How do I know when to leave?

Just over 18 months ago, I made the hardest decision of my life.

Five months after that I made an even harder decision: to end my marriage…

Looking back now, the decisions I made were rational, well thought through and long overdue. At the time, I was a confused, lost, and hurt. I was attempting to make the best possible decisions in the worst possible emotional state. These were decisions I would never have been able to make on my own.

Please don’t get me wrong. These were my own decisions, made by me in an attempt to do what was best for my family, but I didn’t make these decisions without advice.

Let me tell you about the first decision first; the decision to leave.

If you have been following me at all you know that I made the decision to take my children out of the state (nearly 900) miles away from home while my husband was at work. I had asked him to let me go for a while, to reset and get the help we needed, and I don’t mean marital counseling. I needed him to get help. He wouldn’t let me go.

Things were getting out of control and I needed to get away. I was hardly able to go to work or the grocery store without being checked up on and his attempts to isolate me, even from my family, were getting worse. The bars of my cage were closing in fast.

I almost left two days earlier, but I lost my nerve and resolve. It was an awful decision to make at the time. I don’t feel that way anymore and want to explain that.

When you are held in place by fear as a result of emotional, mental or physical abuse, leaving your spouse for any reason, even abuse, feels like treason. At some point, you stop thinking about what is right and wrong in normal terms and begin thinking about what is right and wrong depending on the reaction you can expect from your spouse. Instead of looking at the whole picture, your focus is unilateral, mostly about how this might affect your spouse.

While thinking of others before you think of your self is Biblical and selfless and a great character quality, this takes on a pernicious quality. You endure endless mistreatment but are concerned about how your spouse may respond to something you say or do. The problem comes when you only focus on the decision you are about to make and here is why. You are fixated on your actions and your actions only. Your actions do not exist in a vacuum, however. They must be evaluated as a part of the whole.

Your decision to leave is as a result of something, namely abuse. You have endured constant and habitual patterns of mistreatment and have reached a point where you realize something has to change. When you are at the point where you see that you need to leave because that change will not happen otherwise, you have to see that that decision is not selfish or unwarranted.

This brings up a second factor that may or may not play into your decision and that is children. For me, it was the factor. My overarching question was, what would I be doing to my kids? This question took on many forms for me. I think it is important that you recognize that all of the thoughts that you come up with having to do your kids usually come down to this concern. You are worried that taking the kids away from their father and openly admitting that things are bad, really bad, will do long-lasting harm to your kids.

It was both the reason that I stayed and that I left.

At some point, I was staying for them. Yes, I still wanted to be a godly wife and honor God and marriage and do the right thing, but in all honesty, I had gotten to a point where I was ready to get away once they were out of the house and was just waiting for that time to come. I was spent and numb. It was also the reason I stayed the first time I intended to leave.

Providentially, my neighbors became involved on a particularly bad night when my friends were concerned about my safety. They called my neighbors to come over and check on me. By the time they came over I had gotten my dad on the phone and was trying to work through the situation to calm things down.

Embarrassed over the “exposure,” I went over the next day to try to fix the situation. I did not get the reaction that I expected. My neighbor said a lot to me, but the thing that really stuck with me was her advice to leave for the kids. All along I had been thinking that leaving was something that I would be doing to the kids, but I had not thought about it being something I might be doing for them. This is such a big part of the decision that I really want to spend more time on it and will do so in the next post. For now, I will leave it at that.

Lastly, if you make the decision that it is time to leave, just remember this: leaving does not have to be permanent. I certainly did not expect it to be permanent when I left. I thought that it would afford us the opportunity to hit the “reset” button. Only after I discovered that he used that time, when he was supposed to be getting help, to go further into sin did I decide that things were not going to change. At that point my temporary decision to leave became permanent.

Obviously, I cannot predict what will happen if you make the same decision I did, but there is one thing that I do know. If you do make that decision, you must make this your first boundary and stay strong. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for a new cycle: leaving, coming back, leaving, coming back. That was one cycle I refused to become a part of. It is the reason I told him that this was his last chance to get help. If this seems unfair, you should remember that he had had multiple opportunities to get help while we were together; 15 years worth. I begged and pleaded, but he never had a reason to take me seriously or even a desire to change. If leaving would not do it, then there was no hope.

Leaving is drawing a line in the sand. It is saying “You need to make a choice.” The vow they made at the alter needs to become real. Our choice to stay and put up with their actions makes it easy for them not to choose.

This is a hard decision and not one to be made lightly. Pray. Seek counsel. Be brave.




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