Nothing is lonelier than feeling alone in a marriage, yet this kind of aching emptiness is one of the consequences of domestic abuse.
Loneliness is all-encompassing, creeping from our hearts to our souls and enveloping everything in between. It can often be felt deep within the body in a physical way, as a heaviness in the chest or an ache in the gut. It reaches to all parts of a person and leaves us bereft, restless, and joyless. Loneliness is soul-wrenching, because God made us social creatures designed to share our lives and loves, hurts and sorrows. Even Adam, living in the glory of paradise, cried out to God to give him a companion of the soul.
Even worse than the ache of general loneliness is being lonely when not physically alone. By its very nature, an abusively toxic relationship doesn’t allow for true tenderness, mutual self-giving, or “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state” (CCC 1603). The CCC further says that marriage “is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses” (CCC 1601), yet when one spouse emotionally, physically, psychologically, or verbally batters the other, they’re certainly not concerned with the good of their partner. They’re focused only on what they perceive to be the good of themselves.
Such toxic treatment results in emotional stagnation and alienation. When we have to walk on eggshells, creep around the house in order to avoid triggering Mr. Hyde, and watch our every word and action to be sure we’re avoiding anything that might set off the explosion of abusive anger, getting close on an emotional level is the last thing on our minds. We can’t. It’s too dangerous. It would be like getting too close to a striking cobra. Why would anyone want to do that?
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” ( St. Teresa of Calcutta)
Marital loneliness is one of the worst kinds of anguish. To be bereft of love, friendship, and companionship while involved in an intimate relationship is bewildering and crazy-making, to say the least. On top of it all, self-blame is a huge and corrosive issue within lonely, abusive marriages. We can’t make sense of why Prince Charming so often turns into the Big Bad Wolf, ready to do anything to ensnare his target. When we’re told we’re the problem and we’re to blame, we tend to accept the accusations as truth because we love and trust the person who has promised to love and trust us. What we all need to realize is that if he’s abusive, nothing he says can be trusted, because he’s not to be trusted.
Yet all this—the self-blame, the confusion as to why he claims he’s not at fault, the criticisms mixed with the times of loving compliments and seeming support, the lack of emotional availability, his voice claiming “I love you” while his actions say “I really think you’re a piece of shite” (and sometimes being told that outright), the controlling possessiveness and jealousy, the unfair and unjust accusations of wrongdoing, negative intent, and infidelity … all of this swirls and combines within until we’re left with a searing hollowness we can’t define.
The reason it’s so difficult to define is because if we’re still enmeshed in a toxic relationship, we may not recognize our anguish as loneliness. After all, we’re not physically alone.
Yet emotionally, we’re stranded on a deserted island. This emotional loneliness is deeper than physical loneliness because it’s so wrong. We shouldn’t have to be lonely in a marriage. The very idea is topsy-turvy. The truth is, whether we consciously realize it or not, we’re in mourning. We shouldn’t be lonely because we have a partner, yet we’re even lonelier than we would be if we were single.
(Alex Green: www.pexels.com)
We’re mourning an illusion, something we don’t have even though it was promised in a sacred vow. This anguish is also deeply spiritual in nature. To be solitary, to be unable to turn to the one person who is supposed provide unconditional friendship and love—yet to have him standing right there, physically present—is excruciating.
It’s important to recognize this piercing hollowness for what it truly is. Only in the recognition can we begin to heal this wound and to find the love, trust and support we so achingly need.
Where can this love be found?
We have to enter into our loneliness, not wish it away or seek to avoid it. As strange as it sounds, embrace the loneliness. Live it, and live within it. It’s only when we can allow ourselves the space to go within and develop a relationship with our true selves that we can then find the strength to transform our loneliness into restorative stillness.
This quiet stillness is the treasure of authentic inner peace. Cultivating this inner peace allows us to thrive despite outward turmoil. And, it’s in finding this soul space that we’re finally able to grasp—and gain strength from—an intrinsic beauty and fortitude that will not tolerate abuse, in any form, ever again. It’s then that we learn the true meaning of Jesus’ words when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Loving neighbor as self presupposes that we truly love ourselves. When we love ourselves in a pure, authentic way, loneliness becomes stillness of the heart; anguish becomes harmony within the soul.
It seems so easy to read about this inner peace, yet so difficult to actually cultivate it. The concept can seem amorphous, vague, lovely in writing but impossible in doing. Indeed, it is difficult to grasp, and not something you can force or coerce.
We must ASK for help.
We can’t make this transformation alone. We aren’t capable. We need the guidance of the Spirit, the One Who Is, to help fill us. Betrayal and abuse breaks us open, causing us to acutely feel the raw interior of loneliness. God fills this raw interior with His flowing graces—if we allow our sore selves to remain open enough to receive those graces. God can change our ordinary, tainted water into the richest wine. Yes, suffering hurts. A lot. But through the pain, there is relief. Relief, release, and resurrection.
“By slowly converting our loneliness into a deep solitude, we create that precious space where we can discover the voice telling us about our inner necessity … In stillness we can become present to ourselves.” (Henri Nouwen)
Once we fill ourselves with the peace of the Holy Spirit, the rest will begin to fall into place. This is because we’re allowing it—we’re opening ourselves to the fullness of grace, to the exploration of understanding our deep inner worth and reexamining our true selves. Yes, we still need human camaraderie, healthy relationships, and authentic friends. Yet when we release the toxins created by abuse and manipulation, and fill that space with genuine love of self, the ache of loneliness transforms into the joy of life.