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I thought I knew what love was or what love was supposed to be. It meant for better or worse, no matter what. If you loved someone and did everything you could to help that person, you could save them. I think this idea gets put in our brains when we’re kids watching the damsel in distress and her prince saves her from death no matter what. And that same princess would save her prince from anything too. That’s at least how I saw it.

Go to church and then feel that divorce is shameful and bad and you’re tainted if you do that. Our grandparents stayed and worked it out. Or they were just stuck. You just handled it as a grown adult and dealt with it and made it work. That’s the way I had seen it anyway. Being a person who came from a divorced home, I just knew I’d never give up and work it out no matter what.

I wouldn’t ever get a divorce. 

Then cue the past 23 years of my life. I was what you would call a good girl. I worked hard, I played sports, I went to church and was actively involved there. I didn’t party, I always did what was asked of me. I started dating my ex-husband in my junior year of high school, and he was it for me. All I dreamed about was us getting married, buying a house, having our kids, and growing old together.

And for a few years, I lived in that fantasy.

Then I started noticing the red flagsthe lies and then the cheating that broke my heart over and over again. He’d say he didn’t do anything, and I would believe him and forgive him every time. Because as an adult, you just kept moving forward no matter what. Things kept piling up and adding up time after time. I’d blame it on the lack of him having his mom or dad, and I could love him and help him through it. Thinking that once he fixed that, he’d be perfect and he could be how I saw him. 

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Over the years, it continually got worse, and I did more to make up for it. Couldn’t let him get stressed. I thought maybe having kids would finally snap him out of it, but that just made it worse because I couldn’t go with him and do the things we loved to do together anymore. Someone had to stay behind and take care of the kids, and since he worked more than me and made more money and was hurt, he needed to be able to do his hobbies alone. So I supported every dream or idea he had in hopes of him finally getting over whatever it was that hurt him . . . that, in turn, hurt us.

Money was never enough. Cars, houses, none of it was ever good enough.

He’d throw fits about how everyone else had all these things, and he made so much money, why couldn’t he? While we were having our issues, he bounced from job to job every two years. I just thought he had terrible luck, that he was a good person who just had bad things happen. People were out to get him. 

I had just given birth to our fourth child, sitting there in the hospital bed, when another woman wrote me looking for him on the tablet he had left me to watch TV on. I then dug through the tablet and found the dating chat apps and all of the conversations he had been having. While I was laboring, he sat on the couch asking for nudes from women.

Even then, my thoughts were about how I had to fix this and we can’t quit. I’m a stay-at-home mother now to four under five years old. I can’t do this on my own.

Why I didn’t just leave then?

Because I lived 19 hours from my hometown, and I couldn’t just move home and move in with my mom with a newborn and three other kids and no job. It’s called put on your big girl panties and try harder. And I did try harder. The harder I tried, the less he said he was sorry, and the bigger the lies got and the worse the cheating got. He would lie, and then shower me with affection and gifts. 

Over time, the gifts and affection dwindled to nothing. He was defending his “friends” who were women. About how each one made him feel sorry for them like his mom did. It went on like this until I had baby number five, and he finally left when she was six days old. That’s when he really started pouring on the weight of how I couldn’t do anything right or wasn’t good enough.

My self-esteem was at rock bottom, I felt completely worthless, but he swore there was no one else. That some guy he worked with had just bought him a pair of $150 pants just because. The tighter I tried to reel it in and press on, the worse it got. 

One day, I found out about the someone else once for the last time. The common theme with these women is they were all told the same sob story. He was afraid I’d take the kids away, I was lazy, I couldn’t handle our children, and how I was so crazy. They all knew about me, they were all perfectly okay with running around with him all in hopes of him divorcing me. Because he was so perfect and he promised them a future.

The only problem was me.

I wanted to die. I would sit in the bathtub every night and cry before he left for the very last time. I could not figure out what I had done so wrong to deserve this. I’d pray and beg God to fix him. But my prayers went unanswered. After 18 years of marriage, I was served divorce papers that had the wrong wedding date on them. 

Back then, I could not see life any other way but with him. If he was going to hell, as long as he held my hand, I didn’t care if he dragged me with him. We were in it until the end. Because that’s what you do. 

RELATED: Emotional Abuse Leaves Hidden Scars

The divorce process was incredibly nasty. His family who had vowed there were no sides and I would always be family, dropped me like I was a hot potato. He moved in with his still-married mistress and threw our children into that unstable living arrangement. I petitioned to move back home and was amazingly granted that. He ended up knocking up his girlfriend and lost his job when our divorce was finalized. That whole chapter still has not improved much, but I’ve learned to stand again and not be a doormat. 

It’s now been another year, and life has gone on like it does.

I’ve worked on healing and seeing a counselor because there were years of unhealed wounds and trauma I had allowed that I needed to deal with. I got my old job back, which I had left to follow my ex, and returned to my home church as well.

I have someone of my own whose family I love. I’ve found a man who is beyond patient with me and doesn’t let me spoil him. It’s a healthy relationship, and I’ll just say it’s so very hard to unlearn years of bad relationship knowledge. From time to time, I find myself staring off into space wondering how I could have ever felt as useless as I did. How could I think that life could not go on without my ex when now I thrive and am happier than I ever was in the constant turmoil with him? Most importantly, I saved myself and broke that mindset of for always no matter what.

Love is patient, love is kind. It’s not boastful, rude, or selfish. It doesn’t hurt, lie, cheat, or steal. It uplifts, it cherishes, it adores, it understands, and it protects what it has. 

That’s what love really does. 

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Ashley Travous

Ashley is a 39-year-old mother of five, starting life over again after 18 years of marriage. 

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