When Marriage Hurts
From Dream to Nightmare
As a little girl I dreamed of marrying “Prince Charming.” I had a beautiful bride doll on my bed with brown hair. She wore a gorgeous white wedding gown and veil and carried a pretty bouquet of flowers. As a young woman, I thought of marriage as two people serving the Lord together and loving each other unconditionally, like my parents did. But the twenty-five years I spent in two dysfunctional marriages were not pretty like my dream—they were dreadful, nightmarish years!
Competing with Porn
Shortly after getting married, my husband told me he wanted to go to a drive-in movie. Being newlyweds on a budget, I made popcorn at home to take with us. Much to my surprise, we pulled into a drive-in theater that was showing a pornographic double feature. I felt shocked and sickened. I had met my husband at church, and we were faithfully attending, so how could he take me to see such movies?
My husband’s thirst for pornography got worse as the years went by. When I look at pictures from that time in my life, I see a lovely young woman, but my husband did not see me that way.He was always dissatisfied with my appearance and wanted me to dress seductively with extremely short skirts and low necklines. I didn’t realize that I was “competing” with women in his pornographic magazines. My husband had one verse underlined in his Bible, “Wives, submit yourself unto your own husbands.” He had not underlined the next part that said, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:22-25).
Playing Second Fiddle
Eventually my husband became a successful businessman, as well as teacher of the young men’s Bible study class at church. However, he was not the same person at home as he was at church. When he traveled on business trips, his secretary often went with him. They would go out to dinner and movies together, although she was also married. I had read the book called Hedges by Jerry Jenkins about protecting your marriage from infidelity by not putting yourself in a compromising situation with someone of the opposite sex. When I told my husband about this book, he blew up at me in an irrational rage.
My husband would frequently mock me and call me filthy names. He would scream for hours on end. His heart was cold toward me, and his verbal violence left wounds that were excruciatingly painful. I thought about killing myself, because I didn’t consider divorce an option. I believed that adultery was the only justification for divorce, so I felt completely trapped. I didn’t know what was wrong with my marriage, so I tried to be even more submissive to my husband. I wanted so much to be a good wife!
As the years went by, my husband became increasingly cruel and hateful toward me. One day he decided he didn’t want to go to our church anymore because it was “too big.” So we joined another church. A short time later, he decided to go back and re-join our first church, but refused to let me go with him. At home, he would not sit at the table and eat with me, but would wait to eat until I had gone to bed.
One night I awoke from sleep and felt the Lord strongly say to me, “Don’t put your self-esteem in the hands of sinful men.” This thought encouraged me greatly, even though I struggled daily—and often unsuccessfully—with the Bible’s admonition to not return “evil for evil or railing for railing” (I Peter 3:9).
The Ending of a Dream
There were people who knew about my painful marriage and wondered why I didn’t seek a divorce. Although I was suffering abuse, at the same time I felt sympathy for my husband. He had a strange relationship with his mother who never praised him for his remarkable achievements and favored her other children. My own parents took much pride in my husband for his service at church and also for his success in business. This caused me to not want to disappoint them. They had no idea how hard it was for me at home. When we visited my parents, I did not want them to see that I had been crying.
My husband and I went to marriage counseling for over a year. However, my husband refused for us to see a Christian counselor or talk with a pastor. He said he already knew what they would say. After a while, the counselor we were seeing advised us that we had grown apart and should follow our individual paths. My husband filed for divorce and told me to move out. At this point, my life went totally blank. I was forty years old and in poor health. I had devoted nearly eighteen years of my life to making my husband look good and supporting all of his moves and career changes as he climbed the ladder of success. Now he was forcing me to leave our home. Shortly after the divorce was final, I discovered much to my surprise that there had been another woman in my husband’s life.
Facing Shame Again
Not long afterwards, I met another man—a new Christian who seemed to be everything my heart had ever longed for. He was charming and sweet. He proposed, we married, and I praised God for this wonderful man. To my horror, three days after our wedding, my Prince Charming flipped into another personality. He would curse and scream vile things at me over the smallest matters. Since I had not known him long before we got married, I had not noticed these tendencies. I wondered how this could be happening to me again! I wanted to leave him immediately, but the shame of being divorced a second time was to great. Once again, I contemplated suicide. But I soon realized I had no choice but to stick it out and make the best of things.
It wasn’t always bad. My new husband could be very loving, but his evil and violent side could appear out of nowhere. During these episodes, he displayed no conscience or reason. Seven months after we were married, he hit me for the first time. This type of incident began to occur frequently when he would become upset, usually by financial setbacks at work. He would throw things at me and scream obscenities. After his rage subsided, he would always be extremely sorry and promise to change. All would be forgiven. But in a few days, it would happen all over again and my heart would break.
One night I had to drive myself to the emergency room in the middle of the night, because my husband had injured me in a fit of rage over a problem at his work. The doctors suspected domestic violence and called the police to talk to me, but I refused to press charges because I didn’t want it to go on his record. As with my first husband, I felt sympathy for my second husband because he had suffered abuse and rejection as a child. Also, although he had stopped drinking by the time we married, he had been a severe alcoholic for forty years. This had created a chemical imbalance that affected his mind. He refused to go to counseling because he said it was too embarrassing. He was extremely bitter toward his mother for abandoning him as a child, and I think this was fueling his rages. On many occasions, I had to call 911 due to my husband’s physical attacks or because of his suicidal threats. The judge in domestic violence court even warned him, “Don’t you know you could kill her doing these things?”
He was taken by police to a psychiatric facility for three days, but it didn’t help. My parents advised me to get away from this man before he killed me. I was torn in two emotionally. I loved my husband—the one who was kind, caring and loving, but I could not live with the evil, violent monster he would become without warning.
One day after an extremely dangerous episode involving a large kitchen knife, I called the police yet again. It was on that day that I knew I had to protect myself from him. We had been married for nearly seven years. I finally had to make a heart-wrenching decision. It was with extreme sorrow and anguish that I filed for divorce from my second husband.
Gaining a New Perspective
From the vantage point of my life today, I understand the dilemma of women who feel they have no choice but to accept mental and physical abuse at home. I believe that women should not stay in these dangerous situations. They have a responsibility to protect themselves, as well as their children. It is better to be alone and safe than living with someone who is trying to destroy you. Abusers try to keep the abuse a secret. They don’t want you talking about them to anyone. Although you hope and pray for them to change, the truth is that you can only change yourself. Without healthy boundaries, you actually enable abusive behavior to continue because there are no consequences.
My advice to single women is to be careful who you marry! Don’t think you can “fix” someone. Listen to counsel. Watch carefully for any “cracks” in a person’s character (what he is like publicly vs. privately). Ask people about your prospective husband and listen. Use your head, not just your heart, to make this all-important decision that will affect the rest of your life—and possibly generations to come. I wish I had done these things! I thank God for protecting me during the years I chose to stay in harm’s way.
I don’t believe that anyone should take the sacredness of marriage lightly, but I have also learned that God is merciful. He sees our innermost thoughts and knows our individual circumstances. Jesus said that it was for “hardness of heart” that Moses permitted divorce (Matthew 19:8). I learned from my first two marriages just how hard a man’s heart can become through sin. By God’s grace and mercy, I have been married to my current husband for eight years now. He is a born-again believer (not a “pretender”) and a man of prayer. We enjoy a stable, loving, and supportive relationship. My husband also had tragic failed marriages in the past, so we have both experienced the extreme anguish of divorce. My husband said that when we first met, it was like we both had been passengers on the Titanic—disaster had struck, the ship had sunk, and even the life boats had gone away. We were now left clinging to the boards floating in the water! But God in His mercy took our shipwrecked lives and helped us build a Christ-honoring marriage. We are not perfect and we’ve had to make a lot of adjustments, but we greatly enjoy serving our wonderful Lord together. We will continue by God’s grace “until death do us part.” My husband is the head of our home as scripture teaches, but he also loves me “as his own body” and “as Christ loves the church.”