We never imagine the people closest to us could cause harm to others. For Kay, this was a difficult but powerful lesson to learn about relationships. Here’s Kay’s story.
This story contains themes of abuse and mental ill health. If these subjects raise any concerns for you, please contact the relevant support services listed here. Names have been changed for privacy.
When we imagine abusive partners, we often imagine the most horrible human being – they’re selfish, controlling, incapable of loving or being loved. How can they possibly have friends?
Nothing brightens a soul quite like that friend who shares the glow of your happiness and is there for you when you’re going through a rough time. Martin was that friend for me.
It’s incredible how quickly we discovered how much we had in common. We were kids who discovered far too young just how harsh the world could be. How our parents weren’t superheroes, nor were they always capable of protecting us—especially from themselves. I found myself unpacking my past, releasing a weight I didn’t realise I was carrying.
My heart always broke hearing about Martin’s childhood
When he was 11, he saw a girl struggle with maths and didn’t think twice before dropping into her stream to help her. Not only did she pass, she made it to the top stream. But his teacher didn’t like him, so they made him stay in the lowest stream.
When he was 14, Martin’s mum forced him to work 20 hours a week in a disgusting restaurant only to be the one going to sleep with an empty stomach. When he was 19, he turned down a promising international job offer to stay here with his girlfriend, only for her to leave him for her own job offer months after. The world is really unfair—Martin brought happiness to countless lives, and that’s what he got in return.
Then he met Erika
I could see how she changed Martin. The weak attempt of an unpractised smile wavering across his face, before being dropped, like he thought he’d scare away the happiness he didn’t think he’d ever have. I was so happy for him, Erika seemed so perfect for him.
Of course, the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever. I still remember the first time I learned of conflict between them, how I cried seeing how bitterly it disturbed the happiness I wanted to stay in his heart forever. I was so furious at her for hurting him, for stubbornly not being the perfect girl I desperately wanted her to be.
Here’s the thing: Erika was my partner’s best friend
And my partner hated Martin for making Erika unhappy. It was through heated discussions between us that I started to see Martin and Erika’s relationship from a more neutral perspective.
Erika was just a girl who wanted to find happiness in a boyfriend. She didn’t owe it to Martin, or me, or anyone to change who she was and become the ‘perfect girl’ we wanted her to be.
Manipulating her, forcing her to change wasn’t okay. Telling her she wasn’t good enough the way she was wasn’t okay. Pressuring her into doing things she didn’t want to do wasn’t okay.
It’s so easy to look past this when I just wanted her to be the perfect girl for him. When I was angry at her for not being enough to make him happy. When I just wanted her to do all the things that’d put a smile on my best friend’s face.
They finally parted ways
After two years of ultimatums, breakups and much encouragement from me and my partner, Erika and Martin finally parted ways. I helped Martin connect with support services such as headspace and supported him as he worked on other aspects of his life that he’d put off while he was fixated on his relationship with Erika.
Martin and I have drifted apart since then, but I will always be grateful for everything he taught me about myself, about humanity, about the world— for the marked role he played in shaping the person I am today.
It’s important to see this behaviour, even in our own friends
I know it’s scary to imagine people capable of abuse as simply living and walking among us, each with their wonderful and less wonderful characteristics. I know it’s agonising to realise abusive behaviour may come from a place of trauma rather than plain sadism or selfishness. But it’s important that we see this.
It’s important we understand the one who puts so much effort into making us happy one day, maybe capable of being abusive on others, and one never justifies or excuses the other.
It’s important we don’t put our own mental health on the line and accept abuse, trying to ‘save’ someone we desperately want to think has a heart of gold inside.
And if someone does struggle to come to terms with this and stay in an abusive relationship longer than they should, let’s not blame them. Let’s reach out and offer the support they deserve. They aren’t stupid, they’re just blinded by the pursuit of love like we all can be at times.