Escape from an abusive marriage

Escape from an abusive marriage

Bridget Slattery lived a miserable life in a disastrous marriage. Things only began to improve once she started praying about it.

How do you define what is an “abusive marriage”? I can only write from my perspective and I would say it is an unbalanced marriage and not a partnership, where two people become angry, cruel and hurtful towards each other, wanting often to hurt the other.

I was 18 and Derek was 29 when we got married.  I had known him since I was six, as his older brother was married to my eldest sister.  My father had to give permission for me to get married as the age of consent then was 21, and I think he was quite relieved not to be responsible for me anymore. 

It all seemed very exciting, as Derek was on leave from Kenya and I was longing to get away from a very dysfunctional family and a history of sexual abuse in my teens.  A proposal on a starlit night on the sand dunes in Norfolk…it all seemed so romantic. 

Cue great excitement in the family and me totally ignorant of what married life involved. 

I was studying at the time, and Derek was on leave so he made all the arrangements for the wedding.  The control was already being exerted, but I was only too happy not to be involved with the planning.

The wedding went well and even my separated parents came together.  I am grateful that I have a record of what looked like a normal wedding photograph.

Descent into disaster

However, things changed very quickly, especially in the sexual arena as neither of us knew how to relate properly to one another and the demands were more than had I expected or could cope with. Put two dysfunctional people together and it was a recipe for disaster. 

And disaster it became.  We had five children in six years because I held on to the fact that we had to pretend, at least in public, that we were a good Catholic family.

I became progressively unhappier and was on a search for love, while actually not really knowing how to give or receive it.  I found it in relationships with other men.  I also think there was a horrible desire in me to hurt Derek in the worst way I could, by having an affair with his brother. 

Meanwhile, all through this terrible time we managed to maintain a façade of being a happy family to the outside world.  It is amazing how good we became at living this lie and being caught up in this together.

However, there eventually came a point when I wanted all this horror and deceit to end, but I was too ashamed to admit this to anyone. I wanted to stop having to protect my children from this angry tyrant and I hated the person that I had become.  God did not have a part in our lives although we were both Catholics.

Learning to pray

One day, at the beginning of Lent, I was able to admit to myself that I was part of a disaster.  I could not see a way out and felt so desperate. 

Looking back, it was as if I had prayed, although at that point I did not know how to pray.  God must have seen it as a prayer because within days I was in touch with a prayer group and people who prayed in a different way to the way I was used to. 

They accepted me lovingly and I spent a long time having counselling, although to start with I would hardly utter any words as I was so afraid of peoples’ reactions. 

This was the beginning of my recovery.  My life began to change, but not seemingly for the better.  My youngest daughter became ill and nearly died from Anorexia Nervosa and we had to have Family Therapy.

God was apparently going to break down the walls we had built around ourselves and had to use drastic methods; we went through three years of turmoil, at the end of which I decided I needed to leave Derek.

I began to experience healthy loving relationships and through many people I learnt and felt the love of God.  Derek went abroad with his job and I continued on the long path of healing. 

My family grew and flourished, and a year before Derek died we were reconciled and I went to his funeral.  I knew that I was forgiven and was able to forgive him too.

I have lived in the freedom of the Lord for the last 35 years, knowing that Jesus is my Lord. He performed a great miracle in my life for which I am eternally grateful.


  • Bridget Slattery is a trained psychotherapist and couples counsellor. She runs workshops called Beginning Experience and Coping with Grief at the Celebrate conferences.

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