I WOULD HAVE LAUGHED IN THE FACE OF ANYONE WHO TOLD ME I’D BE A DIVORCEE TODAY.
There were a myriad of warning signs that our marriage wasn’t ordained by God. Yet I selfishly chose to use every positive to remove any trace of the negative. From our first date to our wedding day, we were inseparable. We shared common interests and goals. Our families and friends hailed us as a perfect match. I was convinced we both had the dedication to weather every storm. Divorce was not an option. I knew James and I were in it for the long haul.
BUT THE HAUL TURNED OUT TO HELL.
The first warning sign appeared before we even walked down the aisle when he hit me. No, not with his hand. He threw something at me, hitting me in the face out of anger from my comment. Seeing me visibly shaken, he smirked. I was as shocked by his venomous response as I was by the physical pain. He admitted it was his intention to hurt me because his feelings were hurt. I warned him that if he ever did that again, I’d leave. He got the message because he never again hurt me physically. Because of this, I also assumed that the boiling rage within him was also quenched.
BOY WAS I WRONG.
I discovered that everything James told me about himself was a lie. All of the stories he relayed from his childhood and young adulthood never happened. He was never scouted to play college football. He’d never been to LA. He didn’t earn as much as he claimed. The degree he was only 12 credits from completing? He actually had only taken twelve credits towards his degree! The rage and disgust I felt was only magnified by discovering I was pregnant only five months after he’d hit me.
I found myself married and carrying a baby for a man I didn’t even know! But still, I stayed. I told myself it was my deep belief that God hated the sin of divorce. The reality is my selfish pride anchored me as much as my faith did. I stayed because it would have looked foolish to divorce so soon after being married. I helped him achieve his dreams, believing my forgiveness and commitment would strengthen our bond. His dreams became my nightmare as I found myself trapped in a troubled marriage with a virtual stranger and no income of my own. I convinced myself that while yes, our beginning was rocky, we’d have an incredible story to tell our kids and grandkids if we could make it through.
IF ONLY IT WERE THAT EASY.
My perfect match became my perfect manipulator. James lied so much that I wasn’t sure who was right or wrong anymore. But I did know I was furious. I spent the first half of our marriage angry, cursing, throwing things, hitting him and threatening divorce. James had the uncanny ability to do something wrong, anger me, but give me the silent treatment or twist things around to make me out to be the villain. I was a mother of two but I felt like I was raising him too. I had to not only avoid his fits of rage but tend to his emotional needs as well. My desire to spare his feelings and save my marriage meant that I forego my own feelings of hurt, betrayal and exasperation to comfort him. It was mentally and physically exhausting.
FINALLY, I SOUGHT HELP.
What I’d hoped would be couples’ counseling ended up becoming much needed individual counseling. The counselor equipped me with tools to better understand and deal with our conflicts. She dropped words like narcissism, gas-lighting and emotional abuse and even suggested he was never going to change. I refused to believe her, especially since I never considered emotional abuse a “thing” although it certainly summed up my marriage.
Emotional, i.e. psychological abuse, is defined as “any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.”
Despite the definition and my counselor’s insistence, I believed my behavior fueled my husband’s rage rather than his own choices. So instead of being a bitch and denigrating him, cussing his ass out or stealing him in his chest, I did a complete 180. I believed if I became the example by responding peaceably, he’d change too. So I put all my trust in God and did just that.
SO I BEGAN TO HOLD EVERYTHING INSIDE.
Instead of speaking out and challenging him, I’d become timid and walked around on eggshells, trying not to piss him off. When James failed to pay the mortgage and daycare expenses, I was furious but didn’t argue. Instead I used my inheritance money to catch up and took over the household bills. When James routinely spent money allotted for our son’s activities, I said nothing and used funds allotted for another resource to make up for it. When James would fly into a screaming and cursing rage pinning me against the wall, daring me to talk back, I kept quiet.
When James grew irritated with our six year old son’s incessant chatter, I did nothing when James forcibly pressed his palm against his mouth and muttered heatedly, “shut the fuck up!” The sales rep was horrified by his actions but just as appalled by my inaction. James had done that before, but obviously, fighting and explaining its dangers and psychological ramifications meant nothing. All I could do was pull our son closer to me and reprimand him for not shutting up. It sickened me to do so, but reaching James was an exercise in futility. My only recourse was to teach my son how to prevent such abuse. I perceived my changed behavior as a sacrifice, knowing that one day God would turn it all around.
ABUSE. THERE’S THAT WORD AGAIN.
Living with the abuse was draining my spirit. However, a part of me started to realize it would never get better when I read 1 Corinthians 13-4-7:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”
James never loved me. Even today, I can only recall a handful of instances when he showed me love. The majority of the time, his treatment only sought to undermine the person God created me to be. God wants us all to have emotional freedom, inner peace and a strong self-esteem. But James was destroying the little bit I had. I admit, I didn’t have much peace or self-esteem before I married him, and remembering my counselor’s words, my marriage was a recreation of the treatment I received during my childhood. Instead of creating a better life for me and my children, I recreated the familiar. Still my faith motivated me to believe God would fix my broken marriage especially since God hates divorce, right?
I COULDN’T HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG.
My reality check came the day that I was admitted to the hospital with a brain aneurysm. Between the devastation of the murder of a dear friend and the crushing weight of James’ emotional torture, my physical body could no longer withstand it all. He’d made no attempts to comfort me. The nightly routine of my tears only made him act more cruelly. The final straw came one day as I went to close our bedroom door when James grabbed it and pushed it towards my face as if he was going to hit me with it. I jumped back, startled and frightened. When I searched his eyes for answers, he only stared back menacingly, sneered then laughed under his breath. While he never physically hurt me, his underlying anger and vengeance never died. And I knew enough about physical abuse to know that it’s a progression. I had no doubt he would have been physically abusive before long.
IT WAS TIME FOR ME TO LEAVE, BUT I STILL WASN’T READY.
Even when we separated, I still didn’t want to divorce; it was supposed to be his wake up call to finally go to counseling. But that never came to pass. Two months after I moved out, he instructed our son to tell me he found a girl he wants to marry. I granted him the divorce he wanted and moved on with my life.
After some time, I accepted that my divorce was permissible by God’s law. He grants divorce in the case of immorality, unrepentant infidelity, departure of a non-Christian spouse and all forms of abuse. He does instruct us to deal with divorce the same way He instructs us to deal with all sin in the church and that’s by the Matthew 18 process: to confront personally, then by others and then by the church. I followed this process but to no avail. God hates divorce in the same manner He hates all types of sin — because it wounds us deeply and seeks to steal, kill and destroy His creation. But He wants you to know He forgives them all — even if you divorce for non-permissible reasons.
I HAD TO FINALLY LOVE MYSELF MORE THAN MY IDEA OF A MIRACULOUS MARRIAGE.
It was ultimately James’s decision to end the marriage because he fell in love with someone. I will not say “someone else” because according to the Bible, he never loved me. And to this day, I’m fine with that. My marriage was hell but so much good came from it. I got saved and baptized, had a son and I learned how to love. I learned how to love someone who never really loved me. Imagine how wonderful it will be when I find a man who actually loves me back?
I hope my testimony prevents single women from making the same mistake I did. I pray it serves as a wakeup call to the married women who are suffering similarly. No amount of money, status, or pride should risk your health or happiness. God wants the best for you and everyday He’s blessed you with another day, is your opportunity to pursue your calling. Now that you understand, I gotta ask, “why aren’t you divorced yet”?
Elona Washington has been a RAINN speaker since 2011. She’s a two-time Amazon best selling co-author and Huffington Post and Digital Romance contributor. Her latest book is titled is From Ivy League To Stripper Life: 10 Lessons Learned and she currently resides in Charlotte, NC.