How long was it from first experiencing abuse to actually leaving the relationship? What were the barriers to you leaving?
Six years. I didn’t think it was abuse. In my mind, if he wasn’t hitting me or sexually abusing me it wasn’t abuse, just a bad marriage. Everyone says marriage is difficult so at first I thought it was that – our adjustment to married life.
The barriers were the pressure to make marriage work and to sacrifice yourself. After all the church says ‘till death us do part’. Knowing that Jesus and the church hated divorce made me work so hard at the marriage. I bent over backwards to make it work.
From the outside everyone thought we were the perfect couple. Wasn’t he so romantic and lovely? His grand gestures were for other people though and not me. I was walking on eggshells in my own home, never knowing what mood he would be in when he came home. He refused to have dinner with me. When friends came over for dinner he would work late or make some excuse not to be there.
It was such a lonely time. I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I told them what it was really like at home. I was desperate for some hope.
I went to a Christian festival one year, to a seminar on marriage (on my own). The speakers said that it takes just one person in the marriage and God to make it work. That made me stay for two years longer. It was a lie I believed. I’ve since learnt that it takes both people working hard and God to make a marriage work. I loved him and prayed he would change. That God would reveal his love to him. But it only got worse.
What part did your faith play in your experience of domestic abuse and what effect did your experiences have on your faith?
My faith made me stay longer in my relationship than was healthy for me to do so. My faith told me from a young age that marriage is for life and that divorce is wrong. This made me stay in an abusive marriage and try to work at it to change it. It was exhausting, futile, dispiriting and eventually soul destroying. I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone in the church about it. I didn’t know anyone who I could trust enough to believe me or take what I was going through seriously. I never blamed God for my experience and the experience didn’t affect my faith in God. I was sure God didn’t want this for me either. I didn’t blame the church either. I simply thought they were clueless about people’s real lives. This middle class façade was blissful ignorance.
There was simply nothing in my church about domestic abuse. It was never mentioned, in any context at all, the silence of the church was deafening. Many who knew me were shocked to find out as they assumed that a strong, well educated, woman like myself couldn’t be abused.