My strict adherence to plans, my inability to accept conditions change, require a variance from the original plan, has yielded to a now anxious need to have a plan B.
My sister and I sit at her dining room table, drinking our morning coffee, and she asks with the red flags, even before I was married, why did I stay.
22 months later, (yes, I count the months as a mother counts the weeks and months in her new child’s life) I have moved from being convinced it is some defect of character that kept me in an abusive marriage all those years, to the reality that it is too complex a question to answer succinctly.
I think her question is rhetorical, asked out loud to process possible answers with no real expectation of an answer. I find those who ask that question are people who have never experienced abuse. That I, or any other abused woman, wasn’t out the door at the first ‘incident’; they find it most puzzling.
I thought it might be cathartic to actually write out the reasons, as much for me as for someone who insists they would leave immediately.
1. My mental model of marriage. I married for life. I had a model that was supportive and stable for 45 years, interrupted only by my dad’s death. Since abuse was not part of it, I had no ‘exit here’ example to follow.
2. Impressions. We had limited contact for the first few years of the relationship, thus it was all a honeymoon. There were some episodes of jealousy, but not over the top and I felt it simply an uncomfortable reality of being in an uncommitted/non-monogamous relationship.
3. Timing. By the time the verbal abuse surfaced we were in a committed relationship, but even then it was borderline. The lines between observation, comment, criticism and abuse were blurry.
4. Beliefs. I bought into what he was saying. He would pick something he knew or sensed I was insecure about. I was overweight (though nowhere near the level I ended up in an effort to be as unattractive to other men as was humanly pssible, hoping to quell his need to possess me solely), I get irritable, I am emotional. I did have a struggling business. I heard it so much sometimes his voice was louder than my own in my head.
5. Cycles. Beginning with long periods between, long enough to think it was just a bump in the road to growing as a couple, long enough to forget; narrowing and accelerating with the years and his drinking, it cycled. Abuse is very cyclical.
6. Unpredictability. He was not predictable. It was not whether he’d been drinking, or tired, or had a lot going on at work. It was something we could not identify with a particular time or event and head off. Thus we weren’t sure if, or when, it would occur. Eventually I learned it was just a matter of time, but that was not immediately evident.
7. Who I am. I take people as they come. Love them as is. My reality is perfection is humanly impossible. Certainly I wouldn’t have loved him had I met him at the end. But at the beginning, I saw someone charismatic, charming, attentive, kind, romantic; except when he wasn’t. I forgave him everything.
8. No Plan B. I married for life. I could not envision anything else. Perhaps I didn’t allow myself to go there, to dream, until the end. I had become emotionally numb. Survival doesn’t allow for fanciful dreams of lives unlike the one you are living. He constantly said I needed to face reality, when I felt like that was all I did. I have an ability to shut down, go somewhere else when I needed to, which kept me able to continue without losing my mind, but kept me married too.
to be continued
And you husbands must love your wives and never treat them harshly. Colossians 3:19