I’v been toying with the idea of writing this post for a while now. It’s been 3 years since I left my abusive husband and began rebuilding my life, and I don’t always know what to say about it. I always struggled with the idea of not portraying myself as the poor pitiful victim who had no choice in anything. I made choices. I chose to marry a man I had nothing in common with because I was in love, or I thought that the infatuation I felt was love. I chose not to listen to everyone around me with any sense who said to wait to get married. I chose not to listen to the people who tried to talk to me, time and time again, about how my antisocial habits were not healthy and now I needed to do things like get a job, make myself some friends of my own outside of my husband, and basically not hide who I was and get sucked into the cycle of crazy that was my marriage.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m not writing this today to prove anything, but to share with others. I can look back and see so clearly the patterns of abuse and dysfunction in my life and how they built into something horrible, but at the time it was just my life. It was messed up, but I just thought that all marriages had problems and all relationships had struggles.I’m writing this for the people who love someone who is or was being abused, so you’ll know what pieces of their life might look and feel like to them. So you may understand some of how I felt, and probably others have felt, when they were asked “Why do you stay with him?” and later on, “Why did you take that?” The answer isn’t as simple as you think, and I want to share that with you this morning.
My downward spiral into an abusive marriage
At the age of 19, I decided that I needed independence. After a nasty argument with my parents, one that followed a series of arguments that seemed to have been lasting for months, I moved out one night and ended up living in a dusty attic of a family member for $100 a month. I was broke, lonely and in desperate need for some positive attention.
A friend of mine, really an acquaintance who was friends with a lot of my new college buddies, was very flirtatious and being a flirtatious person myself I flirted back, and soon found myself dating him. It was almost the holidays and I was missing the hustle and bustle of being a part of a big family, but instead of trying to mend my broken relationship with my family he became my family. After four months of dating before we got engaged and planned to be married a year later. He pressured me into getting married sooner (at the time I believed this was our decision, looking back I realized it was the beginning of the isolation cycle that is typical of abusive relationships) so we could move in together. I wasn’t willing to live in sin with him before we got married, so naturally he wanted to have all the benefits of marriage he wasn’t getting, if you get my drift. Against the advice of everyone in my life with any sense (those people who I said “weren’t supportive”) I rushed into marriage less then 6 months later.
It didn’t take long for the cycle of isolation to begin. First, we were newlyweds who just wanted to do… well… you know. What newlyweds do. Then my husband decided that we didn’t need to replace my car after it was totaled in an accident, he decided I didn’t need a job outside the home and every effort I made to make friends or ended up somehow “hurting our relationship” and always created a lot of conflict between us.
Later on when I became depressed, largely from having no friends and no life outside of my marriage, he encouraged me to drink. A lot. It wasn’t the kind of life I wanted, having to escape with alcohol, but when that feels like the only option, it’s better than being miserable. He mentioned doing things like pot to “help me feel better” always trying to pull it off as a joke, but I never had any interest. Marijuana was a road I wasn’t willing to go down and made that a firm line in the ground. After a while the drinking wasn’t enough for him and he started doing drugs, behind my back since I was very anti-drugs. That resulted in some crazy behavior, which is what started to throw up severe warning signs to the people who loved me that something was really wrong. I’ll talk about what that looked like more in my next post.
Looking back – why I stayed
It’s funny, and terrible, how manipulative people are and you don’t even realize at the time because you’re so desperate for their love and approval. It’s hard thinking back on all of it because it’s all so clear now how dysfunctional our marriage was, but in the moment it wasn’t. It was all just a big jumble of emotions and I thought that it was all normal. It wasn’t crazy to me – it was just how my life was back then. When he was manipulative I always believed him. Why wouldn’t I? He was my best friend. When he reinforced my insecurities, undermined my strengths, discounted my abilities and questioned my sanity I just thought he was being honest. Your best friend is supposed to be honest even when it hurts, right? That’s why people stay: it’s not abuse to them yet. It’s just their life.
Growing up we always said “death before divorce” and I always knew divorce wasn’t an option. It just wasn’t something you did. I saw the families that were broken up over “not being in love” and “just not feeling it” over selfishness and greed… I never wanted that for myself and for my children.
When I woke up one morning, I laid there and thought about what my life looked like. I couldn’t picture any kind of lasting happiness in it. I remember thinking, “This is my life. I’m trapped in it and there is no way out.” Because you don’t divorce someone because you realize you’ve married someone who doesn’t love you, but only wants someone to use for sex and to have as a drinking and partying buddy. You don’t leave your husband just because you all can’t stop fighting. It’s just a rough patch! With enough prayer, submission and maybe some counseling you can fix anything!
People judge women harshly for staying with their abusers. It’s easy to look at the cold hard facts of someone’s life and say “They are being abused. No one deserves that! They should leave!” But what do you do when it’s your husband, and you made vows for better or worse? What do you do when you promised your heart to someone and they use it as a footstool to step on to get whatever they want? The answer was simple to me. You stay. You stay until it is so broken that not even you can deny there is no hope. When there is no shred of trust left to save, when there is nothing left but dust on the ground where your sacred marriage used to stand, until that day you stayed.
I’m not saying it was right, or healthy or good. But in that moment, staying was all I knew. It was the only way to get through. To stay, to pray, to try everything to fix it and to hope that it would be enough.