I still haven’t found an easy way to explain why I left my marriage.
Especially in casual conversation, especially when I’m meeting new people. I still haven’t found my neat one-liner, my simple solution to drop into chit chat. The classic ‘we grew apart,’ ‘we just weren’t happy’ or ‘we wanted different things’ doesn’t quite rub me the right way.
Of course, I imagine those are some of the lines he’s fed to old friends or family…Probably something along the lines of him pursuing a military career and me nagging him to stay home and start a family. I guess that falls under the ‘we wanted different things’ category.
Which, in a way, I suppose is a little bit true. We did want different things. And yes, him telling me he didn’t want kids was my last straw. It gave me pause and the permission I needed to step back and analyze our relationship more objectively. I realized I did want different things.
Was the problem his job? Our lack of a family? My job?
This decision I made cannot be reduced to me acting as some neglected housewife begging for children and harping after a man chasing promotions.
I left because I wanted something new.
I left because I was abused.
I wanted that to end.
I’d like to say it again, just for clarity’s sake.
I. Was. Abused.
I’ve tried to avoid those words. I didn’t want to risk sounding melodramatic or like a complainer. I wanted to avoid criticism, and I believed that if I didn’t say it out loud no one could tell me it didn’t happen. No one could say “it wasn’t that bad,” or “it could’ve been worse.”
This is something we all need to work on- validating someone’s experience without criticism, comparison or judgment.
I need to show the same grace to myself.
So yes, I am aware it could have been worse. Yes, I’m aware someone else has been through something more painful. Been abused more overtly. More openly. More obviously.
No, that does not take away from the significance of my experience. It does not lessen the impact it’s had on my life, my health, my view of the world, my view of myself and my view of relationships.
I’d even go so far as to say that psychological and emotional abuse was more challenging to notice, escape from, and heal from than I ever would have imagined.
I always grew up believing that if a man ever hit me I’d be gutsy enough to immediately walk away. I’d know that wasn’t how a woman was to be treated, and I’d move the heck on.
What I didn’t grow up knowing?
That withdrawing affection is abusive. Neglect is abusive. Manipulation by providing and removing that affection again: abusive.
Creating an environment of fear is abusive. Fearing consequences, reactions, loss of love: abusive. Fearing violence- abusive. Fearing rage- abusive.
Fearing pregnancy. Abusive.
Refusing to use condoms but making me feel guilty for choosing fertility awareness? What I wanted to do for the health of my body and the health of my faith? Abusive.
Using coercion and guilt to gain sexual favors is abusive. Stepping over boundaries is abusive. This should have been obvious -no means no!- but, to me, it didn’t seem like much. Until it got worse, and more frequent, and blatantly, unavoidably, obviously, abusive.
Making me the gatekeeper of that behavior, like it was my responsibility to make sure my spouse respected me, is freaking abusive. Real respect, real love, does not look like that.
Furthermore, sex that hurts- due to carelessness and drunkenness or uninvited aggression- is abusive.
Lying is abusive.
Cheating is abusive.
Calling someone names, making fun of their size, comparing them to other women- joke, after joke, after joke- abusive.
Also, there is such a thing as spiritual abuse. I didn’t know that! What I’ve since learned is that it is wrong to shame or manipulate your partner into feeling guilty for their faith. I shouldn’t need to hide my journal or close Scripture or put away my rosaries because I’m afraid of being seen praying. More than anything, I should not be made to feel as if I deserve bad treatment because “I love God too much.”
What made this all the more confusing? Harder to pick up on? More challenging to recognize?
When he told me I was crazy.
This is gaslighting: when you present reality to your abuser but they tell you you’re wrong, insane, or imagining things. Your experience becomes twisted and fuzzy and damn-near impossible to sort through. You can’t tell who’s right, who’s wrong, who deserves excusing and who just had a bad day. You start to believe the lies until they become part of a new twisted version of truth.
I’m done with that now.
I didn’t make this up. I didn’t imagine this. I am not crazy.
I never was.
How’s that for a one-liner?