“He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” Proverbs 28:26
It’s almost exactly 16 years since I left my abusive husband after 18 years of marriage, but I can still remember clearly some of the feelings that overshadowed that dark season. Having shared many experiences that I thought might be unique to me, I have been amazed at how many of my thought processes are far more common in the lives of other abuse victims than I ever imagined.
So now I must humbly confess that for many years I had this secret fantasy about my marriage and how I believed our life would one day be. As silly as it seems now, during my darkest moments I held to this recurring fantasy of my husband waking up one bright morning, sitting up in bed and thumping himself on the forehead. In that moment he would be struck by how much I loved him and how horribly he had been treating me. I envisioned him overwhelmed by the grief this forceful understanding imposed upon him. Fully absorbed in the magnitude of harm he had caused and how graciously forgiving and loyal I had been to him over the course of those long years, he would not wait a second, but would run to my side. He would fall to his knees before me and confess the selfishness of his ways and beg me to forgive him. Then he would promise that, if I was willing, he would do everything in his power to make sure that I never doubted his love and devotion again. He would convey his profound appreciation to me for holding on, for waiting so patiently for him to come to his senses, and he would hug and kiss me and assure me that, from that day forward, he would take care of my heart. It would be our moment of miraculous transformation. (Cue violins.)
Then everything would change. Our home would be a safe and welcoming place. My husband would be positive and helpful and encouraging. We would pray and laugh together again and cuddle up at days’ end, and he would remind me of how grateful he was that I was his wife, and he would never take me for granted or make me feel afraid or inadequate again. Those in our circle would learn of our testimony and marvel at how sweet it was that I continued to pray for him and never gave up hope. They would rejoice with us that my faithfulness was rewarded with the kind of marriage and home life I had always imagined. My husband and I and our four children would stand hand-in-hand and give the glory to God for the kindness He bestowed in restoring our family to wholeness and happiness.
And we would all live happily ever after.
As bizarre as it seems now, I secretly adopted that fantasy and clung to the tiny thread of possibility that it would one day become a reality. I held on and prayed and waited. But my husband’s abuses only intensified until the day I left with our four children.
Then, suddenly, it seemed as though my fantasy might become a reality. After my kids and I left, my husband did apologize. He began attending AA and seeing a counselor of his own volition. He promised me that the things that happened in our home would never happen again. He told me I was the only woman he ever loved, and how desperately he wanted us to be a family again. He began spending quality time with our children. Those days had an air of transformation about them. But after waiting so long to see what I seemed to be seeing, I wondered why I didn’t have peace.
Three months after separating, we reunited. I had a hard time rectifying my niggling doubt with my husband’s newfound persona, but I willed myself to believe that surely this was the beginning of our new life together. Not long after reconciling, the abuse began again. He never missed a beat. The lies and sarcasm and manipulation and put-downs and hostile outbursts revealed the painful truth.
That enticing oasis I thought I had seen in the distance was nothing but a cruel mirage, and I found myself once again living in a house with a wicked man. My husband thought he had me, but even the short months we lived apart provided me with the measure of clarity I needed to see the truth about his character and motives. Three months after reconciling, I insisted that he leave again, and he did not return.
He has never come to his senses or changed – not one bit. It was I who foolishly imagined that if I just believed and faithfully endeavored to earn his love, he would one day realize that he wanted the same things I did, that we could have something wonderful. But that something only existed in my imagination. My then-husband never wanted relationship; he wanted to dominate and control me. He preferred that I live in fear of him. And I finally saw the truth – that happily ever after is not an option when you’re living with an abuser.
My foolish hope was grounded in mere fantasy. The vision I held to was possible but not with a man who didn’t share my vision, a man who wanted me but had no intention of loving me.
My former husband is still an angry, selfish, miserable man who has not seen his children in years. But God has blessed me with a husband who loves and appreciates me and wants to enjoy the kind of intimacy and friendship and fellowship I always imagined. But this is no fantasy. This is what marriage is supposed to be – and can be – when “love, honor and cherish” means something to both parties in the relationship.
In all honesty, I did not love the man to whom I was married; he was just mean. I was in love with the man I believed he could be, a man I never knew. But looking beyond that, my fantasy was founded on a deep-seated fear that I was unworthy of love. If my husband turned, then my sense of worth would be assured, and if he truly did not care then surely my fearful self-assessment was accurate – I was just unlovable. My belief system and the actions that flowed from it were grounded in a lie.
It is even more embarrassing to acknowledge that my willingness to accommodate abuse all those years was centered on the possibility that I might possess some magical ability to invoke my husband to go against his very nature, to change for me. The notion that I might wield that kind of power was unrealistic and prideful. Surely, God wields that kind of power, but I am not Him. And if someday my former husband does turn from his wicked ways, it will have nothing to do with me.
Looking back, I can’t believe that ridiculous fantasy kept me holding on for so long…
Please don’t do what I did. If you’re living with an abuser, realize that no amount of hoping, dreaming or fantasizing will change him. As painful as it may be, do yourself a favor and open your eyes to the reality all around you. Take a sobering look at the abuse and your abuser. His attitudes and actions speak the truth about who he is. Then respond to that hard truth and refuse to defer to that little fantasy – the illusion that dares you to contemplate what intrinsic power you might possess to help, fix or change him. And remember that nothing and no one can make you unworthy of love. You are.
Hope is a beautiful thing when it is invested where it is merited. But the “one who walks wisely” in accordance with the truth is the one who will be delivered.
It is foolishness to attempt to live in the “What if?” but it is wisdom to live our lives according to what is.
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