About Me

My photo
Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dear Sister Abby

I wouldn't be here if the Catholic Church was not so confusing. I say that with all the love in my heart. I wouldn't change anything, mind you. But there are just things that we find ourselves explaining over and over again, like the fact that we do not pray to saints and that the Immaculate Conception is not the same thing as the Virgin Birth. Nor is it the same thing as an Immaculate Reception, which as far as I can tell from the lame jokes I have been told, is some sort of football miracle.

It certainly muddies the waters.

On top of that, people are continually struggling with what they are supposed to do, or not do. I don't want to take up any more space rambling on about all the confusion, as you will see for yourself how confusing it can get as I attempt to answer two questions, one of which is perhaps better left to Dear Abby. Nonetheless, I'm going to go for it.

Deep breath:

Sister, thank you for this post (on offering up suffering). There is something I just cannot get through my thick head though, and it drives me crazy. I got out of a physically abusive marriage in November, and since then there has been no end to the drama, my husband is in jail, etc. Part of me knows it was right to escape esp. for the safety of the children, but the other part of me feels like I should have been stronger, turned the other cheek one more time, offered it up, leaned more heavily on the Lord, something. I also feel guilty for not visiting him in jail since it is one of the works of mercy. Basically I feel guilty for giving up and I don't know if I did the right thing. Help!!

There should be no part of you that believes that you should have subjected your children to one more minute of any type of abuse, even if they were only witnesses to that abuse. Every second of a child subjected to that horror, made all the worse when it is happening in the home, which should be a place of love and safety, damages the child. Each second. This goes for parents who bicker in front of their children as well.

You may indeed lean more heavily on the Lord, NOW. Someone else can take up the corporal work of mercy of visiting him in jail. The Lord doesn't ask you not to be safe. The Lord wants you whole, in body and spirit.

Let me tell you something, and please listen carefully:

You did the right thing.

You are still doing the right thing.

Your husband is mentally ill and you can't fix him.

Jesus loves you.

You and your children should be seeking counseling. Even if you think you don't need it, I can assure you that they do.

For the rest of you readers, please don't ever confuse torture with 'offering up' your suffering. And never inflict any type of suffering on children.

And now, before I forward this next question on to Dear Abby:
Sister Mary Martha, I have a saint request for you. Recently, I have started to fall in love with one of my best friends. The other night, he told me that he also feels the same way about me. Which sounds great, at first, until you realize that he's engaged. Now I never intended to cause any strain on his engagement--I never planned to say anything to him--but he brought up how he felt about me first and eventually I couldn't avoid the subject any longer. I am struggling very much with this. I feel as though I am culpable for what has happened. I struggle very much with my faith and only recently have been granted the grace to begin a slow return to the church after years of absence. So I am attempting to get my life back on track with the will of God. In a situation like this, while I know it is not my fault for feeling for him as I do, I worry that perhaps I have committed some indiscretion (I believe the term is called an "emotional affair"--point being an affair, which makes me ill,) along with the fear that I might not have the strength to confront what needs to be confronted and do the moral thing in the future. (Whatever might happen between the two of us, since it is still undecided and he is still engaged.)

So, to get to the saint part of this very verbose request, I would love for you to suggest a saint who might understand my situation. Either a saint who struggled with loving a person they were not allowed to have (even involved with an affair,) or one who struggled to do the morally right thing despite their desires. Or, I suppose, any other saint you might suggest. Thank you for your patience!

If you checked back in the comments section when you left your question, dear reader, you may have noticed that someone suggested St. Margaret of Corona as a patron saint for you. St. Margaret was a person who spent most of her life trying to get over a lost love.

I have a different suggestion: St. Maria Goretti, the patron saint of teens and chastity.

Here's why: to begin with you are going to have to "man up" as they say, to get through this situation. I believe that phrase really means "act maturely". What you have to do is actually very easy to explain. It won't be that easy to accomplish.

Your friend is in a committed relationship. The operative word here is "committed". He has made a promise to someone. It is entirely up to him as to whether or not he is going to keep that promise. He has not yet made a vow.

It isn't fair to him or to you or to her (I'm sure she is a lovely person) for you to hang around this whole situation hoping he'll choose you.

You need to bow out. Step back. Get away from the whole thing.

I know...very difficult. Offer it up.

He will then be free to choose and you'll have your answer. If the answer is not in your favor, please do not slash her tires.

And remember little Maria Goretti, who was stabbed 14 times while saying no. The thought of that should help you man up.

Abby? What say you?


Claudia said...

I think he is just looking for a little action before he ties the know. When we the woman in this world realize that for most men it is just an itch they got to scratch.

Leigh said...

Hey all you Sister Mary Martha fans:

Are you on Facebook? So is Sister Mary Martha! Join her fan page and her blog entries will appear in your news feed as she posts them. You can share her wisdom, wit, and charm with all of your Facebook friends!

On Facebook, enter Sister Mary Martha in the search box.

Tami said...

Great advice Sister! I'm offering a prayer for these two women.

Sue said...

To the abused lady:
Being abused changes someone's psychology. They start to believe it was their fault (If you had remembered to pick up my suit, I would not have been so angry). They tend to get cut off from family and friends so they have no support system. Often, they stay with the abuser because they believe that they need him and that they can cure him.

Sister is right. You and the children need counselling. I recommend a book by Judith Lewis Herman "Trauma and Recovery from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror". Its time to start the recovery process.

I wish you all the best.

Barbara C. said...

I think it's very likely that the "best friend" knew how she felt about him and like the other person sad was trying to have one last fling.

I've been the girl in love with her male "best friend" and they almost always know how you really feel. Listen to Sister Mary Martha right now. Step back out of the situation immediately. If his feelings were genuine he'll choose you and break off his engagement. If he does not, then he is not really a friend to you.

Anonymous said...

Sister, thank you. Thank You. THANK YOU!!! I feel so much better, honestly like a weight is lifted off of my chest.

Sue, you are right about how your psychology changes. It's hard to get out of that mindset when you have been in it so long. Thank you for the book recommendation, too.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your advice to the lady from the abusive marriage. I too am struggling with 'if I was stronger, trusted God more, saw the good in this person',thoughts.Your word have helped.

Anonymous said...

Take a cold shower. If he is doing this to someone he is committed to, chances are he will do it to you to. Do what sis said and you will see. Don't get so emotionally attached that this is impossible to do. Women are bad about that.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,
I'm feeling a bit trapped in my marriage lately. My husband is very depressed and angry, and never very interested in doing anything but watching television. When I try to suggest fun things to do together, it's like I'm making him do something terrible, and I never have fun. I ask what he's interested in, and he says nothing makes him happy. He swears and gets really bent out of shape about the simplest things, like video games, and then acts surly and disagreeable for hours.

I've tried to talk to him about getting help, but he won't talk to the doctor about feeling depressed and won't see a priest or counselor.

I won't leave him because he never hits or pushes, and never calls me names or says I'm stupid or useless. He doesn't swear at me, but living with constant anger is really taking it's toll on me. I don't believe in divorce, except in cases of abuse.

We don't have any children, and I know that we should, but I'm very concerned about trying to raise children in an environment like this. I grew up with lots of yelling and anger around me, and it is scary and hurtful. I wouldn't be able to protect children from that, and I'm concerned they wouldn't learn to handle their emotions any better than my husband did.

I've never spoken to anyone about this, because I don't want my family and friends to think badly of my husband, or to think that I'm being abused when I'm really not.

I'm feeling more and more panicky about his anger, and it's been getting worse for our entire marriage. It's cutting me up, and I wake up in fear every day, not knowing what mood he'll be in. Not knowing if I'll be happy that day, or if I'll have to struggle against tears and arguing all day.

Sister, what can I do as a wife to help my husband? And what should I be doing to help myself deal with this situation? Also, if I could presume to ask for the prayers of you and your readers, I could certainly use some extra grace from God.

Thank you,

Denise said...

Dear Anonymous (Anne)

You are afraid to be near him, you are afraid to cross him, you are panicky. Your fear is growing.

The biggest sign is that you don't want to bring children into this environment. It was scary and hurtful to you growing up.

This all means:

You are being abused. Your husband is your abuser.You can not stop him from doing so. You do not cause it. You do not deserve it.

This abuse doesn't leave visible scars. It scars your very self. You know this already.

Get out. Get help.

I'm praying for you.

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...


be certain that I am praying for you.

The first thing to realize is that your husband cannot be changed without his consent. Whether he changes or remains the same is beyond your control.

By all means pray for him -- Eucharistic Adoration, rosaries, chaplets, novenas, and free prayer, whatever you can manage. God will answer these prayers and shower your husband with graces. But your husband may reject those graces regardless.

I do not know what makes your husband feel loved. Loving acts tend to fall into five broad categories: words of affirmation (telling your husband about the good things in himself -- honesty is ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED), acts of service, quality time (doing things together), gifts (which can be very small and/or inexpensive, but have to be something he can actually put his hands on), and touch (which is separate from sex).

When I try to suggest fun things to do together, it's like I'm making him do something terrible, and I never have fun. I ask what he's interested in, and he says nothing makes him happy.

I'm going to venture a guess from this statement, that quality time is important to you but not to him. Chances are that whatever it is that will make him feel loved, is something you used to do but normally would see as an empty or meaningless gesture.

If you do need quality time, you might suggest it in the following manner: "George, would you be willing to do something for me?" Presuming the answer is yes, say, "Come (insert fun activity) with me! I would enjoy it so much more if we do it together." If he refuses, drop it for the time being. Complaining will get you nowhere. If he agrees, thank him profusely. Remember, he's doing what you want, or at least closer to it. If he turns into a total wet blanket, do NOT complain. Thank him anyway. He at least tried, and complaining will convince him not to try next time.

I am no kind of therapist or doctor, but disinterest, apathy, and lack of enjoyment are all symptoms of depression. However, depression symptoms can have any number of causes. A checkup with a doctor is a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anne,

I was the one who wrote the original question to Sister. I think you have already gotten good advice so far. I will just add: what you are describing is how physical abuse usually starts.... my husband was exactly the same way, only with time (especially when he was angry at or about the children), he did start to call me names, push, shove, and then eventually start hitting me. It was usually because I didn't like how he was treating the kids. As wives we can control how we behave around this type of man, so we never anger him or cause him any stress at all. But little ones can't help but push his buttons, and it is impossible, not to mention unfair, to try to make them walk on eggshells too!! At least that's what I've concluded in all of this. Since he's not hurting you, maybe there is hope that counseling can help. I waited on that to work for over 5 years, but I don't want to believe that anything is impossible with God!! At the very least continue to seek counsel for yourself and go from there. No matter what, I will pray for you, too.

Marjorie said...

Way to go, Sister, for posting the question, answering it, and letting readers add comments on the matter of domestic abuse. So many religious leaders are unwilling to recognize that abuse does happen among "the faithful."
Too often, the abused are told just to go home and be more patient and submissive and "your husband will be won by the conduct of your life." Abusers need their thinking changed; increased gentle behavior on the part of the wife will not cure them. They almost surely will require professional intervention.
I agree that the angry man that Anne describes is an abuser. He knows what he is doing, and enjoys it. I do pray for those who are trapped in this kind of situation.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha,

I have a question that I might not had to have asked 30 years ago... but you know how things change.

Do priests still bless salt as a sacramental? And if they do, how would I use it? Would I have to bring my own salt or do they typically have a container of already-blessed salt?

Thanks for any help you can give!