‘He was gentle, humble and funny. But he perfected deceit. The counselor urgently told me to take my kids and ‘get out while you still can.’

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“At age 23, I met a man I thought was the love of my life. He ended up being my abuser for 2 years until Dr. Phil helped me find the courage to leave him. For the sake of protecting his identity, I’ll call him Sam.

Woman who was in abusive marriage smiles in selfie as she stands against home
Jessica Sutton

My life was good before I met Sam. On top of great academic success and multiple job offers, I had an amazing support system including mentors who had an active voice in my life. I was a single mom but that didn’t stop me from pursuing my dreams. I had an incredible relationship with my daughter. I was happy with who I was and the trajectory my life was headed in.

Woman who was in abusive marriage smiles as she looks down at daughter
Jessica Sutton

When I met Sam, I was ecstatic. It seemed as though once my life was on track, suddenly I was blessed with a wonderful man. Sam looked like an answer to prayer. He was gentle, humble and funny. He was very attractive and seemed like the most genuine, endearing soul I had ever met. Much like myself, he had been through some really difficult life circumstances; but he too had chosen to pursue healing so those issues didn’t intervene with the future he wanted.

His ex-girlfriend was abusive and cheated on him. He said he finally ended it after she had an abortion with his child which devastated him. His abusive alcoholic father had drank himself to death a few years prior, and many of his closest friends had died in tragic accidents. He had suffered a lot. But he made a better life for himself regardless.

As a teenager, he was a sponsored skateboarder. After high school graduation, he toured the world as a drum-tech for a famous band and had pictures to prove it. Upon becoming licensed to fly commercial and private airplanes, jobs were hard to find so Sam opened a painting company. His business had successfully operated for 3 years prior to him meeting me and had 10 full-time employees. His father left him a million dollar inheritance, as well as a few boats that were in Alaska and a home in Huntington Beach that Sam let his Grandma occupy.

What I loved most, was that he had fought so hard to not let the negative circumstances in his life hold him back. To me, that showed such strength in character which I deeply admired. I also loved how humble he was despite having so much success. He was a millionaire after-all, but he didn’t flaunt it. Raised to value integrity and work ethic, I’ve always been put-off by those who boast about their wealth. Sam’s humility was captivating.

Two months into the relationship, he started acting differently. He was having massive breakdowns, vehemently expressing self-hate and saying he wanted to die. At one point, it got so bad, his mom and step-dad had to raid his home and take his guns from him because we were all so concerned he would harm himself.

Even still, the relationship continued to move forward, and quickly. I had met the love of my life and he felt the same way about me so we didn’t waste time. Within a few months, we got a townhome together. A few months later we were engaged and soon found out I was pregnant with our son.

Though it seems foolish I moved in with him despite his concerning behavior, Sam had a convincing cover story to ease my mind. Sam told me even though he had been to years of counseling and had really worked through the grief of losing his dad, meeting me and my daughter brought out a new level of it; a deep sorrow knowing his dad would never meet his future wife and kids. On top of that justification, I had much reassurance from his mom and sister this wasn’t usual behavior for Sam.

I trusted that Sam was the incredible man I met at the beginning. The man who would show up with coffee in hand or drop by flowers when I was having a bad day. The man who would play dress up, have tea parties and build snowmen with my daughter. The man who was so gentle and loving and had a rich understanding of the things in life I valued most: God and people. I believed to my core, that’s who Sam was. I couldn’t give up on him just because he was going through a difficult time.

Looking back, of course I should’ve taken it slower. But, even then, I still would have been duped by him. Sam had perfected the craft of charisma and deceit, just like the criminals on shows like Dateline. I had no idea anyone could be so corrupt and sinister – besides the rare individuals I had seen on crime shows. Which, surely I would know if I was dealing with one.

Weeks turned into months and his negative behavior never ceased. The Sam I thought I knew, wasn’t around as often as the Sam with severe anger issues. I continued to see red flags, starting with several exposed lies. I found out from his family that most everything he told me about himself was a lie. He didn’t have a million dollar inheritance, boats in Alaska or a home in California. He never toured the world as a drum-tech. Further examination of the pictures of the drummer Sam sent in the beginning, reveled discrepancies. Like, the pictured drummer having completely different tattoos than Sam’s. He also didn’t have a pilots license and was never a sponsored skateboarder. Sam’s mom told me he had opened his business weeks prior to meeting me. Not only did Sam not employ a single person, he still was scrambling to find enough work to pay bills.

I confronted him with each new lie as it was brought to my attention. The cover this time was that he had suffered a concussion right before he met me. He claimed he wasn’t a liar and it wouldn’t be an issue going forward. It just was the result of his brain injury that caused him to lose track of reality. His mom and sister again backed him up and assured me he didn’t have a lying problem. Though I was upset he lied to me, I stayed because I loved who I thought he was – his claim to success and wealth aside.

After we got engaged, things really took a turn for the worst. One night he was raging and like most every time, I didn’t know why. I am not quick to emotional reactions. First, I tried to comfort him and see if he wanted to talk. That didn’t work. Then I tried ignoring it and focused on what I was doing. But any time Sam was upset, he had to try to provoke me. He started following me around the house and suddenly I found myself the target of his anger, without logical cause. I told him I didn’t know why he was so angry at me and that I would be happy to talk to him about it once he calmed down and could be respectful.

He followed me around, antagonizing me for 2 hours. I ignored it until bedtime. At 12 am I woke up to him standing over me, still wanting to argue. I again, tried to appease him but he was relentless. With my daughter asleep, I got up and moved to the stairway so his yelling wasn’t in such close proximity. I sat on the stairs thinking ‘surely he will get sick of yelling at me at some point.’ He didn’t. So I went downstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. He broke the door down and still kept at it.

Though I was 6 months pregnant at the time, the night ended with him kicking me out of the house at 2am in the middle of a Colorado winter. Not only that, but he abruptly woke my 5-year-old daughter and made her leave too. He took my house key and garage door opener so we couldn’t come back. The next day I found myself groveling to get back into his good graces. Only for him to admit I didn’t do anything, he was just in one of his moods.

He forced us out of the house in the middle of the night 3 other times. Other occasions, the opposite would occur. I would try to leave with my daughter to give Sam space to cool down. He wouldn’t allow it. He would take my car keys or trap me in the house. I remember one instance (also when I was pregnant) we were wrestling on the garage floor as I was desperately trying to get my car keys back from him to escape. I looked up and met the gaze of my daughter who was standing in the doorway, witnessing the whole ordeal. Sometimes we would bareley make it to the car and then he would stand in my way so I couldn’t drive off. Other times, when we did get away, Sam would stalk us all over town, ferociously tailgating me wherever I drove.

Woman who was in abusive relationship smiles as she holds baby son with daughter standing beside her
Jessica Sutton

After all of these occurrences, I would try to end things with him. But Sam would manipulate me with sobs that could win him an Academy Award and promises to get help. Often, he would relate his outburst back to something from his past… his dad or ex-girlfriend’s abuse. Or he would threaten suicide to mentally and emotionally cripple me. There was always some way he managed to pull my empathetic heart strings to manipulate me. Plus, I saw his apologies as genuine. It reinforced my false belief that he was a good man whose pain made him act in unhealthy ways.

We eventually went to a counselor. When our son was a few days old, we had another session. Upon hearing confessions of Sam’s toxic behavior form each of us, the counselor addressed us very tactfully and abruptly. He asked us each to talk to him one-on-one. When it was my turn, the counselor urgently charged me to take my kids and ‘get out while you still can.’ He told me Sam was as close to physical violence as it gets and it wasn’t a matter of if Sam would physically hurt me, it was a matter of when. Then he called Sam in and gently told us both he would recommend we separate so we could each take time to work on ourselves.

Mother who was in abusive marriage smiles in selfie with daughter
Jessica Sutton

After the appointment, I was deeply shaken by what I was told in private. Odd as it sounds, I never saw our relationship as abusive. I knew Sam caused me a lot of pain; but I never saw him as a malicious abuser. With the charge from the counselor, I finally accepted that though I didn’t fully see it, things were out of hand.

I told Sam I thought we should consider separating and he was enraged. He forcefully kicked my daughter and I out of ‘his’ house once and for all. He told us to take what we could carry and the rest was his. He said I was a shit mother and didn’t deserve my newborn son. Sam told us to say goodbye to the baby, because he was keeping him. Through tears, my daughter kissed her baby brother goodbye and asked me ‘Mom, when will we see him again?’ Too devastated to speak, I shrugged my shoulders to indicate I didn’t know. When I was about to drive away, Sam came outside and all but threw the baby at me. Had I not acted fast, my baby would’ve hit the concrete. Sam smirked ‘Are you an idiot? Do you really think I could take care of a baby?’

Once we were living in separate homes, Sam and I still chose to maintain the relationship. From a distance, I didn’t feel as scared of him. He claimed he was seeing a counselor regularly, which, later I found out was another of his lies.

The toxicity continued months after the separation. In desperation, I reached out to Dr. Phil. Still disillusioned about what I was enduring, I figured I would never hear back from him. I was sure he had thousands of people vying for his attention. People who were actually in abusive relationships… people who were in much more extreme circumstances than I was with Sam, who was a good man… who hurt me sometimes out of his own pain… pain he was actively pursuing healing for.

Soon after, a producer from Dr. Phil’s show called me. The Dr. Phil team had read my story and they were interested in helping Sam and I. After working long hours to move forward with the show, Sam decided to turn down the offer for help. That’s when I really had to face myself. I knew Sam was making a statement loud and clear: he didn’t really want help. He was turning down the best opportunity for help he would ever receive. I didn’t mean enough to him, our kids didn’t mean enough to him and more than that, he didn’t mean enough to himself.

I knew if I stayed with him I could never again justify his behavior. After the next outburst, the excuse of the pain from his past was invalidated. I would have to look myself in the mirror and question why I was willingly staying with someone who was okay with abusing me and my children.

Since Sam refused, there was nothing the Dr. Phil staff could do to help us. But it was the final wakeup call I needed. The counselor telling me to move out was my first indication that something was wrong. Dr. Phil’s producer reaching out and taking interest in our story shook off more layers of denial. It showed me what I was experiencing was so extreme, that out of thousands of submissions, Sam and I were chosen.

It gave me the backbone I needed to put my foot down and stand up for myself. I told Sam if he was refusing the offer, the relationship was done once and for all. I hoped Sam would realize he was going to lose something good and change his mind. But he let us walk without a fight. Later, I found out he let us go so easily because he had already lined up my replacement. Within 2 months of the breakup, he moved a new girl and her son into his house (our old house) from out of state.

When it was all said and done, Sam somehow managed to flip everything on me. He started rumors I was crazy, controlling and abusive. He told people he never wanted me and that I forced the relationship and he didn’t want our son and that I had raped him.

On top of all my suffering, the grief of a severed family and my broken identity, I then had to deal with the mess of having a false reputation that Sam had maliciously created for me. Since we had a child together, I couldn’t skip town and start fresh like I desperately yearned to. So I did what I could to keep my privacy as I was working to heal. I left my church of 20 years. Sam’s family went there and took an active role in perpetuating his lies about me. I was receiving text messages from his friends cussing me out and telling me what a terrible person I was. So I had to block numbers and delete my social media accounts, just to escape it. I chopped off 12 inches of my hair in an attempt to not be as easily recognized around town and avoid the hate and judgement I was getting.

All the while, Sam’s true colors came out further after the split. He was furious I ended things first so he made sure I suffered. He stalked me, keyed my car and vandalized other property and on a few occasions, I had to involve the police. It was horrendous. I’ve never experienced anything so excruciating in my life.

Desperate to make sense of it all, I drove to research. An internet search of ‘why doesn’t my boyfriend feel remorse?’ quickly led me to answers. Learning about Narcissistic Personality Disorder was the resolve I desperately needed. Everything started making sense. I learned Sam wasn’t the good guy I believed he was all along. I learned it was just the opposite: he was a wolf in sheeps clothing. When Sam was kind and treated me well, it was a show. Who he really was to his core, was the monster I dealt with the majority of the time.

I finally had words to describe the hell on earth I had been living. I understood the show he put on at the beginning had an actual term: ‘Love-Bombing.’ Sam’s interest in everything I was interested in was him ‘mirroring’ me. Him inappropriately involving his mom, sister and friends in our personal business in order to manipulate me, was called ‘triangulation.’ His seeming inability to remember what happened during his rages and him trying to convince me I was wrong and I was the crazy one was called ‘gaslighting.’ His family and friends who enabled him as he abused me were termed ‘flying-monkeys.’ Him moving on so easily was him ‘discarding’ me. Though I still hurt over all the suffering I endured at his hands, I could finally grieve properly after understanding what I had been through.

On top of the internet answers, I started getting explanations in unexpected places. 2 of his ex-girlfriends before me reached out to support me. I quickly learned they too had suffered miserably from Sam. The ex that Sam claimed abused him, cleared up more of his lies. She never abused him, cheated on him, nor did she have an abortion with his child. He slandered her and destroyed her reputation, just like he had done to me. The camaraderie from those two brought so much clarity and healing. We remain good friends to this day.

I didn’t run from the pain and try to escape it. As much as it hurt, I fully embraced it. Pain has always motivated me to improve myself. So I did exactly that. I dove headfirst and fought like hell for healing. It took an entire year of heavy grieving to finally put it all behind me. That was the most agonizing year of my life. It seemed like it would never end. But one day I looked up and realized I made it. It didn’t hurt anymore. I didn’t miss Sam. I didn’t want him back in my life and I even found it comical I ever saw anything in him to begin with.

I’m two years out now. I have my kids with me almost full-time. I have an amazing job that allows me to stay at home with my son. I’ve remained single since dating Sam. It was important to me to really focus on my healing so I never ended up in a situation like that again. I have counseled several other women as they’ve found the courage to get out of their own abusive relationships. I am getting ready to move into my own place. I know myself better now than I did before meeting Sam. And I love my life and who I am more now than I ever have.

Little girl sits on ground in field outside kissing baby brother who sits on her lap
Jessica Sutton
Woman who was in abusive marriage smiles in selfie
Jessica Sutton

Pain poses as an opportunity for growth. So if there is something painful in your life you are facing right now, I challenge you to dig deep, be brave and boldly face that thing dead-on. You will come out better and stronger for it. The other option is to brush it under the rug… a rug you will trip over as it gets in the way of thriving in life and having healthy relationships. You deserve better than that. Fight for your healing. It will hurt like hell, but the reward is living the rest of your life in freedom and to me, that’s worth it.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica Sutton. Submit your story here. For our best stories, subscribe to our free email newsletter.

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