(Update: Don't ascribe every scenario listed below to my situation. It's everything I could think of at the time of writing in order to help people who find themselves in toxic relationships.)
This might shock some people, especially in the church crowd, but I believe not every marriage is worth saving. (Gasp! There, I said it!)
To be fair, this statement does NOT apply to the majority of marriages that I'm aware of. Any good, or half-way good, marriage will have a base of:
When that foundation exists, the surface problems that arise in every marriage can be corrected.
What happens when that foundation doesn't exist? I think in some cases, it can be built, or rebuilt, whichever is the case.
Other times, there's a very good reason those foundations are gone.
The spouse who sees over the years that his/her opinion doesn't matter to the other, so they slowly lose their voice in the marriage? That's a form of bondage.
The spouse who works overtime to keep the peace and makes sure all the wheels are running smoothly so his/her spouse doesn't blow up about an inconvenience? They would rather run ragged than face yet another verbal or physical backlash for forgetting a detail.
The spouse who never gets the benefit of the doubt from the other because the other is inherently jealous, angry, or narcissistic?
The marriages where one spouse berates the other and treats that person with disdain?
The spouse who takes care of the children and the house, gets everyone where they need to be, runs a business, runs the errands of the house, and forgets until well after dinner-time to start supper, then gets such a verbal assault for it that he/she flees the house in tears and feels like an utter failure for letting that spinning plate fall?
A spouse who has complete control over the finances, and the other has no say whatsoever?
One spouse who tries to control who the other one sees and is friends with, what they listen to and watch?
A spouse who absorbs blame constantly for things they didn't do, but they just don't want to rock the boat?
Marriages where there is physical abuse?
Marriages with no physical abuse to any person, but the house is destroyed with broken glass, punched-in doors, kicked walls?
Emotional abuse? It's very real, and it makes any sane person question their sanity when the abuser manipulates, gaslights, and distorts everything. The victim often isn't aware at first until the web is so thick, it's hard to break free. Then they feel foggy, can't quite remember everything, and are full of self-doubt. Why? Most victims just want to be good people, but an abuser will use that baseline desire in the victim's nature against him/her to keep control.
Such major breaches of trust (addictions, adultery, etc.) that the trust cannot be rebuilt?
When a marriage reduces one of the spouses to a quaking shell of who they used to be because of the fear they live in around the other, that marriage is better off being OVER!
The church crowd, of which I am a member, often holds the institution of marriage so high that they don't see the women (and some men) who are being destroyed by an abusive partner! (Yes, I know God hates divorce. He also hates abuse!)
Church, STOP IT! Wake up! When someone is needing help, don't minimize their situation, and send them right back into a dangerous situation, saying counseling will fix it all (because it won't without those foundations of mutual trust, mutual respect, and friendship). See if they are actually being abused.
By the way, counseling doesn't fix a narcissist! Sometimes, the abuser will twist that counseling as a weapon to keep the victim under his/her control.
Many abusers look like model citizens to the untrained eye. They can be successful in business, leaders at church and in the community, and have a picture-perfect family life, except it's only the picture that's perfect.
Behind the scenes, the spouse and kids are frightened. They desperately need an escape, but the other controls the finances, or their minds.
Please help the people you know in these fearful and extremely hard times. How can you help?
Be observant! Abusers can look fabulous, and victims can be good at faking that everything is alright just to keep the abuser from being even worse.
Help them escape. Make a plan with them, help them execute the plan, keep the abuser busy while the victim is escaping, etc.
Let them use your guest room or apartment, if you have it, while they break ties with the abuser and get set up on their own.
Pay the initial retainer fee, or part of it, for the lawyer, if needed. That cost can be prohibitive for some victims that desperately need a divorce.
Provide a big, burly male presence for the woman who has to go back into her abuser's home to fetch her things.
Whatever you do, don't automatically assume he/she is just making up stories when they come to you searching for answers and an escape route.
What if you are the victim described above?
Set your ducks in a row. Stash any cash you can. Keep your lips sealed about any motives you have; act like normal until escape time. Your abuser may bear down harder, or block every path of escape if they find out what you're thinking.
Start a separate checking account in your name alone.
Change your passwords and passcodes on all your accounts and your phone. Keep your computer and phone locked.
Set up separate email if you don't already have it. There are many free versions you'll find with an online search.
Pack a bag of essentials and a change of clothes. Keep it in your car if you can without the abuser finding out.
Arrange a safe place if you need to run--a safe family member or friend who won't let the abuser know where you are.
Start documenting the instances that cause you to fear or that highlight the abuser's narcissistic behavior, and make a list of every other thing you can remember, even if it's not in chronological order. You'll need this when the abuser starts gaslighting again. This is your sanity list that reminds you these things actually happened; you didn't make it up!
Make copies of the last 3 years of tax returns (check to see what your state requires for the divorce). Make copies of life insurance, the will, and any other documents you might need when you file for divorce and set up your new life.
Find out what the divorce process is. Get as prepared as you can for that time.
If you fear for your safety, flee the house (if you can), and call the police. A record on their end will help your case in the divorce.
File a restraining order if you feel physically threatened. It may not do much good on the ground, but it does help with the paper trail for the divorce.
Lastly, GET OUT, as soon as you possibly can, to a safe place! Some abusers are very unpredictable and will turn violent when they find out their victim has escaped. Getting out alive is better than... you can fill in the blanks there.
I have no idea who will read this, but my hope is that it helps someone to see what an abusive marriage looks like, and gives them a way of escape.
Life doesn't have to be lived in fear of a spouse!