Abuse in intimate relationships is difficult to comprehend unless you have experienced it, or someone has told you about their experience in some detail. Before it happened to me I imagined it to be constant overt violence, and belittling behaviour; the reality was quite different.
When we enter into a committed relationship, none of us expect it to fail; we pour ourselves into it, believing our efforts will bear fruit. We love our partner, which means we want their happiness, and will give our all to help him achieve happiness. We know, also, to expect ups and downs, and believe all participants are committed to the same end.We also observe our friend’s marriages, and sometimes discuss our concerns them. Sooner or later, however, those of us who have been with an abusive partner discover that our partners do not participate in the relationship with the same expectations. Our partners want their own happiness above all else, and will do anything to achieve it. Sarah, in my book WITNESS, only recognised this after she and Jamie separated.
Two years after they married Jamie joined one of Scotland’s police forces, which meant them moving house, and Sarah leaving her job. The first few years in the new house were probably the happiest they had together; Sarah felt this was it, they were finally settling into their marriage. She found one job, and then another working with young adults with mental health issues; she felt this might be the area she wanted to build a career in. This settled time also gave Sarah the opportunity to look more deeply at where she was in her spiritual life, and spent some time discussing this with Jamie’s sister, Mhairi. Mhairi and Sarah had become good friends over the years, and this deepened their friendship.
Jamie did not like Sarah getting involved with church again, and over a period of six weeks or so, he became more and more angry and distant, until he refused to talk to her at all. After weeks of this Sarah felt they needed to separate, and told Jamie she would be looking for a place of her own. This enraged Jamie, resulting in him beating her with fists on her head, her back and her body. She managed to get away from him, and was fortunate to have a friend from work offer her a guest bedroom until she could find a place of her own.
While she was away from Jamie, Sarah continued to discuss her situation with Mhairi, telling her about Jamie’s anger over church, and about the beating. Mhairi believed that marriage was for life, and, while this separation was necessary, she believed all would be well in the end; she also believed Jamie would go back to church himself. Sarah spoke with Mhairi’s minister, and his view was the same; he said he recognised how committed to her marriage Sarah was.
No-one suggested this was not a true marriage, and should not be saved.
Image and text © Kitty Nolan 2016
Mother, with the distance of time, I know you did not want me to suffer.
You were outraged at the beatings I took. You were outraged that my husband terrorised me, trying to control my mind and my spirit.
You knew the guidance given to me was wrong. Why, when I cried out for help from you, did it not come? The teaching I had was that marriage is a sacred bond that only you can break. The bond was broken by the first punch.
Jesus stood by women abused by men, but in the tangle of misguidance, Jesus’s message was drowned. My cry now is for love. There can be no love without justice. My cry now is for peace. There can be no peace without justice. When we live with abuse, inside we die. My cry, now, is for life.
You promise to hear the cry of the downtrodden. Mother, hear it now. For me, for my children, for all women and children living with abuse!