Marriage is a joyous, public declaration of commitment almost as old as civilized man; the culminating ceremony expressing and professing undying love between two people. Most of us start out putting it right up near – if not at – the top of life’s to-do list. Along with having kids and making that first million. Nobody ever lists getting a divorce; it doesn’t even make the bucket list.

Ending a marriage is one of the most devastating emotional hits a person takes in life. Truthfully, I think it’s worse than death. Death is a natural part of life and marriage; we make a vow to love each other ‘until death do us part’. Happily married couples will avoid even thinking about it except to draw up wills or buy life insurance. Divorce, on the other hand, isn’t natural. What person, genuinely in love, marries another human being with expectations of anything other than building a long and happy life together?

Down in the southern Bible Belt where I was raised, the bedrock belief that marriage is a sacred, forever thing was strongly instilled. D-i-v-o-r-c-e was not even spoken above a shameful whisper. If there were problems between a husband and wife, the solution was that you did whatever was necessary, working together to work it out. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that with the majority of relationships this kind of ‘stick with it’ approach still works. I’ve known couples who value their marriage and buckle down to do whatever needs to be done to restore the happy state of the union. Sometimes in today’s fast and disposable lifestyle it can just seems easier to toss out things that are less than perfect. I’ve seen love thrown away like this and it’s always sad, especially when children are involved. And then there are times when no amount of effort or determination can fix things.

So when is divorce the right answer? As an immature 19 year-old, I and my infant son endured horrific abuse the hands of my first husband. Why did I stay as long as I did? Because I was brought up to believe that a divorce was a straight ticket to hell and damnation. I was afraid I wasn’t up to the responsibility of raising myself and a child. I literally believed him when he said no man would ever want me again. And no one believed me when I tried to tell them what was going on. Not even the police.

Later I married again, this time to a man who, on the surface, appeared to be genuine, loving and kind. It took seven years to uncover that his sole motivation for the courtship and marriage was to gain for himself a manly, ‘good old boy’ veneer in order to survive and prosper in the homophobic atmosphere that was Texas in the last century. He wasn’t gay but transgendered. By marrying me and adopting my son, he could hide and protect his secret. No, he didn’t beat me but the scars he inflicted were just as deep and real.

I may be a woman but we certainly don’t own exclusive rights to victimhood. Statics are revealing a marked increase in the number of reported domestic violence cases against men. Women are finally achieving notorious equality as the perpetrators they’ve always been capable of being.

Male or female, physical, emotional and sexual abuse are the top reasons to run – not walk – away. It may sound logical and obvious but where the heart is involved, it becomes incredibly easy to ignore wisdom and reason ourselves right into denial. You tell yourself that there’s no way that this person with whom you have shared so much would actually, intentionally hurt you in any way, shape, form or fashion. As a former crime reporter, I can tell you I heard this a lot. Unfortunately in many cases it was too late to hear it first hand.

When in doubt, walk out.

HelpGuide.Org is a non-profit resource guide.

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