You’ve been following my story for quite a while and you’re probably asking the question that is most often asked of those who are abused. Why? Why did you stay? Why didn’t you get away from that horrible situation?
The answer is really quite simple. We are born with an insatiable desire to be loved. I’m no different from anyone else. I desired to be loved more than anything in the entire world. Sadly, when abuse is taking place, we fail to love ourselves enough to leave. It’s that simple, and it’s that complex. Let me explain………………..
Keep in mind, I’m speaking about my emotional and verbal abuse. That’s different from those suffering physical abuse and the threat of their very lives being taken if they leave. The core reason wives stay in situations of abuse is to be loved, but in cases that are life threatening, that becomes complicated on entirely another level.
Why did I stay in the marriage for almost forty years when I knew that I was being emotionally abused? Why did I stay when I felt the pain of abuse on a daily basis wearing me down to the point of mental and physical collapse? Why did I stay when I was so depressed and unhappy? Why did I stay when I knew deep inside of my soul that nothing was ever going to change in this marriage?
I, like millions of other women, stayed for so long because I thought things would change. I thought if I just loved John more, or if I loved him in a different way, or if I became a better Christian wife he would change. I can remember the first time breaking down and crying in our marriage happening on our honeymoon. And, I can still remember him taking me and pulling me close and simply saying, “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.”
I fell for the line. I believed him. I really and truly did. Why wouldn’t I believe him? This was the man of my dreams. This was the man I married. This was the man I loved. Nothing would ever make me believe that he could intentionally hurt me.
This same pattern of neglect and rejection continued to happen throughout the years and it was like a daily erosion — a daily wearing down of every bit of self worth I ever had. I’m convinced that rejection is a horrible form of abuse. Yes, there was direct and forthright verbal abuse. Not cursing or screaming, but quiet “digs.” Those quiet words that were stabbing to the heart. “You look like a long-legged chicken in that dress.” “Your nose is so big you could poke someone’s eye out.” “Your feet have got to be the downright ugliest feet I’ve ever seen. Cover them up!” (To this day, I try to hide my feet. I have a horrible complex.)
You get the idea. The abuse began with little things that were said half-jokingly, but meant to be so very hurtful. Those small words chipped away like an ice pick on my heart. Little by little my self worth was being chipped away. Of course, over the years the verbal and emotional abuse escalated to the point that I felt almost like a worthless rug under John’s feet. That’s the best way I know how to describe what I was feeling.
I can remember feeling terribly ugly because of the comments he’d say to me, so I worked hard — really, really hard — to stay thin and in shape. That was something I could control. I couldn’t change my nose or my feet, but I could certainly keep my figure. But, time and time again, he’d ignore me. Totally. It was as though he had no interest in me at all. I would get so excited waiting for him to walk through the door only for him to ask, “What’s for supper?” and then escape downstairs to his office hideaway for the evening while I waited for hours for him to come upstairs to bed.
He’d look past me as he headed to the bedroom. Defeated and deflated I’d cry myself asleep. After more than twenty years of this, I finally moved to the living room couch. The pain of rejection was too big. As you read back through previous blog posts, there are detailed accounts of what this rejection was like through the years and very clear descriptions of how the abuse escalated.
Why does a woman stay in a situation where she is emotionally torn down day after day? Why did I stay? Again, there is such a desire to be loved and an equally strong fear of being left alone. It takes a lot of guts to leave an abusive marriage, and when a woman is already beaten down and feels so alone and worthless, the courage to leave simply isn’t there!
Even now as I’m writing this my heart is racing, my palms feel clammy, and I feel some of that gnawing fear that once held me in such a tight grip. Why? Because I still feel the pain of abuse and rejection. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of time to heal!
Did I know that this was abuse? No, not really. If I’m being honest, I never thought of this mistreatment as abuse until years later. I knew something was wrong. I felt the pain of whatever was wrong in this marriage. But, I was “trained” to think it was because of me. I can even remember John referencing my home life as “crazy.” “Your parents were crazy, and that’s why you don’t know any better.” **At the time he was ridiculing the fact that my family had never had a family vacation. He went on an on about his family being so close to each other and how they loved their annual retreat at their house on the Chesapeake. I came from a broken home. I felt ashamed of that, and John’s cruel words added to that shame.
I hung my head low thinking he was right. I was a loser from way back when. This is what abuse does to a person. You no longer value yourself! You become totally dependent on the abuser for your worth!
I didn’t know this was abuse at the time, but I did know what I was feeling wasn’t right.
Who does a preacher’s wife talk to about marriage problems? Nobody. I found out quickly that doesn’t work to try to share problems with your church family. I tried one time and one time only. John was so loved by the church that what I said came off all wrong. In the words of my friend, “What are you looking for in this marriage? Do you expect to be wined and dined every day of the week?”
I shut down completely and never shared another word with anyone. John’s secrets were kept air tight. Little did I know at the time how important that was to him as he carried out his evil actions of molesting children! I was in a situation where I felt alone, worthless, empty, and without friends. I was made to feel totally dependent on John, the one who tore me down piece by piece. How perfect for him! He knew I wouldn’t leave!
I didn’t have the strength or wisdom to see beyond my tears.
If you are in an abusive situation of any kind, you understand what I’m saying. There is a weakness and dependency that is paralyzing. You are stripped of self-worth and become nothing but an empty shell. It’s a horrible existence!
What changed? How did I get the courage to finally say “no more” and what impact did this have on John, the abuser?
Next week we’ll pick up where we left off. If you are in an abusive marriage, I urge you to leave before it’s too late. The abuse will slowly kill you. It will strip the life right out of you and leave you crumbled in a heap on the floor. You’re stronger than you think and there’s help available. Please, if you need to talk, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Again, you’re stronger than you think! Don’t allow someone to strip you of your worth! You are worthy of love and life — the kind of love and life that God intended for you to enjoy!
I pray this has helped explain a bit more to you about the lonely existence of those who are abused and why it’s so difficult to break away. Please remember that the abused are walking a fine line of desperation and lost hope.
My love to each one reading this blog. I pray that together we will continue to be educated and that together we will become a strong voice for all victims of emotional and sexual abuse!