15 important lessons I learned from my first marriage

No matter how one-sided a bad marriage may appear, there are generally at least a few contributing factors which, though they may not have saved it, could have made it more tolerable and workable.

I have two marriages under my belt and both ended disastrously. I can’t say they were failed marriages, because they taught me really important things about myself and about life in general, and they gave me children who are some of the most amazing people I know.

When I disclose these contributing factors, I am telling you intimate things about myself, but it is so that you might recognize them in your own marriage and if not salvage it, save your self-respect.

My first marriage lasted 17 years. I would like to say it never should have happened in the first place. That would be the easy answer. But there are things I learned in that marriage that I needed to. It was a massive education for me.

My first husband came from a long line of explosive and abusive men and a longer line of women who kept silent and endured them. From the start, there was trouble. I naively believed I could change his heart. During the course of our marriage, it accelerated to the point that I did not sleep and feared his threatenings would come true. That I would wind up in a mental hospital, that I was possessed, that I was a terrible mother, that I was emotionally unstable and that I was ugly and worthless. The violence became intolerable. I was in panic mode for far too many years.

Despite what I’ve told you, here are the lessons I learned:

1. To never ignore red flags and advice

Looking back, I see that I ignored a number of red flags and the advice of people who loved me and wanted the best for me. First and foremost, I blew the marriage by allowing it to take place.

2. To know my worth

I now know that I am a daughter of God and that he does not want his daughters to suffer. I learned this through diligent study and reading the scriptures. If I had been more consistent about this study, I would have learned it sooner and I might have been able to stand up for myself.

3. That I can say “no more.”

Not no to the marriage proposal necessarily, but “No, you may not speak to me that way.” “No, you may not hit me.” “No, you may not belittle me.” “No, you may not hurt my children.” The reason this would have been important is that men who abuse women are weak. They prey on women who are weaker. Had I stood up, calmly and quietly assertive for myself, it might have taken the wind out of my husband’s sails.

4. To never feed the beast

I contributed to the violence in my home by not being quietly assertive, but by alternately fighting like a wild cat and then sobbing like a small child. The yelling and screaming fueled his rage and the quiet sobbing gave me a time out, but inadvertently told him that I was too weak to stand up for myself.

5. To do follow my faith regardless of my circumstances

Part of the problem was my attempt at adhering to our faith and living by its precepts. My husband accused me of nagging him to do right. However, the children of that marriage needed at least one strong parent of faith and I failed. I gave in to his wishes and did not teach them as I should have. I think he needed to see I meant what I said I believed.

6. To address things head on and not find diversions

I chronically avoided my problems by finding service opportunities that took me out of my home. I should have faced things head on.

7. To be truthful and not lie

I didn’t lie to my husband as much as I lied about him. When asked, I always did my best to glow with fulfillment. I should have confided to at least one good friend or a trusted clergyman about the way things really were. I found out later that they suspected anyway.

8. That my love could not change his heart

Like too many women, I saw myself as a nurturer and a healer and believed that, despite his glaring hardness, I could find a way to break through and heal my husband. It was so far beyond my capabilities.

9. To resolve my own issues before getting married

I already had cracks when I married. I should have worked to heal them before going into a marriage that could break me. There were childhood abuses that were not resolved that led me to find this sort of man in the first place. I should have healed myself first.

10. Having children will not fix a bad marriage

This is a common misconception — believing that children will mend a damaged marriage. It only compounds it. I am glad I had them, just not under those circumstances. It would have been so much better for my children to have whole parents.

11. To never let anyone else decide what I do

If I wanted to go to a party and he didn’t, we didn’t. If I wanted to teach in church and he didn’t want me to, I didn’t. There was this misconception about being a submissive wife. Women are not required to submit to unrighteous men.

12. To know who I was and what I wasn’t

Belittling words like brat, fat (I weighted 127 and was 5’7″), ugly, stupid, emotionally unbalanced, possessed, bossy, unworthy of him, lucky to have him and selfish. I began to believe which made me less able to work on the real issues.

13. To know that change can’t be affected by me alone

If I only changed this or that, things would get better. If I lost weight, if I kept the house cleaner, if I just kept my mouth shut and did what he told me, if I was at home more, if, if, if and if.

14. To not hold myself back from improvement

It took all of my energy just to maintain myself. I thought if I learned too much or improved too much, it would drive another wedge in our already rotten relationship. I didn’t want to rock the boat, and I should have. I should have learned all that I could and done things to make me a better person.

15. The importance of being a better example for my children

By putting up and sweeping things under the carpet, I was teaching my children by bad example, how relationships can go on in a dysfunctional way.

These are things I probably should have done differently. I think it’s important to realize that we may not be able to fix a marriage, but that doesn’t mean we have to allow it to continue breaking us as human beings. No marriage is perfect and they all take hard work. After years, I have healed and am able to open up and share my saga.

Becky Lyn Rickman

Becky Lyn is an author and a 35+ year (most of the time) single mom.