“Now, will you finally leave him?”
Surprise, shock, and disbelief each took their turn.
“What do you mean? Why would you say that?”
She took her time. But here in this moment, the years of therapy we had participated in were finally going to pay off, big time.
“Mom, I just don’t like the way he talks to you. He’s not nice to you. He talks down to you — a lot. I don’t like it.”
And that’s when it hit me. Shame.
The “he” she was referencing was her own father. Her dad. My husband. And she wasn’t wrong.
I just didn’t think that anyone noticed. I didn’t think that my kids had noticed.
But my oldest, my daughter, had noticed. And she didn’t like it.
In a moment, I realized that with all of my efforts to get along, to make things work, to keep the peace, I had been accepting treatment that was getting worse and worse. And my children were taking it in. My children were accepting it as normal. My children were thinking that is how people treat each other in relationships.
I choked back tears. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry that I didn’t role model a good healthy relationship for you. And I’m sorry that I didn’t role model someone standing up for themselves better. I’m sorry that I didn’t do better.”
She told me that it was okay. But it wasn’t. Because not only was she watching and taking in how I was accepting being treated, I was modeling how a wife should be treated — how a wife should accept being treated. I was modeling that for both my daughter and my sons. And it was not okay. I was teaching my daughter how to be treated, and teaching my sons how to treat their future wives. And none of it was okay.
That was where the shame came in.
I was so concerned with keeping the peace that I accepted less and less to just keep the peace. But in keeping the peace, in keeping the family together and functioning, I was modeling really unhealthy relationship dynamics.
It had gotten to the point where she knew he was having affairs, she believed that I knew and was okay with it. She didn’t question it. It was that bad. We had gotten to the point where my own daughter believed I would accept it as okay for my husband to be running around on me. Why not? I accepted everything else he did, the way he talked to me and treated me – why would my acceptance of his affairs be any different?
And, like it or not, that’s where I found myself.
My only hope is that by leaving, I am showing my kids that it’s not okay for a husband to treat a wife this way. My hope is that I will at some point be able to model a good, healthy relationship between people who treat each other with love, kindness and respect. Or, at the very least, I’m modeling that it’s okay to stand up to someone and say “enough” — even when the stakes are high. Maybe even more important when the stakes are high.
There’s no question that my children are going to feel the effects of my divorce for the rest of their lives. I have to hope that I made it worth it. Because as much shame as I felt hearing my daughter beg me to leave her own father, I would feel even worse if I had to watch them repeat what they had lived with.
That would be on me. And it wouldn’t be me paying the price. It would be their spouses and my grandchildren paying the price.
And that could be even harder to live with than the verbal and emotional abuse. Worse than the shame I feel knowing my kids thought that this was acceptable behavior. Worse than knowing that I let them believe that.
Sometimes, leaving is absolutely the right thing to do. It’s not selfish. It’s one of the hardest things I’ll ever do. But it’s the right thing to do.