When I met the woman who I now consider to be one of my best friends, she was already engaged. I knew right away that her fiance was bad news, but I couldn’t say anything, we weren’t that close yet, and it’s never really a friend’s place to weigh in on marriage.
It wasn’t long after she got married that she had kids, and her husband’s emotional and financial abuse really started showing. He would control all her accounts, though she worked, and did not let her have access to any of his. He would throw tantrums when she had to work, and refuse to watch their children, leaving her to scramble to find childcare at the last minute. He wanted to keep her from working so that she could not earn money, and would have to rely on him for everything. This is of course in addition to the more traditional constant yelling and insulting her, berating her, and calling her a bad mother and wife. She tried to hide many of these things from me, and I pretended not to notice, protecting her feelings.
Then, she started talking an awful lot about this guy at work. He was so funny, he was so cute. He took time and care to listen to her stories, and would even do kind things for her, running errands or calling in favors when one of her children had an emergency. During one marathon phone call, when I had heard his name for the fourth time in a 15-minute span, I gently warned her: “You have feelings for this guy. He reciprocates. This is only going one way.”
She assured me that nothing would happen. They were just friends, it was just a crush. “Ok”, I said- “But be careful.”
And then things at home got worse. Yelling turned physical, and my vow to never weigh in on marriage hit its caveat: ‘Unless there’s danger of physical harm’. She did what most women do, she worked even harder on her marriage, while simultaneously falling deeper and deeper for the guy at work. And I kept warning her about the co-worker: “It’s escalating. You’re about to have an affair. Don’t stay with a physical abuser. Don’t let your relationship begin this way, just leave your husband and be with the new dude. You’ll see, in a year or less, everything will be ok.”
All of a sudden, I stopped hearing about the coworker. She still seemed cheerful, but she didn’t come right out and say anything about him anymore. Instinctively, I knew why, but this time it was she who was protecting me. She had begun an affair with him, and she didn’t want me to have to use this information to harm her in any way.
The drama of her abusive husband finding out about the affair, and her eventual divorce are now long in the past.
She often tells me that I was right all along. She should have left as soon as her husband became physically abusive, the affair situation escalated quickly, and everything ended up being ok in the end. She’s now in a safe, contented relationship, and I believe she wishes that it had begun under more traditional circumstances. She and her ex-husband have a custody arrangement, the children have adjusted perfectly fine to the new schedule, and they are no longer in a position where they witness their father screaming at and verbally abusing their mother. Instead, they saw her take a stand against a monster, and they know that she is capable of correcting her mistakes and moving on after a major life change.
Should she have just left before the affair started? Yes. But it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s still good that it happened. As much as I’m sure it would have been better for her current relationship for it to have begun in the “conventional” way, her ex-husband may never have “let go” without it being a messy, humiliating break. She may never have allowed herself the strength to make a clean break from the abuse and the trauma.
She still has a lot of healing to do, as we talk about all the time. It will take time and therapy (which she has begun) and love and care from me and all her friends and family. But sometimes an affair isn’t the crime you think it is. It can be a necessary “mistake” to cure an even bigger one.
So, even though I was right, I’m grateful that I don’t have any glass to clean up, I never threw a stone in either my glass house or hers, because abuse is hard to identify, even harder to leave, and abusers almost never stop abusing. When I asked her for permission to write this post, the only request she made was for me to tell other women to NOT stay quiet about abuse and not to wait to leave. If you are at all able to take a way out, please do it.
She took the only path she could see, and I’m proud to still be here for her at the end of it.