An Open Letter to the Girl Ignoring the Red Flags in Her Relationship

Are you guilty of ignoring danger signs in a relationship?

Dear Beautiful,

I get it. I know you aren’t the type of person who gives up easily. I know how important the relationship is to you and I know you think if you wait around long enough he will become the man you hope he can be. The man you get glimpses of. The man he acts like in front of others. I get that you’re loyal. That you recognize he’s been let down by others and you think his behavior now is a result of his horrible childhood. I know you hope your love will be enough to fill in the empty holes of his soul and allow him to finally feel loved. And, I know you think that if you’re successful at making him feel loved then you will finally feel loved.  

I understand how important it is to you to make this work. I know you aren’t afraid of self-reflection and working on yourself. I get your belief that with enough hard work and patience you will eventually get the relationship of  your dreams. So, you keep holding on. And, you assume he’s giving as much to the relationship as you are. I understand he’s telling you your relationship has communication issues rather than control issues. I get your optimism means you’ve put up with behavior within the relationship that others can’t begin to understand. I understand your belief that if you love hard enough things will get better. I know that your willingness to work on yourself blinds you to the fact that you are the only one in the relationship doing the work of the relationship.  

I get that you can see glimpses of good and desperately hold onto the hope that those glimpses of good will turn into days of good, weeks of good, years of good. I get that you have invested so much time and energy and effort into making this work. I get that you will feel like a fool if you give up. I get that you don’t want to feel alone.  

I get it.  

I understand your optimism has become your prison. I get that no matter how badly he treats you today that you will go to sleep dreaming that tomorrow will be better. I get that you keep hoping for the best rather than accepting that you are with someone who isn’t willing to give you his best. I get that it’s easier to blame yourself than leave him. To go to therapy, read another article, create another plan for personal growth. I get how disappointed you are when despite all your efforts it is never ever enough.  

I get that you feel like you are never enough.  

I understand the sheer and utter relief when things are going well. And, how that few minutes of kindness are enough to get you through another day. I also know that those few minutes of kindness are what have kept you trapped in the relationship for way to long. I know that your ability to see the best in people means you think the moments of kindness are the “real him.” And, I get the hope that one day it will be like that consistently.  

I get that you are tired. Exhausted. Barely functioning. I get how much effort you put into this relationship and how much effort it takes to keep it going. I get your frustration as you do all the work of the relationship and still can’t manage to make the relationship work. I get that you are confused. I get that you can’t figure out his moods or why he promises one thing and then does another. I get the fact that you analyze everything except this one glaring truth: If he can get you to change then he won’t have to.  

I get that you feel like you’re living in a game where you can’t figure out the rules. I get that people on the outside can’t figure out what’s going on because all they see is the charm. I get that people can behave one way in public in another way in private. I get that it’s hard to understand people who use all their efforts to appear good rather than working to actually be good. 

I know that when you think love is connection it’s nearly impossible to recognize when someone else sees love as control. I know he is saying that he wants the best for you and telling you each critique is an example of his devotion to you. I know that when he cuts you down he says he wants to improve you or improve the relationship. I know he says his harsh words are for your own good. It’s not. It’s for his good. I know that you don’t recognize the selfishness because it is difficult to imagine someone being so selfish when you are so giving.  

And, I get you. I get your hopes up, your loyalty, your kindness, your ability to forgive, your optimism. I get that you think if you sacrifice enough that eventually it will be your turn. I get that it feels like giving up on so many dreams to start over. I get that you’re scared. Actually, I get that you’re terrified. I get that facing change is hard even when you know it’s necessary. 

I understand how many fairy tales you’ve read and how many movies with happy endings you have still playing in your heart and head.  I know that even sitting as a little girl on your mother’s lap you learned that as long as you stick around and stick it out that the beast will turn into prince charming. I understand how many of our culture’s stories have told you that you have to sacrifice to make a relationship work. So I give you grace if like Ariel you’ve given up your voice. I give you grace if like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty you just waited until your prince came to make it all better. I give you grace if like Cinderella you hope the price will save your from the clutches of your evil family.  Our fairy tales didn’t teach us to save ourselves. 

And, while I understand what’s happening to you now, I also want to tell you I understand what can happen in your future. I understand that if you stay, if you wait, if you keep ignoring the red flags then you may miss out on having children.  Or, you may end up raising babies alone because you kept hoping Mr. Wrong would turn into Mr. RIght. I understand the depression that can set in.  I understand the anxiety of trying to keep your life together when you never know what each day is going to bring. 

I understand that it can devastate your career to stall out and spend all your mental energy wondering how to make an unhappy partner happy rather than going after your dreams. I know the financial devastation of having to take care of a man who is unwilling to work. I understand the prison of living with a man who won’t let you work or who controls your finances in a way to keep you trapped. I understand the pain of taking pills to manage your own depression.  I know the next 5, 10 years of you wondering if you’re the crazy one?  Wondering what’s happening.  Wondering if it will ever get better.  I understand that you want to be happy and if I could hold your face in my hands right now I would say “Happiness is being loved for who you are.  Not exhausting yourself trying to become who he wants you to be. It will never be enough!”

I know you strive to be selfless, caring, devoted. I know that the strains have been used against you. Used for him. I know that you think if you give and give long enough that eventually it will be your turn. It won’t. Because there’s a game being played, a game you don’t understand. And, the game is he always wins. The game is to watch you scramble. Because, as you scramble for connection he is gaining control.

The game always, always works in his favor. The game is to get you to take care of him. He may want you to take care of his emotions, he may need you to take care of his image, he may need you to take care of him financially, he may force you to do uncomfortable things to take care of him sexually. But the game is the same. It is always his turn. 

Most importantly, I know you don’t understand the game. I’m so glad you don’t understand the game, because all too often the people who understand the game are the people who know how to play. People who strategize so that others are constantly trying to earn their love. People who gain power by watching others lose power. 

You didn’t know how to play because you are so good, kind, optimistic, and loving. And, while these qualities will allow you to create future relationships these qualities are not enough to change someone who doesn’t want to change. You cannot love someone so much that they become a different person. So as you decide your next steps give yourself the understanding of learning the game. Facing the truth. No longer covering up the lies. No longer living in the chaos. No longer allowing control to be the only form of “love” you ever get. 

You deserve better than red flags. You deserve better than bad behavior. You deserve better than this. You deserve everything. 

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Sarah K Ramsey