I have been thinking a lot about a strange phenomenon happening in those of us who have been in abusive marriages. It took me 3 years to leave my abuser. And I still struggle with the terms “abuser” or “abuse”. It is foreign to my ears because he wasn’t my “abuser” for 11-12 years. He was my “husband”. Was he really all that bad? Am I sure I am remembering things the way they really were? I have many people in my life who would respond to those questions with a resounding “YES”. But . . . the phenomenon is this: I don’t see him as an abuser, even though I am well-aware that he abused us dreadfully.
Yes, Megan . . . He was that bad. He tore into your soul emotionally. He took a young, naive girl who only wanted to be a bride and he stepped all over her in every way. He was and is THAT bad.
All I have to do is tell ONE STORY of one day of our lives and watch the horror rise up on a friend’s face to remember that my life was hell every day. I cannot trust myself when it comes to him. I absolutely have to believe what others see in him. I am still too easily manipulated by this man.
Another woman can describe her marriage and I can pinpoint WITHOUT A DOUBT how abusive her husband is. But, with myself, there is a fog. . . a blind spot . . . a complete lack of clarity. I knew, of course, that I was suffering and that the children were suffering. It is a strange thing to still be in denial, even though it was horrific enough to make us flee. I have a theory about this. I believe, over time, I went through phases. This is my experience:
Phase 1: Engagement, honeymoon and the following weeks: I was shocked by some of his behavior. He would not allow me to tell anyone we were engaged; there was no celebration. On our honeymoon, he expected me to cook every meal and clean our little condo. I felt utterly used sexually. I felt dirty. He now owned me. I could NOT believe that this nightmare was marriage. When we returned home, we had an invitation to a college reunion with some fun friends with whom I had been close. My then husband said it was “inappropriate” and we would not go. The isolation began. I laid on the bed, depressed. My then husband showed me Scriptures that pointed to my responsibility to be silent . . . to let the husband lead. My self talk was thus: “This is terrible; This is not what marriage is supposed to be like. This is not what God says marriage is supposed to be like. I am so alone! What have I done? Oh my gosh . . . that is NOT NORMAL! What is he doing? Why did he say that? I am afraid!”
*It is important to point out that not everyone has a Phase 1. Some have already experienced such a dysfunction in their core families that abuse is already their “normal”. Or there is confusion as to what a healthy marriage is (poor doctrine . . .).
Phase 2: I began to learn how to cope. I knew that divorce was not an option. My parents and church had been very clear about this. I believed God hated divorce (and, in turn, would hate me if I wanted out). I learned to tiptoe around things. I learned to thrive outside of his realm. At night . . . while he was at work, I got a Masters’ degree. It took 6 years. I found ways to still play the piano, even though he was terribly threatened by my gifts. I convinced myself that things would be OK. I turned a blind eye to the twisted-ness. I scampered behind him when he “disciplined” the children . . . re-directing them . . . re-teaching them . . . loving on them. All the women in his family did this. It became my normal. I no longer thought I deserved better, anyway. I had heard the lies so many times. Here is the point: my mind became re-wired. This life I led had become my normal. I had re-wired myself out of pure self-preservation. I was no longer shocked. Here was my self-talk for most of my marriage: “Oh, I can deal with this. I know how to placate him. I am reading the signs and I need to walk softly. It’s not so bad. That is how his father is . . . . This is how all men are.” It was a slow fade; a slow death. Light bruising turned to dark bruising. We were the frogs slowly boiling in the water yet never noticing.
Phase 3: This is when I “woke up”. It took three years and a lot of agony to be popped out of my paradigm. I had a lot of help and I painstakingly searched the Scriptures with all my heart. I could not bear the abuse anymore but I could not outright say it was abuse. I just knew that things had become so dark and frightening . . . my children were afraid . . . we were being destroyed . . . I had to get out. Once out, the fog was still there for a long time. The process of re-wiring myself back into reality has taken a long time — and I am still working on it. I am seeing clearly now due to three things: Others peering into my former life with shock and dismay, reading books such as Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans and The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, and God’s absolute and total transformation of my mind and heart. The prayer I prayed most was for clarity. He has given me this. . .
I am stunned again. Stunned at what was our “normal”. This is a good thing.