Sam insisted that David was delusional and trying to cling to the idea of a stable, normal life with Sam. David, as it turns out, did not have a stable background. He came from a troubled family: His mother was alcoholic, and his parents, while loving, were dysfunctional and destructive. In addition, David told Sam that an older boy had molested him when he was 12 or 13. He developed a cocaine habit that, he told Sam when they met, he had kicked.
Both men eventually grew depressed, and Sam felt increasingly frightened and isolated by David's behavior—not to mention embarrassed that the neighbors could always hear when David flew off the handle. He had only one friend he felt he could turn to, who of course pleaded with Sam to break things off.
During this time, David began slipping back into cocaine use, and Sam buried himself in his studies. Focusing on earning an honors degree, he said, helped get him through.
"Often he would try to 'guilt trip' me about the time I spent doing school," Sam recalled. "But I was able to hang on to that as sort of a hope and a goal."
In December 2010, David forced Sam into an engagement. "I was so afraid of what he was capable of," Sam recalled. "It was less problematic to keep this up than to break it up." Then, in mid-August 2011, David came forward and admitted he had started using cocaine again.
"I was in the shower," said Sam. "And he came in the washroom and said, 'I have something to tell you. I've been doing cocaine again. A lot of it, and spending a good chunk of our money on it.' We'd been really struggling money-wise, like, probably below poverty line at some points."
Sam got out of the shower and went out, and David began making calls to friends and family, admitting his problem, telling them that he'd been lying to them and taking money from them.
"Years ago, he had had one slip up," Sam said. "And I said, 'Okay, I get it, you're a recovering addict. But you do it again, you slip up again, and it's over.' And that's the card I pulled. I'd been looking for a way out for two years."
The psychology of domestic abuse, both those who perpetrate it and those who survive it, has been studied for years. Multiple factors have been shown to contribute, including childhood abuse, mental illness, cultural norms, stress, and unbalanced power dynamics in the relationship.
Brian Norton has been a therapist in New York for 12 years, specializing in "challenges related to gay men (homophobia, coming out, etc.)" and couples therapy. He said that often a controlling or abusive personality forms in childhood.
"We all recreate the same dynamics over and over again. Ninety-nine if not 100 percent of the time, victims have had previous abusive relationships."
Abusive relationships are, of course, emotionally draining for the victim. "It's disorienting," Norton said. "One minute they're telling you they love you, and being strong, and loving and positive; then they're cheating on you, or not respecting you, and not paying attention to what you need."