Phil says if he abuses me, it takes two people to sign the divorce papers–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–August 1994, Part 4

One day that August, Phil said that if he went to the computer right away and didn’t come upstairs after work, it meant he needed some space.  I wasn’t terribly happy about it, because after a day away from him and with my parents, I liked to see him and talk to him right away, and greet him.  But I understood, so I let him have this space.

He did like to say good-bye to me every day and kiss me at the door, and another day that August he said that was special to him.  He liked knowing that someone cared for and loved him.

I said now that I’d like to kiss him hello, too, but when he came upstairs to my room after work, he didn’t often come over to me while I sat on my chair.  He said he didn’t want the kiss to lose its meaning.

It was hard to take, and he did have all that time away from me during the day, but I thought it was a guy thing.  I gave him space whenever he asked for it, but he had to let me know he needed it, or else I wouldn’t know.  My alone time came while he was gone and I read/wrote in my room.

Despite my best efforts, in September (probably during the fateful first Friday back, which you will soon read about), he complained that I didn’t give him space!  But as this shows, I did give him his space.

From August until September, I let him play on the computer alone; once or twice he asked to sleep alone in the guest room, and I let him.  I actually liked having the bed to myself for once, though I was lonely.  It was a good switch, and I didn’t mind so much.  Yet more gaslighting and changing history to justify a breakup!


One Sunday, Phil said what I never thought he would say:

Once before, he threatened to hit me; this must have been after the miscarriage, because he later said he didn’t mean it and, “How could I hit the mother of my child?”

But this time, in the van on the way to the evening church service, somehow the topic of abuse came up in the conversation.  I don’t remember why, probably after some threat, I told him if he ever hit me, ever abused me, I would divorce him.

He said petulantly and angrily, “It takes two people to sign the divorce papers.”

Somehow, I think the law would be on the side of the abused wife.  I remember telling one of Cugan’s friends about this in 1996 or 1997, and she said it does take two people, but the wife could still divorce an abusive husband.  She should know: This happened to her.

I had yet to recognize that Phil already did abuse me in other ways quite often.  That’s the danger of emotional abuse: not recognizing it because it’s not hitting.  If I’d known better, if we hadn’t said those marriage vows, if I had no trouble finding dates, I would’ve sent him packing before the end of the summer.

He was also dead wrong:

Can he keep me from getting a divorce by refusing to sign the paperwork?


No, he can’t. He doesn’t have the legal right to dictate to you whether or not you can obtain a divorce. His response is not uncommon for someone who thinks it is OK to beat a spouse but, he is misguided in his belief that he has that kind of control. –Cathy Meyer, Can My Spouse Refuse to Sign Divorce Papers?

Wisconsin is also a no-fault divorce state, so only one person needs to want the divorce, without having to prove grounds for divorce.


Phil had become immovable, intractable, willful, obstinate.  One Sunday afternoon in August or maybe September, I tried to tell him I needed to go look for pH paper so our natural family planning could be more accurate and I wouldn’t get pregnant.

He kept saying he wanted to sleep, but I said the stores might close soon.

“I can’t have my parents take me, for goodness’ sake!”  I cried.  How would I explain it?

He said, “You have a license.  Borrow the car.”

I hadn’t driven since 1992!!  I hadn’t driven very often in the first place, and I didn’t know if I’d remember everything now.  I didn’t want to drive again without someone with me to make sure I did it right.

I write here about the trouble I’ve always had with driving, and how I believe NVLD is the cause.  NVLD is a visual-spatial disorder.

I’m afraid and not a good driver.  I have trouble steering and judging when it’s safe to turn.  I easily get confused on unfamiliar roads, or on road construction detours.  I have gotten terribly lost, or completely turned around, because of poor visual memory and trouble reading a map.  I don’t know what to do in unfamiliar situations.  I have a poor sense of direction.

All of this meant I should not just go out on my own, especially since I had no idea how to get any place in the city, despite growing up there.  I wouldn’t know how to get to our usual pharmacy, let alone any other place which might have pH papers.

But he showed no desire even to understand or sympathize, just wanted to throw me out on my own where I would probably get hopelessly lost or have an accident.

The drivers’ ed class I took when I turned seventeen had no machines to teach us how to drive before going out in traffic.  The instructor took our permits to make sure we’d never be without them in the car, so I could get no practice outside of class unless I broke the law.

It took at least two tries before I passed my final test, and the instructor gave me a DOT driving test waiver, but begged me to practice.  However, I was still too frightened to practice much.  Then at college, I didn’t have a car.

I’d always been afraid of cars, and got a lot of bad-natured ribbing for it from classmates in junior high because I wanted to be absolutely sure I could cross Ewing Street to my bus stop.  That was a very busy street, too busy for young kids to cross every day for the bus (even Mom said so), and it frightened me.

Those kids were very cruel to me.  And now, I was scared of driving because cars can kill.

If you have to do something, you have to do something, and in this case, it was finding pH paper.  The books I read said I was supposed to check the pH of my cervical mucus, but didn’t say how.  All I could think of was that you do what you did in school: use pH paper.

As far as either of us knew, it was vital to success with this kind of birth control.  He didn’t want me getting pregnant on Monday because I didn’t know if I was ovulating, did he?  And some stores closed early on Sunday.

On weekdays he stayed in bed during the only time in the afternoon when we could go to the stores, and then I had no transportation at all after he left for work.  Even if I were more used to driving, there would be no car for me to use.

I sure didn’t want to borrow my parents’ car or have them drive me, and have them find out where I was going and, possibly, why.  What the heck did he expect me to do?

We slept late Sunday mornings, often getting up in the afternoon, so it wasn’t like he was suffering from a lack of sleep.

Oh, yeah, it’s so frickin’ unreasonable to ask, on one of your very last weekends in a big city for some time, to ask to be taken shopping on the only possible day of the week since you sleep till 2pm every day, because you’re so frickin’ tired in the middle of a Sunday afternoon after sleeping 9 hours until probably 1 or 2 pm!

In fact, his obstinance makes me wonder if he was trying to sabotage the very birth control he insisted we use. 

Or if he had decided to resist every single thing I’d ever ask for, to punish me, manipulate me into anal/oral sex, and establish his dominance as the king of our household, while I was just a lowly female who had no right to get anything she wanted.

If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would say,

“Are you sure you want to marry him legally when he won’t even do anything for you without you nagging him, if he resists every single thing or bit of help you ask for, if he criticizes everything you do, but then tries to force you into things that hurt or disgust you?  This is a bad sign!

“If he’s engaged to you, if he even says he’s your husband, if he truly loves you, then he has a certain obligation to you.  If you need something, it’s his place to help you.  He doesn’t want to face up to any of his responsibilities.  Are you sure he even cares much about you anymore?”

Anyway, finally he took me out.  I saw him looking at the condoms, and said, “Aren’t you glad you don’t have to use those?”

He said that actually, he wished he could use them, because he wouldn’t have to worry so much about me getting pregnant.  So….Why didn’t he change his mind and let us use condoms instead of this weird natural family planning we didn’t even understand?

We found no pH paper anywhere.  I didn’t know if you could even get it anywhere.  I thought you should be able to, because chemistry sets are common childhood toys.

According to the parenting book I mentioned in the June section, kits for checking mucus were supposed to be available in any drugstore, but we found nothing but one-time-use kits that were very expensive (about $20) and hardly practical for daily use.

I didn’t know how I was going to test the cervical mucus without pH paper or kits, because just testing the consistency didn’t work.  It all looked the same to me.  I had no one to tell me I was doing it wrong.

(I finally got ahold of some pH paper in 1997: Cugan found it at a science surplus store in Milwaukee, and got me five vials, because we wanted to use it when we got married.  But then, in the universe’s typical ironic fashion, I was diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance and had to go on the Pill to regulate it.)

In May or June, we tried calling a local natural family planning clinic (something we looked for but didn’t find in S–) but there was no answer.  Plus Phil was afraid to call them now, because we weren’t legally married.  He thought they wouldn’t want to tell us until we were, because it would encourage us to have sex before the wedding.

But turns out, that fear was groundless: You have to get used to the routine and your cycle and know what you’re doing, before you start depending on natural family planning.  I wonder if he really feared this, or was, again, trying to sabotage the NFP.

One day he said to me, “Maybe we should have sex less often–there’s less risk of pregnancy that way, and it’ll also be more special.”

It seems innocent enough, right?  Like a sweet idea?  Yet no more than maybe two weeks later, I found out from his actions what he really meant: that he was tired of me not being submissive enough to my master husband, and wanted to divorce me.

Another thing that, looking back, was fishy: In August we watched Mrs. Doubtfire.  I expected Sally Field’s character to fall back in love with Robin Williams’ character, the usual Hollywood happy ending, and was shocked when this didn’t happen.  I also didn’t like what she said, that, “I’m a better person when I’m not around you.”  I didn’t like that Williams’ character told a child that, “Sometimes parents are better people when not around each other.”

To me, who had grown up in a strict religious background, this all sounded like the Devil’s lies, trying to justify divorce and breaking up the home, putting a warm-fuzzy, happy-sounding, new agey appearance on divorce, when what’s needed is counseling and work to save the marriage.

I talked about this a bit with Phil, who always agreed with me that divorce should be avoided at all costs, and is a sin except in extreme cases (i.e., adultery, desertion, abuse).  He said the movie was trying to be realistic by not showing the couple getting back together, because that often doesn’t happen in real life.  That seemed reasonable enough.  But then he said, “After all, sometimes people are better people when they’re not around each other.”

I said that it just wasn’t a good enough reason for divorce.  It wasn’t biblically based: Christ never said, “But then, if you don’t get along, if you’re annoyed by the person, it’s okay to leave them in the dust and divorce them.”  No, he said quite the opposite.  His change of mind about divorce made me nervous.  Keep in mind that he was a Catholic, which is even stricter about divorce.

Now, I see it as him making the decision to divorce me several weeks before he actually did, then using a movie to justify it.

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992:Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: