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Saying “I do” almost killed me




No one suspected a thing as I walked down the steps toward the Chuppah that hot Sunday afternoon in August.

The guests sat beneath the Japanese Maple listening to the Windham Hill music I had compiled on cassette for the occasion.  I had already sent out my maid of honor and my fiancé awaited me.  Inside, as the song I had specifically chosen to walk out to played on, I collapsed into my brother’s arms, crying, my body wracking uncontrollably as I tried to regain control.  Beside me, I could hear him repeat,  “Stop crying, Joëlle.  If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to start crying.”

FullSizeRenderI couldn’t change my mind.  I couldn’t back out.  My grandmother and brother had flown from Europe.  I would be such a disappointment.  I would be so ashamed.

So I stepped out into the sunshine, clutching onto my baby brother like a raft.  No one saw the fear.  No one saw the meltdown in my tear-stained cheeks.  No one  saw the depth of pain that lived beneath the surface.  I hadn’t even understood it myself.  I had chalked it up to nerves.

I didn’t know my Soul was crying out.

We met at university, shared two common classes, became friends.  He was short, funny, smart.

When he unexpectedly followed me down to Florida while I was on Spring Break with my girlfriends – leaving a note in my room that simply said, “Just flew in from New York.  Boy are my arms tired” – I had been a little freaked out but flattered by the attention.  I had been too “nice” to blow him off because he had driven an entire day to get there.  Who was I to tell him to go home? It’s a free country.  Besides, no one had EVER shown so much interest in seeing me before.

I remember feeling “THIS IS NOT GOOD” but stuffing it, so seductive was the attention.

He volunteered to drive us all back to school when the week was over, dropped off my girlfriends first and then asked me to dinner.  I felt obligated.  How could I say no?

I didn’t see it coming when he began to deliver pizzas to my dorm room or when he screeched to halt at a red light, threw his car door open, and ran to the car ahead to bang on their window cursing at the driver who had cut him off (I just slinked below the dashboard) or when he seemed unusually venomous and rage-filled at our apartment mate and unable to let it go.  But, no.  None of this registered as strange.

Even though my gut told me otherwise.

I continued to go on dates with him, moved in with him, and found myself lost in a tangled web, feeling both trapped by obligation and my desperate need for love.  When he fell for another woman who would not return the favor, I took him back.

His courting had a double edge: one side filled with sweetness, poetry and gifts, the other laced with derogatory, demeaning remarks and spiteful anger.  His words although familiar and painful to me, didn’t register as such. Somehow they felt like home.  His treatment of me was the continuation of a pattern to which I was very much accustomed.  He loved me in a way that felt right. Except it hurt. It made me feel small, stupid, insignificant, insecure, crazy, lost and depressed.  The longer I stayed with him, the tinier I became – yet I kept going back for another and another serving, each time losing more and more of my Self.

After a particularly difficult Christmas eve when I was expecting he would ask me to marry, he choose instead to torture me in front of our friends who knew he had the ring in his possession.  It made for a great joke – except I wasn’t part of it.  When, finally he “asked” in bed on Christmas morning (because he never really did, he just slipped the ring on while I feigned sleep then surprise), I should have told him to fuck off.  But I didn’t.

I said “I do.”

FullSizeRender 2His abusive behavior became more overt once we were married: withholding sex, belittling and berating me loudly in public, threatening me if communicated with my family…  Early on, I suggested therapy, only to be met with “we are two intelligent people, we can figure this out on our own.” I felt trapped, doubting myself, believing he knew better than I.

It was only when I told him I wanted a divorce, seven years in, that he acquiesced to therapy.  So I turned my gaze back to the marriage.  Shortly thereafter, I miraculously became pregnant with my son.

And I couldn’t leave.

I stayed five more years, growing more and more withdrawn.  I hitched my wagon to my son’s tiny star, rediscovered my love of dance and, with it, my own growing light.

I supported our family both financially and emotionally while he lost job after legal job, stayed home, unemployed and depressed, for two whole years.  When he quit his following job after 6 months, I finally heard the call and listened: I could not stay any longer.

I could no longer pretend the marriage would work out.  I could no longer work my ass off at a job I hated to suffer his criticisms and cutting remarks.  I could no longer be sexually dismissed.  I could no longer choose to remain a victim.  My son needed a healthy, fully-expressed Mother.

And if I stayed, I would die.

That realization hit me, shook me, flooded me with truth and guilt – how could I deny my son his birthright of a family together?  Yet I knew my Soul was calling me to walk away, was telling me I was done and there was no looking back.

I had stayed for 16 years, suckling at the addictive teat of mistreatment because it had been the definition of love I had grown up with.  I thought emotional torture was love.

I didn’t need to be loved in this “familiar” way any more.  Even if I didn’t know what the alternative was, it had to be better than what I had experienced .  I just knew it.  It would mean I would have to learn to love differently, to be fierce about choosing a new definition of love.  A love I had never experienced.  A love I had to have faith existed.  And although I was terrified, I had to believe. I had to crawl my way out of worthlessness and to choose never to place my worth in a man who was sick.  Because sick people hurt others.

This single courageous act was the first step toward health.  Sharing it with you, transparently, is yet another. I do so in hope that if you have or are going through something similar  (click here if you think you might be) you may be inspired to remember that you are worthy and deserving of Deep, Soulful Love.   It is also an invitation to speak up on your own behalf as well as to be a beacon for others so they may see a way out. This is activism.  This is Leadership.  This is standing for yourself and every woman who has not been able to.

Until now.

I would love for you to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Listen, dear one, as I have sounded it out for you:

Joëlle Lydon is a relationship coach, educator, speaker, writer, poet, and founder of an online site that features savvy and soulful advice, articles, videos, private consultations, workshops,  and retreats (both live and virtual). She has been featured in Healthy Life Magazine, Times Union Newspaper, Life at Home Magazine,, Blog Talk Radio, Healing Springs Journal, CDPHP, Time Warner Cable News, Fox News and more. You can also follow Joëlle on Twitter and Facebook. 

Need some help connecting to the voice of your soul? Schedule your Dare To Love Greatly Breakthrough session with me today.  Visit

25 Responses to “Saying “I do” almost killed me”

  1. brenda says:

    thank you for brilliantly sharing your experience. It is a brave revolutionary act and gives beautiful permission to other women to listen to their gut. xoxo

  2. Allyson says:

    Thank you so much for sharing yourself so deeply and so transparently, Joelle. Your story is your own and now you live your truth so beautifully, courageously and lovingly. When I was going through my abuse, if I had known you, my life would have been so much clearer. Thank you for this.

  3. Rose says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your journey to find yourself breaks my heart open. I too have ignored and pushed aside the voice in my head that whispered, “this isn’t right.” Your story helps me to never ignore again when my soul cries out. You are so loved and I honor your courage and stunning transparency.

  4. This is so beautifully told, Joelle, with such heart and honesty. Thank you!

  5. Meg says:

    Thank you for this. You have given voice to all of us — all women who know in their hearts and souls what they need and want, who ignore those whispers out of obligation or in the hope that we can make it all right somehow. Thank you thank you.

  6. nan says:

    Congratulations you brave, wonderful woman. I hope your sharing inspires others to take the leap of faith as well. We are taken care of by the universe-we just need to let it happen. Bravo!!!!!

    • Joëlle says:

      Feel free to share this, Nan, with the women in your life who you feel might benefit. Thank you for your support. xoox J

  7. TTana says:

    Dear Joelle,
    I admire your courage and your light and your stunningly beautiful way of being able to express such a tender experience in such a way.
    You are a gift.

  8. Shana says:

    Wow…my friend! You write beautifully! Remember I was there from the start and you know how I felt back then and now! You are and have always been a fantastic person! My strong courageous friend! I love you. Keep growing and as we all do with the strength that is within us😘

  9. Lauren says:

    Your courage, strength, endurance and beauty are extraordinary. Thank you for your courage to shine a light on your story. You are the most brilliant courtesan of all time. xoxo

  10. Elaine says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I too stayed for far too long in my marriage and in the end I choose life over death. You are so brave and courageous to write this and please know how much your words will heal others whom are hiding and so afraid to step free of social and family obligations as well as years of piled on self doubt. Much love to you and thank you for letting your soul free.

  11. Katie says:

    I just got off a conference call, the discussion was “what is female strength to you?”

    I could have answered “Joelle!”

    Thanks for another gorgeous piece of writing. You were a beautiful bride.


  12. Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your words are so powerful and will inspire others.

  13. I have deep gratitude for your journey and sharing it with us all. I could write a similar story. It’s a terribly lonely and frightening journey to get out of familiar abuse and stand for something more. My daughter inspired me to get out. I would love to support you and your mission to assist others, please let me know how to support you. All my best, Jennifer

  14. Jayna says:

    Thank you soo much for shari g! I relate so much to the part about choosing abuse that is called love because that’s what you know. I loved your words about creati g a new definition of love and having faith it existed.

  15. I’ve watched you over the years. Oh, how you have grown and inspired me. I trust your advice and thanks for taking me on the journey with you through your posts over time.

    I have stayed single all these years, because of that sick feeling that my own abusive relationships have given me. When they spoke of marriage, I wanted no parts of it. I couldn’t take the risk.

    I commend you for taking the risk and I commend you for realizing it wasn’t for you and walking away with your beautiful boy in tow.

    Life is not simple. It is a conglomerate of decisions. I like think there are no bad choices, but only new choices to be made in the face of new realizations. Maybe that’s just a more politically correct way of saying a bad decision. But it sure makes me feel good.


    • Joëlle says:

      My sweet Sister, You were a gift back in 2011 when I began this journey of self-exploration. Thank you for response. It means very much to me. xoxo Joëlle

  16. deb says:

    Oh, how I get this. And the story that gets you there, and keeps you there, always believing we are the failure. That we deserve this familiar shit sandwich we’re being served.
    I went back for different, lighter versions of the same meal served up from 3 different men. Men who I thought needed me (they probably did.) Men who I thought loved me (they probably did love me, to, in their way). Each one was slightly “healthier” than the one before, and there was good in each of them, but the toxic nature of the men I chose just got more subtle and insidious, and no less destructive.

    I stayed far too long in each relationship, but there is no healthy level of toxins to make a part of your daily diet , no matter how much of it you force yourself to choke down, or how sugar-coated with gifts and good times. Not if you want your soul to live. it only takes one shot of poison to kill a vital part of you.

    Kudos on sharing your story. And sharing the good news that we can be reborn, or at least regenerated, and become whole again, no matter how deep the damage.

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