STUCK in a prison of my own making

bible

All this writing about my ex -husband is bringing up more and more memories, things that make me question how I could ever think that my marriage was happy and good, but I did.  I thought that we were living the way we were “supposed” to be and that I was doing the right thing in not only listening to my husband, but being supportive of him.  So when other people were critical of his extremism, I was quick to back him up.  Remember, he was constantly drilling into me that we were doing this for God, putting Christ first in our lives, living for the Lord.  At times, when I would question or disagree with something he would re-iterate that it wasn’t “right” to question God’s plan for our lives, as written in the Word.

I don’t want to give the impression that I never questioned or challenged his beliefs, because I did, and frequently, but he ALWAYS had an answer for anything I brought up.  He always had a well thought out “Biblical” answer.  He’d been studying the Bible his entire life and HIS father was also a preacher.  He was always quite sure HIS answer was the RIGHT answer and that there was no other way and everyone who thought differently was wrong.  Even his own parents and family, including his father, the very old school preacher, sometimes felt he was taking things too far.  In fact most of our social interactions with other people as a family included hours of debating between him and whoever we were visiting with.  Hours of him debating until he felt like he’d “won” the discussion, affirming that his interpretation was correct.  The debates were virtually always about the Bible, or politics.

I can’t even tell you how overwhelmed bringing up either of those topics makes me feel today.  That’s all that was ever talked about.  I got so tired of religion and politics.  Anytime I’d bring up something else interesting he’d brush it off and change the subject, unless of course it was one of HIS pet hobbies.  He’d go through phases of getting really into one thing or another for a period of time and that would dominate the discussions for a while, to the point where I could no longer stand hearing about it.  For a time it would be gardening, or making bow and arrows, or sheep.  I kid you not, he went through a phase where all he talked about was SHEEP, like all kinds of various breeds and whatnot.  He wanted to start a sheep farm along with his ministry.  I thought I was going to go crazy hearing about sheep.

I know it probably sounds like I’m just bitching about his personality but it’s more than that.  The resentment that built up was so strong because he wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise!  Any time I tried to talk to him he would brush off anything I had to say and only want to talk about HIS obsessions.  He even went as far as to tell me that my thoughts and ideas and the things I was interested in were “stupid”.  My dreams and hopes for the future, in his mind, were completely irrelevant.  We were only going to follow HIS dreams, no matter how far- fetched.

In fact, one time, when I suggested that once the children were grown I would like to go back to work and make money so that we could travel the world as a couple when we retired, he got very upset with me.  He said that I was supposed to be helping him in the ministry and that he thought that when the children were grown I should continue to do so and not be trying to do my own thing. 

So, in the face of all this I made do the best I could and tried to support whatever it was HE was interested in at the time.  When he went through a gardening phase he would plant the garden and obsess over all kinds of seed varieties and leave me with the work of weeding and watering and storing all these vegetables and trying to cook with them.  Totally made me hate farms and gardening, lol.  We had about an acre of garden and that was a lot of work!! If it was bow and arrows or sheep or whatever else he was interested in I spent a lot of time just LISTENING to him talking about it, offering ideas, whatever I could but it was exhausting and he never gave me a chance to have any hobbies of my own.

Keep in mind that I was doing all this with babies on my hip and toddlers attached to my ankles.  I was stuck at home because we only had one car and couldn’t go anywhere by myself.  He would be off 40 miles away working and attending seminary and I was home on 6 acres of land, surrounded by Amish folks for neighbors.  I had no tv, no internet, no cell phone and our land line was 12 cents a minute to call anyone out of town so I was limited there too.  No music other than Christian, no radio, and very few books. 

This is how isolated I was.  I was desperate for adult conversation.  When he’d come home I was so eager to talk to him but most times he’d brush me off and pretend not to hear what I said, heading off to read the Bible or “pray”, which involved walking all about the property while I did all the housecleaning and caring for children.  He’d ignore me to the point where I had to raise my voice multiple times to get his attention.  I’m generally pretty soft spoken so this was out of character.  He made me feel like a nag if I even wanted to talk about something cute the kids had done that day.  I tried to remain positive but became increasingly frustrated.  He’d say he ignored me because I didn’t have anything interesting to say, but he never really gave me a chance.

I’d also become increasingly isolated from my own family and friends.  He told me that I shouldn’t associate with them because they were not Christians and would therefore bring me down.  On the rare occasions that we visited with them he was actually kind of rude and distant, only talking to preach the Bible at them or spout his view on politics, knowing they disagreed.  It was embarrassing and further drove them away from spending time with us.  He had only negative comments to make about them and would point out their “wrong” lifestyles.

 I was unable to go to any kinds of women’s meetings at the church or meet new friends that way because he and his parents (who eventually moved next door and kind of ran things) felt that it would be irresponsible of me to expect him or them to “babysit” for me so I could be running off socializing.  They told me horror stories of women who left their husbands watching the kids and how these women ended up having affairs.  In fact, I once left my ex with the baby for about 20 minutes so that I could drive 5 miles down the highway to McDonalds to get a salad one evening and his parents panicked.  They ran over to see what was “wrong” and made a huge deal out of him being “left” with the baby.  Oh, my goodness, they were SO WORRIED about him trying to take care of an infant all by himself!! They thought I was practically abandoning him.

On top of that he would compare me to the Amish women.  He’d say how they were working in the fields all day but that he thought I was being “lazy”.  My “laziness” included caring for kids all day, keeping the house clean and menu planning and cooking, laundry, keeping the budget and paying bills, typing and editing all his papers for Seminary (I swear at least 60% of that Master’s degree he has should be mine, he supplied the thesis but I did most of the work in writing it out), and planning out everything for teaching Children’s church each Sunday.  And oh yeah, the garden, freezing and canning, feeding the cows, mending clothes.  It wasn’t like I ever just sat around watching tv….or like I ever had time to “pray” like he did.

He was the Children’s Pastor, but I wrote the puppet shows, planned the activities, made homemade goodies for the kids each week, organized the Christmas and Easter plays, the bake sales, the walkathons, dealt with the parents, attended board meetings (all with kids in tow) and did virtually everything but his 10 minutes of Bible preaching. 

Unfortunately, it was a small country church and there really weren’t many people I could socialize with there, even though we came 3 times a week.  Mostly it was older people or I was involved teaching the kids and didn’t have a chance.  Plus the ex and his parents were always reminding me that as a pastor’s wife I was always going to be living in the fishbowl, on display for everyone to see and needed to be above reproach and come across as “perfect”.  Not that in their eyes I ever could be!  I was under constant criticism, and never got any praise for a job well done.  I tried, I really did but it was never “good enough”.

One of the things that could never be “good enough” was dinner.  Though I was completely clueless on how to cook before getting married I learned and learned well.  A lot of people praised my cooking and it is something I enjoy doing, I eventually even wrote out my own cookbook, but my ex would only comment if he thought something was wrong with the food or that I was doing something wrong.  He’d stand over my shoulder and offer “advice” that was mostly useless but kind of controlling. 

He also expected dinner to be ready the instant he walked in the door after work.  I didn’t really even mind playing the 1950’s housewife, but the problem was that he didn’t come home from work every day at the same time!  So it was impossible to predict exactly when to have the food ready and he was THAT particular about it.  If I was a few minutes late he’d act hateful and irritated, slamming things around, glaring at me, and never explicitly SAYING what he was pissed about.  He made it clear though, that he thought I was a failure as a wife. 

So to end this post (which maybe sounds like a gripe session, lol) I am going to point out some more ways in which this behavior was abusive.  If you read through and are aware of the signs you will see a big one was the isolation.  I was isolated from family, from friends, and even to an extent from church people.  I was made to feel like they were always watching, always critical. 

In fact, there was a time when the senior Pastor’s wife had given a little speech on journaling and prayer journaling and I was so excited to come home and WRITE.  I love to write (as you can see!) and hadn’t in a long time.  My ex shot that down pretty quickly.  He said you should NEVER write out your feelings and thoughts because someone could find it and read it later and use it against him in the ministry in the future.  I’m not sure why he assumed I would be writing anything negative but he did and discouraged me from ever writing down a journal.  I was also reminded repeatedly by his parents that divorced men could not be preachers in their denomination.  This was a subtle way of insuring I felt horribly guilty that if I ever left him I’d be ruining his entire career. 

Besides the isolation, he made sure to criticize me for the very things I was trying to do best.  I poured my entire life into children and homemaking and he would subtly try to make me feel like I wasn’t doing any of it “well enough”.  He’d throw little passive aggressive “tantrums” when I didn’t have dinner done the second he walked in or lurk over my shoulder while I was cooking to make sure I was doing it “right”.  He rarely raised his voice, he never cursed, but his attitude was one of disdain.  He’d point out the hardworking Amish women but “forget” that they had lots of other people helping them and lots of older women and children to help with little ones.  They had a social life and community.  Nevermind that my mother in law was always telling me the Amish women have short lifespans. :p

He trivialized any of my interests or ideas and even kept me from writing for myself (though it was encouraged when I was writing HIS papers).  I did a lot of work, all day long and was trying to please but none of it ever returned a compliment.  He had nothing nice to say and it was all expected.  He felt “entitled” to be waited on hand and foot while he did whatever the hell he wanted or lie around “praying”.  I was made to feel that his “praying” was first and foremost and never given a chance to do so myself unless it was lead by him in a “family devotion”.  To argue with that would be to go against God because his “praying” was important in determining his future and ministry.

There was even a time where he was out of work for 7 months straight and at home ALL DAY LONG and he didn’t lift a finger to help.  He “prayed” most of the day away and I was expected to continue to run things and also to help him find a job.  I looked and looked and he’d accuse me of “not having enough faith” if I stressed out over bills or if I suggested that maybe I should try to work instead.  If I worried about money it was a lack of faith.  If I didn’t think God was going to drop a job down from the sky or send us money in the mail it was all my failure to “believe” strongly enough.  Notice how any problems or difficulties were MY FAULT.  It wasn’t his lack of motivation or his job loss, but I was holding us back because I wasn’t giving it all to God.  The blame was all on ME.

Not to mention his parents would harass me daily, also blaming ME for his lack of work.  They thought it must be me who wasn’t “getting after him enough” to go out and get work, that I was expecting help from him with the children and letting him sleep in too late.  It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with his own personal work ethic!

So blame, isolation, knocking down my dreams and things I wanted to do, putting me in a position where I was incapable of going anywhere (out in the middle of nowhere with no car), subtly making me feel like a failure no matter how hard I tried, convincing me that others were also being critical (church members)…

Oh yeah, on that note he was AWFUL on Sunday mornings.  He’d lie around, getting himself ready at the last minute, while I was expected to have all the children and myself ready in time for church.  There was always an extra diaper to be changed or someone had lost their shoe or another issue to be dealt with and he’d stand there and fume instead of pitching in.  Then he’d act angry and drive really fast or run stop signs in an attempt to frighten me into doing better next time. He was constantly saying how I had “no concept of time” and was “always late”.  A funny thing I’ve noticed since the divorce is that HE is always late on his own!  Much more often than me!!  He has also been witnessed driving fast and running stoplights when he was upset with his current girlfriend.  Hmmmm…  Old habits die hard…

He’d also be nasty regarding me getting myself ready.  He’d say it wasn’t important for me to wear makeup or dress nice and if I asked if I looked okay he said I was being “vain” and that I should be happy to go to church in a potato sack.  Never a compliment and he acted as though he didn’t find me attractive.  He was never one of those guys who said “you look nice” or used the word “beautiful” and his attitude combined with his disinterest in sex made me feel so ugly.  It was such a relief to find that other men still found me attractive, once I got back out in the “world”. 

In case you aren’t following, this is a continuation of a couple posts I have written about my ex husband, including Emotional and spiritual abuse, how it all began and How he got in, breaking down the door.  You may also want to check out my post When Men Don’t Want Sex because it talks about him and his attitude towards me in that regard. 

9 thoughts on “STUCK in a prison of my own making

  1. Again, you poor woman. I’ve seen other men and women trying to live with the ‘religiously devout’ and your situation sounds all too similar to what I’ve witnessed. I don’t knock anyone’s faith or beliefs… but there is such a thing as taking it too far and to the point where they believe that everyone else is living wrongly… except them… and they don’t see that they’re really the bad guy here.

    *sigh*

    • Right. He was completely blind to the fact that he himself was not the sole “righteous” person out there. He was highly critical of ME and constantly telling me I “lacked faith” because I worried about things like money. He’d say that we were “spoiled” to have all these earthly things and that I should be focusing on heavenly things and not worrying and make me feel like a selfish person for wanting basic financial security. We were usually lacking much in the way of money and barely scraping by and he’d always tell me that wasn’t important but I’d be the one trying to figure out how to cover the bills. He refused to deal with it at all and chided me for not trusting God and saying if you didn’t really trust God then THAT is what was holding us back.

      I thought of us as not arguing because there wasn’t a lot of screaming and yelling going on or anything but any time I brought up an issue he would use scriptures and point to my lack of faith. I was supposed to be this ideal Proverbs 31 wife and nothing I could ever do would convince him I’d reached that goal.

      • Yeah; people like this ALWAYS drags out Proverbs 31:10-31 as that shining example of what a woman’s supposed to be like… and then they try to shame a woman into trying to live up to what is actually a nearly impossible thing to do since it’s someone’s idea of what the ‘perfect’ woman was supposed to be like way, way, way, back in the day.

        Most women I know ain’t even trying to hear any of that, even the ones who go to church on a regular basis. It is, however, one of the many passages in the Bible that men use to exert control over a woman.

        It’s still a stupid way to behave and I am sorry that you had to live through that nonsense…

      • Thanks. The sad part is he really seemed to believe that was what a woman should be like, someone who was perfect in all these ways that no one could ever live up to and he was disappointed in what he got because try as I might I would never be able to live up to the image he had in his head. I didn’t see the “controlling” part as easily because he was putting it all on God. I wasn’t living up to what “God” wanted, not acting as though it was him that had these high expectations himself.

      • Oh, sure, like God has been telling him what to say and do when it came to you, with daily and up-to-the-minute updates so he could keep you in line? I know we all have a personal relationship with God… but that’s kinda stretching things.

        I’ve learned, over the years, that if a man is telling you what God wants you to do, something’s up because if you believe in God – and I do – if He wanted you to know something, He would tell you… and easier than your ex would have.

  2. I meant to say this to you (hit the button too soon): I can appreciate what it takes for you to talk about this and thank you for sharing this… but do not let anything you have to say about this put your mind in a bad place, okay?

    • You are right that is something I need to be careful of. It is hard not to get emotionally upset thinking and writing about some of this and I may have to cut it short and leave some stuff out for now. I want to get some of this out there but I don’t want to dwell on it too long.

      • The only way this get emotionally upsetting is if you allow it to be… so this is me telling you not to get upset. It’s okay to go back and look at something from your past so that you can see any mistakes that were made so you can be aware of some stuff so that you won’t make those mistakes again… and it should be done with some clinical detachment.

        Not really that hard to do even when the event being examined was – emphasis on the past tense – painful or disturbing.

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