Anna* met Graham* at a youth ‘social’ 30 years ago and fell in love with his ‘manliness’. She’d had a few boyfriends before, but they were not the strong, masculine type she’d always dreamt about. Graham was.
‘He was very protective of me. He always wanted to know where I was and what I was doing, so he knew I was safe. He’d get jealous if I looked at other guys. I liked that; I liked it that he loved me so much he wanted me all to himself. I felt that he was strong. With him I felt safe and protected.
‘But when I look back on all that now, I can see that Graham’s behaviours had nothing to do with love. They were about domination, about his need to own and control me.
‘He was a “good church man”, so he regularly quoted the Bible at me in order to justify his abusing me — mainly psychologically and sexually. I quickly lost count of the times I heard that Ephesians verse about wives submitting to their husbands. Even now, it makes me feel sick every time I hear it; it brings back horrible memories.’
‘It’s not as though one day he suddenly changed from a dove into a dragon. It doesn’t happen like that. It starts with the tiniest little things that only much, much later you can see were early indicators of trouble.
‘You’re committed to your marriage and the promise you made to God and to your husband “for better or for worse”. And you love him, so you forgive him for what seem to be minor things. You don’t want to be a nag. You want to keep the peace and help him to feel relaxed and happy at home, so you back off and don’t say anything that will upset him. You modify your behaviour to fit in with his moods.
‘You keep imagining that one day he’ll stop hurting you. You convince yourself that this is just a bad phase he’s going through and that one day he’ll return to the wonderful man he was when you married him.
‘That’s why you stay. You hope that one day everything will be good again. But that hope is blind and it can destroy you.
‘Graham had so messed with my head that I didn’t think I was capable of living on my own, let alone ever finding a man who would find me attractive and worthy of his love. So the prospect of leaving was more frightening to me than staying. With Graham, at least I had financial security. I was frightened about losing that, the only sure thing I still had in my life.’
Anna’s commitment to God and her wedding vows were a major impediment to her leaving Graham. ‘I kept believing that if I put his needs before my own, as a loving wife should, and if I prayed about it, God would eventually work this out for good, as he promises in Romans 8:28. I used to hang onto that verse like my life depended on it.
‘But after years and years of believing and praying, nothing changed. Well, yes, things did change, but only for the worse. In the end, on the advice of some loving and very persistent friends, I realised that God wasn’t going to bail me out of this; I had to get myself out.’
Anna’s faith in God took a beating. ‘I still wonder where God was all those years. Feeling abandoned by God when I was trying so hard to be faithful was probably the worst part of the whole thing. My faith in God and in his promise that marriage is a blessing took a real hammering — and I have to say that it hasn’t entirely recovered.
‘I can’t see myself ever re-marrying. I don’t think I can trust anyone again, not even God, perhaps especially not God.’ She still goes to church, but only ‘to see the grandchildren’.