Today I’m going to veer off the highway just a bit and talk about something that has cropped up time and time again in my writings about being married to a pedophile. There was never any physical abuse to me in this relationship, but there was a high level of emotional abuse. And, the question has come up over and over again asking me why I stayed in this marriage. In fact, the question is a nagging one to a lot of people as to why so many women stay in abusive relationships.
I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I do have the answers that are mine, so I’ll speak to you from my heart. Why? Why did I stay in a relationship that I knew was abusive almost from our wedding day? Women stay in abusive relationships for a number of reasons but the number one reason, I believe, is due to a contributing factor of extremely low self-esteem and a very high need to be shown any kind of love. That’s it, really. No self-worth and a need for love.
I know many people are still saying, “This is ridiculous. When someone treats you wrong time after time after time, you should pack your bags and leave.”
Factor religion into this and it’s not such a simple equation any more. If you remember, there is only one thing I wanted in life from my childhood on up and that was a Christian husband. I believed with all of my heart that marrying a man who loved God would give me a beautiful life. I pictured my mate and I loving and laughing together, serving God together, having children together, enjoying long strolls by the sea together, sharing our inner most feelings together, making love together, and living the rest of our lives together. That one thought was in my mind and I lived and breathed by that thought.
When I realized that something was very wrong in our marriage, my immediate thought was that it must be my fault. Me. I’m the cause. If only I could be nicer. If only I was prettier. If only I was smarter. If only I kept the house cleaner. If only I had everything in order and kept on top of all duties and responsibilities at home 24/7…..if only, if only, if only. I can remember feeling so utterly and totally inadequate in every way.
I felt big and clumsy. I felt ugly. (If you remember I was told I was ugly by John on several occasions.) I didn’t feel like I measured up to other women. I came from a broken home and back in my day coming from a divorced home was considered sinful. You were looked down upon. I came from a very poor family. Another blow to the self-esteem. And, something that has always bothered me is the fact that I didn’t complete my four-year college education. That, too, was a goal of mine and I gave up that goal so that John could complete his education. It wasn’t possible financially for both of us to be in school at the same time.
So, with that being the foundation, I already felt beat down, less than what I should be, and almost daily I was being treated as such and being told as much.
Why did I stay?
1. Fear. Where would I go? What would I do? I had children, what would happen to them? What about the church? What would happen then? Would I be labeled as an outcast? What kind of work would I find to support myself?
Every time I even tried to think about leaving, it was too big. I couldn’t go there in my mind. I was convinced I needed John in order to survive. Part of his brainwashing (abuse) was to remind me every day how much I needed him. He reminded me constantly that I had no training in anything. The only thing I’d ever do was to be a mother.
And, I believed him.
2. A Need for Love. Every person alive wants to be loved and has a need for love. Just the idea of not being loved in a special way (even if it was an abusively special way) was frightening! I convinced myself that on the good days this marriage was all worth while. I had beautiful children. I had a lovely home. I had food on the table. These were all things that I couldn’t have if I was by myself. Leaving was too much for me to think about. Way too much. It was far easier to go to bed crying than to wake up in the morning alone. Besides, there was always the hope that tomorrow would be a better day. Tomorrow the pain would go away. Tomorrow would be easier. Tomorrow I would change enough to make John happy. That was my prayer for almost forty years.
3. Transparency is Frightening. There was a time in my life when I was the biggest cover-up ever when it came to my emotions. I could be dying inside and on the outside I looked so happy! I never shared my emotions or my pain with anyone. Ever! I was brought up being reminded almost daily that “you don’t air your dirty laundry in public.” In other words, you keep your problems to yourself. And, that I did!
Plus, I was the wife of a preacher who was absolutely loved and adored. He was the light of his children’s lives. He was loved by the church that he pastored. He was loved and so well-known in the community. I read Psalms 31 so much that I had the entire chapter memorized. My goal was to become the virtuous woman described in that chapter. And, leaving my marriage would be shameful, and as far as I was concerned leaving would be undeniably unforgivable!
4. Fear of my children hating me. I knew without doubt that my kids would turn their backs on me if I ever left John. Honestly, he was their hero. And, he had such a way of interacting with them that they made it known who their favorite parent was. I often thought how difficult it was being a mom and trying so hard not to love one child different than another. But, the kids……hands down their dad was the man! To be separated from your husband is one thing, but to lose the love of your children — there is no way I was going to risk that! I would rather live miserable all the days of my life than to be abandoned by my children.
5. Financial Fear. John reminded me often that I could never earn more than minimum wage on any type of job. I wanted to work to help support our family but he never would allow that (abuse, yes!). And, the truth is he was a great provider. His condescending words let me know over and over again that I would be of no value in the working world. Of course I believed him.
There are hundreds more reasons why women stay in abusive relationships, but I honestly believe they can always come down to the same two factors: a low self-esteem and the fear of being alone.
Pedophiles study adults and children. They prey on the emotionally weak. Of course I was a perfect match for John with my low self-esteem. He was quiet spoken and very persuasive. I know this is strange to insert here, but I was so used to telling him every move I made, that if I got up to walk down the hall to go use the bathroom I would tell him. Every time. And, he would give that sneering smile, as if to say, “Okay. And, you remember to tell me the next time, too.”
How does a woman get the courage to leave an abusive relationship? We’ll talk about that the next time. Please know that I understand there are women today reading this who are caught in a web of both physical and emotional abuse. You feel totally isolated, worthless, and alone. You’re afraid. Inside you’re shaking and paralyzed by fear. It is my prayer that over the course of the next few blog posts you’ll learn ways to gather your courage and make a run for it — literally!
Nobody deserves to be abused! Never, ever is abuse right! And, if you aren’t strong and can’t protect yourself, then you won’t be able to protect your innocent children, either.
Hang on. There is help, and there is hope! Please check back for more about how to break loose from the ties of abuse.
And, in the meantime, please keep your eyes and ears open for the red flags of child abuse. Read back through these blog posts. They are filled with signs to look for when trying to keep your children safe!
Together we are becoming empowered and we are breaking free of the grip of abuse. Together we are becoming a loud voice for all of the abused. It’s time to stop this horrible cycle and the first step is becoming educated.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing and caring.
PS Thank you so much for sharing your comments and thoughts. And, let me know if you’d like to be a guest blogger on the topic of breaking the chains of abuse. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks so much!