When I was 13, they gave me a copy of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and told me that if I followed the principles inside, not only would God be pleased with me, he’d reward me with an amazing, beautiful, God-honoring marriage. I believed them! I waited patiently for God’s plan for me, secretly hoping and praying that I could get married as quickly as possible. All I wanted to be was a wife and mother.
When I was 16, my father broke the news to me that someone from our church was interested in me. He was 5 years my senior, and SO cute. I was infatuated. With permission and tons of oversight from my father, we began a courtship that would last nearly three years. We were never allowed to be alone. Our phone contact was heavily monitored, as was the progression of our relationship and the amount of physical contact we were allowed to have.
The amount of regulation on a simple relationship was staggering, but I was convinced that God wanted it this way. I wasn’t upset that my father was so involved, I was thankful that he was helping us follow God’s plan. I was so proud that we were letting our friendship and spiritual relationship grow, without the distraction of sinful, sexual desires.
We were on a track towards marriage, which was the point from day one, but it seemed to be taking forever. I cried when he told me he wasn’t a virgin, and then I forgave him, because I knew that’s what God would want me to do. It was understandable, after all—he hadn’t become a Christian until he was in his twenties. I was eighteen when my father finally gave us permission to hold hands for the first time. Even at eighteen, my body didn’t belong to me. I believed that my body belonged to God, who usually spoke through my father. I wasn’t making any of the decisions about the relationship—I believed God was, through my father.
A Godly, Submissive Wife
When I was nineteen, we married. I promised to love, honor, and submit to him. I felt a smug sense of pride in my commitment to having a biblical start to our marriage—I knew who would be the head of the household and who would be doing the submitting. I was confident enough about my role and I knew that it was exactly what God wanted that I made sure those promises were a prominent part of our wedding ceremony.
He told me that if I ever cheated, the marriage would be over. He said he could never forgive me for that. I told him that I didn’t feel the same way, that I felt if he cheated but was sorry, and we worked on it, that surely we could work things out and save the marriage. Looking back, I can recognize his ultimatum as a red flag, but at the time I just shrugged it off. I knew I would never cheat on my husband. I made vows before God, and I knew I wouldn’t break them.
I threw myself into the submissive wife role. When I found a pink slip in the mail because he’d forgotten to pay the electricity again, I gently and respectfully suggested that he let me take over handling the bills. He wasn’t very organized—wasn’t that adorable? When he made poor financial decisions—quitting his job, living off savings, going thousands of dollars into debt for a pipe dream—I sat back and didn’t say anything. It was his job to make all of those decisions! My job was to be supportive and submissive. Wouldn’t God take care of the rest if I was following his plan? When he got angry with me and punched a hole in the wall, it wasn’t another red flag, it was my fault for provoking him. I tried to be more careful with what I said, and tried to remember to be respectful.
When Things Fall Apart
When I learned what verbal abuse was, and confronted him with the information that he was abusing me, he convinced me that it wasn’t true. I went back to silently suffering. Our second baby came along less than two years later, and I suffered from postpartum depression. He told me that I was crazy. This was all I’d ever wanted—why was I so needy? Why was I so unhappy? Why was I so crazy?
Still I tried to submit. I wanted so badly to be a Godly wife. I needed to make this work. I talked to our pastor, hoping there was something he could do to help. When I told the pastor that I was being abused, he, too, said that I was crazy and irrational.
For years I walked on eggshells, existing, surviving, deflecting the abuse as best as I could. I tried and failed to shelter my kids from it. Sometimes I didn’t even want to be alive anymore, but I told myself that if I ever got to the point where I was actually considering suicide, I’d leave my husband first. I should have seen that as a red flag, too, but I was still trying to do what God wanted me to do, which of course was to save the marriage and honor my vows.
Things continued to get worse. I was waiting for the best time to leave, but when he physically assaulted me, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. My marriage was over. Not only was I on my own for the first time, but I also found myself shunned and abandoned by the church full of people who were supposed to love me.
How could this have happened? I’d done everything right. I’d kissed dating goodbye, saved my first sexual experience for my wedding night, submitted to my father, submitted to my husband…I had done everything that God, the Bible, and the church said I should do to have a happy, healthy, godly marriage. And yet my worst nightmare had come true. Abuse. Divorce. Abandonment by the people of God who were supposed to have my back. None of it had worked. It was all bullshit.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. I’ve crawled my way back up from rock bottom, fought like hell for my kids, and I’m building a life for myself. I’ve found so much freedom in not having to follow the rules dictated to me by an invisible deity. But the years that I lost and the damage that I suffered while trying to follow God’s demands? They will follow me for the rest of my life. There’s no way to get that time back. I can heal, but I can’t forget the abuse that I suffered.
God’s plan—the shiny, tempting one with all the beautiful promises? It didn’t work.
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