Question (from Facebook community): “I had a big wave of grief this morning, mourning for the things I don’t and can’t have in my relationship with my husband. Will this always be so sad and so hard?”
Living within a difficult marriage where emotional distance reigns is not what God intended for you or your husband. He also did not intend for abuse, addiction or adultery to have any place in any marriage.
No marriage is perfect, and every marriage takes work, and every marriage has times of trouble or distance or arguing. But just like we weren’t created to live in constant stress – our bodies are created to endure short-term stress only – we also weren’t created to live within constant marital stress.
Those of us who have been in or are still in difficult marriages must work through the stages of grief (thank you, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross), as if someone has died, because something metaphorically has. Let’s think through these stages and how they apply to living within a flailing marriage.
Denial: For many of us, we refuse to believe that our marriage is harder than the average hard, for several reasons. Perhaps because we don’t know what this will mean, and what – if anything – we can do about it. Or, like the frog slowly boiling to death unaware, we have no idea really that what we’re dealing with is harder than the average hard. Maybe we grew up seeing only bad relationships so what we’re in feels normal to us. Who knows? But this stage can last a very long time, when you think something might not be right but you can’t quite put your finger on it. I lived in denial for five years, and then for another seven, on one issue, and for fifteen years on another issue. Not wanting to look reality full in the face is a powerful drug.
Anger: Like grieving a death, the stages don’t necessarily happen in order, one right after the other. I say this because I was angry through my entire marriage (and sometimes, I still am). I was angry that things had turned out the way they had; I was angry with myself for the choices I had made that led me to where I found myself; I was angry at how I felt I was being treated; I was angry that requests for help weren’t responded to the way I felt they should’ve been; I was angry that prayer didn’t seem to be turning things around; I was angry that I was just trying to live a Jesus-y life and why did this have to be my lot. If you’re not angry at all about your situation, you are more than likely still in denial.
Bargaining: I did this more than I want to admit. Jesus, please fix this…I’m begging you. If you won’t fix this, then please kill me. Okay, if you won’t kill me, please kill him (in his sleep is fine). If you won’t kill either one of us, release me. Please. Please do something. I’ll do whatever you want. Okay, I don’t think I ever outright prayed that last sentence. But looking back on my life and how I served and worked myself into the ground “for the Kingdom”, I think I might’ve been trying to bargain with my life. I will do all of these good things for you, God, if you will please, please just bring me some relief from my marriage pain. Trust me when I say, bargaining doesn’t work.
Depression: I’ve swung in and out of a low-grade, functional depression for years, but none so profound as when I fully realized my marriage was what it truly was and that there was little I could do about changing it. That left me paralyzed for a little while there, which I think is characteristic of depression. Sadness and grieving are one thing…those feel like active emotions to me. Depression equals resignation in my mind. And there were quite a few times I resigned myself to my life’s course. This is the saddest state to stay in, I think.
: This, my friend who is experiencing big waves of grief, is where I believe you are. Because you see your reality for what it truly is, you are sitting in the pain of how things really are. And it hurts. Let me say that again: it hurts
. It hurts to live in a marriage with someone who doesn’t love you, who hurts you, who hurts himself, who hurts your children. I know. And I am so, so sorry for your pain. But being in the place of acceptance is a place of freedom because you can begin to see your options (and yes, there are options). You are free to work on yourself (the only person you will be held accountable for at the end of this life). You are free to set up boundaries. You are free to learn to live and let live. You are free to learn to detach with love. You are free to live your fullest life even if you must do so alone in many ways.
Ask God to help you see your options, your freedom. Ask him to lead you to your healing, to walk you through this grieving. Sit with the pain and let it teach you, let God comfort you. It’s in these moments of being broken down that we realize we are on the verge of being built into something brand new. If we let ourselves.
If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.