‘We either need to end things or get married.’ I was completely blind to what she was doing. I thought I’d found my forever.’: Domestic violence survivor urges ‘you will find love’

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Trigger Warning: This story includes details of domestic abuse that may be triggering to some.

“In the beginning, when I met my ex, I thought I had found my forever. My person. We met in December of 2017, as most millennials do nowadays: on a dating app. For those first 3 months, we were completely inseparable, doing quite literally everything together. She was in a bit of denial she had feelings for me at first, as she had already made the decision a few months later she was going to enlist in the Air Force and she didn’t want to get into a relationship prior to leaving. Yet, we continued to spend countless days and nights together. When we were together, I was honestly the happiest I’ve ever felt in the presence of another individual. It felt cinematic, like what you see in movies and TV about meeting ‘the one.’

I was blinded by my affection for her. I overlooked red flags, as if they were waving to continue to push forward in the relationship I was forming with her. She was the one person in the world I felt as though I needed in my low moment. Not long after we began talking, I had my first seizure while I was at work, and she was away for the weekend finalizing things for basic training. My family knew what she meant to me and contacted her. She raced home as soon as she could because she knew I was scared. She knew I felt unsafe to fall asleep alone and was scared of what was going to happen next. And she was there. A few weeks later, we road tripped to Florida and back to have our first little vacation together before she had to go to basic training. This vacation felt like exactly what we needed, and in my mind, it solidified my feelings for her. Even though I knew from the moment I met her we could truly be something that could last a lifetime, that trip cemented my belief in us.

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

About a week or so after our trip, she was packed up and off to basic training. And let me tell you, those first couple months of not being able to receive letters or anything from her were truly as heart-wrenching as the movies depict it to be. Lacking the ability to know what she was going through or how she was feeling took an obvious toll on me. I guess that should’ve been expected. We spent every single day for 3 months together and were then forced to not only spend months apart but also weeks of no communication and eventually only letters. As anyone who’s ever dated a service member will tell you, checking the mail for just one letter became the most relevant part of my day. Even through the trials of her being at basic training, I still believed I had found my soulmate with her.

As the days, then weeks and months passed, it was finally time for her to graduate from basic training to move on to tech school for her chosen profession in the Air Force. I flew down to San Antonio, Texas, to watch her graduate. I was so eager to finally hold her in my arms again and pick right back up where we left off. But something was off. She didn’t look at me the same way as she did before. She had this belief in her head I had cheated on her while she was gone, even though I have zero track record of cheating in any relationship and she knew I was completely head over heels for her. In confusion and desperation to save what we had, I essentially let her walk all over me and I bent over backward to prove to her what she meant to me. Looking back, and after countless conversations with my family and friends, that was where the emotional and mental abuse began. As her actions unfolded, it was something I was blinded to. Those closest to me kept their opinions on the way I was being treated to themselves as I was the happiest they’ve ever seen me. I think there was some fear amongst my family and friends of me resenting them if they voiced their true opinions about the way she began to act with me.

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

Once she was in tech school, we were able to talk on the phone, video chat, and even ended up spending every night falling asleep on FaceTime. I ended up visiting her two more times while she was down in San Antonio. Before I went down for the second out of the three visits, she had come to the decision that long-distance was too hard on her. She gave me the ultimatum we either needed to end things right then or get married. Because with her being in the service, getting married meant we would be able to have a house on whatever base she was stationed at, and I could afford to move with her. The alternative was we’d break up or I’d somehow figure out how I would be able to afford an apartment near whatever base she ended up with. That ended up being Lompoc, California, which if you know anything about California, people never use to describe it as ‘affordable.’

So, we got married. Nothing fancy, just a typical courthouse military marriage. In the first couple of months, it seemed to be the right decision. We were happy and looking forward to building our life together. We made arrangements to get a puppy for when we moved to California and were ready to begin our future, which included going to fertility clinics to learn more about the process to have a child. Even though we had known each other for only a short period of time, she had convinced me we were the perfect fit for one another. It’s almost as though she used my dream of living in California and beginning a family with the love of my life to get exactly what she wanted out of the military. She never wanted to be in the barracks, which are essentially dorms for the military, and she wanted a puppy, which she obviously couldn’t have in a dorm-style setting.

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

I was completely blind to what she was doing: using my dreams and emotions to set herself up the best way possible. She had a house, a puppy, and all she had to do now was lose the wife she never wanted. And she began that process in the coldest way possible. You see, I was fortunate enough I was able to just transfer with my job to a store in California. However, from the moment I began working at my store out West, the level of control she wanted over me, my actions, and the friends I made out there increased significantly. She began to threaten me if I went to work on her days off, as she felt like me working in the city meant I was having more fun than she was on base. Out of fear of not only her actions but also losing her, I risked my job repeatedly by calling in sick to accommodate her demands.

From there, it began with her telling me she wanted a divorce because things seemed to have moved too fast and she wanted to just take a step back. She had convinced me we would share custody of the puppy we had, and we would work on building back up to a relationship from a friendship first. But things slowly began to chip away. The hope she promised me of getting back to the relationship I had wanted disappeared. The puppy I had solely raised while she was busy with the military had been taken away from me. So, as most people would, I began to move on by finding fulfillment in myself, my job, and the new friends I was making at my new store. I began a new beginning. And honestly, I’m unsure of how what happened next even began to happen. She didn’t want me, yet when I began a life of my own without her —the emotionally and mentally abusive elements of her had expanded into physical abuse as well.

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

I’ve never thought of myself as a physically weak individual. However, there wasn’t much I could do. And so began the chapter of me living in California where I needed to hide the physical pain she was causing me. Purchasing makeup to cover up the handprint bruises around my neck, and trying to put on this facade I was still this normal upbeat, fun-loving, outgoing Heather I’ve always been. But it slowly wore me out. I found myself escaping into the stairwell at work with my face in my hands, crying hard for a solid 20 minutes at a time, several times a day for weeks.

I could no longer pretend I was okay. I could no longer hide the pain she was causing me. Because not only did I feel like I lost the love of my life, not only did this person I believed I loved emotionally, mentally, and then physically abused me, but she tore me away from everything I knew in order to do so. She took me away from my family, which included a newborn nephew she knew I adored, and a support team of family, friends, and coworkers who were like family to me. I felt completely and utterly alone because of a decision I made out of the love I thought we both had for one another.

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

One afternoon, when we were in the kitchen, she harmed me for the last time. The base police were called and came to separate us, and she was moved out of the house, taking the dog I had raised with her. And the first couple of weeks without her being around at all really did take a toll on me. Obviously, I missed her. I loved her. Because love is truly blind and in those first weeks, I couldn’t see who she had become. I was stuck seeing her as the image of her she had painted for me.

As the weeks passed, I began going to domestic violence support groups, and I became more open with my managers at work about what I had been going through in my marriage the last couple of months. Through the group and my coworkers, I was lucky to have found the right kind of support I needed at that time. I had moved around and eventually moved in with a coworker a mile from work, which was an hour from where I lived with my ex, and essentially gave me a new beginning.

Although I missed my dog like crazy and I was still hurting and recovering, I knew I was beginning a new and better chapter of my California journey. I stopped blaming myself for being blinded by love and ending up in that situation. I stopped being afraid of sharing my story with those in my life because I wanted people to understand all aspects of me.

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

I continued to live in California for a solid 6 months after we separated and truly did find myself. As much as I hate looking back at what I went through in that relationship, I know it created the person I am today. I learned to be okay with being a survivor and not every day is going to be easy. I learned PTSD is more than just a term used for those who have been in combat and have truly experienced it firsthand for myself.

There wasn’t a day I woke up and everything was okay again. It took months for me to believe I was a victim and nothing I did caused her actions. Even now, there are days I struggle with what happened and find myself wondering what was so wrong with me that someone who claimed to love me could cause me physical harm. I’ll tell you the same thing every survivor should be told: there is nothing wrong with me. Nothing I had done deserved the physical, mental, and emotional pain she caused me. I may not be perfect, but no one deserves to be pained by those they love.

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

Despite everything that has happened, I forgive her. She will never admit her wrongs, never apologize for the pain she’s caused—but I forgive her. I forgive she may be struggling with some deeper complex she herself may not yet understand, and I forgive her because if I didn’t, I would only continue to keep her in control of my life. I’ve learned it is okay to become comfortable sharing my story as I’ve come out a new version of myself. A version of myself I only hoped I would have known when things first began going down the path they went down. I’ve learned I did nothing wrong and it wasn’t that I loved her too much or I wasn’t enough for her to love, but rather she just wasn’t the one meant for the love I have. And her actions against me are in no way a reflection of the person I am or the way I love.

That’s something I want every survivor of domestic violence to not just read, but to fully understand. Their actions against you are in no way a reflection of the person you are or the kind of love you have to offer this world. You did nothing wrong, you will find love and you will be happy. I’m still on that journey myself. And I’ll admit every day isn’t easy, but they do get easier and you learn to love yourself more each day. Since then, I’ve been the most me I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’m happy with myself and am no longer trying to meet someone else’s unrealistic expectations of me. I’m no longer feeling like I should be ashamed of the phases of my past, but rather proud of the growth I’ve had to become who I am today. Sometimes, it takes your world being completely flipped upside down and shattering to realize love isn’t controlling or abusive. To realize love isn’t just a feeling, but also a choice, and sometimes you need to choose to love yourself first because otherwise, who else will?

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

Although this chapter was only a year and a half of my life, it’s a chapter I will never forget. I moved back home to New Hampshire and I’m taking along a new husky pup named Fenway who is completely mine. I transferred back to the store I was working at prior to moving and was promoted to the position I’ve wanted for years within the first 6 months of being back home. I am able to be there for my family and to be able to watch my nephews and nieces grow and no longer feel like I have to watch through a computer screen wishing I was there.

As for dating, I’m still single and haven’t found my true person, but I know they’re out there. And if I’ve learned anything else from this past relationship it’s to never settle for less than you know in your heart you deserve. But until my person comes along, I’m happy. I’m happy with the way my life is going and for the first time in my life, with myself.”

Courtesy of Heather R. Cunic

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heather R. Cunic from New Hampshire. You can follow her journey on Instagram and TikTok. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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‘This is how her ‘boyfriend’ shows her he loves her. He is on the run. Her children are in CPS custody. Our family is devastated.’: Mom shares daughter’s drastic condition to warn other girls who are ‘headed in this direction’

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