Content Warning: This blog post describes in detail incidents of domestic assault.
It took less than 24-hours after we were married before he raised his hand to me for the very first time. I remember standing there, his palm in the air, the back of his hand inches away from my face, my breath mired in my lungs, and all I could think was that he wouldn’t actually hit me. Would he? Surely, he wouldn’t do it.
But, he did.
As soon as his hand struck the side of my head, missing my face because I had turned to avoid the blow, he was by my side, begging for forgiveness.
I remember feeling shocked, the sting of the blow still hot against my ear. And then, as I looked at the remorse on his face, I felt badly.
I remember that instead of wondering why he had hit me, I wondered why I had been hit. That distinction is important to me now. Because now I know what I didn’t know then, that there was nothing that I had done to warrant being hit. Not a thing. Nothing.
At the time, however, I was just trying to make sense of it, trying to understand my part in it. I asked myself a question that I would ask myself hundreds of times – what could I do to prevent it from happening again? I rehearsed the scripts I’d learned in premarital counseling (required by our Church). A marriage is 50/50 – if it succeeds it needs both to participate; if it fails then both are at fault. As the pain of the blow to my head faded, I continued to wonder what had been my 50%?
How it Started
It had happened on a Sunday morning the day after our wedding (where we had stood before God and our friends and family and had vowed to love each other). We were in the kitchen, talking about what to eat for breakfast. We’d slept in, and he was annoyed that we were starting off our day later than planned. We were expected at my parent’s house later that afternoon to open our wedding gifts, and he was worried about eating breakfast too close to lunch, knowing that my mom would be putting on a full spread. I’d made a joke about it, and that’s when he started yelling. A few minutes later, his hand was finding purchase with my head.
After his profuse apologies, and my immediate forgiveness, it was done, over. He returned to his normal cheerful, charming self, and we went on with the rest of our day. I chalked it up to his being stressed out about the wedding, and work, and the house we had just bought – which needed lots of “fixing up.” And, I vowed I would be more careful about cracking jokes when he was in a “mood.”
Until two weeks later, when we were talking about who should make dinner, and he did it again. This time, he stopped short of hitting me, but only because I stepped back and raised my finger. “You will not hit me, again.” I’d said, and that had startled him enough that he’d let his hand drop to his side, and then he turned on his heel and stormed off, slamming the door on his way out.
The Abuse Escalated
A month after that we were in front of the garage unloading groceries from the car, and I told him I wanted to take the dog to the dog park. He argued that he needed the car to run errands. I suggested we just do them together. Before I knew it, he’d pushed me against the car so hard that I lost my footing and fell to the cement, the bag of groceries in my arms spilling across the driveway. That time, it didn’t immediately de-escalate as it had before, that time he came at me again. I was on all fours, about to get myself up off the ground when he deliberately stepped on my hand with his foot, as though grounding out a cigarette. I don’t remember the words that were spewing from his mouth, but he was so angry the veins in his neck were popping out. I cried out in pain and begged him to release my hand. A neighbor must have heard it, because he appeared in our driveway, causing my husband to immediately lift his foot, releasing me.
“Are you alright?” the neighbor asked, looking directly at me as I stood up while rubbing the back of my hand. His eyes shifted between my husband and me as I could see him sizing up the situation.
“Yes, I’m fine.” I pointed towards the ripped grocery bag on the ground, my husband busying himself with picking up the spilled groceries. “I tripped over my own feet,” I’d lied. I could tell he wasn’t buying it, but I must have given him a pleading look to drop it because he just nodded curtly and returned to his yard.
It took until the next morning for the apologies and promises – for my husband’s remorse to surface. After sleeping in separate rooms, he’d made me breakfast and we’d gone to Church together, hand in hand, as though nothing had happened the previous day.
Would This Be My Life From Now On?
That was how the next four years of my life would be, that cycle of violence and remorse. Of me trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, while failing to hold him responsible for what he was doing wrong. I kept thinking things would change, that if only I could figure out what triggered him, I could stop doing whatever that was. Whenever he would beg me to forgive him, whenever he agreed to therapy (but never went), when my mother walked in on a fight in which he was holding my arm so tightly it left a bruise and he promised her he would never lay a hand on me in anger again (only to break that promise later the same day), when I became pregnant with our first child and he spent the next nine months doting on me, I held onto hope that the abuse would eventually stop.
But, it didn’t.
I Needed Help to Leave
And, so in order to keep myself safe, in order to keep my children safe, I knew I had to leave him. It was a heartbreaking decision. After all, I loved him, and I loved the home we had created, and our children and their love for us. And, I had dreams for our family, dreams that included us growing old together, watching our children grow up and having their own families, becoming grandparents together, and traveling the world in our retirement. I believed in the sanctity of marriage, and it was not an easy decision to break my vows, to let down my family.
But, what I also came to know was that 24-hours after we had made our vows to love and cherish each other, my husband had broken them by putting his hands on me. Over the course of our four year marriage, he broke those vows hundreds of times.
I’d seen a brochure for a national domestic violence group at the library where I took our daughter for reading time and I called them later that same day when my husband wasn’t home. They helped me find some local resources where I was able to get support and information and find a divorce lawyer who specialized in domestic violence. As importantly, they helped me understand that the abuse was not my fault, that it had never been my fault, and that the shame I felt was not my shame. It was his.
They helped me make a plan to leave, and I was able to do so safely. I was fortunate in that I had a full time job and that my name was on all of our finances. We owned our home equally. The divorce was surprisingly quick, though certainly not painless. Fortunately, my husband did not want made public the abuse he had inflicted, and he agreed to move out of our house and not fight me for physical custody of our two children. He could have made the divorce much more difficult, and I believe he chose not to make it so not because of any altruism on his part, but because he didn’t want to be discovered as a “wife beater.”
I lived with this secret for years and years, feeling shame about having been abused, shame for not having been able to save my marriage, shame for moving my children away from their father – whom they loved, and when I came to understand the abuse wasn’t my fault, shame for having allowed myself to put up with it for four years.
What I know now is that shame is completely useless. My journey was my journey and, as Maya Angelou so wisely said, I did the best I could with what I knew and when I knew better, I did better.
My life now is the one I had dreamed of. I am in a loving and supportive marriage, my children are nearly out of the house and are thriving, and I now know that the abuse I suffered in my first marriage was not my fault. My life is by no means perfect, but it is completely free of violence, just as it should be.
As everyone’s life should be.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, help is available. Please call the Home Free 24-hour hotline at 763.559.4945.
Authors note: this is a true story, but some of the details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.