I Was An Abused Wife. Why Did I Stay So Long?

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 clarahintonspeaker@gmail.com .

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!




16 thoughts on “I Was An Abused Wife. Why Did I Stay So Long?

  1. Dear Clara,
    Thank you so much. I have been reading your blog for years and so much of it resonates with me. I have been married to an abuser for 30 years and separated for 4 of them. I am working hard to heal but my heart is like an open wound. Your words and encouragement have been so helpful to me, when I could not articulate what I was feeling and wondering if I was crazy, you gave me hope and validation.

    • Dear Lara,
      I’m so very glad that you’ve found the courage and the strength to separate yourself from the abuse. And, as you and I know, it takes a LOT of courage and a LOT of strength to take action. I can well remember it taking me over a month of paralyzing fear just to pick up the phone and make a counseling appointment. I stressed so much over that one action. Then, going to the sessions was another round of intense, paralyzing fear for me.

      I’m so very glad you are feeling stronger. You’re not at all crazy. You have been used by an abuser, and made to feel that you’re crazy. I know that feeling, too, but it will get better and better with each passing day!

      Much love to you,

  2. I’ve also heard that abusers who are “just” emotional abusers still might escalate to murder if the victim leaves because they are still motivated by control. That’s shows how abnormal they are!!

    I also think it’s normal for even educated victims to have a delay in recognizing abuse because everyone starts with the assumption that hurt is unintentional. Even if we know what other abusers do to other victims we don’t start a relationship with someone that we see as an abuser. We only commit to someone when we think that his intentions are good so it takes a LOT of evidence and a LOT of courage to even believe that the hurt is deliberate. Denial isn’t just for “stupid” people it’s for survival.

    Understanding this gives me more compassion so I’m Not (anymore) thinking “if she takes him back she doesn’t deserve help”. Instead, for some victims “taking him back” a few times may be steps on the journey to leaving permanently.

    • Dear M&M,
      Thanks so much for your insightful comment! I know first-hand that there are so many people who get frustrated with women (especially) who stay in abusive situations OR who take back an abuser. It’s not that easy to break away from the grip of abuse, and I’m so glad you recognize that!

      Next week’s blog post will be on “intentional abuse” and we’ll go more into detail about that. When a person is in an abusive situation, there is such a compelling feeling of “relying on the abuser” for everything. Honestly, at the height of my abuse, I’d even ask John permission to walk down the hallway to the bathroom. That’s just how bad it got!

      Again, thank you for the comments. I’m sure many will benefit and learn from what you shared.


      • Thanks, and FYI- the “notify me of comments” box doesn’t work. I happened to see your comment, but I didn’t get an email notification.

        • M&M,
          I’ll update everything and see if that helps. Thanks so much for the heads up!

  3. One of the biggest lies is the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me!”

    Words spoken in rage or in an off-handed ‘teasing-but-really-meaning-it’ way may be quickly forgotten by the abuser, but the victim (whether young or old) is injured every time they’re spoken. Likely the victim never forgets the hurtful words, the degrading comments, and the meanness.

    I like what poet Emily Dickinson wrote:

    A WORD is dead
    When it is said,
    Some say.
    I say it just
    Begins to live
    That day.

    • Jana,
      Thank you so much for your insightful comment, as always!
      Verbal abuse of any kind is also more readily called “bullying” and has caused many younger ones to take their own lives because they can’t deal with the ridicule and pain that these words bring on.

      For me, knowing the intention that came with these words will pain my heart forever. I often have said that words pierce the heart like a knife and cut goes clear to the soul.

      Thank you so much for referencing Emily Dickinson. I love her writings!


  4. It’s so good to hear from you again. Even though you words conveyed such deep hurt and terrible trauma, you have a way of drawing the reader into your life—to feel what you were going through. A part of me feels your suffering in a personal way, even though I was not there.

    You said so many things that I PRAY Christians will wake up to. Abuse is so rampant in the church that I fear we are becoming desensitized to it. It’s NOT normal, and never should be treated or seen that way.

    Yes, marriages go through troubles. They face difficulties. They have seasons of intense stress, and YES—even unhappiness and deep sadness. BUT ABUSE IS DIFFERENT. It’s NOT the same as “marital woes” or “we’re having problems.”

    Abuse is the problem and the fault of the abuser, Period. It’s not the victim’s problem (she is not causing it) and it’s not her fault.

    I picked up on something as I read your blog, and I hope you bear with me. John was idolized by his church it seems. It is dangerous to believe that “this person can do no wrong.” It is wonderful for a church to love their pastor, but not to the extent where John could seemingly do no wrong. He deceived them, and I understand that. But they also seemed unwilling to believe that he wasn’t as “perfect” as he seemed.

    Idolized by you, possibly as well? I do not mean to accuse, so forgive me. You loved him so much, which is no sin at all! And the fact that you could not see the abuse was not your fault, either.

    When you said: ‘Nothing would ever make me believe that he could intentionally hurt me” sometimes I think we wrongly think that the person we love so much is not capable of evil. Again, when we love someone, of COURSE we believe the best about them! It’s just that I wonder where we need to draw the line and say: I love you, but because I love you—I have to call you out on your behavior. Don’t speak to me like that. That hurts me. That is wrong. That is not love.

    I picked this up when I would hear automatic responses of “the victim is lying” when accusations come up. Well, by saying that, you automatically assume the accused is telling the truth, when you haven’t even heard their side yet. You have already assumed that the accuser is not capable of evil, and have assumed that the victim is capable of lying, which is a form of evil. Why do our minds work like that??

    PLEASE, everyone take Clara’s words to heart when she explained why she stayed for so long. And if someone comes to you with a story like hers, DO NOT squash your friend even more. I am disgusted at how Clara’s friend treated her when she tried to get help.

    May I add, that even though physical violence and threats to one’s life are serious, verbal and emotional abuse is still murder, IMO. It kills someone from the inside out. Many times, the victim would rather be dead than to keep facing the searing words and/or the constant rejection/neglect that speaks volumes. Sadly, the scars on the inside sometimes never heal, even though the physical scars do.

    I’ve read accounts where only physical abuse was taken seriously by the church, because it could actually be seen. So women dealing with other forms of abuse would “want” to be beat up, so they would be free to leave. BUT, even with physical abuse being a factor, for a church that idolizes marriage and/or idolizes male leadership: a black eye still isn’t enough of a reason to leave.

    I despise abuse. Every one of them has their unique form of death attached to it. Physical abuse makes you ashamed to be small, weak and unable to fight back. Emotional and verbal strips you of your worth and sense of dignity—and makes you feel so unloved. Neglect and indifference feels like you aren’t even worth their attention—any kind! Sexual abuse makes you feel like you are just an object for their pleasure, used and abused and thrown away like trash. Exploited, and expendable.

    Apologies that this is so long. You’ve been in my prayers since I started reading this.

  5. Oh my goodness thank you for sharing!! I’ve read through much of your blog and what that man did to you was pure evil. I grew up in a good home, and now I have a husband who is crazy about me. I know what a good husband should be and is, and I about fell out of my seat when I read how John treated you. When I read about how you were about to have a baby and he made himself a hamburger, that was truly disturbing!!! Something truly was very very wrong with him.

    And, you were so good to him. Even in that dark place, your light was still shining. May you see the worth and dignity you possess and always have. We see it when we read your blog! It’s obvious!

    • Amanda,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate hearing from you! It’s weird how abuse works — you honestly forget what it feels like to be treated with kindness and respect. The abuse becomes the “norm” and that’s perhaps the saddest part of all.

      I’m so very happy that you’re in a loving relationship! That gives hope to countless others who have been soured on marriage!


      • Anu,
        No apologies ever needed for your comments! You’ve said so many things that people need to read — churches, pastors, and the abused, as well as counselors and educators. Far too many times, emotional abuse is pushed aside and isn’t even called abuse. How wrong! There are so many ways that emotional abuse beats down a person. The scars aren’t seen on the outside, but they’re sure causing pain on the inside.

        Again, thank you for your wise and encouraging comments!


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