When Is It "OK" to Leave?

Comments (8)

An anonymous author shares her painful story of wrestling with the decision to leave an emotionally abusive marriage.

When is it permissible to leave a marriage?  Many people feel the answer is "never," unless there is unrepentant adultery or actual physical abandonment.  I admit I was of that mindset growing up; but then, after a whirlwind romance and short engagement, I found my new husband was not the person I thought I had married. At first I bought into his statements that if anything was wrong with our marriage, it was my fault. I tried everything possible to be a better wife, and improve our marriage.  However, everything I did was wrong. I twisted myself into a pretzel trying to please my spouse. I began to believe him when he let me know that I was unlovable and undesirable.  I was belittled, mocked, and blamed. I was told that I was a lousy wife, mother, lover, cook, housekeeper, and human being in general. He sucked every bit of joy out of my life and was in the process of crushing my soul. Overwhelmed with sadness and stress, I was deeply depressed, often sick, and had developed an eating disorder.

I did not feel I could share any of this with my church friends and pastor in my community. He was in good standing with them, and I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed. I wondered what they would think if I said, “I can hardly function anymore because my husband is mean to me.” I tried Christian counselors for a time; but if he accompanied me at all, he would quickly stop coming after stating that any perceived problems in our marriage were mine alone. Nothing happened - nothing changed.

I credit my saintly late father, a well-known and well-loved CRC minister, with finally rescuing me. He had often attempted to talk to my husband, but to no avail. My father did his best to comfort me in middle-of-the-night, tearful phone calls. Through many conversations, prayers, and tears, he helped me realize that our God did not create me to be a doormat. I had not been physically abandoned, but my spouse had abandoned me emotionally and spiritually. This marriage was harming me tremendously. I began to realize that staying with this man would be worse than divorce.

I chose the lesser of the two evils; I chose to leave. God and I spent quite a while hashing things out, but I know that I live in God's grace, forgiven, just like all of God's children. With God’s help, I began the long process of healing. With God’s help, I began to recover my joy, my soul, and my very being. I still occasionally have nightmares in which I have to go back to my ex-husband. My sobs awaken me. But then, with a huge feeling of relief and thankfulness, I realize I am free of that bondage.

This is my story.  This was my decision.  Every situation is different.  I cannot speak for anyone else, but through much prayer and Christian counsel, this was the right decision for me. Divorce would not be necessary in a perfect world, but we are sinful people living in a sinful world. If possible, divorce should be avoided, but I do know that it is not the "unforgivable sin."

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Community Builder

Thanks so much to the one who has courageously shared her story.

I have walked this road with many women. And I've seen the amazing positive changes that can happen when the abuse ends. We don't often realize the HUGE damage caused by constant emotional, psychological, and even spiritual abuse. Until we've walked in another's shoes; we need to be very careful not to judge. Instead, as the Church we are called to love. It is not loving to encourage someone to stay in an abusive relationship. It is not loving to allow someone to persist in their sin of abuse. Of course we want to uphold the permanence of marriage. But at what cost? Don't we also need to also uphold up the sanctity and purity of the marriage relationship? That doesn't happen when abuse is allowed to continue.

Community Builder

 I'm glad this woman left before things got even worse.  This kind of abuser often ends up killing his wife because she left him, or was on the verge of doing so.  I hope that one day she can come out of the closet and no longer have to fear that people will condemn her for choosing life over hell.  It's unfortunate that she didn't see the warning signs before she married the guy because for one, I find it difficult to believe there were none.  But often the victims are in denial and figure the guy will change once they're married.  On the contrary, you often get more of the same.  In an issue of Scientific American Mind some years ago there was a story about a woman who was murdered by her husband when she broke up with him under the title "Love and Death," and in that story of spousal abuse the abuse had begun before the couple got married.  I don't remember when that article was published, but with the title of the magazine and the article people should be able to find it.

Community Builder

It's true that abuse in a relationship does tend to escalate rather than diminish; and that is also something that needs to be considered in a decision about leaving. And it's true that there may be warning signs, recognizing those is important - Safe Church Ministry has resources that can help here. When I worked leading support groups in a local domestic violence shelter I learned a lot about how this story plays out. Though each woman's story is unique, there are some themes that emerge in story after story. One theme is how wonderful the man was when they first met, he did beautiful things, swept her off her feet, and treated her very well. There are real and strong feelings of love there. The abuse begins and escalates very, very gradually only after the "hook" is in deep. And as humans, we are always hopeful. When someone says he's sorry and it won't happen again, everything inside us wants to believe that it's true. I remember one woman's words very distinctly, she finally came to the point where she said, "I know I have to find a way to leave someone that I love more than my very self". It's difficult and it's complicated. And I've seen strong, intelligent and beautiful women get hooked into an abusive relationship; and then come alive and build a new life again once the abuse ends.

Ms. Gyselinck: Thank you for your insightful comments. The bravery of Anonymous to "chose the lesser of the two evils" and break free of an abusive relationship is awe-inspiring. The support of her father is compassionate and Christ-like and an example to be followed.

While I agree that there may have been warning signs during the dating period, pointing out that the victim did not see or should have seen those signs is non-productive and may be inaccurate. It is very important that all of us trying to support victims of domestic violence avoid a very common pitfall that is blaming the victim. Elaine Weiss, Ed.D in her powerful book Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence makes this enlightening observation: she often hears the question "why don’t these women just leave?" when she feels the more pertinent question is "why don’t these abusers just stop?" The first question is yet another example of blaming the victim.

While each victim's story is unique, all victims need to know:

1. the violence is not her fault;

2. she deserves to be safe, loved, respected and cared for;

3. she is made in the image of God and belong to Him alone;

4. she has rights too.

Domestic violence is intensely complex, and ending domestic violence is an ongoing movement that must involve the support of family, friends, the church, and the entire community.

Book citation: Weiss, Ed.D, Elaine. Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence: How to Listen, Talk, and Take Action When Someone You Care About is Being Abused. N.p.: Volcano Press, 2003. Print.

Community Builder

Thanks for your insightful comments.

Community Builder

 You're right. It is a complex issue,and I didn't mean to blame her for being abused.  Dr.Phil often says that abusers are predators who intuitively know how to spot a potential victim rather than the victim unconsciously attracting their abuser, and they latch onto the hapless woman--since most of the time the victim is a woman--and makes it very hard if not almost impossible for her to get out alive.  When I lived in Sherbrooke, Québec, I got to know a former victim of domestic violence, and she did not dare to appear on photos that could be published outside the province since her ex-husband had threatened to kill her if he found out where she lived.  She got out alive, but her safety depended on his ignorance of her whereabouts.

Community Builder

This is really beautiful, and bravely written. Thank you for sharing. When I was in Seminary, we were taught that divorce is "the murder of a marriage". I believe that when one spouse abuses the other, they have already "murdered the marriage" by failing to fulfill their vows. In cases of emotional and physical abuse, where the one who abuses will not change the that way God (and the Church) asks, filing for divorce is more about "pulling out the knife" so that the wounds can begin to heal. 

Guide

Thanks, Shannon - "pulling out the knife" - that's a painful but accurate image of the kind of healing required here. I really appreciate your compassionate perspective.

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