Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I don't understand

I have this friend who has been married to a man who abuses her for eight years. The manipulation, control and probably some verbal abuse started early, before they were even married. I don't think she fully realized what his behavior meant, but looking back she says she saw signs. About a year into their marriage, it got physical. I don't know even a fraction of what he's done to her, but I know enough. This guy is dangerous.

Several times she's talked about leaving. She usually ended up pregnant soon after thinking such things. They had three kids in just over three years, and there was a miscarriage in between the second and third. Each time she was pregnant she claims he treated her well and I think she allowed herself to believe that he would change; he would see the great mom she'd be and he'd treat her well. It never lasted.

Now things are bad again. Her youngest is 16 months, long enough that the pregnancy honeymoon period has clearly worn off. I don't know any details (although I suspect he may have started in on the kids - at least the older ones), but she took the step of telling her pastor at church. They're very involved in their church and this was a HUGE deal for her to confide in him. She's resisted the idea of telling her church for years, because she was afraid it would "make her husband look bad." For whatever reason, she's mustered the courage to reach out in this way and her pastor will be confronting her husband next Monday.

What I'm confounded over is her seeming obsession with keeping her marriage together. She emailed me today and said this may mean they have to be legally separated and that isn't what she wants - "not at all" were her words. WHY THE HELL NOT?

She told me recently that she's praying for the restoration of her marriage. I wanted to ask her "restoration to what?" When in their entire relationship has there been a time that is worth restoring to? He's always been a controlling, manipulative prick and honestly believes that there is nothing wrong with the way he treats her. Why does she want to stay married to this guy so badly?

I just don't understand. I've tried so hard to stick by her, be her friend regardless of whether I thought she was crazy, or wrong, or stupid. I've thought all those things, and now, in the face of giving him an ultamatum she's never dared before (the church will be telling him that she will have their blessing and help to leave if he won't get help and change his behavior), she's upset that they might be separated. I have no frame of reference for understanding her sentiment. Is it fear? Is it some misguided notion that she loves him? Does she simply believe all the horrible things he's said to her and doesn't think she deserves any better? Does she actually believe he'll change? Because I'm telling you, this is not the guy who feels bad about how he treats her. He believes from the core of his being that he has every right to treat her this way. He's said so on many occassions. So has his father.

I've tried hard not to be too judgmental. She's already lost friends over the years, people who couldn't understand why she'd stay and got sick of watching the horror show. I don't understand any more than they do, but I've stayed her friend - and I plan to still. But I just don't get it. I can't fathom why she is so desperate to hang on to this sham of a marriage. I wouldn't want to be a divorced, single mother any more than she does, but isn't that better than living under the thumb of someone who tries to control your every move, belittles you at every opportunity, and dosen't find anything wrong with slapping you around when there are dirty dishes left in the sink?

And how she can stand by and let this happen in front of her children downright infuriates me. She's never admitted that he's hurt them, but I suspect that he has. And even if he never turns a hand to them (which he will), he's doing these things to their mother right in front of them. He's teaching his sons how to treat women and teaching his daughter how men should treat her. I don't know how she can let that happen.

I just don't get it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We're taught as women to keep our families together, to mean it when we say forever.

We're taught that kids need their fathers, that women should facilitate change in the relationship. In many cases, the woman who stays with an abusive man is staying in a relationship that feels familiar, known and often very much like her family of origin.

A lot of abuse goes undetected because we don't even realize it's abuse. It can be so subtle. I didn't realize I was asking for permission to do things with my friends until after I left, the first time Audra asked me to do something with her that I didn't say "well, let me see what's going on..." which was really my way of making sure I wasn't in trouble or he wasn't angry first. I was asking permission, and at times not even doing that because I didn't want him to say no.

I spent a lot of time on my knees, praying for God to save my marriage because I thought there had to be some way to fix it. Some way for it to get better - because it HAD been better at times, and the thing that is very hard for someone in a healthy relationship to understand is that it isn't bad all the time. For the woman in the relationship, that ends up being a double-edged sword. We stay because we remember the good times, because the good makes us doubt ourselves about the bad, and we hold out this hope that eventually we'll get to the point where it stays good.

We keep thinking, like abused children, that eventually we'll be good enough that the abuse will stop. :( It's horrid and sad and depressing.

Even now, there are moments he will act incredibly reasonable and I have to check in on "did I imagine this?" I didn't, I know that, and even ONE incident would have been reason enough to leave and yet sometimes I have to run through the list to reaffirm that I'm not crazy or overreacting.

I was so enmeshed in the cycle of abuse that I didn't realize how cut off from my own support system I was. I remember, before this relationship, wondering how a woman could possibly think it was her fault. Now I understand. They chip away at self-esteem, self-worth and the person you are as a whole until you really think the problem is you.

I can't tell you how many times the words "If I only..." came up in thought.

She has my prayers, my hopes that she'll get out, and my undying gratitude that she has you as a friend.

It's hard, in your shoes, and the only thing I can say is don't give up on her. It was you and Audra saying "this isn't right" over and over that finally made me believe I didn't deserve what was going on.

I'm afraid there's very little that makes me different from her. Very, very little.