I would never be one of those women

You know the type – stays in an abusive relationship because she doesn’t know any other way to feel loved. Lets her boyfriend or husband call her stupid or lazy and tell her that she’s no good and couldn’t do anything on her own, and eventually she starts to believe it because she hears it so often. The woman who won’t talk to friends or family because she’s embarrassed and ashamed that she ended up this way. Then he leaves her and the kids with no support, no job, nothing, and she says she had no idea it was coming. We see them, and the two conclusions are that some men are scum and we would never let ourselves get into a situation like that.

But I’m having to reevaluate that. Sometimes the guy isn’t obviously scum, he’s a pretty good guy. He isn’t perfect, but he wants to do a good job of loving his wife and children and providing them support. But life is hard and working for “the man” is depressing and the world sells us dreams of glamour and glory. So he works more hours, or a second job, to bring in more money. Or he starts his own business with dreams of being his own boss one day. There isn’t as much time for the family, but it’s only temporary. And if the wife nags sometimes about how much time it’s taking, reassure her that it will all be great once you get established, you’ll have plenty of time for the family.

In fact, he wants to do such a great job of taking care of his family, that he tells his wife to stay home and not work outside the house. Not necessarily from some male ego that she shouldn’t be contributing to the household, not even jealousy that she may want to talk to other people sometimes, but from some strong desire to be a good enough provider that his wife can (read should) stay at home with the kids and never ever have to work outside the house. This good desire gets a bit twisted when it ignores that the wife may need some external stimulation and exposure, and to use and build skills in a work setting. But the intention is to do what he thinks is the right thing.

He is working so hard to be the provider that he also blocks her out of the finances, reassuring her that there is money for what she and the kids need, so go ahead and buy things, without sharing any details of the good or the struggle. This is a form of protection that is really an insidious curse. Too many women have realized after their husband’s death that they know nothing about their current financial situation or how to make the day to day, short-term and long-term decisions that need to be made. A truly thoughtful husband would regularly discuss their finances, full disclosure, so that the wife is comfortable with how it is all set up in case she ever needs to do anything with it. I can’t relate to this one since I’ve run the finances in our house all our marriage, it’s just my gift and works out well for us.

But this man I’m discussing continues to make decisions on his own, often without soliciting or listening to his wife’s input. And sometimes life throws a curveball that scares him, be it an additional child or buying a house or taking a business to the next level, and instead of revealing all the fears and discussing the complexities and options and sharing that journey with his spouse, he makes abrupt decisions and brooks no discussion from anyone. When it turns out to be a good decision, this works out ok in the short-term but sets a bad pattern for the future. When it is a bad decision it builds a ball of resentment in him that he was forced to make this decision on his own and it didn’t work out.

On the personal side, he may find that discussions with his wife are uncomfortable. She tries to express her feelings and he only sees an implied attack in it, instead of realizing she is really being very trusting and vulnerable with him as she shares these things. Maybe she turns to him for help and he recoils in disgust at someone being so needy or imperfect. It isn’t that he doesn’t love her, just that he isn’t sure how to help her. Perhaps her weaknesses shine a light on his own weaknesses and no one finds that enjoyable. He turns from her in self-protection. Over time, instead of seeing her weaknesses as a special area for his love and protection, he finds himself wearied by the unrelenting need she has for him. Some of this he created himself, refusing her the opportunity for independence and external supports. But the cause does not matter, only the need to get away from it and the constant reminders that he hasn’t been enough for her all these years since she obviously still needs something.

But, this post is about the woman. She has tried to be a good wife, build a good home, and figure out how to meet some of her own needs. Her husband has reassured her that all her fears of a failed marriage are groundless and done his best to convince her by showing her that she doesn’t have to leave the kids to work a job, that he has the finances under control, that he can meet her every need. And she has found all of that hard to believe or trust, but tried not to question him too often, learning to believe him when he promises her that he will always be there. Perhaps he didn’t set out to isolate her, to make her question her ability to do anything on her own, to leave her with no skills or experience outside the house. Surely he did mean to keep his promises made to calm her fears. But life can be difficult, and sometimes the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. Or maybe the grass just looks so brown and dry over here. So, one day he’s talking about replacing the carpet and hanging pictures, and the next day he announces that he’s leaving.

His words and actions prove to her that her fear of a failed family and a husband who would leave her was right all along. She is dependent on him for any support of her children or herself, but he’s proven that he’s not trustworthy. Now he is angry and he knows all of her fears and weaknesses because she’s been showing them to him for years. Somehow divorce usually involves the immature so the threats, stilted communication, avoidance behaviors all put the insecure woman at a disadvantage. Maybe it isn’t all mean on purpose, but it is easy to see how a man who used to say he loved you and knows your buttons could be pushing all those buttons now, maybe even without thought like siblings do so often.

I bet you assume this is about Alison and Dave. And of course some of it is. But I’m realizing this is my parents, my aunt, my sister, perhaps even Anthony and Dave’s parents. I’m still trying to understand how a family can end up here, at the bottom of a hole. I want to understand so I can help this family heal, so I can protect my own family, and the families that are dear to me.

And I have a list of men I’m revisiting every once in awhile to remind myself not all men are scum. My husband is at the top of the list, of course. Trent, Don (curmudgeon yes, scum absolutely not), Rick, Bill, Pastor David, Bryan, Jed, Clint, Uncle James, Jerry, Leonard, Mike, the HoJ…

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