As young girls, many of us daydreamed about the man we would one day marry. We imagined what he would look like and fantasized about the beautiful life we would build together.
Then, when we finally meet the man and fall in love, sometimes our reality doesn’t quite line up with what we envisioned. Still, we hold out hope that things will change for the better one day.
We often go to great lengths to preserve the image of a happy home because of the social standing marriage affords us. We know that married women are viewed as having greater “value” and garner more respect than women who are single, widowed, or divorced, and we want that. But sometimes we are left with no choice.
Salamatu Adams is a well-respected leader in her community in Boadan, Ghana, who advocates for the rights of women and girls. She has partnered with numerous organizations and NGOs and is at the forefront of much-needed reform to advance women’s issues locally and nationally. But until recently, many people didn’t know that she was fighting a losing battle in her own home – a toxic marriage.
After years of abuse, Salamatu had to make the difficult decision whether to stay in her marriage for the image or to preserve the health and safety of her and her children. Leaving the marriage would mean enduring immense stigma and shame, but staying would be detrimental to her well-being. This is her story.
Turbulence in the Home
I grew up with a father who was physically, emotionally, and financially abusive towards my mother. We lived in a rented house in a compound with other co-tenants. Whenever my father would abuse my mom, our neighbours would come to her aid, especially the landlady. She would try to talk to my dad to stop beating my mom.
Somewhere along the line, my mom decided to leave her marriage and left us behind. I remember I was 10 years old. My other siblings were eight, five, and four. She was fed up with the abuse, the beatings, the insults, and the anger, so she left. My father had three wives, so he eventually stopped coming to our house and we were at the mercy of the landlady who took care of us.
After 13 years or so, my mom returned and we stayed together again with my dad. The abuse continued. Things got so bad that I decided to leave home and went to live with my stepsister in another town. By this time, I was 23 years old. After living with her for some time, her husband began making sexual advances towards me. Fearing he would try to sleep with me, I left my sister’s house.
Honestly speaking, I couldn’t tell my sister why I left. My mom prevented me from telling her since she was a stepsister. And since her husband didn’t end up having sex with me, there was no need for me to inform my sister. So that was the end of that story.
My sister was upset when I left because she didn’t know what made me run away from her place. I went back to my parents’ home in Kintampo, Ghana. Then, by God’s grace, I had the opportunity to go to college.
The Beginning of My Woes
When I finished college, I was posted in a village where my future husband was also posted as a national service personnel. That’s where I met him.
As time went on, he showed interest in me, and I accepted his proposal to marry him. That was the beginning of my woes. While we were dating, I realized that he was a bitter person. He always spoke ill of people and would get angry over small things. I thought that with time, he would stop. But he never did. His anger, bitterness, and abusive ways continued.
At one point, my then-fiancé complained to me and asked me not to associate myself with one of my female colleagues. He didn’t like her, so he demanded I stop talking to her.
Coincidentally, something happened between the lady and me, and eventually, we stopped talking to each other.
Three days after our marriage, a friend of my husband called to inform him that the lady my husband told me to stop talking to was angry because I never invited her to our marriage ceremony.
My husband became furious and started insulting me, saying that I’m not a good person and don’t respect him. “I told you not to talk to her so how did she even know about our wedding?” he demanded to know.
I explained to him that I didn’t even have her number anymore, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He said he didn’t want any trouble from me and that I shouldn’t be coming to give him standards. So, I started packing my things to leave – just three days into our marriage. Seeing I was serious, he quickly apologized to me and that was that.
As time went on, things got worse. My husband would not even give me money to buy food. He didn’t even have the empathy to support me financially, knowing that I was spending my savings to support us. The few monetary gifts we received for the wedding, he took them all for himself and didn’t give me even one cent. I didn’t complain.
The following month after our marriage ceremony, I became pregnant and was always sick. That made him angry. He constantly compared me to his sisters.
“Whenever my sisters are pregnant, they don’t get sick. You are always sick. I’m fed up with you!” he would say.
I became very sad because I didn’t know that it could get to that level.
Married but Single
I struggled to go to the hospital alone and pay my hospital bills. Everything concerning the pregnancy, I did myself with my salary – the little salary I was saving. After I delivered the baby, the same problem continued. I would ask him to support me in buying diapers, but my husband would always complain about not having money.
“I was in a state of shock because I thought that as a young guy, he would somehow support me so we can raise our baby. but he didn’t. I had to raise the baby alone.”
Second birth, the same thing happened. I was trying to figure out how best I could make him understand that he was hurting me. He didn’t want my friends to visit me or for me to even talk to neighbours around. He didn’t want me to even go for an activity in the community as a community leader. So I said, “No, I think it is getting worse.”
We were married for over 10 years. I bought almost everything in the house. The kids’ school fees, I was the one paying. Ever since we got married, I always did the buying.
As a community leader and an advocate for women and girls, whenever I went to the radio station or did a small program, my husband would become angry. He would sometimes even curse me. I was paying for the lights, and utility bills – he was giving us so much economic hardship.
A Wake-Up Call
Unfortunately, something happened. I heard the news of the death of Nigerian Singer Osinachi Nwachukwu and how her husband had been treating her. And then I realized that I was going through the same thing. I didn’t want to die and leave my kids. I realized his level of insecurity was so much that my life was in danger.
During my third pregnancy, I became so ill he took me to the hospital. He left me at the hospital gate and never returned to find out what I was going through. My BP was so high they had to take me to the theater. The medical team asked me who brought me, and I was too embarrassed to tell them that my husband had left me on my own.
By God’s grace, I was given a date for delivery via C-section. In fact, all my three deliveries had been through C-sections. My husband complained and even accused the doctors of performing C-sections on me because they wanted to take all his money.
My husband was so angry he came in even trying to challenge the doctor. Even when I had stitches from the operation, he didn’t care about my health. So when I left the hospital, I decided that I would not go back to this man’s house.
Once I moved out, I went and stayed in a rented apartment. His uncles came to take me back to our marital home but I refused to go there. That house belonged to his family and I realized he was being manipulated by his family members, especially the sister who owns the house. So I said I would only return to the marriage if my husband rented me a different house.
We were in talks about it. I even invited my husband home. We sat and he said that he was going to think about it. Three weeks after my conversation with him to see how best he could get a place for me to move in with the kids, I just heard in town that he had gotten married to a new woman.
I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. This is the same guy who was complaining bitterly when I took him to court for neglecting his kids and not paying school fees.
It has now been one year and seven months now. He doesn’t know where I live with the kids. He doesn’t know the school they attend; he doesn’t even know how they are looking. My kids are now 21, 10, 6, and 1 year 7 months. My little baby doesn’t even know her father. But I have been fortunate to be supported by friends and some good people around.
The most painful aspect of it is that he made me commit myself to taking a loan. We started some investment together and I have to start over. I took a loan through my bank for us to do a joint commercial car business with the intention of opening joint accounts. Any time I asked him about the joint account, he would get angry.
Some of the loan money went towards a car that we were supposed to buy and then sell. Now he’s using the car with his new wife. I don’t say anything because I know my God is able, and my God will speak for me and my kids.
The Shame and Stigma
The stigma I went through from the community members, my husband’s friend, his family members, and even my workplace was so, so painful. Any day I tried going to work, I cried because people were pointing fingers at me.
I come from a Muslim community that thinks a woman is not supposed to leave her husband’s place, it’s the husband who is supposed to divorce the woman. So I had done the unthinkable, and it wasn’t easy. But God has been so gracious to me and the kids. On days that I wonder, ‘What in the world am I going to eat with my kids,’ God puts food on my table.
I have a lot of Christian friends. Some are pastors, others are church members, and they understand my situation. What I realized was when I go to the Christian community, I don’t get stigmatized or feel intimidated. They support my advocacy. But when I come to my own community, I get a lot of attacks from the Imams and the community leaders. It hasn’t been easy.
The kind of ugly things I hear in town about me. He even lied and said that I left his place because of another man and that he sacked me because I committed adultery. I am an assembly member in my community – the only elected woman among 29 men. That’s how powerful I am in the community. Through my leadership, I have been able to support most of the women in my community through NGOs and other organizations interested in supporting women.
My husband spreading a whole lot of lies about me has been painful. The stigma I’m going through for running away from an abusive marriage hasn’t been easy. The name-calling, the insults. One of his friends last week called me an adulterous woman. “You are a fornicator, that is why your husband left you. Your husband divorced you!” I told him that my God would deal with him.
My God is my witness, and He will deal with each and everyone who has hurt me and my kids because I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s just that I ran away for my life. I had to leave, and I have never regretted leaving because it saved my life and that of my kids.
God has been good. I am just now praying to God to make a divine intervention so that I can get a permanent place with my kids and relocate.
Beauty for Ashes
There is something so graceful about my separation from my husband. I have become so close to God that anytime I pray to God, something positive comes out of it. For the past one-and-half years, none of my kids has been sick or needed to be taken to the hospital.
I am going through a lot of emotional trauma sometimes because when I think about how I’ve wasted my time with him, how ungrateful he was, and how he has betrayed me, it makes me sad. But I know God loves me more than the love I had for him. So I’m now relying on God’s love.
Vimbai E. is a content marketer, ghostwriter, and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles and stories publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.