A Step-by-Step Guide to Walking Out of an Abusive Marriage

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Walking Out of an Abusive Marriage

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

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ou will.

You will wonder how you got here. Raised to believe you could be anything, anyone you wanted to be, how had you become this?

Why didn’t you fight back when you were slapped and your earring fell off? The version in your head has you fighting back. You have always been the hero of your story. You’re embarrassed by your submission. Of how quiet you became, of how low your head sunk. You do not recognise this obedience, taming. Later that night, he wanted sex. You didn’t. He wanted it anyway.

You never wanted to be a statistic. You’re a woman and brown, factors you’ve never been apologetic about. You didn’t study finance, medicine, or engineering, desperate to escape tags that trailed so many Indian students. You resisted marrying a name on paper, to build a marriage around something unheard of in your social circles – compatibility. So how had you become a statistic of physical abuse?

The second time, you’re bruised. A giant, angry black, blue, purple that turns shades of yellow and green as it heals. How are the bruises always in places no one can see?

But you don’t leave. You think about the time both of you had returned from a lovely wedding in a small riverside town. The time you had booked international tickets for your anniversary. The time you’d even eaten an expensive dinner to celebrate a birthday.

You will battle with anger that turns to rage when you realise what happened to you never should have.

He said things like, “You’re crazy”, “You’re damaged”, “You have so many issues that your parents couldn’t handle you and so dumped you on me.” You will wonder whether if any of this is true. You will feel like you’re starting to lose your mind.

One night because of the loud houses from your home, the housing secretary complained to the landlord. Another episode like that, she warned, and she’d have to call the police. You were so embarrassed, you wanted to disappear.

Why aren’t you doing what your head tells you to and leave? Why are you still around, crying pathetic pools of tears and snot. Alone and scared and confused. Did you ever think you would need to be saved from yourself?

You won’t have answers.

You will feel guilty.

You will blame yourself for things you’re not responsible for.

But finally, you will leave.

No ceremony, no epiphany. You will walk out with just a handbag on your shoulder not knowing you wouldn’t return.

You will be relieved to have some distance, to be around people who will help you heal. You will eat better in days to come, home-cooked food, fed with love. You will sleep soundly. You will be relieved to not be trying so hard at something that seemed destined to fail, to not worry about what the neighbours might hear because they’ve already heard too much. You will think this relief is temporary. A break before you return to “real life”. Because you will debate going back so many times. Because before you left, you begged him to ask you to stay.

You will battle with anger that turns to rage when you realise what happened to you never should have. You should have never been cornered in a doorway, eyes wide with fear, held by your shoulders. If you had lost your footing, if he had pushed you even slightly, you could have fallen on the washing machine behind you that would have snapped your spine like a matchstick. You didn’t have your phone with you at the time. Your parents weren’t allowed to visit. No member of your family was. It could have been days before someone found you. If.

Rage will turn to sorrow. Heartbreak that will threaten to split your chest wide open as you grieve a life you had been trying to create with someone trying to destroy it. You will cry as loudly as the rain that thunders outside your window because the noise will muffle yours. Toxins will rise inside you in thick black waves.

Why didn’t you fight back when you were slapped and your earring fell off? The version in your head has you fighting back.

You will talk to friends and family who will turn you to a professional because they will say, “We’re not equipped to handle this.” You will go to a therapist, twice a week, three times. Sometimes on consecutive days.

You will file for divorce. At court, you will see him for the first time in nearly a year. The man you shared a home, a life, a bed with. He won’t make eye contact. You will go home with mom and dad and eat warm shawarmas under an open sky.

You will clean your closet. You will declutter. You will throw away bags full of “memories”, going back to your childhood. You will have no room for anything that doesn’t serve you. You will travel, read, cook, laugh. You will stay up late watching movies and songs on television.

Old friends you had lost contact with will come back as though they were never gone. New friends will carve space so firmly, you will wonder where they’ve been your whole life.

All of this will happen, but you will not get enough distance. Every place will remind you of him. You won’t want to meet mutual friends and acquaintances. The timing will be perfect – you will get a job in a new city.

You won’t know the city or anyone in it. You won’t know how to live like a local. But you will learn. You will move in with strangers, sharing a bathroom and kitchen. You will miss having your own bathroom. You will miss home.

You will fall in love with the city, its people, with its smells and sounds, with the sea. The city will shock you, make you laugh. It will never let you feel alone.

You will do things you’ve never done like staying out until 3 am, eating pizza with friends. Sitting by the ocean, licking ice cream, clicking selfies. You will cut your hair. You will pay rent and bills with just the money you make. Your writing will sustain you in more ways than one.

Loneliness in a marriage is far more powerful than loneliness as a single person.

You will love your job, you will be good at your job. You will discover yoga. You will pray. You will believe in the power of prayer more than you ever have.

Friends will say they see the “old you” coming back. You won’t be sure what this means. Then you will catch yourself laughing out loud, like you haven’t in a long time.

Two years will go by and you will wonder if you made the whole thing up. It will feel like another lifetime. You will no longer feel like divorce defines you, you won’t want that to be your narrative. You will no longer feel anger or hate, resentment or mourn the lost time.

You will meet someone, you will be told, too many times to count. This is necessary, you will be told, to have a family, to not be lonely. How do you explain that marriage and children aren’t a “cure” for loneliness? Loneliness in a marriage is far more powerful than loneliness as a single person.  

You will focus on, know the value of the smaller things, which are, in fact, the bigger things. Giggling with your parents, talking to your sister, hanging out with friends. Time. Health. Your own bathroom.

And you will just be grateful to be alive.

The writer was encouraged to share her own story after reading this.

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