WHEN YOUR ABUSER DIES | It was a long marriage that included physical violence, infidelity, and financial abuse — along with the standard psychological tactics, like love bombing, gaslighting, and manipulation. So given everything her husband put her through, and the destructive aftermath he’s responsible for, Wondering Widow has one question.
“Why do I miss him?”
But it was clear by my exchange with her that she already knows the answer.
“I think I miss the illusion he created about himself,” says Wondering Widow. [Statement edited slightly for clarity.] And she’s right. She doesn’t miss who he was as her abuser.
She misses the man he only pretended to be, and who he should have been.
Is it possible there are positive memories an abuse survivor looks back on with nostalgia? Yes. And that’s okay. It’s also possible that what we miss is the hope we used to cling to—that, somehow, he would change and the relationship would become something with more frequent positive experiences.
Over time we come to believe the myth our abuser perpetuates through psychological ambush: That he is good, that what we’re experiencing is normal [and we’re at fault for what is not], that we are happy and receiving legitimate love. Further, we tend to focus on the good or potential in others—a detail abusers exploit—and therefore we subconsciously minimize or excuse away the less attractive parts of the relationship. We view it and our partner, then, through a rosy, superficial lens that pads against the hurt of living with less than we deserve. (This feeds some of the explanation why women can’t or don’t leave their abuser.) Which means survivors miss not just the embellished memory of their partner, but also that rosy, superficial lens as a means of comfort and self-protection.
Additionally, Wondering Widow says, “I miss the illusion of my future.” This makes sense, too.
As unstable as an abusive marriage is, the instability of being thrust into a new life post-abuse creates its own challenges. Financial landscapes change. Homes change. Jobs change. Other relationships change. We’re forced into navigation of an independence we may be new to, and the entire trajectory of our future now relies on decisions that require adjusted thinking, and that will render outcomes we never considered before. While even an abusive relationship offers familiarity, and some semblance — albeit it often false — of security, starting over makes life unfamiliar and feels pretty damn shaky at times.
All this said, it’s completely acceptable if you don’t miss your abuser; if you have no positive memories in the nostalgia vault. Not every survivor does. And you are not obligated to sugar coat your experience.
Wondering Widow’s myriad and contradicting emotions are not unique. Every point discussed applies whether you were widowed like WW, were in some other way abandoned by your abuser, or chose to leave the relationship to start over.
What’s important to remember is that regardless of the details, the road to understanding your abuse and then healing from it is complicated. Hold space with your warring emotions when you need to. Try to make sense of them if you need to. And be patient with yourself.
But most of all, know that you’re not alone as a survivor of domestic abuse.
To submit your question for analysis and possible publication, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Credit to Felipe Cespedes from Pexels.