Signs along the Way
According to experts, both professional and amateur (namely, friends with experience in counseling and well-meaning friends), I need to understand that it’s not my fault that my ex-husband emotionally and verbally abused me. OK, I got that. It’s not my fault. It’s Not My Fault! So what? Does saying that do anything for me? Does it make me feel any better? Does it make my choice in this man any less devastating? Does it make me believe it? Does it make my life any more bearable? Even though I think I know it’s true, it’s still hard to believe.
Saying that it’s not my fault doesn’t give me anything to grow from: I don’t gain insight into his personality or mine; and, I can’t assess what I did that enabled me to become a victim of such a deeply devastating act, repeatedly, over far too many days and weeks and months and years. And, as someone who finds no shame in wallowing in self-pity, it certainly doesn’t help prevent me from wasting the rest of my life wallowing.
The irony here (both in what happened and my silent reaction) is that I had always seen myself as a strong, independent woman. I was a feminist, spurred by the times and an inner impulse. I was determined not to have a traditional woman’s job; I was determined to break from expectations; I was pitting myself against society’s game plan and I planned to come up strong. Was my husband the embodiment of all I opposed? Was he my nemesis, some chauvinistic trick to bring me down from my lofty heights of feminist idealism where men and women would be absolute equals to prove to me that I was wrong? Wrong to assume, assert even, that we are equal? It’s sad to realize that in public I would talk about and act upon my beliefs, while in private I betrayed everything that was essential to me and about me.
So why did I let this happen to me; how did this happen to me? Women were still taught to be submissive, even in the midst of the radicalism of the 60’s and 70’s; after all, our parents, especially our mothers, were raised in different times, times when those roles were the norms. Was this dichotomy the problem? The expectations placed on us outside the home and inside the home did not mesh. At home, my mother was the helpmate to my father. Outside there was talk of equality, at home the old world still reigned; moreover, since there were no role models to follow at home, it was up to me to find my way. To further complicate things, my husband was not uncomfortable with the status quo on the home front. Even though we started off with an equal duties pact, it did not last long. In the face of so much change I still perceived my role as supporting and even bolstering the ego of my husband, regardless of all the other things I was to accomplish on my own. Where was my feminism in this? And why did I concede so easily at home; was it comfortable to put the guard down at home, to not have to always fight and be aware of discrimination? But still, I wonder at the woman who at twenty took off alone for her grand adventure; I would have thought that I would have been stronger, better, than that. I guess I was wrong on yet another thing.
In spite of the theorizing, I still wonder where my ex-husband got off thinking that it’s alright to insult his wife and then sit down to eat the dinner she just prepared, with nary a compliment in sight. He doesn’t seem to have been in any turmoil; even for the “old style” husband his behavior was unacceptable. So while I can lay some blame for my acquiescence on society, he only has himself to blame.
Although I can apportion some of the blame, I realize that no matter how externally-mandated roles and expectations have influenced us, our interior core defines us and there is no backing down from seeing all as stemming from that core. We created and destroyed our love and our marriage. Understanding what happened will help me to heal and, I hope, create a brighter future.