There are no guarantees he won’t abuse you again, and unfortunately, the chances are high that he will abuse you again if he’s not addressing his problems in therapy and an accountability group.
If your husband has physically or sexually harmed you, or if there is a pattern of verbal, emotional, or mental abuse, there is no obligation to stay with him as his wife. Physical and emotional safety are foundational in marriage; without it you don’t have a marriage, you’re in a prison and you’re the prisoner.
No one should judge you if you can’t continue in this earthly hell and end your marriage. Domestic violence is illegal and there are so many wives and girlfriends murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country alone. And if there are children, the damage done to them must be taken into account (An excellent book on this is The Batterer asParent 2 by Bancroft, Silverman, and Ritchie.) There are many factors to consider when deciding to stay or leave, but if a woman chooses to stay, there are conditions that should be in place so that the chances of repeated abuse are lessened.
While he is getting help for his abuse, you must be safe from your abusive husband. In other words, you are living in separate homes and he is respecting your privacy and not showing up unannounced without your permission. He isn’t threatening you and he’s committed to ending his violence against you.
He’s actively engaged in therapy with a licensed therapist who’s trained in domestic violence issues. He’s open about his progress and work with his therapist and including you (not forcing or pressuring you) as much as you want to be included. You can say no. His therapy will also include a group for accountability.
You are making the decision to stay on your own, with no coercion. (no one has pressured you to stay in this marriage.)
The most important sign you’ll see in your husband is that he supports your decision to be safe. He won’t burden you with guilt to come back home before you’re ready or before he’s ready to have you back. Some husbands make it difficult for their wives to stick it out because they beg, plead, argue, and demand them to come home too early. They call the pastor and tell him that his wife is out of the “will of God” by not submitting to his “authority” by coming back to him. After all, the husband reasons, he’s remorseful, he’s come before the church, and now he’s ready to be a better husband. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some pastors and therapists fall for this manipulative strategy and join the abuser to put more weight on the wife to get back home before it’s time. Rushing the process of growth and healing is a sure sign that the abusive husband is not interested in true growth or healing.
Any manipulation to get you back home or to let him come home too soon is a serious warning that he is remaining in a place of power and control over you. He’s operating out of inequality instead of mutual equality, love and respect for you. He is nowhere near ready to restore your marriage.
The most important sign you’ll see in yourself is that you are listening to that voice inside you that tells you when things are safe and when they are not. When you see that you are not succumbing to what others want you to do, and you are doing what you want to do, then you are in a good place. If you continue to be tempted by his manipulations, you are not ready to put your marriage together again. You have more work to do on yourself.
The decision to stay in and work on an abusive marriage is a serious one and shouldn’t be taken lightly. One must realize that it is a long road to recovery; it will take a significant amount of time for the abuser to address his issues that cause him to relate to you from a place of power instead of love. And one of the best markers that he’s on the road to wholeness is that he is supportive of your decision to separate and be safe until you’ve both experienced a level of health and healing that will ensure the greatest level of safety in your relationship.
What we believe about ourselves is exposed during a divorce. And for a woman divorcing an abusive man, her self-esteem is pretty much shot to hell. You can tell by what she’s willing to give up.
I’ve seen women give up houses, cars, investment accounts, alimony, (thankfully by law they can’t refuse child support!) because they say, “Well, I don’t want to be selfish” or “I’m not out to destroy him financially.”
I know every situation is uniquely different, but some women believe they’re not worthy of more and their husbands have convinced them that they’re down and out and can’t afford to pay them. After 26 years of marriage, a woman I knew refused to pursue alimony from her ex, or to take her half of their 2,500 square foot house. She ended up having to settle with a one bedroom apartment making $12 an hour working in a factory while he lived in the 4-bedroom home and made triple her salary. She reported to me that she just felt “bad” about making him pay her for her half of the house and pay her alimony. As a result, she continued to struggle financially for years after their divorce.
Let me say this as clearly as I can, sweet friends. YOU ARE WORTH EVERY DIME, QUARTER, DOLLAR, CAR, HALF A HOUSE, that is due you! I’m not advocating fighting over toasters and flatware, you can let those things go. But you must remember that you invested in this relationship as much, if not more, than he did and so you deserve to have your fair share.
Don’t use this as an opportunity to get revenge and unfairly take more than what is due you, but you need to believe you’re worthy of getting your part. Don’t believe the lies that this is a chance to take the high road and show unselfish love or that maybe he’ll see the light and “come to Jesus” if you give him your half. No. Just no. He won’t.
Be strong and brave and kind to yourself. You don’t have to be unkind to him, of course, but please don’t let anyone guilt you into giving up more than what is rightfully yours.
Marriage is a long-term commitment and a life time of promise and hope of being together. The contract and the commitment anchor us to get through the storms of life. In a healthy marriage, that’s a beautiful and good thing as it shores us up and provides stability and cohesion for generations.
But in an abusive marriage, the contract and the commitment anchor us and drags us down to the bottom of an ocean, damaging us in every way you can imagine.
But my main problem wasn’t my abusive marriage, it was me. Let me explain.
Somewhere along the way, early on in my life, I stopped listening to my inner voice to guide me in my life. You know that instinctual inner voice that guides you? I think we’re born with that, and if we have decent (not even great) parenting, that voice is nurtured and we grow into adults who listen to that inner voice that tells us when something is good or bad. The volume of my voice had been turned down so low it was inaudible to me. So when my abusive husband said or did something cruel, I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t hear the voice that said “get out!” so I made up a new narrative. I said to myself things like “I must have really messed up this time” or “he had a terrible day at work and is so tired.” I made excuses for his abusive behavior to try and make up for the conflict I was feeling inside. I told myself that I had to make this horrible marriage work.
External concerns such as housing and finances continue to keep women in abusive marriages, but research is also showing that women stay because of psychological elements like cognitive dissonance, commitment, and consistency. (The Importance of Cognitive Dissonance in Understanding and Treating Victims of Intimate Partner Violence: Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma, Shannon D. Nicholson and David J. Lutz, Volume 26, 2017, Issue 5, Three Reasons Why Women Stay with a Controlling Partner by Clare Murphy, PhD., “Commitment: The Key to Women staying in Abusive Relationships” by Rosanna Guadagno, Academia.edu, Journal of Interpersonal Relations, Intergroup Relations and Identity, Volume 6, Hiver/Winter 2013)
It’s an example of cognitive dissonance when I made excuses for my husband (“he’s so tired”) when he threw a plate of food across the room or went to bed without saying goodnight to anyone. Consistency means that once we make a decision, we want to appear to make all our other decisions in support of that one decision. And commitment is similar; once we make a commitment, we’re all in; we don’t want to be perceived as non-committal.
So, imagine with me a young woman, perhaps with low self-esteem, raised in an overly religious home, accustomed to pleasing others, not herself, and she’s engaged to be married. Marriage, in her mind, is the pinnacle of social position, and being a wife and mother has always been her goal. Her fiancé continues to be his charming self, but there are a few subtle warning signs. She’s so used to ignoring these signals that they barely show up on her radar. Plus, she’s committed to marrying him, so she’s in for the long haul, for the long-term, a life-time! She’s going to prove to her family, her friends, to herself that she can make this marriage work. She can make him happy! She’s committed and she’s consistent; there’s no wavering with her. She’s a good Christian woman! Sure there are tiny moments of doubt that wash over her, but nothing can stop her from proving to everyone, even God that she is a faithful, good wife. She feels like it’s her duty.
Then they get married, and the abuse starts. Now she’s all in. She’s put all her eggs in this basket and bet the farm and everything on this. Now there’s a baby on the way. Now another. She made promises before God and her church and her family! Everyone will know it was all a sham. She can’t tell anyone what’s really going on behind closed doors. Plus, she thinks she’s not all that great of a wife. She’s not a great cook or a maid. She forgets things. Oh how does he put up with her?
See how sick this becomes in her mind? And this is the mind of some of the sweetest most committed Christian girls I’ve known. It’s just wrong. So, what’s the answer?
First, I think we need to raise our children, especially our girls, to listen to their inner guide, their inner voice, that tells them when something is good or not. Does this make you happy or sad? Does it make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable? If you don’t want to hug someone, you don’t have to. Listen to your feelings and let them be your guide. And it’s ok to change your mind. If you make a decision, and you find that it’s not right for you, it’s OK to change your mind. And if others give you a hard time for it, so what? Do what you know to be right for you. I know this is not popular advice in the church, but it is good advice. I think it’s dangerous to raise little girls or boys to ignore their feelings. That’s the thing that sets them up for abuse.
And for the church, let people be who they are, for God’s and goodness’s sake. He created us as individuals, uniquely designed to create and be free and full of joy. We can’t do that if we’re busy making people into cookie cutter perfect princesses. Or princes. It’s just gross.
If you’ve been raised in a religious home, you may fear being perceived as selfish. Trust me, you’re not being selfish if you’re setting healthy boundaries and learning to say “no” and taking care of yourself. It’s ironic because the people that may accuse you of being selfish, are actually being the selfish ones. They want YOU to think of THEM. How interesting. No, you are to think of your interests first and take care of you before you can begin to take care of anyone else. Haven’t you ever met someone who was completely burned out from taking care of everyone else and ignoring their own needs? It’s not pretty and it’s not healthy. And I maintain it’s not the example Jesus set for us to follow. He took care of himself.
To get out of my abusive marriage, I had to deal with some very real and difficult external factors, but eventually I also had to face some psychological truths that were going on inside me. If I didn’t, they’d follow me everywhere I went and I didn’t want to end up in another marriage like that. Ever.
Feel free to tell me if this article is helpful to you or if you, too, have a story of your own to share. I think we’re in this together, sisters, and we need to start telling our stories. It’s hard, I know, but there is freedom on the other side and you’ll get there. I hope you feel the love coming your way from me to you!
My husband and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary this weekend and stayed on Mackinaw Island and then took a boat tour of the magnificent Pictured Rocks in Munising Michigan.
On the Island, everyone has the most stunning gardens. The flowers are bigger and more colorful than I’ve ever seen; like you see in Mexico or another tropical climate. The flowers amazed me and I couldn’t help but stare. I know my pics can’t possibly capture all the beauty.
I apologize for the blurry photo to the right. I was racing by in a horse drawn carriage. No cars are allowed on the island. You can walk, ride a bike, or take a horse-drawn carriage to get around. There are about 500 horses on the island during the summer season, so you can imagine how much horse manure there is, which brings me to my next point.
Horse manure is the secret to their spectacular gardens. One of the shop owners who lives on the island explained that when she first moved there 25 years ago, she was told she needed horse manure to keep her garden looking good. She had a tiny space for her garden and assumed a “yard” of manure was like a yard of fabric, so she ordered 5 yards of horse pucky. She said when she got home that afternoon, “I had the biggest pile of horse shit in my lawn I couldn’t see my front window!” She laughed and added, “Be sure to get the older horse poo. Don’t get it while it’s still steamy.”
The next day, my husband and I took a 2-hour cruise to see Pictured Rocks, 15 miles of sandstone rock cliffs along Lake Superior, which my husband said reminded him of the Grand Canyon. Over millions (billions?) of years, water, wind, and weather have etched caves, blowholes, arches and other amazing features along this shoreline, and with the creative eye, one can see faces and headdresses carved into the rock, and paintings and other artwork from the water that drips down carrying with it minerals like copper, iron and manganese. Here are just a few photos I took that I think speak for themselves.
I’m understating it to say that we had a great time. I was full of joy and love and inspiration and excitement and life. I am blessed and I know it and I want to tell the world all about it because if all these good things can happen for me, they can happen for everyone. Joy and love are gifts ready to be opened at any time, by anyone.
I didn’t intend to write a travel blog about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (you have to visit!) or gardens and rock formations, even though they’re pretty awesome. Here’s a pic of what I really wanted to write about:
My husband: I think he’s the most amazing man in the entire world. He’s loving and kind and generous and protects me and provides for me and our children and grandchildren. He laughs most of the time at my silly jokes, and he doesn’t mind cleaning the kitchen. He accepts me and loves me for who I am and that includes my flaws and weirdnesses. And he’ll tell you that I love him and accept him too, and that is true. We love each other and care for each other and we know we’re blessed to have one another. Every day is a treasure…but not necessarily every moment, like when I have to point out that he might be driving a bit faster than I feel comfortable with, or when he suggests to me again that I could do something (anything!) differently. Yeah, we have those moments, sometimes a lot. But we both take deep breaths and know that we wouldn’t want to take another step in this life without the other.
Do I sometimes have to watch another episode of Live PD? Yes. Does he sometimes choose to unexpectedly stop in a cute little boutique shop with me just because the window display was adorable? No, I mean yes. When you’re married to your best friend, you do things for them to make them happy and they do things for you to make you happy. It’s an awesome win-win.
I married a really good man, and there are many other good men in the world. It seems like the media would have us believe that all men are just unredeemable pigs. Sure, there are some scoundrels out there. I would know, but I also know that there are more good men than there are bad. I believe that with all my heart. They’re in my family, they’re my friends, I work with them, I see them being kind to their spouses and children. Let’s not let a few bad apples spoil our view of all men. Men, we need you! And life without good men would be awful, think about it ladies. Who’d lift all the heavy stuff? I’m kidding. But seriously, who would?
I just want to give a shout out to all the good men, to those guys, like my husband who love well and work hard to make this world a better place. And to those who use their strength and their gifts for good while respecting others. Yeah, you guys rock and I just want to say thank you!
Especially to you, honey, thank you for 17 years of growing together and becoming my life partner and my best friend forever.
Twenty plus years later, I still remember the shame I felt after it happened.
My parents had moved back to Atlanta to run their business, and my then-husband and I decided to visit them. I grew up in Atlanta so it was “my” town and I was excited to show him the city where I grew up, take him to The Varsity to eat the best chili dog he’d ever eaten, and show him the houses I grew up in and the downtown area.
It was a warm spring afternoon, the sun was high in the sky with very few clouds and the azaleas and dogwoods were bursting with color and form. We were downtown walking near a water fountain. Jack made it clear that he wasn’t having much fun strolling down memory lane, and he started to pick a fight with me. I’m not clear about what we were disagreeing about, but it doesn’t even matter, it could have been about anything.
What I remember vividly is my husband grabbing me by the hair, and pulling me along for several feet and then ripping the barrette out of my hair and flinging it across the cement towards the water fountain. It skimmed across in front of several people, breaking in two pieces, and I remember looking up at one man, he looked at me, he was wearing a dark suit carrying a briefcase, and he took long strides. He had somewhere he was going. He was too busy to help me. This was my problem, not his. I sat on a bench, quietly, ashamed, crying, hoping no one else saw what just happened. Jack had yelled at me, too. I can’t remember what he yelled, but I wanted him to be quiet. People were looking at us. I wanted the earth to swallow me up. Or God to take me. Whatever, anything, just please let me disappear.
And that, my friends, is what compels me to write this blog because if there is just one of you that feels shame for what someone else has done to you, for how someone else has made you feel less than or made you feel afraid, I want you to know you are not alone, and that you don’t have to feel that way anymore. You no longer have to suffer in silence, feeling responsible for causing this violence against you, whether it’s verbal, emotional, sexual or physical. It’s not your fault.
I got free from my abuser and if I did it, trust me, you can too. You are a person who is worthy of love and respect. Don’t accept anything less than that. I understand that it is a process, so here is an idea for you:
Do something everyday that makes you feel happy (ride your bike, take a walk, hug your child, meditate, paint your nails). And while you feel that happy feeling, tell yourself how lovely and lovable you are. Because you are.
And don’t forget to do this every single day– do something that makes you feel really happy inside and while you feel happy feelings, tell yourself you’re lovely and lovable. You’ll start to feel the difference in your heart and then you’ll feel stronger and less able to be around the negativity because that’s not who you are. Then you’ll leave and love your life and yourself so much.
During the very tumultuous pre-teen years of a young girls’ life, I attended a conservative Christian school in the deep South. I use the term “Christian” generously like I do when I butter my bread, but I can assure you that my experience in this school was not as smooth or sweet.
My first bitter taste of junior high and one that shaped my view of sexuality and my body, occurred within the first week of the start of school, and was when I met Miss Davis, the dean of women. I was sitting in math class trying to understand what a hypotenuse was when I felt someone tapping on my shoulder. I turned and saw a dark green, almost black, dress with a head that popped out from the white collar like a Pez dispenser. Her arms were crossed, and she bent from the waist to whisper in my ear, “I need to see you in the hall.”
Every eye under the age of thirteen burned on me as I clumsily made my way out of my seat, tripping over my book bag. Heat started at my neck and spread to my ears and face and I felt as if I was developing a fever as I walked out of the classroom with this serious looking woman. What happened? Did I do something wrong? Or worse, did something horrible happen to my family? Are my parents OK? Did my parents die in a fiery car crash? Will my sisters and I be orphaned and sent to live with family members?
My heart felt like it pounded out of my chest and the sound filled the quiet hallway. Miss Davis’s stern face turned, and a flash of anxiety crossed her face. Her round face didn’t smile, and her hair was cut like a boy’s, as if someone had put a bowl on her head and snipped around it. She wore no makeup to cover the dark veiny circles underneath her big brown eyes. Her dress was buttoned all the way to her chin and went below her knees, showing off a pair of black clod hoppers.
“My name is Miss Davis and I’m the Dean of Women. You might remember me from orientation?” She didn’t wait for me to reply. “Well, I talked with your mother,” Miss Davis began.
Oh, thank God, my mother’s alive! What about dad?! I looked eagerly at her face waiting for the bomb that would forever change my life.
“She’s coming to pick you up.” She paused, tilted her head, crossed her arms, rested her chin in her hand, like she was trying to figure out how to tell me something and as my eyes filled with tears she asked, “Do you have a full slip? Your dress is entirely too see-through.”
For what? The funeral? For my dad’s funeral? Oh, my daddy!
I stammered, my voice shaky, “Um, a whole slip? Yes, um, no, I mean, I’m not sure, I just wore what I had.”
I was confused, nervous, and self-conscious. I looked down and pulled at the front of my dress, hoping to hide anything that might be showing. I started to ask about my dad, “Is my dad…” but she kept talking.
“Your dress is too uh, how can I say it” she looked around the hallway, then her eyes darted right at mine like a missile and she said, “revealing. The boys can see your bra, I had someone complain to me about it, and here at this school, we promote modesty. Young women must dress with discretion and purity. They must, at all times, cover their bodies, never tempting anyone to sin.” She pursed her lips, like my mom does when she disapproves of something, and blew air threw her nose and said, “Didn’t you read the school handbook? Our dress code is clear about what is expected. Your mother is on her way to pick you up and take you home so that you can put on something more appropriate.”
I blinked. So, my dad’s OK?
Miss Davis broke into my thoughts, “Are you listening to me?”
When it registered what she was talking about, relief washed over me that my parents were alive. But then I felt exposed. I felt naked. I couldn’t wait for my mother to come rescue me. My shoulders slumped, and I felt so ashamed. How could I have gone out like this? I’ve been walking the school halls in this sheer smock?! But my mother dressed me! She bought me this outfit! How could she have been so wrong about it? I’m horrified to think of all the boys that have seen me and what they must think of me.
I asked, on the verge of tears, “Can I go wait for my mom in your office?” I was hoping she’d offer to go get my things in the classroom. I’d rather die than go back in there, considering I was walking around half naked in the school and causing who knows how many boys to think ungodly things. She agreed to that and offered to get my things for me.
When I got in the car with my mother, she let loose. “I can’t believe this! They sent you home because of your dress?! Your dress is fine. I can’t believe I had to leave work for this. Ridiculous!” I felt a little vindicated, but I was still embarrassed. What would I tell the kids tomorrow when they asked where I went? I’ll just tell them I had a doctor’s appointment I’d forgotten about.
Later, at home, with red puffy eyes from crying, lying on my bed, something started bothering me. I thought, “Why are the boys looking at my dress and my body like that? And why aren’t they getting in trouble for looking? Aren’t they in charge of their own eyes and where they look?” And besides, there was really nothing to see! But I knew I couldn’t stand against this authoritative regime, so the fight in me died down and in its place was planted an intense desire to please my elders. I accepted the premise that not only was I responsible for my own sexual purity, but also for all the boys in my school, and all the boys in the world, for not causing boys to look at me, to lust after me, because how in the world could a boy be held responsible to control his thoughts if I wear a dress that’s faintly see-through and he looks and sees my bra, albeit a training one, and has an impure thought? I must take better care for how I portray myself.
The teaching that the female was and is the sexually responsible gender was as fundamental a teaching as the rapture. Pressure was put on girls to be pure, a virgin, wear white on her wedding day, modest, sexually uncertain and shy, while the male counterpart was fully expected to be assertive, sexual, animalistic, carnal, and sensual. However, his strong and vile desires were to be restrained, tempered, and tamed through the untainted and chaste portals of a “good woman.” If he didn’t have a good woman in his life, any exploits he may have would be understood and explained away as “in his nature.”
At eleven years old and throughout my adolescent and teen years, I, too, accepted this duty upon my shoulders, although I didn’t understand all the implications or the problematic thinking or the incorrect biblical teaching behind it. It would take decades for me to understand the faulty foundation upon which I had built my life of “faith.”
The seeds of hating my body and my womanhood were planted and nourished by my mother’s own self-contempt that was handed down to her from her mother, her church, and her world, like an orb and scepter. I accepted, too, the church’s teaching that modesty is a woman’s job, and without it, a man’s sexual acting out can be sympathized with and understood in light of her lack of propriety and overlooked with an apologetic grin and a wink.
Cultural images of what was determined to be sexy bombarded me and my girlfriends, as we soaked up beauty magazines, creating a deep internal battle within us between what we thought was “right” and “wrong”. Instead of engaging that battle with truth and honesty and integrity, and learning healthy self-control and self-image, the church’s answer was to shut down the battle by declaring that all female sexuality is dangerous and should be denied, or worse, killed off.
Forty-two years later, I confess that I’ve been guilty of body shaming myself and blaming women for crimes against them. Why did she dress like that? Why was she walking down that dark alley? She was asking for it. If you don’t want to get raped, don’t get drunk at a party. If you choose to be a lady of the night, that’s the risk you take.
Thank God, and I mean literally, I thank God, that He showed me that Love never asks those questions, it doesn’t think like that. It doesn’t condemn or dishonor a person because of how they are dressed, what they do for a living, or their gender, and it never blames a victim for a crime against them. Love embraces and heals and helps and protects. It is not a woman’s fault if she is raped. When a woman says no, she means no, even in a tube top. My incorrect conservative “Christian” beginnings had me on the wrong path, but thank God, He rescued me from all that and I’ve been corrected and freed and can see the world through eyes of love and understanding and care and protection.
I have no idea where Miss Davis is today, but I hope she was transformed and set free by the real Jesus, instead of remaining in a lifeless deathtrap of religion. In spite of her attempts, she couldn’t completely hide the strength and beauty in her big brown eyes.
Well meaning people say “Stop running from your problems!”
And they are right. We need to face our problems.
So why don’t we take their advice and stop running? It sounds so easy, “stop”, like playing the game Red Light, Green Light. But we don’t stop, we continue on.
We run because it’s all we can do. It’s all we know to do. In a way, we’re not in our right minds; we are desperate and we yearn for something. We’re searching for more, looking for answers, hunting for love and acceptance, and we know we’ll die if we don’t find it soon.
Those watching the runners, (friends, grandparents, parents), need not agonize that the runners are going to end up at hell’s door. Oh, they will end up there. They need to end up there. But it’s OK because it is there that they find out who they really are. We should worry more if they don’t run there.
It is at the darkest times, lonely, despairing of life, afraid, when we have no more fight or flight left in us and we realize that we’ve been told many lies, like that we don’t need anyone or that we aren’t lovable, and it is then and only then that the Truth comes to us and we can see our own light glimmer. We begin to forgive, and to love, and to be set free.
Sometimes all you can do is run; run from your family, your pain, your past, because the journey, at the end, sheds the darkness and will take you to the light that is you.
So run free, my children, run to the Light. But you must know that the journey first takes you straight through the portals of hell, but fear not, for I am with you.