It took me sixteen years and counselor #8 to realize that my marriage was abnormally difficult.  I was a psych major.  I have half of my masters’ in social work.  I worked at a social service agency for a year-and-a-half as the good touch/bad touch lady.  And I had no earthly idea.  I think that was the case for several reasons.You don’t know what you don’t know. And though I may have had an inkling that things were more wrong than the average wrong, I didn’t really look into it so I didn’t really know.I didn’t tell anyone.  Yes, I shared things with friends here and there, but never did I share the whole picture with one person until counselor #8, and looking back, I think it’s because I feared what would happen once I did. I think deep down I knew my reality but I was so afraid of my reality.  On the one hand, would my world fall apart if I spoke the words outloud?  (Umm, yep. But it’s okay now.)  Or, on the other hand, would my world stay exactly the same once I really understood, and could I bear to know my truth and keep living in it once I knew it?  (Almost scarier.)

Abuse can be subtle.  We talked about gaslighting last month and how abuse is more than just the black eye that we typically think of when the word abuseis tossed around.  Here are some other examples of more subtle abuse.

Finding things you’ve thrown away.  If you throw away a personal document, and you later find it, perhaps, in your husband’s office, something’s not right.  That could be anything from stalking to simply grasping at control.  You have the right to throw away what belongs to you.  I know this one seems small and odd for me to even mention, but it’s pretty telling.

Not being able to have a conversation.  This one is harder to understand and explain.  I was the yeller and I couldn’t handle conversations when it was just the two of us.  (Sadly, this is still sometimes the case.)  We’d be sent home from counseling with an assignment to talk through something and I’d almost always end up losing my temper or crying and feeling painted into a corner.  No one ever really understood what was wrong with me that I couldn’t get through a five-minute discussion about something (how hard can it be to not yell or cry for five minutes, I’m sure they were thinking), and I couldn’t really explain it.  My only real explanation is this: there are very subtle forms of control that you may not even know are happening to you.  Things like, “Yes or no, do you agree that…”, when the answer isn’t an easy yes or no but you are given no choice but to answer that way, or at least, you come to believe you have no choice but to answer that way.

Not being called names, but affronts that are just enigmatic enough that you’re knocked off your game and begin to believe what you’re hearing.  Being told you’re not flying-out worthy when invited to go out-of-town for a work project; being told that your behavior would make sense if you were mentally ill; being told that a secret was kept because it wouldn’t fit in your head.  Statements like these, because they aren’t outright insults or name-calling, can somehow not feel like all that horrible of a thing to hear, and they can begin to sink into your soul and completely mess with your thinking.

If this sounds similar to your marriage, please get help. Please know that this is not a normal or healthy way of relating, especially between people who both claim to love God.  Please tell someone. Please speak the truth outloud, even if it’s scary.  And if this sounds similar to a relationship that a friend or family member is in, have the courage to say something to them about it.  Step in.  Stand up for them.

I’m finding I’m still putting pieces together.  It can take years to undo things like this.  But I’m here to say that a clarity can be reborn in your thinking.  Nothing can be done that can’t be undone.  Nothing can be done that can’t be recovered and healed.  Even if this is you, there is hope, and healing is possible.

If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.

Life isn't always how we want it. When change seems elusive, and we're stuck in old routines, a gentle push or some self-reflection can make a difference. Let these questions be that nudge to get you moving.

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