The experience of being in a No Win Scenario is a very familiar one to me. A decade after my divorce I still find myself smack up against that in certain conversations. While a marriage to an abuser is replete with such scenes (they rapidly become normal), it’s the big leap of leaving where it angered me the most. I mean, I’ve left, why do I have to put up with this STILL? It’s like after you have a baby and they suddenly want to give you stitches.. haven’t you been through enough? Though not as grueling as what came before your tolerance is now zilch.
In a marriage breakup most church friends and acquaintances don’t wish to really hear about it. They want to tell you they are praying for you, often squeezing your arm compassionately. Then they want to get out of there quick because it makes them very uncomfortable. But sometimes you do have a concerned person who wants to hear your side, who sits down and really wants to listen. They make it clear they do not believe God condones divorce, but they are there to hear your side because they are fair minded and compassionate.
Ad nauseum, it went like this:
I would attempt to explain the abuse. Often I would leave out the worst things as I had not processed them enough to verbalize them. In later years I would leave the worst things out because they were intensely humiliating. But still there were plenty of things I could say that sounded pretty awful; living under his constant rage, the threats to hurt me and kill me, the irrational behavior towards the children, the constant lying. If I managed to get that far the answer was always the same.
“If it was that bad why did you stay with him so many years? Why did you have all these children with him?”
In the blink of an eye I had gone from being condemned for leaving to being condemned for staying.
This twist wherein the woman can be both the idiot and the marriage destroyer is not limited to Christians, I have been asked that by all kinds of people. Once you have multiple children, which people are already agog about, saying you got divorced after having that many children is guaranteed to make people question your intelligence. It would be nice to be able to point to one single terrible thing the abuser did so listeners could nod sagely and say, “oh it’s a good thing you left” but in many cases it doesn’t work like that. And truly, I am glad for those that just don’t get it, that never lived under tyranny. But it doesn’t make it any easier to wriggle out from under these condemning questions, even ten years after the event.
It’s been a lesson for me though and I try and listen to people’s stories without ever asking those condemning questions. “Why did you go back to him?” “Why did you marry him?” “Why didn’t you see he was [somethingawful]”? I have to ask myself, does anyone ever ask the man “Why didn’t you love her and care for her so she wanted to stay with you?” But of course that is a fruitless question as abusers usually assert that they did love their partner and “gave her everything”.
For a Christian there is simply no way to leave a marriage and not be considered a failure. Your marriage failed. This is THE most important thing to get right in the world, even more important than your children who eventually can be considered free agents. The wife is never a free agent as you are now “one flesh” (what a creepy term). If you do leave and, as was my case, you are actually happy about it you had better not let that happiness show because the only correct emotional response to a broken marriage is grief and endless prayer for restoration. You are not allowed to “win” at any point, this is a No Win Scenario! Even a decade later I have been told it is a shame my marriage was not restored, despite my being very happily remarried and my children obviously thriving. No Winning Allowed!
Below are some reasons women don’t leave marriages, real answers to “Why didn’t you leave him?”
Not Under Bondage
(I have not read this book and this is not a recommendation, but the website has some good material).
Condemnation from others, and myself
· I thought God would condemn me if I left my marriage.
· I knew some Christians would condemn me if I left my marriage.
· I saw how other women were treated when they spoke up about their abusive marriages.
· I left him, but went back because Christians told me I was a “rebellious wife”.
· Christians told me, “A good Christian does not have problems.”
· I didn’t want to live as a single mother.
· I didn’t want to end up in a huddle with other divorced women, where all we did was complain about our ex-husbands and resent life. (That was the image I had of divorcees.)
· Being a widow you get support and sympathy; being divorced you get stigmatised.
· My (adult) children think that I am to blame and that “poor old dad” only drinks because of me and my nerves.
· My priest said, “All you people in the younger generation think about is me, me, me! You are always abandoning your commitments to other people in order to be yourself or find yourself.”
· My priest said, “You must not be a Christian because you obviously don’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change a person.”
More from Arietty:
- Looking Back: My Family 10 Years on From Fundamentalism
- From the Library of Martyrdom ~ Part 1: How I was called to give up that which I did not have..
- From the Library of Martyrdom ~ Part 2: How I was called to give up that which I did not have..
- Where are the Instructions?
- Things I Loved and Why I Really Loved Them
- My Secret Desires: Lust Behind the Modest Denim Curtain