I am not an expert in this field. The content below has been garnered through personal experience and observations of others' experiences.
I grew up in a home where my parents didn't fight; at least not in front of me. I never understood why people got divorced if it weren't for obvious reasons, such as physical abuse. (Nobody ever directly told me this was the only reason it would be acceptable, it was simply a conclusion I came to on my own.) Looking back, I realize that your surroundings and the actions of those around you during your developing years play a huge role in determining your beliefs.
It had to be like watching a beautiful, vibrant rose fade to black for my family and friends... especially my parents. Only three months into my first marriage, and at 18 years old, I was beginning to see the nightmare unfold; only...I didn't realize it was a nightmare.
I had known this fellow for two years and dated him for one of them. He was every bit the gentleman. Then, three months in, things began to happen that made me very unhappy. Most people would consider them silly, or immature, just like he did. How do I know that is what he thought? He made sure to tell me constantly; any time I did not agree with him. If there was a negative thing in the world a person could be, I was most certainly it according to him: stupid, fat, b@%&h, dumb, ignorant; the list seemed never-ending.
I was ashamed of myself for being so stupid and falling for him. I was embarrassed at how things were turning out and therefore kept everything inside. My parents or a friend would call and the second I hung up the phone he would bellow, "Who was that? Your boyfriend?" It got old...quickly. I reached a point where I had enough; enough of it all. I went back at him, telling him he was being ignorant and he should stop being so paranoid, before turning and marching off.
I heard his footsteps behind me, and I don't know how it happened, but I ended up backed up against one of the large solid oak doors that were in our ground floor apartment of a beautiful old house. I don't know if he was holding me there...I don't remember. What I do remember is his fist coming at me and closing my eyes. The door panel directly beside my head literally split when he hit it and I felt the air from the force of the blow move my hair. He was so angry he was literally red. "Don't you ever talk to me like that again!"
Damn it! Why didn't you hit me?!
As shaken as I was, I remember wanting to yell, 'Damn it! Why didn't you hit me?!'; but I didn't. I always went to bed first, and would cry myself to sleep most nights, literally praying that he would hit me so I had what I deemed 'a valid reason' to leave. But it never happened.
I thought so many times about leaving. I could just imagine the reactions of friends and family when they asked me why. It basically all boiled down to one answer, "He's mean." I could picture my own reaction to it. Besides...it was an invisible Hell. Nobody knew what went on, because I didn't tell anyone. Why would I?
Everything was about him and things always had to be his way or there would be Hell to pay. It was much easier to go along with whatever he said and avoid the constant barrage of insults and degradation. It was a control issue. And there were so many things...stupid things...
On and on the list went. People have said to me, "I would NEVER have imagined you putting up with this!" This was not an all-at-once thing. It was a long, drawn-out brainwashing process. One little thing at a time that he would blow up about and it eventually ended up being a list that was more strict than anything I've ever personally seen and was about a mile long.
Somewhere in the middle of the so-called 'relationship,' I remember asking him to go to marriage counseling. "You're the one with the f#^*@%! problem! You go!" After a few times asking, I took his advice. I found out I wasn't the one with the problem... I was the one who would have to resolve it. Life moved on and I turned to digging in the dirt and planting flowers while listening to Mozart and to cross stitch, which I became quite proficient at. I did anything and everything to stay away from him. He wanted me with him everywhere he went, but didn't want me to talk to anyone. If I wouldn't go, he wouldn't go.
A friend at work had been asking me to go to church with her and finally one day I decided to go. I personally believe that everything is connected and happens for a reason. The adult Sunday School class had a guest in that day. The guest happened to be a lady who worked at a local shelter for women. As she started to tell the story of one of the ladies at the shelter (who remained nameless for obvious reasons), my tears started. My friend looked at me and I could see by the pain in her eyes that she was horrified; she had an idea things were bad, but had no idea how bad. The longer the guest spoke, the more I cried. It felt as though she somehow knew me...had reached right into the blackened room I had built in the furthermost corner of my mind and unlocked the door. As that door began to creep open, all of the pent up anguish and pain and loneliness began to seep out... then suddenly, the floodgates were of no use.
Leaving after eight years of being married to this man was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I had a plan, and I was going to ask him one last time to go to counseling; if he said no, that was it. I was finished with it. I asked him in the morning before leaving for work and told him I wanted his final answer when we got home. It was still no. After much discussion and many tears, I packed a bag and left.
The next morning I had four hours, one truck, my Dad and a few friends to pack up what remained of my shattered life and head for the hills. At 26 years old, this is NOT what I had in mind.
The aftermath was not a cakewalk, and he intended to make everything as difficult as possible. I had to pay him spousal support for nearly two years after filing for the divorce for two reasons:
But... I was FREE!
"I can't believe she married him anyway!" It was a comment I read recently on Twitter about a high profile case. After reading this article, if you are one of the people thinking, "I can't believe she put up with that! I would have left!", you have completely missed the entire point.
I am not justifying anyone else's decisions other than my own; I am trying to help you understand them. Many of these people (including men) are terrified of possible retaliation; including (but certainly not limited to) bodily harm or death to their children, loved ones and themselves. Can you imagine being pulled slowly into a living Hell and not being able to find a way out? Something that started out wonderful and just took baby steps... little...tiny...baby...steps... to a point in time where you look back and think, "How in the Hell did I get here?"
The old saying about walking a mile in someone else's shoes? The people who stay, for however long they decide to, are living in a nightmare. The last thing any of them need is someone who has never experienced such a thing giving them advice or judging them. They need love. They need your support. They need you to be a friend. All of us their own individual 'tipping point.' The point where we hit the wall and say, "I've had enough!"
Just because you can't see the scars or because you don't understand, well... you never know when your seemingly small act of kindness could be the light at the end of someone's very long, dark tunnel.