When I first left my abusive husband, I was so relieved that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I didn’t think about the “death” of my marriage, what I had lived through or anything negative at all. I wasn’t mad or even sad, I was happy. Because for the first time in at least a decade, I had hope. My depression was lifted and I was grateful.
But as the years passed and my ex-husband continued to try to control me and my children, the continued struggle of dealing with an abusive man was taxing.
I also made the mistake of continuing “the secret.” I was so glad to be out of the marriage, that it was easy to continue the ruse that my ex-husband was nothing but a caring, understanding man. I didn’t even care that some friends and family thought I was crazy to leave him. Let him have that, I thought. I have something much greater, peace and hope.
I told my immediate family and very few friends, just why I left. But that was it. And I moved on. And I believed, incorrectly, that I had forgiven my ex.
But through the years, as our broken family has navigated the river of life, I have realized two things. I am still involved with an abusive man and I still need to work on forgiveness.
Oddly, both were surprises to me. Part of me believed the game that I was somehow to blame or that our marriage “mixed” poorly and that led to the violence and betrayals. I also believed that forgiveness happens when you are not feeling pain or you no longer fear. Both assumptions are completely wrong.
It is still difficult for me to get my head around that I am not to blame for my ex-husband’s abusive actions. But I’m working hard on it. When I read about other women’s stories or hear them speak in group therapy, I see how similar our stories are and that helps me to see that an abusive man is different than all those “regular” husbands.
Abusive men have a moral compass that is different than most people. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same stresses in life as anyone else. When my ex-husband complains about me, he sounds like any other man complaining about his wife, but he has another motive than just venting and letting off some steam. He is building a case to free himself of responsibly to another person. He is creating an enemy in his mind so that he can focus his energies on his own needs and desires. In all my years with my ex-husband, he never looked into my eyes and sincerely thanked me for anything I ever did for him or on his behalf. He never told me that I was important to him and he never showed me one bit of gratitude for any effort I may have done for him.
And though it was difficult to put into words well… asking for recognition from your husband just feels awkward and demanding… I knew how empty and sad I felt about it.
But in the heart of an abuser, they must maintain the victim mentality so accepting that their spouse did anything good for them doesn’t fit.
So as I get help and understand the mind of an abuser more and more, the pattern keeps coming up the same. I think about my friend’s marriages and how they generally work without abuse… One dear friend has a marriage that impresses me so much.. because as much as they argue and fight, yell and complain to each other, they are truly best friends and in the end, they come back to compromise and love toward each other. They don’t hit, lie and ignore each other’s needs. They work it out with a common goal to come together. The wife in that union, is as opinionated as me, is a strong willed as me and is smart as me and her husband doesn’t end their marital disputes with violence.
The other assumption is that ultimately, I have to find forgiveness for my ex-husband even in the face of continued controlling behavior. I need to forgive him for my sake, for his sake, for the sake of his new wife and most of all for my children’s sakes.
I am not saying that I should forget. In fact, I always got that mixed up. I would forget and not forgive. But instead, I need to forgive and never forget. My therapist suggests to me that I keep as much distance between my ex and myself as possible in order to reduce the incidents of controlling behavior and to help me heal my scars.
Much like a returning soldier who has flashbacks, I can quickly return to the emotional state of fear, panic and stress with just a little of my ex-husband’s controlling behavior. The fact that he is still keeping “the secret” also plays a role. He has not been honest with his current wife, and let’s face it, that shouldn’t be a surprise. But he likes to maintain his innocents with me in our new public life, and that is truly hard to stomach.
The less time we spend together the better. It is not easy with two children and with his fame. I am often approached my people who want to know what my NFL sports writing husband is up to. I am still approached by even family members who want autographs and tickets from him. My children’s school mates are impressed with their “famous” dad and that means I get the questions from the kids when I’m chaperoning field trips and handing out snacks.
In the end, I take responsibility for that. I married him. I had children with him. I divorced him. The post traumatic stress I feel now is for me to cure. Part of that is to realize that my ex-husband is just trying to get by as well. I don’t believe that an abusive man has a mental illness, but I do believe that there is something broken inside and that helps me to feel empathy for him. I don’t believe he wanted to hit me, I believe he wanted to live without responsibility to another person and he is willing to hit me to make that happen. And I know he has not learned this about himself.
So I work every day to find forgiveness in my heart. I am grateful that I have God to help me with this. Because there is no way I could do that on my own. I must forgive my ex-husband even in the face of his controlling behavior. I must find a way to forgive so that I can move on.