Sometimes the worst advice comes from the most unexpected people. I learned that the hard way.
October 27th was a date I celebrated for many years because on that beautiful fall day, I had my first date with a guy I met in ballroom dance class while in college. (Yes, I said ballroom dance class — don’t judge. It was an easy PE credit back then, and yes, PE credits were required in college that long ago.)
February 6th was also a day I celebrated for years because on that clear cold winter day I said “I do” for better or for worse to a man I thought was the most special person and that I loved very much.
I thought I had a great marriage with a great man. I thought that until a freak accident happened involving my then 8-year-old daughter.
That day, I started to realize there was a serious problem.
I would have told you back then, that I would never get a divorce — never. I made a vow for better or worse so whatever the problem was we were going to fix it and be better than ever
But, when “worse” means that the man that is supposed to join you in being willing to die for your child, is the one that hurts your child and is then completely indifferent to their pain, what you think you would never do becomes an option.
I thought my friends would feel the same and be as shocked and horrified as I was. Instead, what I was told by so many was that it was my job to fix this — to ‘fix’ him.
I was told that I needed to tell him he was everything I wanted him to be — and then he would become that. I needed to tell him how proud I was of him and what an amazing father he was — and then he would become that.
I was told it was my fault that all this happened because I had not been there for him and encouraged him enough. It’s no wonder this happened, I was told. I was not loving enough to him. That poor man, they would say.
We went to counseling with a priest that I admired and trusted. I expected him to tell my husband that he needed to go do whatever it took to make sure he never hurt his child again, but instead, that priest questioned ME on why I had not been grateful for the flowers my husband had recently given me and was ‘hurt’ I never said thank you for. The priest and my husband both stared at me for an answer.
Then, this priest recommended we read the Five Love Languages book. I know a lot of people love that book, but I hate it. The last chapter describes a woman being horribly abused by her husband, but she only responds with love. I guess they stayed together — I couldn’t stand reading the whole chapter.
But that is what this priest’s ‘counseling’ amounted to. Just like my friends had said, I just wasn’t loving enough and speaking his ‘love language’. If I just loved my husband enough, I could fix him.
During all of this my head was spinning — my husband hurt our daughter and had no emotion about it. How was everyone else okay to completely ignore that?
It was very clear to me. My love language was to protect my children.
I’d watched my friends get upset with their husbands over much much less. Even as I discovered more lies and more deceit and more abuse, many still felt sorry for him.
The only time he showed any emotion was in front of others. In couples counseling, the tears came. The counselor would go over to comfort him. She looked up at me and said, “Now we’re getting somewhere. This is why you fell in love with him, isn’t it?”
I drove home that day wondering if she was right. Maybe I had fallen in love with him because at one point those tears were for me, and I had reacted the way she was reacting. The tears were not for me now though and they would dry up as soon as we left her office and be replaced with a satisfied smirk.
Meanwhile, I kept reading books telling how damaging divorce is for kids, and my friends kept telling me not to destroy my family.
Fortunately, a new friend did come into my life that would become like a second mother to me. She understood. She didn’t tell me what to do. She told me I knew the right thing to do and to trust myself.
She called my other friends ‘earth friends’ because they hadn’t been through what I’d been through and didn’t understand.
She recommended I talk to another priest — one that knew and, I thought, liked my husband. Obviously, I resisted her advice for a long time. I just knew the priest was going to tell me what everyone else had and confirm my worst fear — that it WAS all my fault, and that I had turned my back on God when I turned my back on my marriage.
My new friend persisted though, and I had learned to trust her. So, I agreed to make an appointment. I know a lot of women have gotten very poor advice from priests just like I had, but my friend was, of course, right.
The priest told me he had concerns too from his interactions with my husband. I realized during this meeting that my friends were wrong — that I was wrong. God hadn’t turned his back on me because I couldn’t stay in my marriage, and he wouldn’t want me to stay in a marriage that was hurting me and my children.
The priest suggested I file for separation and that maybe that would be the catalyst that would cause a change in my husband, but if it didn’t get better quickly to file for divorce.
This advice was important to me then. My faith was important to me. I wanted my husband to change. I didn’t want to lose my family. I didn’t want my children to be from a divorced home. I wanted to honor my vow. I desperately wanted it to get better.
Well, of course, it didn’t get better, and I learned that when you start to see through the cracks of the mask of a manipulator, you become enemy #1.
I filed for a separation, but it was the separation that never was. We may be the only people that were legally separated but still living in the same house because he refused to move out.
If I moved out with the kids, he would be sitting in our big beautiful home ready to take custody when we went to court. The court date to decide temporary custody was two months away. So, we stayed together in the same house as if nothing had changed.
I had long ago started being out of the house with the kids as much as possible. Bookstores became our safe place. The kids and I would go there frequently, and I would sneak away to get books to read trying to understand what was going on with him, how to get children through a divorce, and how any of us could ever be okay again.
My coping mechanism is researching and trying to make sense of how could this have happened. The Five Love Languages book was always on display at the bookstore, and I would pass by wanting to destroy them all so nobody else would read them.
One day the display had a book titled “Why I stayed For So Long”. Well, of course, I picked that up.
It was the story of Mary Jo Buttafuoco. The forward told the story of her son telling her his dad was a sociopath. The next page gave a point-by-point description of the characteristics of a sociopath.
I remembered someone once mentioned to me they thought my husband was a sociopath. I thought they meant psychopath, and I thought that was extreme — he obviously wasn’t a serial killer.
I read the description of a sociopath and point by point — it was him. I stood there frozen to the floor of the bookstore while the kids read in the children’s section.
It was as if all the fog I had been walking through for the last year since the day of the accident had suddenly lifted and everything was clear. All the books I’d read and all the research I had done, yet all it took was this one page and everything finally made sense — it made chilling sense.
Today, I would not use the term ‘sociopath’. I would simply use the term ‘perpetrator’, but what was abundantly clear to me on that day was that I couldn’t fix this.
I called my attorney and told him to prepare the papers to change the separation to a divorce.
Then on a beautiful clear day at the start of fall, I drove to once again meet with the priest. On the way, a song came on the radio. “Everybody’s scared to death. When they decide to take that step. Out on the water. It’ll be alright.”
I was scared to death. I’d read the books. I knew what I was up against. I didn’t think anything would ever be alright again.
The priest didn’t just give me his blessing to file for divorce, but he was strongly recommending that’s what I do.
I know I didn’t need this approval, and I’m not in any way the same person today I was then. But at this time in my life, when so many of my ‘Christian’ friends had told me the exact opposite of what he told me, this was important.
This priest recently passed away, and I’ll forever be grateful to him for being one of the few voices that told me to protect myself and my children.
My precious new friend and my sister held my hand through all of this. My immediate family always stood with me even against great pressure from my husband not to.
On Ash Wednesday, the divorce was made final. My sister walked with me that day into a courtroom, and I walked out of that courtroom having done what I said I would never do.
I walked out ready to do whatever it would take to protect my children — it would end up taking a lot.
On July 4th, Independence Day, my oldest daughter went with me as I signed my first ever solo lease on an apartment.
Five years later, the full extent of what he was really capable of came to light as my youngest daughter disclosed the unimaginable.
Thankfully, I did not accept back then the worst advice you can give a woman. If a woman tells you she is concerned for herself and her children, you should believe her. You never know what is really going on.
The worst advice you can give a woman is that if she loves a man enough, she can fix him.