In my senior year of high school, my English literature teacher liked to shoot the breeze and play Frank Sinatra records between teaching lessons. Like everyone else, I enjoyed his class, even though he made us read The Great Gatsby, one of the most boring books I’ve had the displeasure to read. One day, I don’t know how he got on the topic; he made the statement that any woman who “let” a man beat her up “enjoyed it.”
As outrageous as that sounds today, keep in mind it was 1967, and we were emerging into the hardcore feminist movement that followed in the 1970s. I occasionally hear that statement from people today, and they´re judgemental people who see the world through black and white lenses. Sometimes it’s even women who hold this belief. I would never put up with that, they’ll say.
I’m going to share my story. It’s in no way unique. Many women live the same story every day. It’s as old as Father Time.
My Story in Living Color
Had my father not died when I was nine-years-old, I wouldn’t have married the man I did. My father was a kind, affectionate and honest person. Mom said any woman would have wanted to be married to him. He did not abuse my mother, which probably took a lot of self-control because my mother was downright mean and abusive due to mental illness. After my father died, I became an abused child.
Meeting the Ex
Fast forward, and the ex lived across the street when I was in high school. He was five years older than me and going to college. My mother was the one that encouraged the relationship and the marriage. The ex and I got married three days after I graduated high school on June 16, 1967. I turned 18 in August.
I didn’t marry my father. I married my mother.
I was a child victim. You don’t stop being a victim as soon as you get married as a 17-years-old child, especially when you’re marrying a controlling man with anger issues due to his childhood. We fit into our roles perfectly.
I know now that I got married to get away from my mother. A few years before she died, I learned that the neighbors called child protective services on her due to all the screaming that came from our place, and we were evicted from our apartment. Mom blamed it on me, a 10-year-old child, to her dying day at the age of 94.
Mom had a strong emotional hold on me. That marriage turned out to be the best decision I ever made. The second best decision was the divorce 26 years later.
I once said to my brother, I wasted my youth and beauty on a man I didn’t love. Yes, you did, he replied.
I have no regrets, though. The marriage gave me three children who are still a source of joy, pride, and love today.
What is Abuse?
Abuse comes in all forms and degrees. In my situation, it was mostly verbal abuse, but then there was the time he grabbed my arm and twisted it because he found some moldy peas in the back of the refrigerator. I was five months pregnant and had fallen asleep on the floor. You can imagine the shock of being awakened in that matter. I cried, and he knew he was out of line. I really didn’t hurt you. He had been home from work for close to six weeks due to an appendectomy. He blamed his losing it on that.
Then there was the time when he kicked me under the dinner table because my foot had brushed his leg. My first thought was to pick up a fork and stab him, but I didn’t want to do it in front of the kids. Oh, and he hit me once when I tried to protect my daughter from being hit by him. So, if we don’t count those three times, it was verbal abuse.
I’d be wealthy if I had a nickel for every time I was called a stupid fucking bitch. One time he got into an argument with our 12-year-old daughter and told her, You know what? You’re a fucking bitch, and your mother created you. That’s just a sampling of what went on. Oh, did I mention he was in law enforcement? I bet you didn’t see that one coming.
He didn’t say these things to me in front of the kids until close to the end. The kids were well into their teens. He called me a cunt in front of my oldest son once. My son found it so disgusting that he brings it up still to this day. He’s a husband and father now, and I’m proud to say that he doesn’t abuse his family.
There are millions of stories of women being abused but staying. Many of them are living in dangerous situations. So why did I stay in my marriage for so long? Why does any woman stay in an abusive marriage?
Children: Although I continued to go to school throughout the marriage and earned university degrees, I couldn’t get out until I finished school. Many women can’t support themselves and their children because they don’t have any marketable skills.
Low Self-esteem: Women enter the marriage with low self-esteem, and the abuser knows how to play that like a fiddle.
Denial: They tell themselves things aren’t that bad, really. I did.
No Place to Go: Some women have places they can go to with their children, like parents or other family members. I did not.
Lack of Emotional Strength: We are all born with different brains and personalities. We all have different life experiences. Some women can never conjure up the emotional strength to get out. I suffered from anxiety disorder and depression, as many adults who were abused as children do.
I’ve been on antidepressants for years, and luckily for me, they work quite well. A psychiatric nurse asked me if I was an abused child. I had been asked that many times when seeking psychiatric help. Does that have anything to do with it? I finally asked.
That’s who we see in here, she replied. When a child is being traumatized, their brain doesn’t develop normally.
Why did I stay?
I stayed because of all the above, but mostly because of the children. I didn’t want them growing up in a broken home. I wanted them to have a chance in life. I couldn’t afford to support them, and by the time I could, they were in college. I have no regrets.
I don’t harbor any ill will against my ex. He was as much a victim of his childhood as I was. He had a father who was a bully and had been bullied by his mother. My mother had been an abused child. I’m proud to say that I stopped the cycle. I made it clear to my children that their father’s behavior was unacceptable. My children are wonderful parents, and they do not abuse their spouses.
We tried family counseling and marriage counseling. One time, I arrived at a meeting with the counselor before my ex arrived from work. Before he got there, the counselor said, Brenda, you are right to protect your children from him.
My oldest son is a Ph.D. psychologist. On several occasions, he has told me that what saved him was that I allowed him to express his anger toward his father.
My story isn’t unique in any way. Abused women will recognize the pattern. Women don’t like being beaten up emotionally or physically, as some ill-informed people think. Getting the strength to leave that marriage at the age of 44 was the hardest thing I ever did. It’s the reason I’ve never wanted to get married again along with the fact that I love living alone.
I bare my soul here because I know I’m not alone. Spousal abuse far worse than what I experienced happens around the world every day.
To the women who are in similar situations at this time, you deserve a better life. Develop a plan to get out; seek counseling. If you are physically abused, you need to get yourself and your children out as quickly as possible, but do it safely. If you have a women’s shelter in your community, contact them. You can have a better life. The day after I left, I woke up and felt like I had died and gone to heaven.
To the women who would never put up with that, you obviously came from different life circumstances. You have different brains. You are emotionally stronger than a lot of other women. You most likely don’t suffer from anxiety disorder and depression. Women do not enjoy getting beat up emotionally or physically. There’s an old saying, judge not lest ye be judged.
I have no regrets that I stayed as long as I did. My grown children recognize that it was the best thing to do in my situation.