I prayed for the wrong eyes to be opened and the wrong heart to be softened….
As I sat across from this sweet, broken, sobbing woman, listening to her recount the many ways her husband had been abusive and how it had affected her, I was horrified to realize my ex-husband or any of my five children could be sitting in her place. I recoiled at the thought and tucked it away.
Alone in my room, I pulled that ugly revelation out of its hiding place. The truth was staring me in the face and I could no longer hide behind excuses or blame them for their reactions. Up until this moment, I had not been able to see how my actions impacted them and caused their reactions. I knew I had done and said some horrible things and I had apologized and I had felt sorry. But I had not acknowledged how it had shaped and broken them and our relationships. I was so focused on my own hurt because of their reactions that I mistook them as the perpetrators.
I recollected the words I had spoken to her just hours before: “There is NEVER an excuse for abuse of any kind.” The words reverberated through my thoughts… These thoughts crippled me and my knees buckled as I sobbed with a sorrow that racked my soul more deeply than I had ever felt. The words of Alma as he writes in Alma 36 about his soul being racked with torment as he remembered his sins, flooded my mind and the sobbing continued.
I had spent more than thirty years shifting blame, denying truth and playing the part of the victim. I wasn’t insincere, or play acting. I actually believed this version of events and though they did occur, they were merely reactions to my actions not the other way around. I had been blinded by my own arrogance, pride and insecurities. I had duped myself into believing a lie and worse, I had propagated this “truth”.
Her words kept echoing in my mind and heart. “Why? What did I do to deserve this? How do I forgive? How can I ever trust him again? I love him, but I am afraid. How do I know his change isn’t just motivated by the fact that I left? How will I know if he has really changed?”
It dawned on me that my ex-husband had probably asked himself these same questions numerous times over the years. I finally understood what he meant when he said divorcing me was all about his mental health. Until this moment, I discounted it as an excuse he was giving so he could feel justified in having an affair. My own ignorance baffles me. I am not a stupid woman, but clearly I had been living with blinders on when it came to my own actions. I had driven him to the arms of another woman through years of abuse. What else can you call it? I demeaned him, yelled at him, called him names, swore at him…
The shame I feel is enough to send me spiraling into a deep depression that I fear I will never escape from. But I must not go there. I cannot. I have to be brave enough to own the damage I have caused.
What a remarkable man he truly is. He put up with, absorbed, lived through and forgave more times than he should have. I believe he loved me. I also realize that at some point love was not enough to sustain him. Love is never enough. It has to be coupled with respect and trust. I destroyed those two key ingredients years before he took the opportunity I provided for him, to leave. I never intended to hurt him. I loved and still love him. But I failed to show it in a consistent manner. For every one time I was abusive, it would erase ten times of my affection. The ratio isn’t fair, but it is accurate. After thirty years his love tank was empty. I had failed at the one thing I had devoted my life to and I had no one to blame but myself.
I had been living in a fantasy where eternal marriages didn’t dissolve because of infidelity. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t reconcile if I was so willing to forgive and forget. It just didn’t make sense. But today I accept responsibility and I know that even eternal marriages can end because of abuse. Heavenly Father had given me a glimpse of this insight back in 2000 when I was dealing with a similar issue in my marriage. I took action and acknowledged that my behavior towards my family could be considered abusive and I apologized. The focus then turned on his reaction (the affair), and we proceeded as if this had been the original sin. My emotional immaturity, my battle with chronic depression and my low self-esteem and insecurities got in the way of me really digging deep and recognizing and fixing my own behavior. My apology had been a band aid but my relationship was hemorrhaging and required a tourniquet and surgery or amputation.
So why was I so surprised when 13 years later I was faced with the same reaction from him? Because I still did not comprehend how my actions had depleted any positive feelings he had in our relationship. I did not “get it”. Again I was so focused on what he did and how it had impacted my life and that of our children that I was blind to my own folly. He attempted on numerous occasions to point it out to me but my complete lack of humility clouded my examination of events. From my perspective, I was the injured party and yet I was willing to forgive. I was full of hope and the belief that covenants bind us together. But today, my eyes have been opened and I see clearly the damage I have caused.
Why is it that the one I loved above all others is the one I hurt the most? What compelled me to treat our relationship as a competition instead of a partnership? I can cite abuse in my own life, insecurities, depression and a host of other excuses. But that’s all they are, excuses. And as I told her there is NEVER an excuse for any type of abuse.
The sadness I feel isn’t one of self-pity today. I know what I’ve done and I finally own the consequences. The idea that I expected him to jump back into a relationship with me after the years of pain I had put him through makes me shudder. I hurt him. Just saying that out loud makes me cry out in shame. I hurt the only man I have ever loved. To call him a betrayer is inaccurate. He is a survivor and a champion.
It pains my heart to know that I have come to this realization too late for us. But I have at least come to it. He has moved on with a woman who can show love to him in the ways he can feel, and he deserves nothing less than that. I finally understand his hesitation to accept that the change he has sensed in me was real and lasting. It is, but it wasn’t enough until today, and today is too late for him. But it is not too late for me. My hard heart has finally been softened.
So I write to you today dear (ex) husband with the right apology…finally. Although I had hoped for an opportunity to reconcile with you, I realize you have found a positive, wholesome relationship with someone else.
I am sorry for every day I didn’t make you feel like you were the most important person in my life. I am sorry for every time I made a snide remark that was aimed to hurt you. I am sorry for every time I made our conversations a competition. I am sorry for every time I yelled at you. I am sorry for every time I called you names. I am sorry for every time I made you feel small. I am sorry I didn’t show you the love I feel for you with my words and my actions. I am sorry for all of the pain I caused you to feel. I am sorry for blaming you for problems in our marriage. I am sorry for walking out instead of staying to work it out. I am sorry for my blinded eyes and my hardened heart. I am sorry.
With love and admiration,