I Was In An Abusive Relationship, And Here's What 'Big Little Lies' Got Right

by Reagan Williams

The new HBO show “Big Little Lies” ended this week, and it certainly went out with a bang. This show is different, not because of the dramatic themes and pretty actresses, but because it got people talking.

And more importantly, it got people talking about an issue that is usually met with shame and what seems like a casting call for sympathy.


The basis of the show is far from being boring, but it is laced with delicate pieces of real life and a lot of brutal reality. One of those realities is abuse, something that is usually hush hush in real life, but portrayed largely in Hollywood as a signifier of dramatic effect.

But for the first time in a long time, I will say that through Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry's (Alexander Skarsgård) relationship, they have captured what it's truly like to be in the middle of a horrifying abusive relationship.

The show inhabited the essence of all the parts and emotions that go into being abused. And I would know because I was once in an abusive relationship. I sat and thought a while, and I came up with the ways this show got it right:

Small things DO matter.

What may seem like no big deal can cause a couple days of non-stop personal torture when you're in an abusive relationship. You truly don't know the terror of worrying about what's going to set your partner off next, or what will entail as punishment afterward.


In the book and on the show, for example, Celeste leaves legos on the floor and, for some reason, Perry deems it appropriate to slap her because of it. To anyone sane, that's obviously horrible behavior, but to someone who's in the middle of it, it's expected.

There was a time when my abuser yelled at me and tried to scold me because I didn't understand how good the sandwich he was eating was. It's little things, always.

There's this illusion that acts like this and abuse in general is only brought on by huge mishaps or mistakes, when in all honesty, you never know what's going to make your abuser go off.

It can happen to anyone, weak or strong, young or old.

Before I actually went through it, I thought of someone who was abused as maybe just a young, immature person who was too weak to leave a situation that was bad for them.

But I took a deeper look after it all ended and came across people of all different backgrounds and ages who shared the same trauma, and it scared me to realize there is no requirements for abuse. You just end up loving a person who's bad.

In a way, I relate to Celeste, as she and I (and many others) went into a relationship blind with high hopes, only feeling stuck and not able to leave.

People who abuse do not care how rich or smart you are, they only care about control and power, as Perry does.

I couldn't tell my friends or family either.

In the book and in the show, Celeste makes continuous excuses and blatantly lies about what goes on behind closed doors because she is too afraid to tell her best friends, Madeline and Jane (played by Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley).

And that's not uncommon. Anyone who's been abused knows that everyone will say the same thing, and the people who love and care about us are unforgiving, while that's our detriment.


There were a million times I wanted to reach out for help. I was only 17 and scared, but was always held back by threats of being left. I felt like I would've been left with nothing if our relationship ended, and Celeste felt the same.

When I finally broke down and told my mother, she was in pain. I saw it. It's weird how guilt works its way into every single part of your life when you're being abused.

I didn't want to pass it to other people; I wanted to pretend like it would get better. But it doesn't, and it didn't.

Not all of the moments are bad ones.

Why do you think people who are abused hold onto hope even though they're scared? It's because our days were surrounded by fear, but every once in awhile, there were good days.

There are days when he doesn't hit you or yell, where he was nice and acted like the person you imagine him to be in your mind. I had to learn that most of it was strategical, a plan to keep me in place and leave me in the dark about what's coming next.

But we ignore that, because sometimes we are rewarded, just as Perry would give things to Celeste. And the rewards are always something that relates to whatever keeps up appearances or keeps us quiet.


For Celeste, it's nice things like jewelry, a romantic dance in she and Perry's kitchen and seeing him be so great with their twin sons, Josh and Max. For me, it was something small like iced coffee or not being ignored for a couple days. It varies for everyone.

All in all, not every situation is the same, but common themes keep the subject of abuse a tricky one to capture.

I've noticed that TV and movies usually fail to express abuse in ways that aren't dramatic and full of subjects that are usually overplayed, but I must applaud HBO's "Big Little Lies," as well as the books, for creating an honest narrative and displaying common behaviors and settings where things like this can happen.