The festive period is the busiest time of the year in any church calendar and although I’d left the marital home (and church manse) in October, senior management in the church took no real action. I could be cynical and suggest that they deliberately let things continue until Christmas passed because they then didn’t have to face the ordeal of trying to cover high profile Christmas activities within the parish.
No one had any inkling that Sandra and I had separated. Sandra and the children resided in the church manse, I was sleeping on my parents settee still. I would turn up at the church, put on the mask that I’d worn for eighteen years and pretend all was normal.
In the last week of November, the church’s occupational doctor made an appointment to see both of us because the church authorities had asked him to carry out a medical assessment. In my opinion this was totally pointless because the problem wasn’t medical. We were both interviewed by senior leadership who then made a decision to grant to both Sandra and I three months compassionate leave. This pronouncement was made to me in a letter dated 21st December (note how it suited the church to wait until after the Christmas rush!) and the leave would commence 1st January. The purpose of this was to relieve us both of all duties so we could focus solely on repairing the marriage.
I had said while being interviewed that keeping myself occupied had been one of my coping strategies and to have any purpose withdrew would be detrimental to my own mental health. I needed to have something to focus on. I felt hurt and angry that anything I said to the church authorities seemed to be completely disregarded. In fact on 2nd January my first day on compassionate leave, I broke down in tears as the impact of the social interaction I was being denied hit me. I cried out to the four walls that contained me, “This isn’t compassionate, this is cruel!”
The letter received on the 21st December also contained a paragraph which caused me great angst:
“The Church strongly recommended that marriage counselling is undertaken together to address the difficult issues within your marriage.”
Difficult issues? Eighteen years of Domestic Violence wasn’t just difficult issues. I felt betrayed by a system I had trusted and committed my life to. I was happy to continue to receive personal counselling but as far as I was concerned joint counselling was out of the question. It was my opinion that Sandra would not open up and admit her role as denial and avoidance had always been the way she dealt with any thorny subject. The likelihood was that she would deny anything I mentioned and then attack me later for whatever statements I would have made. Joint counselling was pointless. I wanted my life back.
Rather incensed by the Church’s attitude, I contacted the Doctor to ask what his recommendation had been to the church leadership. His response, “in my opinion this marriage has irreconcilably broken down.”
Knowing what they did about the ongoing incidences of Domestic Violence, also having asked for and then received their own Doctors opinion that the marriage was beyond repair, why were the Church strongly recommending that marriage counselling is undertaken together to address the difficult issues within your marriage? Such apparent denial of my reality by the Church devalued my own self-worth and I struggled to come to terms with their mind-set towards me and Domestic Violence.
Christmas day would be the first one spent apart from my children. My children asked me if I would go to the marital home and spend Christmas Day afternoon with them. As hard as it was, I did. As far as I was concerned, the children have and always will come first. Sandra being there made things uncomfortable, but that wasn’t of paramount significance. I was there with the children, nothing else mattered.