In a racy, frank and intimate style, Seme Unuigbe-Eroh gives a vivid account of her experience in a toxic marriage. She was caught between an emotionally abusive husband and beautiful childhood memories with her parents. Unuigbe-Eroh’s tale is a heart-rending one, writes PRECIOUS IGBONWELUNDU.
UNTIL she chose freedom, Seme Unuigbe-Eroh’s life was filled with chaos and confusion. Her book, ‘When the Fog Lifts’, tells the hard truths about being vulnerable in a marriage that is everything but healthy. Her writing style is easy to follow. She deploys anecdotal technique where necessary to spice up her narration and makes for engrossing reading. Her aesthetic taste is very good, and she writes beautifully
Moving to the United States of America from Nigeria for studies ad an innocent and naive teenager, all she knew about life and marriage were the almost perfect realities she observed from her middle-class parents. Her idea of a perfect marriage was one where the man provides financially while the woman runs the homes and but fills in the gap when the man is running late to meet up.
A family where love was at the centre and couple always had each other’s backs, could understand one another and played as a team in all things.
But for 17 years, Unuigbe-Eroh lived the opposite of her perfect marriage. She endured rather than enjoyed marriage and was reduced to a “fly on the wall” by her spouse- an expert in psychological and emotional abuse, who not only subjected her to mental torture but also invaded her privacy by bugging her phones in order to subdue her.
During these years, she lost her self esteem, self worth and was practically always seeking validation, appreciation and even support from a partner who was unwilling to offer any and would even deploy the silent treatment against her for several days such that she will eventually apologise for doing nothing wrong.
She also narrates how her ex-husband was a control freak who never allowed her to be herself and how she overlooked the signs during their dating days either out of fear that on one else would want to marry her or because she thought he was being romantic.
“My ex-husband always told me that he didn’t understand what I meant when I said he wasn’t letting me be myself, and I never had a response after that. Now that I am on my own, I can see how he stifled me. I would like to say that he didn’t do it on purpose and that it was just out of habit and my allowing him, but I don’t know.
“I would still like to give him that benefit of the doubt. All of us are broken in one way or another, but we must be mindful of imposing our will on others. You cannot say because you are the man of the house, your will is paramount. Will is not ours to give. It is a gift from the Lord.
“So, when given a chance between a controller or a leader, I will choose a leader everytime. I want to be a leader and lead by example. Let’s be mindful that our control does not turn into abuse or take us away from our intentions, assuming they are good,” he wrote.
In the 265-pages three-parts collection of essays, the woman painted vivid picture of how she bore all domestic and even financial responsibilities with no support from the spouse- not even when she was all spent and exasperated. It mirrors the agonies of an independent woman who married an indifferent spouse that see her work over 40 hours weekly in order to meet their financial responsibilities, yet returns home to do the cooking, cleaning, raising their three kids and showing up in their schools when needed without helping out.
It also explains how the man conveniently lied to his friends he was picking the bills and fulfilling his responsibilities as a dad, such that her cries for help were considered as whining. The book which seeks to help wonen and men going through abuse in their relationships find their footing, advises that it is better to remain single than settle for a person with different values, principles and standards. It also warns intending couples to pay attention to red flags and ensure recurring issues are addressed before making marital commitments.
Stuck in a marriage with zero communication with a spouse whose description just fits a ‘sperm donor”, Unuigbe-Eroh for fear and shame of what society would say, lived a lie by painting a picture of a perfect home.
She endured working and struggling, deflated dreams, loss of self, disappointments, being taken for granted, falling for tricks, sleepless nights, tears, anxiety, no sympathy until she couldn’t have them anymore. With her mental health and physical health degenerating, she sought solace from her close-knit family and best friend, cousin who couldn’t belief the things she had to face alone including playing both mother and father roles in a marriage. She started wondering why she put up with so much and worked too hard to keep a marriage that was doomed from the very beginning.
While embarking on self rebuke for caring too much about societal expectations and not having enough courage to demand to be treated rightly, Unuigbe-Eroh said explains how she moved from a physically abusive relationship to meet her husband who turned out to be emotionally manipulative.
“When you are in an abusive relationship, you seem like a fool to those around you. They wonder why you just don’t leave, but they don’t really see you. If they were to x-ray you, they would see that whichever way you turned there was a thorn ready to prick you, and if you tried to rise, there were roots holding you down.
“To escape you need to constantly fight your way out and make sure you do not get caught in any of the old vines you had escaped from. When in an abusive relationship, your usually sharp mind is foggy and clouded with codependcy and trauma bonds. It is easier to stay than play the mind games. Or, Lord forbid, get beaten. People who are in physically abusive relationships are trapped by fear. Fear of their abuser keeps them in place. This person is home with them and can harm them before help arrives.
“They are definitely trapped and the abuser holds all the power. I am so scared of physical abuse because it is do volatile. Anything can happen in an instant. It is literally a matter of life and death. So many women and men have lost their lives senselessly at the hands of an abuser. I get it, I know it’s hard, but we are speaking of life and death here. One misstep and it’s over.
“Emotional abuse! This is a silent killer. No abuse is better than the other, and I cannot even say you have more control over emotional abuse because you don’t. Also, a lot of the time, emotional abuse leads to physical abuse.
“Another thing that keeps people in marriages or abusive relationships is lack of finances to leave if you are dependent on the abuser. So many people cannot break free because of lack of funds, lack of job to escape to, or lack of other adults to communicate with outside of the situation. Imagine an immigrant who knows no one except their abuser, who is fully dependent on the abuser and cannot work. Many live in hell and cannot find a way out,” she says.
According to her, many people stay in unhappy marriages or relationships, jobs and friendships out of fear of public opinion, fear of loneliness, fear of judgement, fear of not getting support, fear of financial stability, fear of speaking up, fear of persecution, fear of the next person, of wrong choices and even fear of the abuser.
“I said earlier, embrace the fear, pray through it and find a way to overcome it. We all have different clocks in our lives. Use your own clock to determine when the time is right for you to stop being scared,” she admonishes.
Tired of being threatened with a divorce whenever there was an issue, Unuigbe-Eroh came to the realisation that there was need for them to separate the last time he uttered the “D” word and asked her husband to leave the house hoping it could help them heal and reconnect.
“I had been thinking of separating from my husband for a while because things were just not working out. We had tried everything I could think of, but in my opinion, things were getting worse. We were both miserable. I thought it would be best to get out of each other’s hair for a while.
“It was best, but it also revealed my worst fears. I always feared that he would not fight for our family and not only did he not fight for our family, he fought against our family. He did everything you don’t do when separated and trying to win your family back.
“I always thought separation was supposed to create space between each other, help you miss each other, realise you cannot live without the other person, help your try life out without them and then decide. I certainly did not expect what I got from separation. Our separation created further heartache, more burdens, more slander, and a fight for my life and dignity. I was very disappointed.
“I am sharing to let you know that if you are like me and hope that your separation will fix your issues, there might be another outcome. I hope yours works out better than mine.”
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Surviving a toxic marriage