There are no “quick tips” for leaving an abusive husband after 20 years of marriage. But there is good news: you’re still here, and there is hope! You are not alone. I was inspired to write this article by a strong, brave woman who is ready to talk about the abuse her husband has been perpetrating on her and her children for twenty years…and she feels good about admitting the truth.
“I’ve been with my husband for 20 years,” says Penny on How to Cope With Relationship Abuse When You Can’t Leave. “He started physically abusing me right after we married, and I stayed. He’s escalated from physical to mental and verbal abuse. Most of the time he ignores me. We stopped doing things together and he took me off of our joint bank account. We have three kids, ages 19, 12 and 4. My oldest son is also an abuser now and is in counseling. I believe it is my fault my son turned out like his father. I don’t want to be 40 years old, financially dependent on my husband and still being abused but I am scared. I’m not sure what I’m scared of: being alone or having a worse life than if I had stayed married. It does feel good finally to at least tell someone my deepest secret: I am being abused. I am embarrassed. I have zero self esteem or confidence. I can not even concentrate to finish school; I dropped out of college. I have a little voice in my head telling me to leave my husband, but then fear sets in.”
When you’re ready to learn practical steps for getting away from an abusive husband, visit the The National Domestic Violence Hotline for confidential support, 24 hours a day. Remember that your computer use can be monitored, so be careful about clicking on resources or links for women in abusive marriages if you think your husband will find out. If you think your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.
In this post, I want to talk about how you may feel about getting away from a man who’s been your abuser for twenty years.
Getting Away From an Abusive Husband – Married 20 Years
Here, you’ll find a few suggestions for getting away from decades of abuse. More importantly, you’ll finally learn how to give yourself permission share what you’re going through.
I don’t know exactly how you feel, and I’d love if you shared with me below. Maybe you’re embarrassed and scared, like Penny. Maybe you feel guilty and ashamed, worthless and unlovable, alone and isolated. Maybe you don’t know what you feel because it’s all jumbled up in a big messy ball.
But, whatever you feel, remember…
Your feelings are normal – and they need to be aired out
Whatever you feel, it is normal! How do I know? Because you’re feeling it. If you feel guilty because you stayed with an abusive husband for 20 years, then it’s normal to feel guilty. If you feel scared because you don’t know what the future holds – but you know you’re ready to consider leaving after two decades of marriage – then it’s normal to feel guilty. If you are struggling with fear, embarrassment, guilt, and the shame of keeping secrets…you are normal.
Your feelings are 100% natural because they are YOUR feelings. You must honor them – give them space and light, air and openness. Let them breathe – let your feelings and emotions come out into the open. Air them out, let them out. Allow yourself feel how you feel. Do what Penny did: say you’re scared at the thought of leaving your abusive husband, but you’re not sure what exactly you fear. It’s important to feel what you feel because your husband spent the last 20 years ignoring your feelings, suppressing your feelings, hiding your feelings, criticizing your feelings, and downplaying your feelings.
Write for 10 minutes every morning
Penny has taken a most amazingly courageous first step and admitted that she’s been abused for 20 years. This is HUGE, and I am so proud of her for having the guts to speak up. Writing is even more brave than talking, because writing forces you to go slower and really feel how you feel. Writing helps your emotions come to the surface, helps you figure out what you really think and feel.
Write about what you’re going through. What’s it like to be searching for tips on how to get away from an abusive husband after 20 years of marriage? Do you feel the same emotions as Penny, or are yours entirely different? Write, write, write. You will find healing and cleansing, help and hope in your own writing.
You can share your story in the comments section below – but you don’t have to take the step of publicly declaring that you’ve been in an abusive marriage for 20 years. It is enough to simply admit it to yourself. Admit your feelings of shame, fear, self-hatred, guilt, fear, and insecurity. Just allow your feelings to surface. Work through them in writing. This is how you will heal and get stronger. You need to feel and face the painful emotions that you’ve been avoiding all these years.
Look at how far you’ve already come
You survived 20 years of abuse – and that is amazing. You have already taken a huge step towards health and healing, life and lightness. You are coming out of the shadows, simply by thinking about how to get away from an abusive husband after 20 years of marriage. You are sharing a secret that you’ve kept for two decades. That is amazing, and it is worth celebrating. You are afraid, yet you are taking action. You have no self-esteem, yet you are acting despite your fear. You are embarrassed, yet you are speaking up for yourself.
These are huge milestones that must be celebrated! You are making huge inroads and fighting an ugly beast that has taken root in your life. This “little” step requires so much courage, strength, and energy. So, my dear friend, give yourself credit for coming this far. I know it seems like you have a long way to go… and the truth is that you do. Getting away from an abusive husband after 20 years of marriage is a long process – but you have already started your journey. This is amazing, and I am proud of you.
If you’re thinking about your future, read 5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship.
Let go of what does not need immediate attention
This tip is specifically for women whose children are getting counseling: Your teenage son is getting the help he needs (Penny’s 18 year old son is seeing a counselor for help and support). That’s great that he’s in counseling; he is learning how to manage his anger and aggression. He is unlearning the destructive and abusive behaviors he saw his father do. At this point, you don’t need to worry about taking care of his emotional health. Your son is getting the counseling he needs, and he will learn how to navigate life and relationships.
I know you love your children, and you may feel a great deal of guilt, grief, and pain for their upbringing. You may believe it is your fault that your children are dealing with whatever emotional or physical issues they’re struggling with. You may fear they’ll become like your abusive husband – especially if they’ve seen 20 years of abuse. But right now your main priority has to be focusing on what you need to do today, to get away from an abusive husband. Don’t allow the painful, unproductive feelings overwhelm and distract you. You need to focus on taking care of your own emotional, spiritual, and physical health. You need to get healthy and strong, so you can make good decisions and take care of both yourself and your younger children.
Don’t get distracted by your fears and insecurities
Yes, you feel scared, insecure, helpless and hopeless. Yes, life is hard. But you got this. You can do this!
Do not focus on your fears, insecurities, or no self confidence. Those are useless and unhelpful feelings that will derail all your plans for your future – and for your children’s future. The more you focus on the things that are holding you back, farther down you will stay. If you focus on the pain, you will get more pain. If you focus on the guilt and grief, guess what? You will feel more guilt and grief new.
Yes, you have to feel those negative and scary feelings – but you can’t focus on them. There is a huge difference between airing out your fears and insecurities, versus allowing them to control. You allow them to control you when you focus on them. So, what do you focus on instead? You tell me. What you think you should be focusing on today?
Focus on what you want
It’s never too late to start over, to live the life you always wanted.
In her comment, Penny said she doesn’t want to be 40 years old and financially dependent on her husband. In two years she does not want to still be wondering how to get away from an abusive man after 22 years of marriage! She knows what she wants, and it’s imperative that she stay focused on that.
Do you know what you want for your life in one year, two years, five years? It’s okay if you don’t. I don’t know what I want for my life in two months, much less one year! So don’t feel pressured to decide where you want to be in two years. If you know that you want to get away from your abusive husband and not spend another 20 years of marriage this way, and then you start there.
Take a deep breath…and be still for a moment
Don’t push yourself to make a decision today. You don’t have to learn how to get away from an abusive husband right now. Just take a deep breath and know that you are not alone. You may feel like you are alone because you kept this secret for the past 20 years of your marriage…but the truth is you are not the only one who is experiencing this.
Twenty years is a long time to undergo physical, mental, sexual, and emotional abuse from your husband. I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I can imagine there is a big thick pile of complicated emotions, history, and experiences that are all bunched up and pressing on your soul. It’s a huge burden, and it is heavy. It won’t be easy to learn how to get away from an abusive marriage, to free yourself from the pain of being with a husband who has been abusing you for 20 years.
Take a deep breath. What do you need? What do you know about yourself, your life, your feelings? Write it all down. Start a private journal, and write yourself every morning. Write to God. Write to your husband. Write to your kids. Start sorting through your emotions and untangling your feelings. This will help you start to see how to get away from an abusive husband, even after 20 years of marriage.
Think it’ll take another 20 years to leave? Read 7 Ways to Survive Life With an Angry Man – When You Can’t Leave.
Dear friend, what do you think? Feel free to share your secrets, stories, and sighs below. While I can’t offer advice on how to get away from an abusive husband, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led. And, remember that you are not alone.
Help Leaving an Abusive Husband – 20 Years Married
In Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?: Encouragement for Women Involved with Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft offers hope and healing, strength and encouragement. You will see the truth of this destructive relationship, and learn how to get away from an abusive husband – even after 20 years of marriage.
“For the purposes of this book, when I refer to a “controlling partner” or an “abusive man,” I mean one who repeatedly makes you feel devalued,” writes Bancroft in Why Does He Do That? “An abusive man might do this through verbal abuse and mental cruelty; through pressuring, hurting, or humiliating you sexually; through controlling the money; through cheating on you or giving lots of flirtatious attention to other women so that you feel like less; by focusing only on his own needs and ignoring yours (emotionally, sexually, financially, or in other ways); by using coldness and withdrawal when he doesn’t get his way; by turning you into a servant; by chronically ignoring his responsibilities so that you are stuck taking care of things; or through violence and threats. Devaluation and domination take many different forms.”
In Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse, Shannon Thomas says that within every community, toxic people can be found hiding in families, couples, companies, and places of worship. The cryptic nature of psychological abuse involves repetitious mind games played by one individual or a group of people.
Emotional and psychological abuse leaves no bruises. There are no broken bones. There are no holes in the walls. The bruises, brokenness, and holes are held tightly within the target of the abuse. But you CAN break free and recover, and you will heal and become whole again.
May you find wisdom and healing, strength and courage. May you take good care of yourself, and find peace in whatever road you take. May you grow healthy and strong through this experience, and may your life be blessed with joy, connection, and love.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.