I never wanted to be one of “those women” who talked bad about her husband. Saying negative things about your husband was crass, unsupportive, and reflected badly on your competence as a wife. This attitude and belief kept me silent for YEARS regarding the way my ex -husband was treating ME. I was afraid to tell anyone, and even now it is difficult for me to talk or write about.
I’m going to try though. Partly because writing about it helps ME. It helps me process the things I went through and helps me to understand what I never want to tolerate again. It also helps readers who maybe are going through or at some point experienced similar things. You all don’t know him so this gives me the opportunity to be REAL, to show his negative side without worrying that people will think I am just trying to make him look bad, post- divorce.
Gosh, even with saying all of that, this is difficult for me. It’s hard for me to write all this out without worrying that people will think I am “being a victim” or blaming someone else for my own failings. So please, recognize that in writing all this out I am not excusing my own part in my marriage, in staying, in accepting the behavior, or denying that I made a myriad of mistakes also. I’m not saying that my ex- husband doesn’t have any good qualities or that he is an evil, awful human being.
What I am trying to show, is that his treatment of ME, however mislead and from wherever he learned these beliefs and behaviors, was harmful. I was in denial for so long that even when the marriage counselors at the conservative Christian counseling we attended pointed out that his behavior was emotionally abusive, it was hard for me to admit. He was so passive so much of the time. How could anyone refer to him as “abusive”?
According to them, they felt I was accepting his treatment due to my own past, my childhood where I was never able to protect myself or stop the abuse. I failed to learn how to set boundaries, and instead became stuck in “learned helplessness”. While I could debate fervently on a topic or stand up for others when need be, when it came to myself I was frozen with inability.
I also just really didn’t know any better. I didn’t know or understand what a healthy relationship looked like, I’d never seen it modeled and only dreamed of some sort of “ideal”. I THOUGHT I was protecting myself when I got married. One of the big things I considered was the fact that he rarely seemed to raise his voice. I was so afraid of repeating the cycle of abuse in my family that I went to what seemed like the opposite end of the spectrum.
Someone who didn’t yell wouldn’t be like what I’d experienced at home, my mom crawling into my room at night on her hands and knees trying to get me to call the police due to my stepfather and his rages and physical abuse. Memories of hiding my siblings under the stairs in the basement to try and keep us all safe from the objects that were being hurled, the screaming, of trying to get the baby from my mother before seeing my stepfather punch her in the face (and in doing so hit a two week old baby) all drove me toward this very passive seeming man.
Little did I know that I was really marrying someone like my mother. Someone who appeared passive on the outside, but on the inside was a manipulative, selfish and cold individual. Recently, a therapist of mine referred to him as a “passive aggressive narcissist”. I’d never thought of those terms being used together. Narcissists, you’d think of being more outwardly cruel, but the more I’ve pondered it the more I’ve realized the label fits him quite well.
Since the divorce and moving away from him, I have felt a HUGE sense of relief. Even though on the daily I have struggles, an enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders when I got away. I could never go back. Never. I could never want to be with the man whose criticisms and moral ideas of what I “should” become turned me into a shell of the person I once was. To someone who was unsupportive, unloving and unkind and put ridiculously high expectations on me while systematically tearing down every attempt I made to please.
I wish I could say that the divorce ended it all but it hasn’t. He continues to passively aggressively sabotage things for me, even now. Now that he has a live in girlfriend, I have seen instances of him doing the EXACT SAME THINGS to her. It makes me feel sorry for her to a degree but at the same time there is relief that his abuses are directed elsewhere, off of me and hopefully away from our children.
I wish I could say that I was the only emotional target, that the children were left unscathed, but I can’t. His behavior towards them is upsetting on so many levels. Seeing the way he has mostly abandoned them hurts but sometimes I think it’s for the best. If he were more involved in their lives he’d have more chance to put them down, to tear apart their sense of self, to damage them beyond repair. I can only hope that his limited contact has less chance to affect them.
In any case, I feel kind of like I’ve escaped from a prison. Not only was there emotional abuse but much of it was of a spiritual nature. He used GOD to shame and put me down, to make me feel like it wasn’t really him but GOD that I was being accountable to. Not being well versed in religious things, and him being so Biblically “knowledgeable”, I took his interpretation of scripture to be correct. I listened to him because I had no grasp on the meaning of Christianity on my own. I’d never even been in a Christian church before meeting him, though I’d participated in some youth group activities with a very new age fellowship.
So, as embarrassing as this is to admit, I became brainwashed, not only through him but through teachings of the church, his religious family, by the people around me. I was so blind to this too. I thought I was doing the “right” thing in becoming a Christian. I believed him when he told me what an awful person I was for the things I’d done in the past and how I needed salvation from that.
It is especially embarrassing for ME to admit, having been taught by my father to always question authority. To never become a “sheep” that blindly followed the teachings of others. My father wouldn’t even attend my wedding, he was so upset about me marrying into this Christian family and he said and used the term that I was being “brainwashed”. I so wanted to prove him wrong and in a way that was my own form of rebellion. I was convinced that I was going to do “better” than anyone in my own family.
I was bound and determined to have this “perfect” life. To be the “perfect” wife and mother and it was very difficult for me to let go of that goal, to realize it was all a farce. So much of what I learned as a “Christian” was really about appearances, much less so about the heart. Sure they used a lot of language to convince others that this was NOT about that at all but the actions were much like what Jesus himself, in the Bible, was preaching against!
In any case I had high ideals. We were going to become missionaries. To me this meant HELPING other people and I wanted so much to feed the hungry, to bring relief to the hurting, to save people from living in misery, to brighten their lives in every little way we could. My ex would disagree with me though, that this was what it all meant. He said all of that was only secondary and the goal was to preach the gospel. That only when people believed and followed Christ would any of those other things begin to matter.
All this background and I haven’t even begun to tell you of the actual things my ex -husband did to chip away at my sense of self, at my purpose in life, at my competence as a wife and mother, at my relationships with my family, at my feelings and my value as a human being. I feel like I need all this explanation to let you see just HOW he managed to get me into a position where I would ACCEPT any of this. Where I thought it was my duty to listen and believe what he had to say about me, about what I and our lives were SUPPOSED to look like.
A short time after my divorce I read a book called Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft. I know I’ve mentioned it on my blog before and really feel like it’s something every woman would do well to read, even if you are not dealing with an abusive man in your life. Heck, I didn’t even realize I would end up seeing my ex- husband all over the pages when I started. I was actually concerned about my relationship with the guy I had the affair with at the time. While he and I had our share of arguments, there was much less I could relate to him than my ex in that book.
I’m actually grateful I had an affair because it brought to light so much that I really needed to see. For over a year and a half I never mentioned to the guy I had an affair with what was going on in my marriage, until one day I finally broke down and told him I was “unhappy”. I still remember it because I was crying and in the bathtub text messaging him. I don’t even recall what had set me off at that particular moment but I know my ex-husband was outside the door and I could feel his condescending presence. I couldn’t even articulate to him what was happening at the moment, only that he wasn’t being physically abusive but that I was feeling unhappy. He demanded to know more, out of concern and I eventually spilled out some of the details of us not having sex and a few of the events that occurred, but most of his critical comments and hurtful behavior I never mentioned to anyone. In fact, I’ve blocked out a lot of it. It’s painful to think about.
I’ve debated even writing about this on my blog. I’m actually going to end here right now. Not to leave you all hanging but because this is a deep and difficult subject for me and I want to take a break after giving you a backdrop. Hopefully I’ll be able to expound further in another post.