If, as of late, my emotional health were one huge kicked-down brick wall, all scattered and messy, then these days you will find me putting all the bricks in their rightful place, maybe for the first time. I feel like I’m starting to take huge gulps of fresh air after not even realizing I had been choking and gasping for breath.

So I’m taking a look back, as part of my continual healing process, at things that have been said to me over the years, starting with things I was told to do about my marriage. All that I took in as the God’s Honest Truth over my life, without questioning. Most of the advice given to me over the years was solid. I even believe all of it was given to me with good intentions. But that doesn’t mean it was all right.

I am now, for whatever reason, feeling free enough and strong enough to look at some of these things and deem them just plain wrong, realizing that some damage was done.

Here are just a few pieces of advice that I am just now saying outloud were WRONG.

“I would encourage you not to get too worked up about all the lying.”  This sentence stunned me. I could not believe this was the godly advice I was being given. It actually made me doubt that it was wrong to lie; it made me doubt whether all the bad things going on were really bad (they really were). Scripture is crystal clear: lying is wrong. So, yes, if someone lies to me, no matter the reason, – let alone repeatedly – I will, from now on, officially get worked up. And, future way of handling it: I will not stand for it.

“I thought the {addiction} got better on its own and that’s why you hadn’t asked for help lately.” I can maybe see why this person thought this, but no, I stopped asking for help because I wasn’t getting helped. Please hear me: addictions do not get better on their own. Ever. In fact, if left unchecked, they will get worse. Fact.

“Pray more. Praise him more. Hold your tongue more. Serve more.” In other words, all the stuff I was already trying to do. In other words, try harder in every way to be a better wife and then such-and-such should stop.  This is good advice for the woman in an average marriage or a somewhat strained marriage. This was even good advice for me the first time I came for help. But repeatedly, over many years, telling a woman in an abusive or addiction-filled marriage to try harder not only invalidates her pain and her circumstances, leaving her feeling completely unheard and not understood, it sets her up for failure, and it falsely allows the abuser and the abused to believe that the wife really is all the things he says she is and that she is the one with the problem and that he has nothing to work on and everything he is saying and doing is her fault and therefore justified (pardon the super run-on sentence there). The loving thing to do is to stop the cycle; not keep trying to do all the things you’ve already been trying for years.

I was recently talking with a divorcing friend. Between us, we have over forty years of hard marriage under our belts. But we also have over forty years of both of us trying really hard to be better wives because we were fed the message that we weren’t good enough. We both love God, we both went to church, we both read the Bible, we both prayed, we both were in community, we both went to Bible study and recovery groups and read books. And I said to her, “Why, when we both worked so hard to keep our marriages together for so many years, why do you and I struggle with feeling guilty that our marriages failed?” I think, in part, because we were just told repeatedly to try harder. And when our efforts failed to turn it all around, we then deduced that we failed.
Listen, I get that taking advice from me can be hard to swallow because I could just be saying all the things that I was told that I didn’t like or didn’t want to do. Two thoughts on that. Even though I was told to do many things over the years that rubbed me the wrong way, I still did them. And I then even added to them. For example, I was told to praise my then-husband once a day for thirty days. I added to that to pray for him every day and to serve him every day. So, though I disagreed with the advice – given what I had just asked for help about – I still took the advice and implemented it. (And it didn’t work; I was told to stop doing it a few days in.) And secondly, I have talked to enough women and read a ton of books written by experts in these fields to know that what I’m saying here is not just coming from a woman with an ax to grind, but instead backed-up research of how to truly help women in hurting marriages. Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Yes, a small one; but one of the ways I’m working on knocking it off is by trying to reach out to others who are in the helping positions and imploring them to do things differently.
I can’t go back in time. These things cannot be unsaid to me.  My cycle can’t be stopped earlier. But, if you are someone who helps people in difficult marriages, you can make a living amends on my behalf. You can learn what to say and what not to say to those who are hurting. You can help someone stop a painful or dangerous marriage in its tracks. You can have a say in potentially turning around marriages before it’s too late, because side note, there does sometimes come a too late.

Though I wish I knew all that I know now way back then, I am so totally grateful that I finally learned it. The hard way, for sure, but I will be so much less easily fooled and so much less easily told-what-to-do from this day forward.

Seeing – and feeling – clearly is a beautiful thing. Let’s go forth in gentleness, lending a listening ear and soft words to those who are begging for our help.

“Then you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” –John 8:32-


If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.

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