I have asked myself this question a million times for sure. It is this single question and the lack of a comforting answer that has troubled me for years.
I have all sorts of reasons and explanations, but in the end the fact is that I chose to stay in the marriage for many years. I chose to have children with this man and I chose to remain friends with him after divorce.
In the end, there are no quick answers. Just gut feelings that changed over time.
At first, I stayed with my ex because I didn’t believe that he was an abuser, even after he first choked me. I thought that it would never happen again and I forgave him. I didn’t want to give up on my dream of a happy family. I was pregnant and had better plan for us than what the truth was. I believed we could work it out, with counseling and honesty.
After a few more years, I felt trapped. I didn’t work and I was 100 pounds overweight. I had young children that I wanted to spend my time raising. I didn’t want them in daycare. I was afraid that a future after divorce would be far worse than the hell I was living. I didn’t want my children to have a broken home. I didn’t want them to have to deal with the complications of divorced and fighting parents, which at the time, seemed far worse than married and fighting parents.
Toward the end, I worried about how my husband would treat our children if I wasn’t around to get in the middle and try to “manage” his behavior and mitigate any bad judgments he had regarding our kids. When our first child was 2 years old, my husband showed the first sign that his temper could get out of his control around the children. The two of them were sitting on our front porch bench just enjoying the afternoon, when my son smacked my husband in the face with his little toy dog. It was an accident, but my husband grabbed the dog and threw it with all his might into the yard. It was so fast that it scared my son,who didn’t understand the reaction. I knew what it was, because I had seen it so many times before. Staying with him seemed like the only way that I could protect my kids from their father’s temper.
In the end, thankfully, I finally left. I just couldn’t take it anymore. My husband and I got into an argument about his travel schedule, which of course led to other issues, mostly that I felt he was lying to me about why he was leaving again. He took the same dismissive, “you are such a witch” attitude with me and I kept up the fight. I bent down to open his suitcase to illustrate some point I was making that I can no longer remember, when he shoved me away from the suitcase and pushed me onto the sofa nearby. He jumped on top of me and grabbed my wrists and stomped on my feet, nearly breaking my foot. He screamed at me to leave him alone and how much he hated me, continuing to attack me as I curled up on the sofa to protect myself.
When I finally got up, I screamed at him that I hated him and how little respect I had for him. He got into my face, about two inches away and screamed that he hated me, and then spit into my face. I left the room and wiped my face. I don’t remember the details of the rest of the day, but that was the moment that I was done.
He left for a work trip and was gone for weeks. In that time, I went to attorney and began the process of leaving, one that I had already begun emotionally months before. After I met the attorney, my husband and I had a brief reconciliation that did not last long. He had made a promise that he would never do it again. That we owed it to our kids to try one more time. But it was short-lived and before long the tension was building again and the communication had completely broken down and I knew it was only a matter of time before he would attack me again.
I went to another attorney and began the process of divorce. It was the beginning of my life. Because one thing that I knew, if I hadn’t gotten out, the odds that I would have been killed were increasing rapidly.
And yet, I still don’t know why I stayed and I still try to figure it out. I read one woman’s experience with domestic violence and she said that her unwillingness to throw people away was the reason she stayed.. I could relate to that. I’m a pretty loyal person. But in the end, I think the truth is more about what I wanted for my life and leaving meant that I wasn’t going to get it.
I wanted that 50 year marriage and grandchildren at my house at Christmas and children who spoke about their loving parents. I wanted to know that my mate had my back and completely loved me and I him. I wanted a trusting, caring relationship that meant everything. I was clinging to the imagine of my marriage that my friends and family had of us, that we were the couple that was going to make it. I wanted that so much that I was able to bury years and years of being attacked, lied to, manipulated, abandoned and basically treated like chattel by the man who was suppose to love me.
I stayed because to leave meant that I had to give up my dream. To think that I was willing to risk my life for that dream is truly unhealthy. And even though I did finally accept that my dream was not going to happen and some of my fears have come true in divorce… for example, financially it is hard, my ex-husband’s judgment and motives with the kids are suspect, and he has not taken one step toward healing or accepting that he has a problem… I am still so very grateful that I did leave. I know that is was the right decision and that I gave me a chance at a life.