A coworker said, 'Leave your husband'

Tracey Folly

If your husband beats you, leave him or shut up.

A couple holds hands and walks through a field.Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

I was married to an abusive man, and everyone knew about it. Most people didn’t find out because they saw the abuse for themselves. They found out because I wouldn’t stop talking about it.

Although I made no move to leave the man who belittled me, cheated on me, and abused me physically, I made no effort to keep his behavior a secret. Maybe I found complaining therapeutic, or maybe I was hoping for rescue. What I got instead was unrestrained anger from a woman I barely knew, and her anger may have saved my life.

I worked at a local retail sporting goods store at the time. During lunch breaks, I often regaled my coworkers with stories about my marriage. No one was interested, but I couldn’t help myself. I needed someone to talk to, and my hapless coworkers were my captive audience.

They largely sat silent and tried to eat their sandwiches and potato chips while avoiding making eye contact with me until one day, one woman decided not to remain silent anymore.

With a fury I have never seen matched to this day, she pushed her chair back from the table in the breakroom and commenced shouting at me. Her face grew scarlet as she yelled.

For one brief moment, I thought she was coming to my defense. I was wrong.

This woman, who may have been a coworker but who also very much a stranger, stood straight up from her chair like it was on fire and started to yell. She screamed and cursed at the very top of her lungs while everyone else in the room sat and pretended to read the newspaper or check their text messages.

I can’t remember every word she said, but one bit of wisdom definitely stood out from the rest. “If your husband beats you, leave him or shut up.”

At that moment, her loud and furious diatribe sent me into a panic attack. My body went numb, and my lungs seemed to constrict. My heart raced. I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my brain. I certainly couldn’t open my mouth to speak, and I wouldn’t have been able to find or form the words even if I could.

None of that mattered because she wouldn’t stop screaming. I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze a word in edgewise if I’d tried. So I did the next best thing. I started to cry.

As it turned out, my sobbing enraged this woman even more. Her shouting intensified, and I worried that she might hit me herself just to prove her point. When she was finally finished, she punched the breakroom table with both fists, tossed her uneaten lunch dramatically into the trashcan, and stormed from the room with a vigor I didn’t know she possessed.

What I knew about that woman before that day could have filled a thimble. I knew that she herself was married and having marital problems. I’d heard her talking about them in that very same room over the last several weeks or months.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt that she thought it was okay to seek free marriage counseling in the workplace breakroom while clearly being offended when I did the same. What could have been behind her angry outburst? I suspect there may have been more to her reaction than her annoyance at me.

I don’t know whether she had experienced domestic violence in her marriage or previous relationships. Could that have been the reason why she seemed to take my daily monologues about my own abuse so personally? Perhaps she was just tired of me ruining her lunch break. I guess I’ll never know. This happened years ago. I can’t even remember her name, so it’s not like I can pop into her social media DMs and ask her about that day.

Besides, she probably doesn’t even remember. She was dealing with her own demons.

Not long after that day, I finally left my abuser for good. While I won’t say my coworker’s unsolicited advice was the reason why I left, it certainly did make an impression on me. It may even have saved my life. Explaining exactly how I found the strength to leave my ex-husband is complicated, but I don’t know whether I would have done it without my coworker’s blunt words:

“If your husband beats you, leave him or shut up.”

It has been many years since that day. In fact, it's been decades now. Yet I still remember the anger in my coworker's face as she shouted at me. She couldn't have been less empathetic. I guess she didn't think empathy was what I needed. Maybe she was right. Maybe I needed tough love, but it didn't feel very loving at the time. It felt more like hate.

Was it good advice?

The truthful answer is that I don't know. What I do know is that her advice certainly made an impact on me. When I finally weighed the pros and cons of leaving my abusive relationship versus suffering in silence, it was her words that rang in my ears.

I wasn't about to suffer in silence--I'm too much of a chatterbox for that--and I had proof positive that no one wanted to hear about my suffering if I couldn't keep silent.

It was time to leave. We all knew it, me, my ex-husband, my coworkers, and especially that one angry lady who became fed up with me even before I realized I was fed up with my marriage.

Even if her advice shook me up and shook me to my core, I object to her delivery. She was just plain mean, and that's not what a young woman trapped in a loveless, dangerous, and hateful marriage needs, or is it? The proof may be in the pudding. I have never been happier since I left my husband, and I hope my former coworker found her own happiness, too.

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Writing about relationships online since 2009.

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