realising that I wasn’t to blame for everything that went wrong, when the woman I loved most was telling me that I was. Realising that if something made me feel hurt, then I needed to listen to those feelings, not ignore them or view them as weak, when the woman I loved most was telling me that my feelings were unimportant. Realising that my partner chose to yell at me, chose to insult me and swear at me, chose to sexually assault me, when the woman I loved most was telling me that she had no choice and that I provoked her anger and her sexual violence.

I couldn’t begin to seek support until I realised that I was experiencing domestic abuse. But before I could realise that I was experiencing domestic abuse, I needed support. The more we talk about domestic abuse, the more we get it onto blogs and on facebook and in magazines and on TV and in books and in conversations and in posters in cafes and on buses… the more we talk about it, the more women will get the chance to have that revelation.

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