Trapped in a JW Marriage


So many years of living in misery, living out the “truth” of the organization, day in and day out.   At this time in my life, I have been excommunicated from the organization (the church) for over 12 years, since my divorce from my first husband.  I was raised in an environment where the trust in the values of the organization was paramount.  Maybe it was a combination of our Hispanic culture and our faith that led my parents to create a bubble of protection around me, filtering out the harsh realities of the real world. But when I eventually awoke to the real world, I was, for a time, crushed and uncomprehending.    Our God was supposed to be the true god, the righteous, the omnipotent, the just—and first and foremost—the God of Love.  I was raised in a positive and caring environment.  I had good parents.  But, the extreme beliefs I was taught seem so distant now.  I don’t blame my parents; they did what they believed was right at the time.

I was raised as a very sheltered, very devout Jehovah’s Witness to Mexican parents.  I had an older brother and two older sisters.  I was the youngest.   I was so happy and carefree during my childhood.  We had a close-knit family.

Exactly seven days after I turned 18, I walked down the aisle towards my future husband, 12 years my senior.  I longed to be married to him.   This man was a “catch” by the standards of our church.  He was the most zealous and devout Jehovah’s Witness one could ever encounter.  He had served as a “regular pioneer” for most of his adult life, meaning that he was required to spend 90 hours per month preaching and proselytizing door-to-door among strangers. He had lived in reality what most JW men only hope to be able to put on their resumes one day.  He had served at the JW world headquarters in New York City for over a year.  He was a ministerial servant in the congregation.   He appeared to live a simple, modest life.  He was humble, but he was also charismatic.  He was loud and completely extraverted.  He had a true gift for telling a story.  He gave eloquent presentations and talks from the stage.  He counseled many men, young and old.   Most people were intimidated by him.  Some respected or revered him.  Others saw right through his façade to something less genuine.  My father was in the last group.  My father begged me not to marry this man, but he knew that as soon as I turned 18, he could not stop me.

I did marry him.  An inexperienced, sheltered, 18-year old virgin.  I had never dated, never had a boyfriend, and never even got beyond the kiss that a boy stole from me on the school bus one day.

Engaged and then as a married woman, I felt so privileged, so mature.  All of these feelings later turned to self-righteousness and entitlement, a common experience among JWs who believe that they partake of the only true religion. They believe they are the only true Christians, a very special flock to their God. I believed then that I was what every young woman should aspire to be.  My father was an Elder in the congregation. My older brother was also an Elder and he and his wife were also “regular pioneers.”  My sister and I were “regular pioneers” at that time as well.   I was the epitome of a young Latina and a Jehovah’s Witness, so fortunate to have married such an exemplary man at such a young age.  As it turned out, however, he had our congregation, most of my family, and me fooled for a long time.  I did not find out how I had been fooled until two years later.

During the marriage, while I felt privileged, I also felt humble and meek, subservient to my husband, as I believed the Bible teaches us to be.  Two years into our marriage, I began working at a job outside our home, and my husband quit his job and continued to serve Jehovah.  I would bring home every paycheck and endorse it over to my husband.  He would allow me $10 per week to cover my personal expenses.  (Yes, ten dollars a week.)  I had no check book, no credit cards, and no access to the bank account that was in his name alone.  He too was Hispanic, from Ecuador, and so, along with his expectations of me because of our religion, his culture also demanded him to be the head of the household and, consequently, I was to be the obsequious wife.  It was “not my place” to question him.  I played the quiet little wife, at least for the time being.

Eventually, my husband bought a house for “us.”  It was purchased in his name only and he bought it with the money I had earned. I was constantly reminded how little I knew about managing money and finances and how smart my husband was with our money.  Eventually, my husband had a window cleaning business that he sold to a brother in the congregation, but we continued to collect a percentage of the profits. We were financially well off.  We travelled to Cancun twice a year, took cruises in the Caribbean, and once visited friends in Puerto Rico.

While we were out sightseeing with our friends in Puerto Rica, my husband suddenly grabbed my hand to hold in his, just as a gesture of affection perhaps, but it felt so awkward to me.  So bizarre.  It made me so uncomfortable.  He had never done that before.  Our friend’s mother shouted at the top of her lungs in Spanish:  “It’s about time.  I’ve never seen you two kiss or hold hands. It’s been seven days!”  Touching?  Kissing?  I suppose that would have been normal and natural for a young couple, but not for us.  He had never kissed me except for the peck on the cheek he gave me after we were pronounced man and wife on our wedding day.    Sex wasn’t a regular occurrence for us either, and when we did have sex, it was very sterile, clinical almost, no caressing or kissing.  He required a towel on the bed beneath us and he showered immediately afterward, as though sex were a dirty or forbidden act that he had to protect himself from.

At work, where I interacted with other women who were not of my faith, I began to realize their lives were not like mine.  Their marriages were different—they were fun and equal. And these women friends would tell me about their sex lives.  My marriage was the polar opposite of theirs.  On our wedding night, my husband directed my hand to his penis to give him a hand job.  I remained a virgin for a year after our wedding, as we did not consummate our marriage until we had been married for a year.

Years passed, and I began to grow frustrated, curious, and then angry.  I went to my mother to talk to her about it.  I trusted her with my secrets. She had no idea what was going on behind closed doors.  I was a master at hiding my emotions; I had learned from the best.  She broke down in tears when she heard my story.  She held me close to her.  She had never before showed me that kind of emotion or tenderness.  Being a Hispanic woman, physical affection is not how you show your children that you love them.  I don’t blame my mother, nor hold it against her.  Today we have strongest of bonds we have ever had and are emotionally closer than ever. She told me to hang in there, gave me some advice (from the Bible, of course), and asked me to check in with her often.

Shortly after that, I got a promotion at work.  At 23, I became a manager of a large, high-volume jewelry store, with a lot of responsibility. I loved my job! I had great friends at work—but only at work, as I was not allowed to associate with other “worldly” people outside of my job. Sometimes, I would lie to my husband and tell him I was working late so that I could stay a while after work to visit with my friends.  I also started to realize that men who came in the store were flirting with me.  Some told me I was beautiful.  I used to be uncomfortable when men flirted with me.  I would get angry and snobbish and self-righteous, but now, I liked the attention.  I never once heard my husband tell me that I was pretty or that he loved me.  I began to crave more.

One day, the jewelry company I worked for flew all of the region’s store managers to Seattle for a two-day training conference.  My husband reluctantly allowed me to go, although he was not happy about it.  He had even threatened to accompany me to the conference so that I wouldn’t associate too closely with “those people.”  I lied and told him that he didn’t need to come as each day was fully planned for us—and besides, all of the women were sharing rooms so he couldn’t possibly come along (but in fact we each had our own room).  The first day there, we all decided to go to a fancy martini bar that someone knew about.  I had never been in a bar before.  I was in for quite an amazing awakening.  So THIS is what I had been missing out on!  Friends, drinking, flirting, and fun.  Men hit on me over and over that night.  Later, we all piled into a cab to continue the party at our hotel.  It was the best night of my life.  Later, friends started to leave for their own rooms.  I didn’t want the evening to end.   A few of us ended up in my boss’ room, until finally, he kicked everyone else out, and I was alone with him.  I was nervous and had a knot in my stomach, but I was also invigorated and excited—and my boss was certainly aware of my frame of mind. I woke up the next morning in my own hotel room.  I knew what had happened the night before, but the details were blurry.  I had no guilt, no remorse, only a smile from ear-to-ear.  I felt so alive.  I finally understood why my friends talked about their sex lives.

I went back home to my mundane daily life—meetings of the congregation on Sundays and Wednesdays; weekends for spreading the “truth” from door-to-door; and family gatherings and dinners with only brothers and sisters from the congregation, discussing only the teachings of the Bible.  I still couldn’t get that weekend away out of my head.  I began to feel guilty.

One evening, I had built up enough courage to ask my husband for some extra money to buy a new outfit for work.  He had always been the one to pick out my clothes.  In fact, I was not allowed to go shopping alone.  He always accompanied me and had me try things on for him so he could be sure I was covered me from head to toe.  Not only my clothes, he picked out my shoes and stockings—everything.  Our marriage had become distorted.  We were no longer husband and wife; it was a twisted father-daughter relationship.  In any case, I had convinced myself that I had the strength to ask for some extra money.   I was so distracted by my own feelings of anxiety about asking for money that I forgot to knock on his office door before I entered.  I walked in and he was sitting there in his leather chair, in front of his computer, with his hands down his pants.  I had walked in on him masturbating to porn.  I was so terrified and embarrassed that I didn’t know what to do. I ran out and went to our bedroom.  I felt hurt and betrayed, but I had no idea what to expect him to do next.

I am five feet tall and he is almost six feet.  He came into the bedroom and closed the door behind him.  My sister and brother-in-law were living with us, so he couldn’t yell.  He walked right up to me and towering over me, intimidating me, he whispered, “If you say anything to anyone, remember it’s your word against mine.”  I whispered, “OK.”  Then he added, “I have a reputation to uphold, and no one will believe you anyway.”  I stood there frozen.   I was bewildered and frightened and didn’t know what to do.  Maybe to some people, porn is not a big deal, but to a devout JW, it is an abomination.  Then he pushed me down, and while I had tears streaming down my face, he masturbated on top of me.

I could not look at him after that day.  I couldn’t lie next to him.  I knew I had to get away, but suddenly, I felt like such a hypocrite. I tried to bury it for a time, to pretend it didn’t happen.  I had become afraid of this man, this monster. I had no idea what to do.  I had no friends in the congregation I could discuss this with. Nobody my age wanted to be friends with me because I had become so worldly, a woman with a job, no longer a “regular pioneer,”   a JW who missed meetings from time-time because of work obligations.  Besides, my husband was unfortunately right; no one would believe me.  And even more, part of my story was that I had become an adulteress.  Who would want to talk to me?  Who would believe a JW who had her own secrets?

I made a plan.  I would just leave him and not tell him where I went.  When I got my next paycheck, I went straight to the bank and opened my own account. The same day, I went to look for my own apartment. He suspected that I was doing something to protect myself, as just as I was pulling into the parking lot to go to work, I spotted him carrying a bouquet of flowers for me.  He had never given me flowers before.  I accepted the bouquet and then I lied and told him I had been to the bank for work.  I told him I had to get back to work and I hurried back into the store.  He left.

When I told my friends at work what had happened, they all wanted to help me and they said, “We have to get you out of that house right now!” Actually, our house was for sale at that time, so I called my husband and said that the realtor had called and wanted to show the house the next day.  During the supposed “showing,” when my husband had to be out of the house, I could come with some friends and take my clothes and a few valued possessions.  We threw things into the back of our cars and drove off.  I spent the night with a woman friend, with my cell phone turned off.  I called my mom the next day to let her know I was fine.  I asked if I could come and talk to her.  I went and told her everything, including what I had done on my weekend away.  She held me and comforted me.   She begged me to go to the Elders of the congregation and confess everything.  I couldn’t do that.  I had no desire to confess to anyone.

A few days went by with my husband showing up at my workplace, an entourage of Elders accompanying him.  I kept them at bay as long as I could, but they grew frustrated and demanded to know why I had left my husband.  One Elder in particular called me on the phone one day and asked me if I had been in the company of another man.  He said that my husband had heard that I had had other men over to my apartment. I was in fact already seeing the man who would later become my husband.   My now husband, had spent one night at my new apartment after we had been on a few innocent dates, my brother and sister spent the night in their vehicle and took turns watching my apartment all night.  In the morning they saw him come out of my apartment. I denied it.  Shortly after that, I got a letter notifying me that the congregation had formed a “committee” to review my “case.”  The letter informed me that I had to appear before the committee to plead my case and prove my innocence, otherwise they would assume I was “living in sin,” in which case I would be excommunicated and would never be able to see my family again.  The only painful part of the letter was hearing that my relationship with my family was at stake. At this point I was fed up with the Elders and my husband who was playing a victim throughout this time.

I didn’t show up. I later learned that the “informants” in this case had been my own brother and older sister.  I later received a second letter from the congregation, saying that an announcement would be made at the next meeting at the Kingdom Hall announcing I would be disfellowshipped from the congregation.  I went to my mother again for comfort, and she begged me to contact the Elders to explain what had really happened, before the announcement was made.  So, at her request, I did.  I met with two Elders.  (For one Elder—even a holy one–to meet alone with a woman might prove to be too much temptation for a man to withstand. So, I met with two Elders enlightened by the Holy Spirit.)  I confessed everything.  I told them how sorry I was and how guilty I felt.  I begged for forgiveness.   I told them about my marriage and about what I had caught my husband doing.  The Elders appeared shocked at what they heard; I felt hopeful that they believed me and understood.  They asked me to step outside the room.  Two minutes later, they called me back in.  One of the Elders said that “It was too late and too soon.”  It was too late to confess and be forgiven, and it was soon after to have proven to them that I had repented. They were about to dismiss me from the room and  the congregation –  but first I had to listen to them read some Bible verses about repentance. The congregation required sinners to show signs of repentance and regular attendance to the meetings in order to be considered back in the flock.  You are not allowed to speak to anyone at the meetings or outside of the kingdom hall that is a JW as you are considered a bad influence to the innocent and may lead them down your same path of corruption.  You are not allowed to pray with the congregation during the meetings.  You are required to leave the meetings a few minutes early so that you speak to no one. They teach us that Jehovah approves of this process so as to keep his flock protected. They teach us that God has not instantly forgiven the sinner; he must show changes in his/her life and prove they are no longer living in sin.  The Elders determine the length of time, for some it is 9 months, for some it has been years, but never less than a minimum of several months. Stunned, I realized they had not believed me.  “What about him?” I asked.  I could not fathom that I was being “punished,” but that my husband, who had presented himself as holy and above reproach, was apparently not held responsible for his sinful act.  The Elder asked, “Do you have any proof this happened?”   “Of course not,” I replied in disbelief. “How could I have proof of such a private act? What could there be that I could show you?”   The Elder replied in a patronizing manner, “This is an extremely serious accusation for you to be throwing around without proof.  I think you feel cornered and are looking around for a way out.”  I sobbed uncontrollably.

I felt defeated and betrayed. My husband had become an Elder in the congregation by that time.  The other Elders believed him and not me. In their eyes, he was an innocent victim and I was an adulterating whore. He made himself out to be a true believer an upstanding member of the congregation—while I was not.  That was all that mattered—not the truth, just the perception.   I walked out of the Kingdom Hall that day and never looked back.  I took satisfaction in my own simple act of rejection of this faith and its repression of both men and women.

I went right to my mother and told her what had happened.  Eventually, she told my father.  Soon after, my whole family knew about it—my brother and sisters and their spouses.  I later found out that my brother and my older sister had stationed themselves outside of my apartment building, keeping watch over my comings and goings and reporting everything to my husband.  My husband had put them up to it.  “Why?”  I asked my husband, wondering why they would spy on me.  “I needed a reason to divorce you,” my husband replied, “and now I have one.”   They had seen my boyfriend, later my husband, come to my apartment.

After our divorce, my ex-husband decided to move to California. My brother, my sisters, and their spouses took him out for a going away dinner before he moved because he was as good as family to them.  I was not, however. I had been shunned by my own family and by all of the JWs.    Everyone associated with the congregation refused to speak to me, except for my mother and father occasionally.  It took me a while to understand the psychology behind this, but I figured out that when men become gods, they control the congregation, they set the rules and the limits, they assume the role of little dictators, and they judge others who are not “them” with the harshest of judgements. The transgressions and foibles and mistakes of human beings become unforgiveable in their eyes, and there may be no redemption.  For them, God only favors the obedient—or perhaps those who appear obedient.  The God of kindness, love, and forgiveness that I was raised to believe in is, in fact, not to be found within these men or women or within this religion.  God played no part in guiding the hand of these people. The man that I had married and the people who supported him are a lie.  Everything I knew to be comforting and loving in my family was torn apart by this religion.  This religion, and its adherents, purport to offer solace to sinners, adulterers, criminals, and fornicators, but they could not summon the strength and love to speak to one of their own sisters, even to this day.  Nowadays, I hardly ever look back or think much about this part of my life.  I am happy and fulfilled now—a wife and a mother of two beautiful children.   And, with my mother and my father, this is all the family I will ever need.  Some time ago, completely unexpectedly, my sisters wrote to me and asked for my forgiveness. They begged me to “come back” to the congregation so that they can call me, see their nephews and rebuild our family, but only if I return. Perhaps it is harsh to say but there is no mutual forgiveness between us to be had.  I have accepted that they will only be in my life if I return to the congregation, which I will not do.  My mother and father have accepted my decision and have been the most supporting and loving parents I could have ever dreamed to have.  I see them and speak to them regularly.  My father said to me a few years ago, there is nothing to forgive; if I feel good about my personal relationship with god, than that is all I should worry about. He and I and my mother are closer than ever.  They see my boys as often as possible and show no favor between their four grandchildren.  The rest of my family remains devout JW’s, including them.

Guest post by Janet













About the Author Karen Garst