What holds me to him? I can think of so many answers to this question.
The fact that I actually married him, said vows, and never wanted to divorce. This was because I’d been raised to fear the devastation of divorce, not for religious reasons, but for how it had torn apart lives. I grew up in that fallout.
Beyond that, I did say my vows before God and witnesses, and I believed (and still do) in marriage as a holy covenant. I’ve grown older and now understand that this covenant is like a contract, and even though a covenant is a spiritual thing, it’s still contractual; i.e. it can be broken. God is merciful and provides a way forward when this happens.
We have children together. I’ve spent (invested) my entire adult life with him. I have memories (good and bad) with him, but there is no other man I could turn to and say, ‘Remember when son/daughter climbed that tree, learned to ride their bike, cried so hard when their pet died, took their first step, etc.?’ Those memories are shared only with him. One son has his identical smile, more than a few of the kids share his corny humor and love of puns, two of the kids walk like he does, and all of the kids love their father.
The kids seem to fall along the spectrum of cynicism, resignation, judgment, acceptance, and some gently held hope for the marriage of their parents. To have a father and mother that love each other. For the redemptive miracle of a good ending. I wish so much for the latter for them and us.
We both love animals. I know there are other animal lovers in the world, but just like the memories and experiences we share with our kids, we’ve shared loving our fur kids.
We’re financially enmeshed right now. He’s made choices that caused a domino falling effect, moving forward like a snowball down a hill that gains momentum and almost takes on a life of its own. In hindsight, I should have fought for all I was worth at a few key points, but those key points came during exhaustion or trauma, and I didn’t see how how huge the ripple effect would be, or how long it would last.
My health is possibly compromised to the point of nearing disability at times. Now I’m fighting this for all I’m worth, with all I have, and I won’t give up. It’s the crazy cycle where the stress of my relationship with him has probably caused much of it, but by the time I really understood the gravity of it, my health was so diminished that I’d become yet more dependent on him.
This leads to not wanting to give up the last few years left of raising the two youngest. Unless I find a way to become independent financially, I’d either have to depend on him for some support, or just leave them with him, and see them as much as I could. I’ve considered this. I’ve even discussed it with them as a possibility, but my youngest is entirely against that option. Depend on him for support if we’re not together? If it’s bad now, what would that look like? I shudder.
He still makes me laugh. Although I have more and more mixed feelings, it can still feel good to be touched and hugged by him. He has a beautiful smile that can still make me smile. It’s when I see all that’s good in him. It’s when I can see Time shimmer in a transcendent evaporating wave, and see a boy who wanted to be brave and good, and explore life without fear, and live with passion. Before that boy tried to protect his mother and was thrown across a room. Before that boy was held under the water by his father until he passed out. Before something disconnected and left him hardwired and locked into a defensive and deceptive man. The girl that lives in me wants to stand by this boy. I don’t want to blame him, or hate him. In fact, I told him once that I would want to leave him while I still loved him, and not come to hate him and then leave.
He says that he loves me. I struggle to observe objectively if his behavior reflects his words. I want to believe him, so I feel angry and betrayed when his behavior belies the words.
Perhaps I’m afraid. Maybe I’ve lost hope and can’t see beyond what has been, all I’ve known. In a place where I see my mistakes and weaknesses in the light of experience, consequences, and hindsight, my choices have brought my naive dreams into ashes around my feet. I find it difficult to trust myself now after my choices in the past helped bring me to this place. I doubt who I am, how I see myself, and what lies beneath my conscious understanding.
The song in Beauty and the Beast says:
“No lesson could teach me
How I could have loved her and made her love me too
If I can’t love her, then who?“
I understand the meaning of the song, but deep within, I must wonder why I wasn’t enough, and why my love wasn’t enough. I can tell myself that it isn’t me, but the old wounds of childhood align so well with the wounds of my adult years. The meaning of the lyrics can twist into ‘If he can’t love me, then who could love me?’ In those moments, I’m aware of every flaw, every weakness, every unlovely or annoying thing about myself, inside and out. Who could love me? In those moments, I see through the eyes of the hidden wounds. Who could love me if they really knew me?
When I think these thoughts, even when they come unbidden to haunt me, even when I challenge them and replace them with something healthier, it causes me to pause and ask myself about my feelings for him. What is caring for him, what is love, and what is need? Am I so different then? I can more easily accuse him of not loving me, of being with me because of his need and not love, and yet what am I doing now? These are the dark thoughts that I force myself to stare into. I want truth, not blindness.
In the end, after all is said and done, I look into this darkness, look back and survey the years and know that I gave him my heart and soul with the vulnerable passion that’s borne of intention and integrity. Intentionally and with integrity, I shared my energy, my youth, my thoughts, and the best of me that I could find and offer with an intentional love. Then I sat stunned and bewildered, wounded and confused, when it was too often twisted, rejected, invalidated, manipulated, resented, envied, used, or just ignored as if it didn’t exist. Because this is also part of the whole, and part of the reality. The times he’s acknowledged me, seemed to care for me, praised me, held me, or even just been there for me in some practical way, could sometimes feel exhilarating with relief. Anything positive from him would fuel hope that gulped at the future: Yes, yes! It doesn’t have to be a nightmare. It can end well. It can turn around. It will be okay. It can be different.
Except it’s the same, year after year. We grow older. I’m more aware that my frame is made of dust, and his as well. I have less patience and tolerance if he lies or manipulates or behaves badly, but I also have more compassion for him as well. Scarred from the covert emotional abuse, my compassion sometimes feels numbed.
In time, I learned about trauma bonding. It’s a powerful force, and I’m probably riddled with blind spots when it comes to trauma bonding. Does this explain what holds me to him?
It’s acknowledged that women typically have difficulty leaving an abusive husband. Do you think that it’s even more difficult to leave a passive aggressive husband? What broke your bonds and caused or helped you to leave? What holds you to him?