I am basically the same woman I was ten years ago – when I finally divorced my abusive husband. I think my kids and family and friends would agree that my demeanor, priorities and personality are not so different now from what they were then.
So I wonder at times why the man to whom I am married now does not make it a habit to condemn or criticize me, or refuse to help me with household responsibilities, or find it convenient to list all of the ways I have fallen short. This man is so pleasingly different from my former husband; he doesn’t spend money we don’t have, or tell me that there is something seriously wrong with me or shake his head in disgust while telling me that his life would be so much better if I wasn’t such a lousy wife.
My husband does not leave for hours at a time without telling me where he has been; nor has he stolen thousands of dollars from our bank account, or hidden stashes of pornography in strange places around the house. He doesn’t abuse prescription drugs and alcohol or try to get me to do things in our bedroom that make me feel cheap and dirty. He doesn’t glare at me with hatred in his eyes or lock me out of our bedroom as punishment. My husband doesn’t terrify the kids, and he doesn’t shake a finger in my face and demand that I submit to him when I am morally uncomfortable with his choices.
Remarkably, the man to whom I am married cares if I am hurting and does everything he can to make sure I am content and feel safe. This is a man who, when I am sick, goes to the store to get medicine and returns with not only cough drops, but also a box of my favorite cookies and a magazine to read while I am camped out on the sofa with a blanket, a box of tissue, the remote control, and a tall glass of orange juice.
My husband never verbally runs over me until I am so emotionally exhausted that I defer to his unreasonable demands. He has never sarcastically rolled his eyes while asserting that I just need to forgive him and get over it; or that if I truly loved God I wouldn’t be so bitter. The man who shares his life with me today listens to my stories and doesn’t make me feel stupid when I tell them. My husband believes that I have something to offer, wants me to be fulfilled and isn’t the least threatened by my successes; in fact, he affirms me and even boasts of our relationship to his friends. He opens the car door for me, holds my hand when we are out together, and for some strange reason he still thinks I am beautiful when I am wearing my grungy painting clothes and no make-up.
I have to believe that I am not much different from the woman I was ten or so years ago. Yet there are those who, when they discover that I have been divorced, cast a sideways glance my way, and a flicker of judgment crosses their faces. Surely, they must suppose, I must have done something to trigger the abuse; I must have incited my former husband’s rage. I’m sure they feel certain that I was probably not kind or helpful or understanding enough. I must have been overly demanding or probably had unrealistic expectations of him. Perhaps I misunderstood his needs. Or maybe they are right. Maybe, as my former husband told me, I was just incredibly selfish, insensitive and prone to overreact in the face of such trivial marital matters.
If those things are so, then why haven’t I failed miserably in this new marriage? Why does my husband see me as the most precious person in his life? If I am so difficult to live with, why does my husband appreciate me and enjoy my company? If the cruelty to which I was subjected was so obviously deserved, then how come the man I share my life with now doesn’t blame me for his unhappiness or yell at me for the slightest misstep? Surely, he must see how messed up, self-absorbed and unforgiving I really am.
And why is it that I am no longer compelled to tears on a regular basis? Why do I no longer carry a burden of ongoing physical and emotional distress, depression and anxiety? What gives me the right to now enjoy my leisure time at home, and why doesn’t a surge of panic still well up in me when I hear my husband’s car pull up in the driveway?
Seeing the overwhelming contrast in my marriages, I have to suppose that maybe, just maybe, my first marriage failed because I was married to an abuser. It must be plausible that I was living with a man with a design to dominate, control and demean me. It sure seemed as though his behavior was a calculated attempt to maintain his superiority, get his way, and make sure I was kept in my proper place. I can’t think of any other reason why my former husband would intentionally look for ways to isolate me from my friends and family or keep me off-balance, confused and doubting my worth, except to make sure I was constantly preoccupied with him. Or was it really my fault that I was reduced to living in a constant state of fear?
I only know that I am pretty much the same woman now that I was then, but with one major difference. Now I am married to a man who wants me to know that I am loved, cherished and appreciated. I know that my love will go to any lengths to make sure I am safe and happy. I had wondered whether it was possible, had almost ceased imagining that I might be worthy of such love.
But I guess I am.
So, to those who doubt my character and the effort I put forth to contribute to a healthy marriage the first time around, I have to say that you won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last to arrive at the conclusion. But maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t my fault that the marriage failed. If it was I who compelled my former husband to treat me so badly, how is it that the man I am married to now treats me so well?
In truth, there is no “maybe.” It wasn’t my fault. I was married to an abuser.
If you are living in a similar situation, then you need to know that perhaps, in spite of all the things he may have told you, it’s not your fault. It may be that no matter how hard you try or how badly you want a happy marriage, you may never be able to fix it. Maybe, just maybe, you are married to an abuser.
All Rights Reserved