I don’t know if any of you all watch Wife Swap on tv, but I saw an interesting episode the other day when I was visiting the Professor. I normally don’t watch much in the way of television, so I don’t follow the show, but he was finishing up his shower (I got there early) and it happened to be on.
In any case, there was a polyamorous family involved, as well as an ultra –religious, conservative, couple, so it caught my eye. I cannot tell you how much the right wing, conservative, politician guy reminded me of my ex -husband. Not in looks, (this guy had crazy hair and my ex was actually a pretty good looking fellow) but his behavior.
The polyamorous wife who was staying at his house as part of the swap seemed mostly sweet and easygoing. Her only request was that they not discuss religion or politics, but dude would not stop trying to shove the “gospel” (according to his interpretation) and his political beliefs upon her, despite her setting up a jar and insisting the family members put money inside every time those topics were brought up. The money would go to benefit some kind of gay and lesbian organization. At one point he even put in a $250 check, just to “buy” the chance to spout scriptures from Leviticus putting down her lifestyle and letting her know he thought she was hellbound. Eventually she ended up in tears, unable to respond or know what to say to these accusations or how to react to his attitude of superiority. The kids watched on in seeming agreement, obviously having been taught that their father’s way was the only one as well.
Watching that brought back a lot of memories of my marriage. It brought back the feeling of what it was like to try and discuss something rationally with my ex only to be shot down constantly by his superior attitude regarding Biblical knowledge and politics. Those were also his two favorite subjects (and he has degrees in both). In fact, no matter what I tried to talk about, he virtually always brought it back around to religion or politics in a very insistent way that only HE could be right and that nothing I had to say was in any way relevant or worth considering. This was the one area in life where he was definitely NOT passive. He could out argue and out debate and out-shout anyone for hours when it came to discussing his conservative viewpoints or interpretation of the Bible.
So while outwardly my ex- husband was passive natured, when it came to religion he was convinced that not only was he right but he was called and ordained of God to teach this stuff to others. I knew exactly WHY this conservative couple decided to be on Wife Swap (though they ended up bailing and declining to finish the show). They felt it was their God given DUTY to preach the word to anyone and everyone they could. There was no way Mr. Politician Husband was gonna shut up about this, money in the jar or not because that was his SOLE reason for being there, on TV, where they could get their message out, not only to this woman, but to anyone who was watching.
I am quite familiar with this mindset, because I lived it, daily, for almost 15 years. During our courtship I pretty much became my ex- husband’s pet project, a person he could convert and change into what he thought I should become, which was absolutely nothing close to what I WAS at the time. Don’t think I went in without a fight either! When we met I was quite liberal and my religious beliefs were far from Biblical.
In a way, it was sort of like a war. We debated a lot of topics and went head to head on things because I vehemently disagreed with his worldview and mindset. Yet, eventually I relented and gave in. He won. Why?
I can only say now, looking back, that I believe it was because he began hitting me where it hurt (verbally, not physically). He started to tear me down as a person, my life up until I had met him, my beliefs, just me. Telling me how wrong everything about me and my family was in the eyes of God and how shameful I was. He found my insecurities and doubts, the personal things I’d revealed, and used them to make me feel bad about myself. While to me these debates were originally just interesting discussions, to him they were for a purpose. In his view, a “higher” purpose.
I think he felt like he was “saving” me. Saving me from myself, my “sinful” nature, and my “evil” heart, things he said everyone had, but seemed to have a way of making it appear that I was worse than most. He’d quote scriptures to me and I’d express doubt. So he insisted we read through the entire Bible together as a couple. This became how we spent our dates (hot, I know right?). He said it would “prove” the things he was saying were true. I’d never read the Bible but I was open to hearing what another person had to say, probably too open. He used those sessions to drill into me his beliefs and ideas, and what it all meant, with a very authoritarian attitude. You couldn’t question God and he’d shame me when I tried.
Eventually, my skepticism wore out. He convinced me that he loved me like no one else would, that he wanted to marry me and that he would treat me so much better than all those horrible people in my past had done. It was true that I’d come from an abusive past and had some experiences as a young person that would be considered bad by a lot of people, yet he vilified them even more. He said he didn’t want to have sex with me until we were married, out of love and respect, that he wasn’t going to be like all those other guys who were only using me and treating me badly (his interpretation of course, which confused me and led me to question any times I’d thought may have been different in the past).
Admittedly I’d never experienced anything like this and I guess I fell for it, feeling like he was doing me some sort of “favor” by being with a girl like me. After all, I already had doubts about myself and insecurities, doubts that men wanted me for anything more than “just sex” and doubts about my marriage worthiness. Heck I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to get married, but what if this really was the only man who would be willing to take me? That’s sort of how he made me feel, and honestly I think he viewed it that way. Due to my sexual past I was “damaged goods” that no one would really want. Sadly, though I hadn’t really viewed it in that light before, I started to wonder. Is this how it really was? Did guys really think like that? Was I as awful as he made me out to be? If this “nice”, “Christian” man thought of me this way wouldn’t others be even crueler?
Basically, he was following the standard abuser pattern. Setting me up to feel like he was the only person that would be “good” to me and all the other guys would treat me worse because I was such an awful person, that didn’t deserve it. Only he was using the Bible, scriptures and religion to put the fear of God into me and the fear of Hell (which of course he believed in and told me if I didn’t that was where I’d be going). I was 18 years old, with no clue about the Bible or religion and wondered if he could be right? What if he was right and I made the mistake of not listening?
Eventually, with lots of pressure from him and from his parents and also from the church we’d started attending together, I caved in and got “saved” and baptized into the denomination he’d been a part of since birth. It’s not that I don’t believe the people there had good intentions, I think many of them did, but he went above and beyond even what the church taught, believing in a very old fashioned, hardcore, Bible thumping version of it all. After we got married his views just seemed to get more and more conservative.
We couldn’t go to movie theatres. I never understood that one, or how it was “against God”, but he was adamant. There would be no drinking whatsoever, or setting foot in any kind of a bar. Even restaurants with a prominent bar were questionable. We didn’t own a tv, which was fine because I didn’t have one in my dorm or ever have time to watch it anyway. He was adamantly against anything “secular” in our home and especially music. This was one of the hardest things for me. I broke down in tears when he asked me to throw away all my music because it wasn’t glorifying to God. I didn’t want to do it and he guilt tripped me into it, reminding me over and over how if I was “really” a serious Christian I wouldn’t hold onto “things of this world”. He was like what if our future children listened to this stuff? And went on to say how upset that would make him, if one day our children found one of my beloved tapes (hey this was back in the late 90’s) and turned away from God because of it.
I finally relented. He wouldn’t even let me sell my music because he said what if someone bought it and we caused them to turn from God by listening to it? So I threw caseloads of music into the dumpster behind our apartment that I had acquired throughout the years, music of all different genres, stuff that he said was in no way “glorifying to God” due to being “secular”. Any time he caught me humming to myself in the days, months and years afterwards, he would start singing loudly, in an attempt to drown me out with praise songs and hymns. I could no longer sing unless it was worshipful to God. On road trips and in the home, he’d want me to sing WITH him and sing songs I didn’t know, criticizing and making fun of me any time I made a mistake. Despite his own off key renditions and my years of choir practice, he was convinced that he was a much better singer.
He made me get rid of all my books too. He said he felt no books were necessary other than the Bible. He would reluctantly agree to occasional other books and later to children’s stories from the library with our kids but he was especially against marriage and relationship books and anything that reeked of “Psychology”, which was my major in college and what I have a degree in. He would make fun of and put down anything I said that he thought was using “psychology”, even going so far as to laugh and mock in later years when I worried that his calling the children “dummies” or putting them down could affect them badly in the future.
I could go on, there is so much more to tell, but I’m going to stop here today, while pointing out a couple of the ways in which his abusive nature was beginning to show. He was attempting to make me feel bad about myself as a person, to see him as the only rescuer, to mock the very thing I had a degree in, to take away things I loved and was interested in (music and books) and tell me they were “bad” for me (and future children) and in direct conflict with God, all to make me feel guilty and “wrong”. He would out-sing me and try to cover up the songs in my mind with the “songs of God”. This is even when I was singing songs from musicals I was in as a child or things I sang in choir, not stuff you’d necessarily associate with “evil”. In later years he told me that I “hated music” and that he was the only one who liked it, just because I wasn’t interested in hearing him blare Opera or classical music at high volumes when I was trying to focus on something else. At that point he’d decided that those forms of secular music were okay but anything I liked was not. Not that I even dislike Opera or classical music, particularly, it was just the way he was using it to drown me out.
When I had my affair it was such a relief because here was someone who is highly musically talented (he plays the piano, used to be in a jazz band, writes his own music, sings beautifully and often for people’s weddings and music was one of his majors in college) who actually APPRECIATED it when I sent him a video of a song I liked and reminisced with me about things we used to listen to when we were young. It was like, wow, I’m not crazy after all. There isn’t anything wrong with what I like even though I have someone here telling me I’m wrong all the time and that I have bad taste and what the hell I “don’t like music”? Me???
Yeah, more and more when I write it out I can see just how unreal it all was and how stereotypically his behavior folded out. In case you aren’t following this is a continuation of my last post Emotional and spiritual abuse, how it all began I’m sure I’ll have much more to write in further posts. Stay tuned.