My teenagers and I have been on our own for 5 months now. Although I’m stressed about money, leaving my husband was the best thing I’ve ever done. I never thought I’d have the strength to do it. And here we are. Hanging out together, talking, laughing. I can’t remember ever having so much fun with my kids. It seems like the last 14 years have been focused on keeping my husband from raging. Now, every day is a gift. I look forward to going home instead of dreading it.
Leaving my husband was not an easy decision. I have counseled with pastors and Christian counselors over the last fourteen years, desperately seeking permission from God to divorce my husband. Every time I was counseled that God would only allow me to leave my husband if he was unfaithful. Some of them allowed for physical abuse. However, it still boiled down to the fact that if I left for any reason other than my husband’s unfaithfulness I was doomed to never being able to divorce him or remarry. I found myself yearning for the day that my husband was unfaithful and I could finally be free. I ended up subjecting myself and my kids to years of verbal, mental and emotional abuse.
My counselor gave me homework last week. I was supposed to compare the similarities and differences between myself and the wife of a NFL player who was physically abused. I just couldn’t bring myself to make comparisons to, well, the wife of a NFL player. It just seems like a stretch. Coincidentally, this past week I caught sight of a rather amusing Disney movie review on Twitter, “Young French girl is held hostage by a huge hairy guy until Stockholm syndrome kicks in. He has singing dishes.” I had to laugh. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney movies. I, like Belle, am a nerdy book worm. Then I started thinking about the movie plot. Really thinking about it.
From a young age, girls are taught that it’s romantic to fall in love with their abuser. And not just in children’s movies. This story line is in romance novels, big screen movies, TV shows, and the list goes on. The “classic” story line of the jerky guy who falls in love and is somehow transformed into Prince Charming. The reality is that a man who treats a woman with disdain and disrespect from the beginning will not likely suddenly change his basic character. There were so many signs that my husband had problems that I chose to ignore during our courtship. I felt lucky that any man would be interested in me, given the fact that I had three kids, two of which were only 2 years old. Indeed, everyone around me told me what a great guy he must be for taking me on with my kids. The fact is, I was barely making ends meet and I was very lonely.
The NFL player’s wife was knocked unconscious by her then fiance when he punched her in the face. She is now defending her husband and is being ridiculed by many people. Honestly, I was offended that my counselor even suggested that I had anything in common with her. After all, I would never stay with a man who physically abused me, right? However, the truth is, there are similarities. I allowed my husband to systematically abuse me and my kids for over 14 years. He has threatened me and told me that I am nothing without him. No, he never punched me. But, the emotional scars are deep. The fear and confusion I felt are still there, just under the surface. Mostly, I am disappointed in myself. I became the woman that I, too, have scorned.
In the end, I had to not only break the bondage of my husband’s emotional hold on me, but I had to break up with The Church. The conservative church that I have been a part of for my whole life. The church that defined my beliefs as if they were the word of God. I had to realize that I was looking for approval from people who did not have my best interest at heart. Nor did they consider the well-being of my kids. Their theology was more important than the reality of my life.