When I didn’t speak up against the dysfunction in my marriage and family life, I typically found myself doing two things, alternating between them.
I tended to blame myself for not being a good communicator a LOT. This was actually one of the issues I brought up in marriage counseling a lot while my husband would declare over and over that I just refused to submit.
I would defend against such statements because I did try to be a good wife. Yikes!
I read the words above and cringe now. How could I have even for a moment believed that I had to be a certain way, become something I was not in order to be a good wife and righteous before God.
Though I refused to accept concepts such as, “A wife must obey her husband in all things,” because I knew deep down that such a concept was wrong on a human level (one person should not have that much power over another)…
Though I knew that I was miserable, neglected, invalidated, and often attacked…
I still had a tendency to blame myself for everything.
Then I began to question.
I began to give my own inner voice a little room in the discussion. Wow, that voice really began to clamor to be heard. It began to bang on the windows and doors to be let out more. It would sometimes just fly out with little control. It was, I discovered, quite powerful and a bit frightening.
My voice actually had something to say. This was surprising to me.
My childhood taught me to keep quiet. Rarely did anyone in my family, parents, siblings, etc. ask me what I thought about anything. I rarely asked for anything.
As my voice grew stronger, I began to look at those around me. I began to evaluate the healthiness of relationships. I began to look outward.
I had to disconnect from some really toxic relationships at this point. That was really difficult.
I believe at this point if I hadn’t looked outward I would have just died. I was close sometimes. I fought this through a handful of online relationships (I eventually met most of these people in real life — does this make the relationships more valid???).
The number of voices I heard grew. While for the previous 12-13 years the main voice I heard was my husband’s emotionally and verbally abusive voice, I also had family member voices that did nothing to strengthen me as a person. These new voices were the voices of women who struggled with similar issues (mostly special needs children), they were women of faith who could help me evaluate the voices in my life.
I could share an experience and then listen for feedback. Let me tell you, I was not one of those wives who tried to just bash my husband so I could do whatever I wanted with a clear conscience (though I was accused of doing so). It was more like, “I can’t seem to communicate effectively, so I’m not doing well with my marriage.” Again, most of my complaints were aimed at my own failures.
The tide began to turn when I heard a common response that maybe there was something wrong with my husband. Maybe he is depressed or struggles with symptoms of Aspergers Syndrome or is severely ADHD or borderline personality disorder. In most of these discussions, it was assumed that I would continue to suffer as a good wife should.
Eventually, after I became very ill and my husband turned away from me and my needs, I realized that my marriage was held together by my willingness to compromise. I had submitted so much that I had almost disappeared. My inner voice had been restrained so long that it almost died.
I recently had a traumatic telephone conversation with my estranged husband (he lives in Tennessee and I live in CT where he moved us in 1999). I was really proud of myself during this conversation. I recorded it but have not had the strength to listen to the recording.
When this person would attack me or order me to do something that was really none of his business (he hasn’t been around for over 5 years), I told him that it wasn’t his concern what I did in that situation. It wasn’t any of his business. It wasn’t his job. It wasn’t up to him.
When he ignored my response, I would repeat myself. Eventually he stopped with that thread of the conversation.
We needed to make some decisions together, but what I found was that he had made the decisions and my input wasn’t necessary (in his mind).
I have since disconnected from him. I will not speak to him anymore.
But, sadly, I found myself directing much of my pain and anger inward once again. This was extremely destructive. I am just now recovering from this single conversation.
What does this all mean?
Women who are living in abusive relationships will not begin recovery until they begin to look outward, outside of their own small world and the voice of the abuser(s).
The biggest step will be to speak to someone, anyone, about what is going on. Then listen. Weigh advice carefully giving your own voice the most credence.
Word of warning: seeking such help in your church might backfire. It did for me. I was accused of gossiping when I tried to reach out for help. I was also shut down regularly if I tried to share something awful that my husband did to me. No one wanted to hear it. I recommend looking at secular counseling and organizations for help getting out of an abusive relationship. The church doesn’t have a great track record protecting women.
In recovery, learning to listen to one’s own voice is primary. The challenge is to not allow the abuser’s voice to flood out the inner voice. For women, this can be especially difficult.
Even when hearing from those who are professionals or friends, it is important to consider what they say very carefully, visiting their advice and thoughts occasionally, considering their points of view and advice carefully. They have value but not more weight than the inner voice of self.
We must be careful not to trade one controlling relationship for another. Co-dependent people are attracted to those who are in abusive relationships or have been in the past. These well-meaning co-dependents love to control victims of abuse under the guise of care and concern.
What I have learned is that my own voice, my thoughts, dreams, desires, hopes, and needs are very, very important. Even if no one else assigns them importance, I must do that for myself.
Learning to look inward for recovery and healing — we must address core issues that contributed to being in an abusive relationship in the first place — and outward for help and assistance are both very important.
One important aspect to the outward is that there is a huge world of opportunity out there. There are choices and options for women. It might not feel that way and it might seem impossible. The reality is that women can work, get an education, and find healthy support after an abusive relationship.
It isn’t an either/or but an and situation.
Look inward and look outward. Listen carefully to your own voice first and foremost, but allow others you respect and trust to offer advice and support.