Contributed by Camille
The pit in my stomach is back. By all measurable standards, my marriage is getting better, but the pain still lingers, sometimes almost suffocating me. I can so easily be triggered still, too. My therapist is urging me into a space of honesty about how I’ve really felt all of these years, and those feelings are not pretty. They fly in the face of what I have felt a faithful woman ‘should’ feel, only adding layers to the emotions that are stirred.
But I know I can’t heal unless I honor these feelings and then get ready to let them go. God and I have come a long way already in this process, and yet I can tell I still have a long way to go.
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When my husband and I were engaged, God warned me that this man had two sides to himself. I knew I was supposed to marry him, so I just took that warning in stride. I am sure I was sure that I was going to help him become more settled in who I knew he was. I also felt impressed that I could reach my potential with him. Little did I know what that would entail.
I have been anything but a perfect wife, but for years, I was his cheerleader, or tried to be. I tried to see that potential in him and believe in who he really was. But the more I fought for that man, the more I lost myself. Because the Jekyl and Hyde I was living with slowly, subtly, but persistently chipped at nearly every facet of my self that I thought a husband should cherish or at least support. He didn’t like the way I looked, the way I talked, the way I interacted with people, the way I mothered, the way I served in the Church, or even the way I believed about some things. He saw me as a threat to his sleep, his work, and what he felt were his entitlements as a man. He quoted prophets to try to convince me that he was right and I was bad.
The criticism started before we married, and was subtly inserted into our experiences even on our honeymoon. I thought it was the humble thing to do to take his criticism. But over time, I discovered that whatever I did was never, ever enough. He would shut down for days, sometimes in an instant turning from nice to not, when I would do or say something he didn’t like. Perhaps he didn’t like my hair a certain way or was resentful when I chose to do service rather than (ahem) service him. I never knew when the next shoe would drop.
I have only in the past year come to realize that I have basically lived in a state of high alert for most of my marriage. Sometimes there were periods of relative peace, but the abuse was always waiting just around the corner. There would then be a honeymoon phase, I would open up, hope, and trust. But I’d always discover that actually he’d been holding in the garbage, sometimes for weeks on end, until he could stand it no longer and he would vomit his words all over my tender, ever-more-tenuous heart.
Eventually I learned to draw boundaries, and encounters almost seemed to escalate. He would follow me around, leaving me no safe place in my home where I could go. At times he spoke the words that he wanted to leave and find someone who would give him what he would claim he really wants…leaving all that I am and am trying to be treated as lightly as chaff cast away in the wind.
I reached a point where I was hoping he’d go. Almost praying for it. Truth be told, I am generally happier when he is not around. I am more at peace, more free to be where I am and do what I may do without fear of what he may say or think or do.
On the flip side, like a previous writer, sometimes I have felt that it might be better for my family if I were to die so that he could finally find a woman he really wants. Clearly those thoughts are not from God, but they can feel pervasive when I am in pain.
As it stands now, he chooses to stay. At first he did it like a martyr, but now I feel him genuinely choosing it. I, too, am feeling like I should stay. I still see the potential in him. I respect him for so many reasons as a person, a professional, and as a man who is trying to reform his life. There is much good in our little family as a whole that I do not want to lose.
But I am not ready to fully engage in my marriage. I am focusing on friendship first. I lost so much of myself nearly two decades of this. Others may choose a different pace, but I am not rushing back into the relationship this time, because trust will take time. I am deliberately taking things very slowly. Sex is all but off the table, and has been for quite a while. I will no longer subject myself to pressure to be or do things I do not choose to be or do.
I will be honest. All of this has made things at church like the doctrine of marriage and of service and selflessness very difficult to process at times. In my experience, when this level of dysfunction exists in a relationship, it can actually turn all the typical rules of engagement on their heads. It can be tiring to have to turn so much of what is said around, or just turn a deaf ear to it for now. That can be very confusing for a dutiful, obedient, doctrine-following girl like myself. And it hurts to hear of the joy of family life in God’s plan when when family life has provided my deepest pain and opposition and my deepest sense of loneliness and isolation. Sometimes I have wondered if I deserved no better. I now know that is not truth, but it can be hard to purge old thoughts and beliefs.
I will say that I’m learning more about agency and personal revelation than I ever thought I would, which are some sweet fruits out of this bitter experience. The experiences I have had with God have been tender and surprising, even delightful. He lets me know in such simple yet profound ways that He is aware of me. I’ve always had a testimony but this deepening relationship is such a blessing.
But I’m also experiencing some disillusionment and frustration. I feel like I lost so much time, time that I could have been healing. I trust that God’s timing is right, but if I were to reach out to a woman in my situation, I would say I wish I had sought specific support sooner. I wish I had known many years earlier that it is ok to draw boundaries. How I wish someone had explained that it is not noble humility to take constant criticism from a husband and try to earn his approval. How I yearn to hear it said not just in private circles, but in our cultural dialogue that it is okay to say no to sex when you don’t feel safe or valued, and that it is not okay for a husband to pressure and guilt and prophet-quote to try to get his way. I am saddened by how many years I violated my own sense of value and truth by trying to keep my husband from criticizing me and to keep him happy. He was never happy until he started to choose to be happy with me.
Part of the way I was able to draw boundaries is as it became clear that when my husband spoke to me in his abusive state, he was actually a voice for hell itself. I knew this because the Spirit’s words often would come a day or two before he would fall into this trap, and the message from my Hyde-husband was in direct opposition to what the Spirit would speak. This may sound obvious, but for so many years, I thought my job was to try to look for whatever truth might be in his criticism. I learned that when he was in that place, I could choose to reject every last word of what he said, whether or not there was some truth to it. I’m willing to listen to feelings and feedback given with my best interest at heart, but I will not listen to attacks.
I feel that it is no small thing to choose to stay with someone who has been the voice of the devil for me. It is no small thing to choose to believe something else about myself than what I have heard through this person who was supposed to be my greatest supporter and friend. I think he wants to be that person. On most days, I hope we’ll be able to make it work because I do feel guided by God to stick with it.
If you are one who has been in an abusive marriage and is feeling impressed to stay, I would urge you to be more wise than I have been. Seek support, in real life if possible. Go to a 12-step family or other support group. Go to a group therapy group. Pray for a good therapist if you need one. Connect with other women in this situation online if you can. Please don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do in terms of your marriage. This experience will be a chance to really learn to trust your own inner light and to trust God’s specific, directing voice in your life.
If your heart has been broken, as many of ours have been, know that God agrees that abuse is wrong. He acknowledges the broken, tender hearts of wives who have been mistreated and for whom trust has been violated. (See Jacob 2). I love reading on to Jacob 3 for encouraging words to women. I know He will guide you in your path to healing as you seek it, even as I know it’s not the path you would have ever chosen for yourself.
You are welcome to walk some of that journey here, with us. We understand. It is hard, so hard. But you will find your own good in this journey, too, if you haven’t already. God will consecrate our pain for our good and for the good of others for whom we can have empathy.