I convinced myself that what my fiancé was doing was normal. All men cheat, I thought, they are just wired that way. If I left him, no one would ever love me again. I was terrified by the thought of someone new; why would they stay if they knew I had two kids? Surely, they would think I was the problem.

When I first caught him cheating it was through his phone. I saw the texts, the WhatsApp messages, phone logs and incriminating photos. The photos were so disturbing that I broke down and cried. A girl was posing naked on a bed for him. I recognised the bed and the place but not the girl. It was his best friend’s place; the single-room shack was easily identifiable. My heart was broken, my feelings all over the place. I placed the phone back on charge and I said nothing even though it killed me. I was screaming inside. I convinced myself that I had invaded his privacy by going through his phone. As long as I stayed away from the phone, everything would be fine.

My dad cheated on my mom when I was in primary school, so these things happen, right? My uncle cheated on my aunt and she stayed. My grandfather cheated on my grandmother countless times and as a result, he now has three kids outside of their marriage. She stayed. It felt normal for me to stay although I wanted to pack up and leave. My fiancé continued to cheat repeatedly; it never stopped. When I fell pregnant, I felt stuck and I used it as another reason to stay.

I recently got a part-time job and there I met different women who had stories that were very similar to each other’s and to my own. They all stayed for too long in toxic relationships and resultantly, they lost their sense of value, dignity and self-worth. One stayed in the relationship because of her child and the need for financial stability. Her boyfriend did everything for her and his child but he abused her emotionally and cheated repeatedly. She finally left him after nine years. Another woman continues to stay in her broken relationship because she cannot afford to pay rent and buy food on her own. She has accepted that her boyfriend verbally abuses and shames her. She hasn’t even considered leaving him because she can’t afford to support herself. So she cheats as well as a coping mechanism for dealing with her toxic situation.

We stay for different reasons. Sometimes it’s because of our children – many women use a pregnancy or their children as a reason to stay. Sometimes it’s because of financial stability and sheer desperation. Sadly, sometimes we have been programmed into thinking we simply cannot do better. Let me tell you, dear woman, you can do better! Once I started valuing myself and loving myself I knew that I was trapped. I realised that only I held the keys to release myself from the cage of repression. I left, and it was the best decision I ever made.

I get sick to my stomach when I see women taking themselves for granted and settling for less than they’re worth. Romantic relationships do not define your whole life; you can live without them. You will excel and achieve amazing things in your life and you will come to learn that some romantic relationships actually hold you back. Some relationships are like anchors tied to the ankles of your success and will only drag you down.

I wanted to share my story so that I could inspire young women who are in the same predicament that I was in. I was that woman who stayed in an abusive relationship because I told myself it was better to live with the devil I knew than to try to figure out a new way of life. Now I am free, because I decided to stand up for myself and acknowledge my worth.

You are your own boss and you can leave anytime you want. Your happiness should come first and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice it for anything or anyone. Learn to love yourself first before expecting it or giving it to another person. Marriage isn’t everything. There is nothing wrong or shameful about being single. It is better to be alone than to be unhappy.


Tell us: What advice would you give to someone who is in an abusive relationship?

If you, or someone you know, is suffering abuse, seek help. Click here to view the Gov.za site which lists a range of organisations that provide support.