The grief from the election after an already tough summer with the slayings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille within days of each other, along with the murder of countless others at the hands of police, was overwhelming. Donald Trump’s election signaled that millions of folks endorsed his blatant racism, xenophobia, misogyny and all-around bigotry. Attending a predominantly White church where the pastor was the future-president of the Southern Baptist Convention also added a layer of distress, as many of those I attended church with were ignorant, willfully or otherwise, of the complex history of racism in America and in the church. My community and my hope for a happy marriage were unraveling at the same time.
By this time, X’s post-graduate fellowship had ended and he was spending time figuring out his next career move. My income was the primary income supporting us. With the start date for my dream job in Texas approaching, I couldn’t afford to take a break from taking the bar because it is only offered twice a year. So, I began to prepare for my third attempt.
The holidays were coming up, and X and I planned to travel to see our families. For Thanksgiving, we went to visit his family in South Carolina. I mentioned my plan to study in their home office for most of the time we were there. X expressed displeasure and said that I needed to be with him to “make sure that [he] was taken care of.” He said he didn’t want to spend that much time alone with his parents because of his past negative interactions with them. We “compromised” and decided to just spend time at a coffee shop so I could study and he could have a break from his family. Because it was a holiday in a small town, there weren’t many options and much of the time I was supposed to be studying was spent driving around looking for open coffee shops.
For Christmas, we visited my family in Texas. The morning of my birthday, the day after Christmas, X and I discussed the plans for the day and the rest of our time in Texas. During this “conversation,” X was so resistant to cooperation that it was baffling to me. He again asserted that I needed to “make sure that [he] was taken care of.” I started recording the conversation because it was so unreal and I needed the record to be sure I wasn’t imagining things. I was also hoping that I would be able to talk about it with X once he was done with his tantrum so that he would realize how foolish he was acting. But the realization never came, and he just moved on like nothing happened. Though I never shared it with anyone, I kept the recording and I started recording more often.
A few weeks later, shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration, a Facebook friend posted an article on their page. The article discussed Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and common signs including:
- lack of empathy
- sense of entitlement
- belief that one is “unique”
- resistance to taking responsibility for personal actions
- blame shifting
Blame shifting. The behavior our previous counselor had called out. I was reading a profile of my husband’s behaviors. More online research validated what I was experiencing and called it emotional and narcissistic abuse. Many of the resources I found pointed out that romantic relationships can rarely be maintained with people with characteristics of NPD. Many resources advised folks to end relationships with people who exhibit these characteristics because there is no hope for mutual care and concern. My religious indoctrination did not allow me to accept that. There had to be hope with God. I shifted my research to try to find information on “abuse in Christian marriage.” The results of that search included vague articles warning women to seek relief from physical violence, but pray or seek counseling for any other type of marital “struggle.”
I wrapped myself in the weighted blanket of hyper-spirituality and convinced myself that everything would be ok because God was in control.
I reached out to a Biblical counselor who was in small group with X and I. I told her that I discovered that X was abusive. I’m not sure that she listened to me. On the contrary, she quickly dismissed my concern and told me that abuse is “just sin” and that I should treat X how I treat anyone else who sins against me. She advised that I study the Bible to explore this concept.
But I already had enough to study. I overwhelmed with the realization that I was in an abusive marriage, but I had to continue studying to take the bar exam in a few short weeks. I chose to continue what I had been doing for my entire relationship with X: I wrapped myself in the weighted blanket of hyper-spirituality and convinced myself that everything would be ok because God was in control.
Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it came as a surprise to me when I failed that bar exam.
By this time, we were a few months away from moving to Austin for my job, but we hadn’t made any solid plans to move. To the contrary, X was focusing his job search in NC. But that was to no avail. With time running out, and no real options in NC, he enrolled in a training program in Austin. His program started a few months before my job, and I was still working in NC. We made the decision that he would move to Austin, and I would stay behind in NC to continue working and plan our move.
I also started studying for my fourth attempt at the bar exam. With my dream job requiring a law license, I didn’t have the option to take a break. I revamped my study plan and hired a personal tutor. My employer was very gracious, and they allowed me to study during the majority of my work hours. Even though I was studying, working, and simultaneously coordinating a move halfway across the country with little help from X, I felt much more confident in my bar preparation. My physical separation from X gave me some space from being confronted with the issues in my marriage. During the move and transition to Austin, I was able to spend time with my family. Their love encouraged me through the process.
And I finally passed.
I was hopeful as I started my dream job as an attorney in Austin. X had also secured a job and we had found a church to be involved in. With all of these things in place at the same time for the first time in our marriage, I thought we would be in a place to work on our marriage, as I had avoided that while I focused on my career.
Between X’s relentless obstinance and removal of the bar exam as an escape, my bubble of denial was slowly being chipped away.
But my denial had not stopped X’s destructive behaviors. The new phase in our marriage gave him new ways to create chaos and confusion. For example, at one point, I expressed not wanting to dive into time-consuming service roles at our new church so that we would have more time together. He deliberately mischaracterized my concern and insisted that I just “didn’t love God enough” because “I didn’t want [him] to serve.” I can see now that he was thirsting for the praise of those who would see him as super spiritual. We also routinely had conflict around our finances, as he refused to be held accountable for his spending that undermined the financial goals we set together. There was nothing that X wouldn’t use to create conflict and strife.
Between X’s relentless obstinance and removal of the bar exam as an escape, my bubble of denial was slowly being chipped away. I resumed exploring some of the resources I found in my initial search about narcissistic and emotional abuse in marriage. Eventually, it was my own behavior that forced me to wake up.