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Romantic Relationships After Abuse

I have not written much lately. Those of us trying to process abuse, deconstruction, conversion, etc. have our grand moments of revelation. Yet, most of the time it’s a slow slog towards greater understanding of ourselves, processing, and moving forward. I am in one of those times.

My writing coach assigned a book for me to read. I knew nothing about it but was glued from the first chapter. It is a memoir of a gay couple who fostered triplets on a day’s notice, spent countless hours in the NICU learning specific skills for preemies with health issues, and how they fought to keep the children in a discriminatory system that tried to enable a schizophrenic, alcoholic, drug-addicted mother and grandmother to attain custody instead of them. The writing is incredible and captivates the reader. Apparently, that was the point…to teach me how a good memoir is written. Ahhh, I see mine still requires a lot of work.

I also started dating seriously a few months ago. After two failed marriages, it feels awkward to even mention this. The first husband was abusive as I’ve blogged. The second was highly misleading, lazy, and bummed off me. At my age, I am supposed to have my shit together. One of my dearest friends told me I need to think of my reputation at this stage of life and I can no longer use my abusive experiences as excuses for future failed relationships.

That did not compute. I realized that my concept of relationships, success/failure, and reputation have completely changed. I no longer live within this Evangelical construct and view the world differently. I wonder if others have had similar experiences. Most of my family and friends seem willfully ambivalent/ignorant of my relationship…I suppose because I’ve been married before and they don’t won’t to see me hurt again, make another mistake, or invest in a relationship that might not last. It’s hard for me because I’m the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve ever been in life. I’m enjoying, learning, and thriving.

I readily acknowledge my failures in marriages and in life. Those of us raised in extremely abusive environments are always trying to figure out the next step, how to make better choices, and how to not end up in the same situation again. Healing from childhood trauma and abuse is not a quick process.

The discussion with my friend made me realize how much many in our society value an ideal of relationships and marriage over reality. I have known countless individuals in absolute misery in their marriages who have not divorced, are waiting for their kids to graduate high school, or some other such plan. Meanwhile, their marital relationship is nothing but a façade. Yet somehow they imagine their kids, family, and friends don’t notice.

I suppose when you reach rock bottom….everyone KNOWS you’ve failed…TWICE. It can be motivation to fall into line like everyone else. Or in my case, to realize I do not want a façade regardless of the social stigma. I view relationships more fluidly now. Some individuals are fortunate to find a partner with whom they grow in life. But many others are in relationships with a partner who regresses, refuses to acknowledge problems and address them, or reveals their abusive nature. When you find yourself in this situation, an Evangelical Christian is to pray more and work harder to fix it. But it requires both partners to fix a relationship, and there is only so much one person can do alone.

If you are currently in a bad relationship and feel compelled to stay, I encourage you to think of the long-term consequences. This relationship could be with a church, ministry, mission agency or an individual. The quantity of abusive and toxic relationships divulged weekly from the Evangelical world should be enough to cause reevaluation…see my News section for just a sampling of these from the biggest names in Christian ministry such as Hill Song, John McArthur, Ravi Zacharias, and the Southern Baptist Convention.

I was not only raised in an abusive mission agency, but by an extremely abusive father. When I started reading Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men I was thinking that I’d learn about my ex-husband. While I most certainly did, the book helped me better understand my own Father’s abusive behavior and how it impacted me, my Mother, and siblings. I know my Mom thought she was doing the right thing by staying with my Dad to provide a “stable, Christian” home, but it only served to normalize abuse. I lived with great fear and anxiety because I constantly heard my parents loudly arguing, denigrating one another and us kids, without any resolution. The result was one of constant insecurity wondering if my parents would get divorced. I wondered if my parents valued me for who I was or merely what I could do to fund their ministry and to maintain their image.

I knew my Dad treated my Mom badly, as well as us kids. But it was not until I read this book that I understood how manipulative that abuse was, in turning kids against their Mother’s to cover the Father’s abusive behavior. I cannot explain it all here, so just urge all to read this incredible book.

I remember my pre-marital counseling and saying that I did not want a marriage anything like my parent’s marriage, and that I did not even know what a healthy marriage looked like. I think my experiences have demonstrated that quite aptly.

The book did confirm my decision to divorce my first husband and remove the children from an abusive environment, that included more abuse of their mother than the kids. It is critical to understand that accepting abuse is not protecting or godly…it merely affirms to children that abuse is acceptable and normal. When I considered staying with my first husband, one of the main motivators for a divorce was realizing that my son would learn from his father about how to treat women, and that my daughter would learn that abusive behavior towards women is acceptable and normal.

I spend a lot of time and effort teaching my kids about these issues now. There are many things we can teach and exemplify without villainizing another party. If you are in a similar situation, I encourage you to think beyond your religious or social constructs and consider how staying in an abusive situation will affect you and your children for many years to come. If you have questions or are uncertain, please reach out to me or other bloggers and activists who would love to help you evaluate and determine the next best steps towards a healthier and safer life.

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