How "Morals of Marriage" Trapped Me in a Cycle of Abuse
How it all started.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Carol said. We were sitting in a bar, the kind often frequented by single women and men. Men who were as unsuspecting as my husband, Will, had been who I’d met five years ago. He was sitting across me, a handsome and innocent-looking face that did not have “abuser” written on it.
“I know it’s not going to be easy,” I said to Carol sipping the special cocktail on the menu that I couldn’t remember the name of. But it was sweet and that’s all that mattered because Will loved sweet alcohol and, in his company, I had learned to like it too.
That night, Carol and I avoided talking about Will. That had been the point of coming down to the bar while Will was away on a business trip. Carol wanted me to feel like I could live alone, make my own choices, of a life without Will. And yet, somewhere, even without my permission he slipped in. No wonder I had chosen a sweet cocktail.
The first time he hit me.
The first time Will hit me, I thought it was because I had asked him the wrong questions. Where were you? Who were you chatting with? Isn’t she the girl you had a fling with back in college?
“You are that sneaky wife that every husband dreads,” he said and I knew he was right. I should have trusted him enough to not check his phone. I should have been on the default I-trust-you-no-matter-what mode from the time we had been married.
The thought of leaving him, the thought that a slap on my face could have been a bad thing never occurred to me. It didn’t occur to me that no matter what questions I asked, no matter what I said, hitting me should never have been an option.
As it may have been clear by now, I didn’t resent him after he hit me first, I forgave him. In fact, I even thanked him for teaching me a lesson about marriage, about its morals, about its rules and about the most important thing that mattered in it: togetherness.
Back then, it never occurred to me, but now I see it: the worst thing you can do is tell an abuser he is right. Because, if there is one thing, I have learned it’s that abusers have an ego they constantly feed through their actions and the words of others. They suffer from insecurity so deep-seated that something in their minds always needs that attention, that boost of the ego, without which they feel worthless. What role insecurity plays in making an abuser is something I want to keep for another piece, but for now, it’s enough to conclude that my husband was so insecure, that hitting me once wasn’t enough for him.
The second time.
The second time he hit me was for a reason that didn’t involve his phone or snooping around. I merely suggested that I was going to quit my job and write full time. He said it was just an excuse for living off him. “You don’t know what you want in life. And quitting a job is just a symptom of it,” he said. I tried to make him understand that I wanted a chance at doing what I wanted in life and since he had a well-paying job, things wouldn’t change a lot if I quit. “I will cook for you every day,” I said, my hand on his shoulder. “Leave me alone,” he said pushing me away.
He didn’t merely brush me off, he pushed me hard, so hard that my head hit the wall. I shouldn’t be complaining because it wasn’t as though I was bleeding, he said. We were setting new standards of physical abuse. I knew well to not say such a thing out loud. The second time he hit me, I learned that a conversation with my husband wasn’t a conversation, it was just a way for him to prove that he was always right.
But I continued to blame myself. Surely, I was wrong in not being able to assess what my husband liked to talk about. I didn’t know him well enough. It had to be my fault. I hadn’t been able to understand him. All these years, I hadn’t fulfilled my duties as a wife, things that involved knowing my husband first and foremost. How could I ever hope for a “good” marriage if I hadn’t done my part.
Why I was Wrong.
But I was wrong. All of it was wrong. A marriage is never one person’s responsibility and I didn’t ask myself whether my husband was doing what I was accusing myself of not doing. Was he doing things one was “supposed to do in the marriage”, the promises one is “supposed to keep”, the effort one is “supposed to make”.
You could say that it was perhaps my mistake, my low self-worth that I did not recognize my husband’s actions as malevolent. Now that I look back, I look at things differently, surely. But back then, I had been so blinded by the ideas and morals surrounding marriage, ones that had been fed into me as a young woman through movies and television and magazines that I thought my handsome husband who had chosen me could never be right. And sure enough, I suffered the consequences.
Marriage is a union where two people choose each other. Neither is “lucky” to have another. It’s an institution that must have equality as its bedrock, if not, it creates abusers like my husband.