A friend of mine just asked me for my divorce timeline – who divorced who, the events surrounding it all. I took a few minutes to attempt to sum up about three years in a handful of bullet points and sent it to her, saying she could ask me anything else she wanted to. (Having nothing to hide is a beautiful thing.) As I read that summary over, I realized something: though I did not handle myself perfectly or sinlessly throughout that process, I can honestly say I did handle myself well. It was (and still is) messy and chaotic, and I have my fair share of regrets for sure, but I believe I can say, overall, that I handled it well*. That’s huge.Before I jump in with a few of the things I think I’ve been doing right, I want to share some things I’ve done wrong. But before I even get to that, I need to admit something. My ex-husband and I are not friends. Our split was not and is not amicable. (And frankly, I don’t even get that: if your divorce was or is amicable, you probably should’ve stayed married! Anyway…) I’ve heard it said that other people aren’t our enemies; that sin is our enemy, that Satan is our enemy, but people aren’t our enemies. (Side note: then why does Jesus tell us how to treat our enemies?) But if the layman’s definition of enemyis someone who is intentionally trying to hurt you, then, yes, I do have an enemy. And this, by far, is my largest regret. We cannot even look each other in the eye; we almost never communicate. So my goal in walking through this separation and divorce with a clear conscience was not to end up best buds with my ex-husband. Though, I do hope and pray that by the time my children get married, our strained relationship does not ruin their wedding days, my goal is not friendship.My goal has been two-fold. First, our kids are watching us. They see the antics, they hear the words. They know what’s truth and what’s absolutely ridiculous. When my kids look back on this time in our lives, I want them to be proud of me and to know that I told them the truth, that I did the right thing time and time again even when it was super hard, that I took the high road over and over. So, basically, one goal is to teach my children how to handle themselves in difficult relationships. And secondly, God is watching us. Whew. That thought right there takes my breath away when I really sit with it. He knows my motives, he knows my sorrow. Though it’s totally difficult to display Christ when walking through a divorce (for about a million reasons), it is not impossible and I am still trying to. He is my main audience. He is the only One whose opinion I really care about. So my other goal is to please Jesus through this whole mess.
Okay, now onto what I’ve done wrong.
Saying more than what needs to be said. If you’re at the place where you are officially walking out the ending of your marriage, words, for the most part, no longer matter or hold any real significance. And though I get this intellectually, I still want to say about ten thousand more things. I want to point out the damage being done, I want to get in my two cents, the last word. And I have done this, way more than I should have.
Obsessing. Thoughts of my hard marriage consumed me, and that did not change as I walked into my separation, especially in the first half when we were still attempting reconciliation. All that was wrong in our relationship was basically all I thought about. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my bad marriage had become an idol for me. I hadn’t learned the skill of letting go (still learning it) and it took over.
Record-keeping. This was one of my biggest obstacles to overcome. I literally kept lists on my computer of all that was going on in our relationship. I justified it in that we were looking for change but it was nothing short of a compulsion. I finally got to a place where not only did I stop keeping actual records of wrongs, but I burned lists and deleted them all from my computer, realizing I no longer needed to be holding on to those things anymore.
There are so many more things I didn’t do well, like how I handled my anger and holding on to bitterness, but here are some ideas of what I think I’ve done fairly well.
I did what I was told,even when I didn’t want to. If you are in an attempted reconciliation process, and you have people around you helping you walk through it, do what they suggest. They can see the path more clearly than you can in your immense pain. I did so many humbling, intense things that were so very difficult for me to do, but by the end, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had done every single thing I was asked to do to save my marriage, and then some.
I held my tongue. Now, not as much as I should have or could have, but more than most people will ever know. The number of things I didn’t say – and when I say say, I mean yell – could fill a book. I have wanted to defend myself, I have wanted to accuse, I have wanted to hurt back. And I have done all of these things, but I didn’t do them nearly as much as I wanted to, especially seeing as I rarely censored myself during our marriage. And now, it’s the rare moment when I bother asserting myself.
Live at peace, as far as it is up to you (Romans 12:18). I have not attacked. I have wanted to, but I haven’t. I have defended myself, but even then, I’ve chosen wisely what battles to fight. (Very few, I might add.) But I came to a place of realizing somewhere along the way that I cannot control or change anyone but myself; I can’t make someone live at peace with me, but I can attempt to live at peace with everyone. For the most part, that entails, simply, not engaging. We have the right and the choice not to keep a conversation going, not to retaliate. Sometimes, it is important to stand up for what’s right – and I am in the middle of doing that on one important issue – but most of the time, walking away is the smartest thing we can do.
Walking through a separation or a divorce can be excruciating. But let’s do this hard thing well, sweet ones. How we live this out matters.
*Let me say this about me handling things well. I need to reiterate that I don’t mean perfectly or sinlessly. I messed up so much walking through this whole process, and yet, what I mean when I say I handled things overall well, I mean two things. First, I have handled myself in the past three years better than I would have say, even five years ago. And secondly, that’s only because of Jesus in me. If any changes have been made, any progress in how I respond, any transformation of my heart and mind, it’s only because Jesus is rubbing off on me in tiny little slivers. This has not been my doing; any good that I’ve done has only been because I was yielded to Christ in me.
If this post encouraged you, you would benefit from “Unraveling: Hanging onto Faith through the End of a Christian Marriage”, found here or “Living through Divorce as a Christian Woman”, found here.
I have just started reading your blog, and I praise Jesus for your honesty & transparency. Your words are speaking to the difficult place I am in, like so many other Christian women, fighting to do the right things in a crumbling marriage against tremendous odds. Thank you for your boldness, courage, and example, and for your willingness to reach out to other hurting women even as you still hurt. May our Lord heal your wounds as you minister in His love & strength.
Great comments, Elisabeth!
I haven’t been in this process nearly as long as you have–for me it’s only been 4 1/2 months. BUT–I have also tried to go through it with dignity.
When I need to vent, I use my journal or trusted friends–that way I can get the words and feelings out but not give anyone fodder for gossip. I have decided to tell people that STBX had a girlfriend and that I was willing to work on the marriage but he was not. I also say that she was not from around here, again, so as not to fuel gossip. I thought long and hard about even giving those details, but I do NOT want people to think it was a divorce in which “we just couldn’t get along.”
Giving only the minimum details allows the truth to be told and I feel like I am holding on to my dignity too.
I am guilty of obsessing about what went wrong, and specifically my father-in-law’s role. I think I’ve transferred my anger at STBE to him. I need to get rid of that–thank you for pointing that out.
THANK YOU for your honesty in sharing your experiences.
Once again, Elisabeth you have been used by God to touch my heart in ways that needed some tendering and teaching!