Your Call: I Finally Escaped a 13-Year Toxic Marriage. Now What?

We get a lot of questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to respond to a reader. Make your call on the letter below by leaving your thoughts in the comments section. 

Dear Em & Lo,

I am 30 years old and a single mother of 4. I just got out of a very toxic relationship of 13 years. I got married when I was 18 to a man eleven years my senior — yes, I was young and dumb. But I also grew up in poverty (my parents got sponsored to the United States just before I was born) and when I was growing up I was not educated enough to understand what a good man is.

Long story short, I accepted so many wrong things and allowed so much wrong doings in my last relationship that I almost want to become anti-social, and just do everything at home, no matter if it’s school, work, or even shopping. During my 13 years of marriage, I became oppressed and stopped everything that kept me happy and devoted my life to this man.

Now that I finally got out of the relationship, I am ready to live again, I am back in school, socializing, just engaging with society — I feel like I’m 18 again and doing everything that I stopped doing when I got married. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but it really feels like I am catching up with everything I missed out on.

I’m afraid to fall in love with the wrong person and be abused in every way. I’m afraid of being alone as well — I think that’s why I stayed in the relationship for so long. Taking and dealing with all this really FUCKED me up.

I need so much help! How can I move forward?

— The Not So Gay Divorcee

What do you think N.S.G.D. should do? Leave your suggestions for her in the comments section below. 



  1. A brief litmus test I read somewhere on the internet – if you wouldn’t tolerate a specific behavior from a sibling, don’t tolerate it from a prospective partner.

  2. First off, congratulations on getting out of a toxic relationship! I know the feeling personally, as I was married to an abusive woman for years.

    Socially connecting, living your life as you truly want to, listening to your heart – all of these things are wonderful and healing.

    As for the fear of getting into a similar relationship again – that’s a completely reasonable fear. The trick is to understand where it comes from and to try not to make the same mistakes, but to not let the fear paralyze you or interfere in a healthy relationship. That’s easier said than done, obviously. If it’s really interfering with your life, you may want to find a good therapist. Barring that, figuring out what the warning signs were (don’t blame yourself – blame is counterproductive here) and paying more attention to them as well as having your friends that you can trust meeting any prospective suitors would be other places to start.

    Using myself as an example, I will be far more cautious of trusting anyone who keeps talking about the many people who mistreated them and speaking unkindly about them while not accepting any personal responsibility for anything. I will also be watching how they treat people they disagree with much more closely, and watching how they handle arguments and conflict.

    My understanding is that there are different kinds of intimacy – friendship, sexual, and conflict. If my date handles conflict as though she had written John Gottman’s “The Relationship Cure”, that’s a good sign. If they fly off the handle or shut down or talk in circles, that’s a warning.

    One last thing – one of the harder things that I’ve had to face is that we don’t need a partner to be happy. A good partner is certainly a wonderful thing, but it isn’t necessary. The more I can accept that, the less I feel like I “need” to find someone, and the more likely it is that I will find a good partner rather than another abusive one.

    My very best wishes to you. Enjoy your life!

  3. Well, as I see it, there are many things to be thankful for. But before I expand on that, I’d like to address the fact that you feel like you’re eighteen again. It’s because in a way, you are. It’s time you embrace those feelings, and run with it. In my opinion that’s a very positive thing. It could be the driving force that helps you move further away from your past. As far as meeting the right person, I always said I would know it when it happens (I think you will too). When I met my wife, I knew she was the only one I wanted to spend my life with, and have a family. But, after raising three children over the course of twenty five years, I became complacent about our relationship. Yes, I nearly screwed it up (see my response to “I’m jealous of my wife’s friends” above). But what I had lost, and what I was trying to regain was that newness of a relationship we once had. The excitement, nervous anticipation etc. that it becomes. That’s all in front of you now. Let me just say to you, I have worked with crime victims in my previous career, and I know how difficult it can be, leaving the past in the past. If not already, I hope you seek the guidance of a licensed professional, if need be. I think that you’re writing is a very good way to help you understand yourself and the past thirteen years. Your dreams may play an important roll as well. During the time of my indiscretions, I was having two recurring dreams. The first one: I had parked my car somewhere and I was unable to find it. The second: I was driving somewhere and was lost. In both cases I knew I had to be somewhere, and time was running out. My interpretation of these dreams came from doing some reading on the subject. The car I was searching for was in fact, symbolic of myself. And, being lost, or not knowing what road to take, says it all. The dreams stopped shortly after we rekindled our relationship. So, to sum things up, embrace those feelings of rejuvenation, while continually moving forward. I hope this was somewhat helpful. Best of luck. J.

  4. Have a bit of time to enjoy your freedom- just remember that you *are* still young and you don’t have to be married. Find new hobbies and just really get to know yourself in every sense of the word!

    Take some time to write down what you would consider “warning signs” for a new partner- things like

    1- Isolation-Feeling separated from friends and family

    2- Pressure-Feeling like you’re being pressured into anything- either by force or guilt

    3- Physical- Any form of non-consensual physical contact- could be a range from actually hitting to grabbing and manipulating you into sex

    4- Sense of self- If you feel like you’re being made to do what he wants all the time and that you’re losing your own interests just to keep them happy

    This was just a quick list and is probably a bit repetitive- I’m sure people will tidy it up/add to it x

  5. You’ve already made the first step to moving on! Go you! I was in an two different abusive relationships (one physical and one emotional) and being alone for a little while allows you to create your own identity. You won’t be alone forever, but embrace that time! Celebrate being able to be you without someone holding you back. Join some book clubs, make new friends, go out, dance, have fun, volunteer. You will meet someone when your soul has healed. Just find strength in yourself first. Its easy to fall back into a relationship quickly but I think being single for a while should be super important. I was single for 3 years before I felt confident in myself as an individual. It can be lonely, and yes it can suck, but I appreciate all the time I spent alone because I was able to cultivate relationships with friends and family.

  6. Erase the old guy. Throw out anything that reminds you of him. Don’t talk about him ever again.

    If he pops into your head every time you make a move, you’re still not really living. Stop thinking of yourself as a formerly abused woman who needs to pick up the pieces. Start thinking of yourself as just a woman who has a whole lot of life ahead of her.

    That part of your life is over and done. The worst disservice you could do yourself now is to dig it up and drag it into every aspect of your new life.

  7. Be open to new experiences. Learn who you are and what you want out of your new life, and heal yourself.

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