Recently I was put in a position to explain what delineates an abusive relationship from a regular ol’ bad one. Unfortunately, I can speak from personal experience.
In 2013, I left a bad relationship in California to come back home and pursue one that, obviously unbeknownst to me at the time, would become an abusive one very quickly. I left my ex, Ken*–who I had a bad, but not abusive relationship with–after 4.5 years, to try to rekindle things with my (unofficial) ex Kevin–who became abusive very quickly.
Kevin was abusive financially, emotionally, and sexually. He purposely stole from me on a regular basis, he lived off me completely and refused to move out when I told him he had to, he insulted me and set unreasonable benchmarks, he essentially tried to turn me into his estranged wife, he beat me unbelievably hard during sex, and he even forced me down and brazenly attempted to rape me once. These things constitute abuse.
For those reasons–so many months later, after learning I’m not his only victim–he is currently facing criminal charges. I wish I had pressed charges sooner, but it’s hard when you’re dealing with a sociopath. Sociopaths are pure evil, but they’re very convincing, especially when they’re extremely charismatic and also classically handsome. For well over a year, he managed to pathologically lie to me and convince me that anything wrong was all a mistake.
My other ex Ken*, though, is not a sociopath and is not evil. We had a bad relationship, after the first couple years went by. It was unhealthy, punctuated by cheating and lying. But it was not an abusive relationship. While he and I both individually did things that could classify as abuse when viewed through a lens, it was not an abusive relationship on the whole. It boils down to two people hurting each other a lot but also loving each other (platonically), and being too afraid to let go. I made the move to let go, eventually. I’m sure that hurt him immensely, and that alone makes me sad.
To this day, any time I’m at a Chicago airport, I still cry. He travels constantly for business, and Chicago is a layover city. I cry just knowing he could be there. A part of me misses him, as a family member. Not at all as a boyfriend. I do love him. Just not in the way he needed.
So if you want to know what separates a bad relationship from an abusive one, I can tell you. One is full of love and hope, and then eventual disengagement. The other is full of sadness, resentment, and even violent assault.
There you go. One ends in letting love go. The other ends in pure, unbridled hatred.
*Name has been changed but you can also see below.