Deal Breakers and Monkey Love


Women talk to me. Not sure why. Maybe it’s this strange tendency to laugh inappropriately during confessional sessions. More likely,  my Christian pedigree worked the magic– pastor’s daughter, pastor’s granddaughter, pastor’s great-granddaughter. We attended my father’s church for years, my household appeared to be in order, therefore surely I’m an expert on the ways of matrimony. The whole ‘older women instructing the younger’ kicked in somewhere around thirty-five despite the fact I didn’t have a swinging clue.

I did not cultivate bleeding hearts by the front door, they just appeared right and left. Quite possibly the teaching in our church contributed—just as politics or law enforcement tends to attract a certain personality type, the heavy emphasis on the wife’s submission  and patriarchal headship attracted men with an abusive streak, . I’m going to go with that theory and believe our churches were top-heavy with abusive men because the atmosphere made them feel all warm and snuggly rather than the cynical viewpoint that most men are abusive.

The Blind Shall See

For years, I did not understand what I was hearing. I spent lots of time waving my hands about and squealing. I tried to offer help but generally said something lame like, ‘my husband can be pretty difficult at times too.” or “when I figure this out, I’ll write a book and we’ll move to Reno.” They thought I was joking. Silly women.

Once upon a time, I was a highly social person. When I left, only a couple of good friends remained, both  blessed by the anti-husband’s seal of approval. Nice ladies who I loved dearly, but the fact remains, when I broke ranks, I lost their companionship.

Let’s take a moment while I feel sorry for myself a little.


During those years of informal counseling sessions, I did learn to recognize the difference between a difficult man and an impossible one. The difficult  might be proud or stubborn or shortsighted, but once they  recognized the unhappy wife in their kitchen,  they tried to make amends in some fashion, no matter how awkwardly. These wives would come back later, grab me in church with a twinkly eyeball thing that made my nerves scrape together and say, “Thank you *so* much Sister  Ida for praying with me the other day. Can you believe? Melvin prayed about it and already things are improving! God is so good!”

This always annoyed the crap out of me. For one thing, I couldn’t follow my own advice and expect a hallelujah chorus and, for another, how come God kept answering their prayers for marital bliss while the fish in my own kitchen continued to rot the airwaves? And another-nother thing. . . you know what kind of advice I gave? “Have you told your husband how you feel about that? Go home and talk to the man for heaven’s sake. He isn’t psychic.”

Despite my nasty inclination toward self pity,  I realized these women didn’t want instant perfection. They wanted to feel heard. They wanted to know their husbands cared enough to listen and respond and make a few adjustments in the right direction. (We are, of course, talking about women who actually came for advice, not the really scary women who  generally hung out by the alter offering advice no one ask for.)

Meanwhile, Back on Topic. . .

Yes, I was a stellar counselor to the weak and weary. This constituted the extent of my helpfulness. Still the hurting arrived on my doorstep whilst I continued to complain to the Almighty.

Looking back, I’m just now starting to see God’s plan.  I was learning to discern abuse in others even though I could not see the same patterns acted out in my own living room. Please explain this if you can because I do not have a clue. I’m going to blame the fog of confusion the beast kept wrapped about my mind with his constant stream of crazy-making. I do know the fog lifted only after I refused to listen to him any longer. Still, once my eyes pried open, many things snapped into focus and those  years of hearing story after story made all the difference.

The Turning Point

I was beginning to see a different breed of husband, tyrannical in nature, taking no prisoners, determined to have its own way at any cost. These men were nothing like the flawed yet somewhat reasonable men who took their wives feelings into consideration (upon realizing their wives had feelings.) No, the tyrants refused all compromise. Backed in a corner, they might give ground  only to extract a heavy price later. Their wives came away feeling worse with every encounter. They looked beat. They looked unloved.

Another distinction—the wives of these bullies showed up at my doorstep confused. No way they could articulate their ongoing troubles. If they did manage to come up with a complaint or two, they also supplied a half dozen reasons why nothing suggested would ever help. The scary part?  They were correct and I knew it. These women felt trapped—the rock and a hard place, the double bind, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

In contrast, the Normals had a really good idea what they wanted. They had actual, concrete problems. He spends too much money. He won’t help around the house. He looks at other women.

Problems loomed. Ignorance abounded. These ladies might or might not take advice. They might leave the living room and go do something stupid like running off with the pool boy. They might take  advice and discover they should’ve shelled out the cash for a trained counselor in the first place. They might be miserable, unhappy, unfulfilled and sexually frustrated but they were not held prisoner in confusion and fear.

The Big Picture

Here’s how I came to picture the difference:

In a normal marriage, you’ve got two imperfect people sitting on a sofa. They fuss, they smile, they smooch, they fuss some more.  They conflict. They scoot away from each other toward opposite ends of the sofa. Maybe one goes and gets someone else to come sit on their lap. The other may walk away, or the offending spouse may leave with their new squeeze. Or they may kick the third party off, learn to scoot closer to each other and eventually smooch some more.

In an abusive marriage, you’ve got two imperfect people sitting on a sofa. Right smack in between, you’ve got a five hundred pound orangutan holding hands with the husband. The monkey makes sure his boyfriend always gets his way. The man may scream, holler and yell, or make snide remarks and sulk and brood. He may get some girl on his lap and smooch her while the wife tries to peek around the monkey. Every time she thinks she sees something, the monkey smacks her good. Every time she tries to say something, the monkey smacks her good. Every time she tries to address something, the monkey smacks her good.

The monkey is a deal breaker. You cannot reason with a monkey. You can’t fix a broken marriage as long as that monkey is on the sofa.

Deal breakers come in other forms—drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness.  The important point here? To realize that advice given to Normals will not apply to Monkey Marriages. Books written for conflict resolution, counseling, marital advice, sex education will not work.  So the big step—the very first, very big step is–Name the monkey.

The First Step is Always the Toughest

If there’s an orangutan on your sofa, you are being abused. Or you’re Steve Erwin’s wife. The first is more likely.

In my experience, this is the most difficult step to freedom. Stop allowing the one abusing you to define abuse. You must discern. There are objective criteria. There are books out there to help you understand. Ultimately, you must stare that monkey down and say its name.

If you  identify abuse, you need to understand a few things to get  free. You are dealing with a different animal  entirely. Stop focusing on your mistakes, your issues. Stop taking blame for everything wrong in your marriage.

Of course you make mistakes. Of course you aren’t perfect, who claimed you were anyway? Of course you have issues from your childhood.

None of that can be addressed with someone whopping at your head so stop trying.

You are never, ever going to make that threesome work.

19 responses »

  1. Such truth. I pray abused women will read and understand. If only I had heard this years ago, my life would have made a lot more sense a lot sooner. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  2. Pingback: Deal Breakers and Monkey Love by IdaMae | At the end of myself…at the feet of Jesus

  3. “once my eyes pried open, many things snapped into focus”
    I know just what that’s like.
    I can even remember exactly where I was standing in my house when it happened.
    My (then) husband had pushed me against a wall that Monday morning before going off to work.
    For some reason (long story) that morning I came out of the fog and knew I had to get another protection order and have him put out of the house, so I traipsed off to the courthouse once again and started the ball rolling. He never slept under my roof again. (Thank God I live in a country that has reasonably strong legislation for domestic violence).

    I was leaning against the doorpost between the lounge and the dining room. I suddenly knew I was free, the burden had been lifted and everything snapped into focus. I knew. And I never wanted to go back.

    But, dear reader, lest you get discouraged, I want you to know that this was many years after I first started to wake up to the abuse. I’d been thru the revolving door many times already. I’d read books, been to counselling, been to classes, been to support groups. Coming out of the fog was not a quick or easy process. It wasn’t just ONE snap into focus moment, it was many, but that one was the sharpest, quickest and most memorable.

    • Excellent point, Barbara. That was my experience exactly– many little epiphanies, many tiny moments of clarity, lots of learning, going around in circles, getting lost in the fog of confusion, getting hold of truth, letting go again, going back, then finally this one moment where I knew I was finally free.

      But oh my! What a sweet and scary moment that was. I’ll be telling that moment in Glory 🙂

  4. There is nothing more credible that a “first person” account. The monkey analogy is a good one; I’ll be sure to be sharing it, unfortunately, in my office this coming week. Another analogy I use with my clients is of “trying to make sense out of something that will never make sense.” It will drive you crazy if you keep attempting to make it work.

    As to why you could recognize abuse in others and not recognize it in your own living room, it might help to remember the frog in the kettle explanation. If you put a frog into boiling water the frog will do all it can to get out. But if you put a frog in water that is room temperature and then very slowly over time raise the temperature until the water is boiling the frog will stay in the water until it dies.

    The water wasn’t boiling when you got into this marriage, Ida Mae. There might have been a moment in your courtship when you thought it might be a little warm, but his charm immediately wiped out that concern. When you were in the boiling water, and thankfully you were able to leave and didn’t die as too many of our sisters, you were able to recognize that others were in similar pots but didn’t see you were in one as well, until it was impossible to ignore.

    Maybe it’s time for you to start writing that book. There is at least one in every one of us, right Barbara? 😉

  5. “Another analogy I use with my clients is of “trying to make sense out of something that will never make sense.”

    Well said, Morven. Just reading this took me back to that feeling of constantly banging my head against the wall. There is no logic, there is no pattern to their actions/words/demands until you step aside and understand the abuser’s motivations. In my case, the anti-husband despised me, he wanted to destroy me. Everything he did was dominated by a crushing desire for complete control of both my thoughts and actions while keeping me completely focused on him and him alone. He didn’t want things to get better. He wanted to keep me hopping while he sprayed bullets at my feet.

    I’ve thought about the frog analogy as it applied to how I got into the marriage in the first place, but not how I could recognize abuse in others while staying so oblivious. Makes sense– a person’s discernment would be skewed concerned their *own* relationship because of the slow build up but not necessarily in viewing others as you’re getting a fresh snapshot without the backstory and confusing emotions.

  6. Oh this is such a good conversation!

    “trying to make sense out of something that will never make sense” … just like Lundy Bancroft says: the abuser WANTS to be a mystery because that keeps us focused on his pain, and stops us from focusing our analytical skills at “the bullets that he’s spraying at our feet.”

    “this one moment where I knew I was finally free. … What a sweet and scary moment that was.”
    One of the sayings I’ve heard somewhere along the line: “The truth will set you free. But it may make you flinch before it sets you free.”

    Yeah, each survivor has a story worthy of a book. Especially if they can write well like Ida can.

  7. Pingback: my new friend, Ida Mae | Morven's Blog

  8. Excellent post!!! I love you Ida Mae!

    I could NEVER reason with my monkey! And oh, how I tried and tried and tried for 32 years, until it nearly killed me!
    I remember one of my “fog clearing” moments was when I had something of a panic attack in the shower one day, sobbing and BEGGING God to not make me go back to him, crying “Please, please God!! Don’t make me do this anymore!!” It lasted for a long time and was quite frightening…

    I saw my counselor within a few days and told her about it… She just looked at me and kindly said, “Renee, God’s not going to MAKE you do anything… You’ll CHOOSE to stay, but He won’t make you.”

    I was like..”oh”… It was a turning point , like a release, a given permission, to step out from the bondage and oppression.

    • rv56– That is such an important point. It was the one thing I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around– that I had free will. I could come up with five hundred reasons why I *had* to stay and never considered I was staying by choice. (There’s some interesting articles out there on ‘bounded choice.’ I may need to look those up and link to them.)

      That’s one reason I feel the books written by Barbara Roberts, Cindy Burrell and this new one coming out by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood are so important. Christians are living in bondage to a few scriptures pulled out of context and twisted to support the commandments of men. In an effort to keep people from abusing freedom, certain teachers are out there building cages for the oppressed, never realizing that those who will abuse their freedom are going to do so with or without permission. (duh!)

  9. “In an effort to keep people from abusing freedom, certain teachers are out there building cages for the oppressed, never realizing that those who will abuse their freedom are going to do so with or without permission.”

    That is SOOO true.

    It’s our job to get the cage builders to realise that they are unwittingly assisting perpetrators.
    Most people don’t want to assist perpetrators. If it’s pointed out to them that the are helping the arrogant and harming the oppressed, they might stop their foolishness.

  10. thank you for your honest approach to all of it… i only found your blog about a month ago, and am doing catch up reading.. i could comment on every post,.. keep on writing

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