Content note: contains specific examples of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse between my parents.
My dad was in town this week and reminded me that the last time he was in town, I asked him if he had "an exit strategy" with regards to my mom. I said "yeah, I think you shouldn't be together." Later he mentioned it two more times and I realized that this had made an impact. I feel oddly vindicated that during this conversation my dad said he hadn't been happy for 25 years. I did the math and realized 25 years ago was the first time I started telling my parents to get a divorce.
He told me several stories I'd heard before: how she flew into a rage, beat him with her fist, and left him with over a dozen bruises. How she punched him in the face and gave him a black eye. How she broke down his bedroom door when he locked it to keep her out (in a house she didn't even live in).
But I was raised in a house of hitting, yelling, and breaking things, so that doesn't horrify me as much as the emotional abuse. She makes him account for every waking minute: what time did you leave work, where did you go after, etc. She will not let him leave an argument: she will chase him down and yell at him continuously. He doesn't keep a journal anymore because she broke into it and weaponized it against him. He has elaborate rules for being around women (or people he thinks are women) because she will torment him if she thinks he is interested in someone, and she is not rational about it: she made him change the way he hugs his sister because they used to hug chest to chest and my mom found that too erotic.
I said these things are abuse, and he said he knows. I asked why he has not left and he said "because it would ruin us" (meaning financially). But he keeps talking about wanting to own his own business, and he casually talks about retiring and going back to school and putting my brother through school. Those are not things a broke person discusses without even mentioning money.
I said "I think instead of daydreaming about owning a business, you should daydream about getting a divorce." And I asked how he thinks he's going to be able to get any satisfaction in life when he is enduring this daily abuse. He said that he hopes to outlive her. He thinks it is impossible to leave.
I told him that even when he was happy with their relationship, it wasn't good because they have never understood each other. He's autistic, and she's not, nor does she accept that his mind works differently from hers. She has always wanted him to give her all his attention whenever she's around, which to me sounds like torture since they live together.
I tried to illustrate how much better it could be by explaining that my partner and I understand each other and are independent, and we make no demands on each other's attention. Instead, we send requests through texts when we are both home, so that we don't interrupt each other or prevent each other from having the down time we need. We respect each other's needs. As usual when I say something about how much better it could be, he was silent.
People talk about abuse like it is easy to separate the abuser and the abused, but my parents abuse each other. When I was a child, my dad would sexually assault my mom as a "joke" (pinch her nipples when she didn't want it and said no, then laugh at her being upset) and I'm pretty sure he did worse behind closed doors. He would break her favorite dishes as a symbolic physical attack. He controlled all her relationships and got mad every time she wanted to spend time with someone other than him. He says cutting, demeaning things to her. When she got drugged and raped during a time when they were separated he blamed her and refused to believe it was rape for years.
They have both damaged each other so much that I am sure it is impossible for them to ever be anything but abusers to each other. As soon as you deliberately try to hurt your partner, trust is broken. When that happens over and over, it builds an ever-increasing chasm that at some point, you don't have enough years of life left to cross.
They're both in their 60s at this point and have been hurting each other on purpose for at least 15 years (before which, they hurt each other plenty but mostly on accident). They might have enough life left but I doubt it, because they'd both have to stop their attacks on each other immediately and completely. At this point they are both too scared of being alone to take the time apart they would need to break their habits of attacking each other.
So I keep pushing for them to break up, like I have for the past 25 years.