This title exactly describes what I did. We had DD1 before we got married, and that year after she was born was the best and worst of my life. The best, because I had my beautiful, peaceful, loving DD1. The worst, because my Ex, triggered by becoming a new father, transformed into a raging bull at any time of the day, only to just as suddenly revert back to my sweetheart partner who I had moved in with and loved.
One custody evaluation and one terrible, contentious divorce later, I am much wiser and much more aware of how I got into this, why I stayed, and also, why I left. But here are the reasons why I stayed and married him anyway.
Believing in the good in the person.
Like I told the custody evaluator, my ex does have a good side to him. He can be funny, caring, silly, and loving. The side of him that he shows the world is a placating, kind, understanding, educated person. When he wasn’t terrorizing us with his adult sized temper trantrums involving smashing toys and breaking dishes, throwing the baby gate or punching walls, dangling my DD1 by the ankles and screaming into her face, yelling and swearing so loudly at her or DD2 cried and threw up, he could be kind and calm and sincere.
Re-reading this last sentence, I know how crazy that sounds. And this will sound crazy too—as awful and escalating some of the things he did were, it only made me cling harder to his good side. The one who loved to play in the sand and catch sand crabs for the girls. The one who made funny faces at the children to make them laugh. I wanted to believe that he was good, no matter the cost. I could see the struggle between the “good” man that I loved, and the demons he carried from his abusive, alcoholic father who broke his mom’s wrist and beat him and his brother up relentlessly as children. (Said father died nearly 20 years ago).
Wanting to keep the family together.
Once we settled into being parents—having “made it” through the first year that was rife with his anger outbursts, depression, and losing his job, things seemed “up.” He had gotten a new job, and while the outbursts didn’t completely stop, they were fewer and farther in between. He proposed on mother’s day, and I was elated. It was easier to stay in the mindset that the “good” part of him was winning, and now that we had a child, I wanted to be a family and keep our family together. It’s natural, a part of who we are as humans, I think, to want to love and be loved in return.
Believing that if we got married, it would get better, be incentive for him “to change.”
I also believed that once we had our magic wedding, that being “married” versus “living together” would solidify our family even more, and be further incentive for him to change. After an outburst where DD1 would throw up and cry and scream, he would say he was sorry. That we deserved better, that he would change.
I believed him. And I thought that being married would help him change, too.
Jumping in and hoping for the best—damn you, Disney movies.
I grew up on happily ever after, I’ll admit it. I grew up believing that if you believed hard enough, that good would conquer bad, that love would shine a light so brightly on the ills of the world, that it would make everything better.
I believed that love would change him. That if I loved him enough, or if the girls and I loved him enough, it would fill our home up with so much light, he couldn’t help but change. Look what we had built and how far we’d come. Love would conquer all, period.
(This post is not a researched commentary on patriarchal and social norms that have been embedded in girls and women from birth, i.e. princesses and mothering, and all of that, but I’m definitely a product of gendered messages in our first world country—grow up, get married, have kids, all signs of a successful woman, etc...)
The conclusion: what I learned was that these acts were not healthy and were actually dangerous for all of us. I should have listened to the red flags. I had pages and pages of journal entries detailing his violent acts, I wrote them down so I could process them and then explain them away in my state of “love conquers all” and my hope to maintain and hold onto my family.
Through therapy and the divorce process, I learned that I could not change a person through “love.” Even if I could understand the origin of his pain and suffering, I couldn’t stop him from escalating the violence, from choking and throwing our little dog across the room in front of the children, from pushing, shoving the children, from locking them in a dark bathroom while they screamed their eyes out. From threatening to murder them in their sleep and putting a bullet in my head.
I couldn’t save him, so I had to save my kids and me. I learned that even if I loved him, I couldn’t be his solution. No one can change someone else—fundamental changes in actions, belief systems, behaviors, and words has to come from within.
Ultimately, in cases like mine, what I’ve heard is that women like me will stay and stay and stay. Until something happens to their children. Then, sometimes, that will be the push that will make them leave. And that’s what happened for me. I “worked” through our “hard times” with DD1. But when DD2 arrived and the behavior started up with her, and got worse as the days and months went by, that’s when I left. And… along with the knowledge of not being able to change someone else; getting to a place where you are ready to accept what is happening is abusive or domestic violence is not easy and there’s no real timeline. It can only come when the person is ready.
Would you be able to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship?
photo credit: Toni Blay via photopin cc