Time to leave – On the right track now…


What a decision! Do I stay in or leave this abusive relationship? For victims, the most difficult, and dangerous, time is deciding upon staying in or leaving an abusive relationship.

I’ve been reflecting upon my first marriage, with its domestic violence and resulting divorce. Having been raised in a religious household of the deep south, divorce brought with it humiliation and extreme embarrassment, along with great shame and guilt. That religion became the primary factor causing me to stay for so long. Only when my head was being rammed repeatedly into a door did I decide upon leaving and filing for divorce. The marriage met all the Biblical requirements for divorce shortly after the wedding, but I kept being told by religious leaders, “God hates divorce, it’s not an option. . . forgive 70 times seven . . . read Proverbs 31, that’s the kind of woman you are to be. . . “

My second marriage was rife with emotional, mental and financial abuse. Still, I was determined there was no way I was going through a second divorce! I was concerned about the reactions from the family, and absolutely sure it would deem me as a total failure. Then, once more, there was the whole church thing. Even though my first divorce was Biblically sound, complete with adultery, it also contained great measures of physical and emotional abuse. I did not knowingly have that leg to stand on in the second marriage. He never raised a hand to me. I had no grounds to get a divorce.

The marriage continued to deteriorate. He often visited family and friends out of state, and was gone more than he was home. He  was not working. Part of the nightmare was that he applied for disability and simultaneously filed a lawsuit against  my employer, causing me to lose my job. I was told “conflict of interest,” and given an admonition to keep my eyes wide open—he was not to be trusted. Luckily, I found another position shortly thereafter, working for a local attorney.

One day at work, while he was visiting up north again, I got a phone call from a woman who had the same last name as my husband and me. There had already been hints of impropriety and deceit during our marriage. I had learned to some small extent how to recognize red flags of infidelity. I asked the receptionist to tell the caller I’d return her call after work. Later that evening, after arriving home and upon downing a large bottle of wine, I built up the nerve to call. My “knower” was going off full tilt, and I knew this was foreboding, at best.

When I called she began to explain she was married to my “ex” husband. One problem—he was my CURRENT husband. He told her we were divorced. We were not. She heard he was seeing another woman, a blonde in Florida, assumed it was me and we were trying to reconcile. I thought he was up north with family. Turns out, not so much. He had a girlfriend in a town about 15 miles from where I lived. With my monthly paycheck and the child support payments for my daughter all going into his sole banking account, and all three households receiving food stamps, “we” (a/k/a “I”) were supporting three families. Still, I was humiliated by the thought of another divorce. Surely I was the failure others would most likely consider me, if this marriage failed. Well, it had already failed. I now realize it was also an abusive relationship, but of another sort.

Far too many victims of spousal abuse and domestic violence are apprehensive at the very thought of a second divorce, and often continue to carry fear of entering into another abusive relationship after leaving the abusive relationship. For some it may be their third marriage or relationship. But let me give you this bit of wisdom and reassurance—It’s better to be a little (or a lot) embarrassed or humiliated than held in suspended animation, not being able to live your life, but instead married (or harnessed) to an abusive partner. I swallowed my pride and got the second divorce. After that, I remained single for 17 years. Yes, 17 years, and for the first 13 I did not even so much as date. The only man I kissed was my Daddy. I had the whole religious guilt thing going on, along with running into classmates who married fresh out of high school, and were still blissfully wed. I was reminded on a constant basis, “God hates divorce,” and the very idea of “missing it” a third time was a great motivation to stay far from relationships, especially potentially abusive relationships.

Along the way, I was gratuitously reminded, “There are plenty of other fish in the sea.” In the meantime, my 17 years of singlehood? Well, there were rough times, but most of them were great. I learned a lot about what I expected in a relationship, and reached a point of gladly waiting until it came along, if it ever did at all.

I finally decided to play “go fish” one more time. From out of nowhere an old friend crossed my internet path. It seemed too good to be true, and my suspicious nature arose once again. Turns out this time I was wrong. Third time’s the charm, in my case. He is the real deal. We had our first date 50 years after we met in second grade, and were married 5 months later. It’s been everything I ever wished or dreamed a marriage would be. No more abusive relationship for me!

Happy? You bet’cha!

Stayin’s Worse Than Leavin’

Carolyn is an advocate for sexual/domestic violence and assault awareness, also focusing on child sexual abuse. She is a Victim Support & Empowerment Coach, working with victims and survivors of molestation, sexual assault, domestic violence or spousal abuse, and bringing training to organizations seeking to help victims. 

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