I thought I had the most uneventful life possible. I thought nothing exciting ever happened to me. Because of that, as a writer, I thought I would never have anything interesting to write about from my own life.
Little did I know.
Growing up, I bought hard into the lie that I needed a man to complete me, and that I needed to find the “one.” Marriage became my ultimate goal and obsession. I put it at the top of my bucket list. I desperately wanted to be loved and cared for. I wanted to get married and get married young. This was completely normal and acceptable at the church I attended. Everyone else was doing it.
The church promised that marriage would make me happy, whole and worthwhile. I was convinced that marriage would take away all my insecurities and doubts. I would finally matter and be special once I had the status of “wife.” I needed a man to lead me and have authority over me because, according to some people, that is how marriage is supposed to work.
I met a guy who said he was a Christian, who volunteered weekly at church, who said all of the right things. He pursued me despite my not wanting to date him at first. Instead of understanding what was going on, I looked to romantic comedies and the church’s teachings on a male’s role as the pursuer to define my reality. I ended up thinking that his relentless pursuit of me, even after I said no, was somehow romantic and desired. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was stalking me.
Early in my teens, I had made a shopping list of things I wanted in a man. I got the idea from a popular Christian book my friends and I were reading. When I finally started to see this guy as a potential partner, he checked off everything on my list. I was delighted. We must be a perfect match! We started dating, ten months later we were engaged, and six months after that, we were married. We had the perfect marriage. At least, on the outside. However, getting married solved none of my problems. In fact, it made my life worse. When I said “I do,” I was 20-years-old. There were far too many things I did not know.
I was told that marriage would be hard, and I would need to work at it. I was promised that if I followed some simple rules, set out for me by Bible verses interpreted by men, I would be able to achieve greatness as the best wife ever. One of those rules was to submit to my husband. The church neglected to acknowledge that he was also called to submit to me, and that contrary to my then-husband’s belief, submission did not equal subservience (obeying without question).
No one told me about abuse. No one told me about consent, and that it still applied in marriage. When I thought of an abuser, I pictured a guy wearing a white tank top, beating his wife in a trailer park. I had no idea that abusers existed in the church, calling themselves Christians.
I came into the marriage with the idea that “divorce is not an option.” Because of that, the only thing I could do was continue to pour myself into the task of being the wife he wanted me to be. Whatever that looked like. Marriage was hard work, much more than I imagined. I worked harder and harder to make the relationship function. After all, it was all on me. I needed to do everything I could to stay married. I had to make it work no matter what.
Every sermon I heard about marriage, every book I read, every person I talked to, told me how to keeping moving forward in the marriage and what I needed to do as a wife. They didn’t mention that it is fruitless to try to work with an un-remorseful, intentionally destructive spouse.
Things continued to get worse in our marriage as the abuse escalated (as it does) and I experienced more than one type of abuse: emotional, verbal, mental, sexual, social, financial, spiritual and intellectual.
Still, I didn’t know anything was wrong with the marriage because I believed like many others that abuse was only physical and since he wasn’t hitting me, it couldn’t be abuse. He blamed me for everything and I believed him. I thought something must be wrong with me, and I was doing this whole marriage thing wrong.
It took me 8 years to realize that for the entirety of our relationship, he had been and always would be a narcissistic abuser. I found myself at a crossroads with divorce as my only option to stop the abuse. It wasn’t an actual option, it was simply what had to happen. He didn’t see anything wrong with his mistreatment of me and refused to change because he didn’t think he needed to.
As I went through the divorce process, I had to wrestle with my faith and all my preconceived notions of what a divorced woman was. I thought divorced women were wives who gave up or couldn’t make their marriage work. I had worked so hard. I learned the hard way that not every divorced woman chooses to get a divorce.
God pulled me out of that abusive relationship, and out of the toxic church culture that unknowingly (I hope at least) supported and allowed abusers in its midst. Abuse is not in God’s design for marriage. God never meant marriage to be a place for one person to dominate and control another. Marriage was meant to be mutual, connected, and equal, with each spouse, committed to the good of one another. Anything short of that is not in the plan.
Despite being taught a whole lot more religion than I was taught about Jesus, I clung to my faith. The more I read and learned about Jesus, the more my perspective shifted.
I no longer believed in the concept of “the one.” I didn’t need a man to lead me or have authority over me. I learned that there are biblical grounds for divorce that don’t just include an affair, abuse is also valid.
I didn’t need a man to complete me. Marriage was not the ultimate goal or accomplishment as a woman. I didn’t need the status of wife to be worthy. My relationship status has nothing to do with my worth or value. I matter the same, single, married or divorced. I am a child of God, everything else is secondary. I am loved accepted, whole and valuable just the way I am.
Even though what I went through was extremely difficult, I am so grateful for all that God has taught me through the process. The more I looked to God as I healed, the more I found the love I had always desired, and the more I felt happy, whole and worthwhile. Turns out my life wasn’t so uneventful.