I talk a lot about how there’s always help available and therefore always hope available for you and for your marriage, no matter where you find yourself. I also emphasize that if you’re going to get that help, you are the one who needs to do it.
But in case I’ve never laid this out for you before, I want to tell you exactly what I did to get the help I/we needed. It will, of course, differ in every situation. But I think it’s important that you hear this because I’ve unfortunately heard too many stories of women complaining that their churches didn’t help them (and that is sometimes the case) when it turns out they just didn’t like the help that they were being offered.
Before I talk specifically about the fifteen-month church-led reconciliation attempt process, I need to touch on a few things I did during the marriage.
First, my entire marriage, I prayed for us. Big-time. I truly did. Now, my prayers might have been selfish at times or just me crying with my Bible in my lap, but I did pray. And that is where anyone in a hard marriage must start.
I was constantly reading marriage books, anything I could get my hands on. And I would try to put into practice what I read, even when I didn’t agree with it.
For the majority of our marriage, either we were in counseling or I was in counseling. I knew we needed help from the beginning and I initiated this as often as I could. If I were rebuffed, I went alone.
I asked older women for marriage advice, or at least, asked them about their marriages and took a ton of mental notes.
Finally, I dragged myself into the rooms of a twelve-step recovery group kicking and screaming, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. The two years I spent attending that group were pivotal in my waking up and my healing.
Okay, but now onto our reconciliation attempt. In January of 2010, I decided it was time I started counseling again, on my own, to attack one very specific issue in my life. I felt like I was angry all the time, and I didn’t want my children looking back on their childhoods and remembering me as an angry woman. So I got a recommendation from a previous counselor to work with one of her colleagues who specialized in anger management. And I went. I told her my story and then said, “This is my life. The circumstances are not going to change. So I need you to help me learn how not to be so angry anymore.” She said she’d try and we went on from there. Key point: I focused on my part and my life. Another key point: I initiated this counseling process. I did not just sit back and complain about my life. (Don’t get me wrong; I complained about my life…a lot…too much…but l also did something about it as well.)
Around this time, I began taking an anti-depressant. I’m not telling you this because a pharmaceutical company gives me a kickback but because I want to add to breaking the stigma. It took me a long time to decide to take one and with the help of my doctor and a couple trusted friends, I decided I needed a little something to attempt to help me break out my funk. The timing turned out to be perfect as my life was, unbeknownst to me at the time, about to spiral out of control.
Within the first month of counseling sessions, she suggested that my marriage might be characterized by various types of abuse and introduced me to the Power & Control Wheel of Abuse, which, as you might imagine, blew my mind. That counseling session changed everything for me. Everything. I went home and spent the next week combing through twenty years’ of journals as if I were an investigative journalist, jotting down incidents on a list to see if what the counselor believed matched my life. Unfortunately, it turned out that her summation was spot on.
Around this time, a blow-up took place that led me to ask for help on a specific financial issue from a former mentor of ours. He suggested that if we just addressed that issue, we’d just be putting a band-aid on a broken marriage, and he recommended we connect with a new couple who could mentor us.
So, I took that list of incidents I had compiled and met with my then-husband and this new mentor couple and shared the list with all three of them. I knew that this would be a turning point and I was terrified. Because for the first time, I would be letting the entire cat out of our shiny, cute, perfect-Christian-family bag that I had for so long been trying to keep quiet. In preparation for this meeting, I had my then-husband and I take separate cars to the meeting place as I had no idea what the outcome would be. It was as hard and polarizing and awful as you might imagine. There was shock and accusations. But it was the right thing to do and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I told them that I was not saying I was sinless, that our marriage was broken because of both of us, but that this was not how it was supposed to be, I couldn’t do it anymore, and I was asking for their help to make it stop.
At this point, many more people were brought into our situation, so that at this time I was seeing a counselor on my own, we were going to be meeting with this mentor couple, I was going to meet separately with the wife and my current mentor, my then-husband was supposed to meet with the husband of the new mentor couple, we were going to begin couples’ counseling with a new counselor, we were each to see the new counselor individually, our campus pastor was brought in along with our elder couple, and we were assigned a mediator. We were given a team, basically.
Here is where you need to hear me super clearly. I know that this is rare. I realize that there is a chance I had a foot in the door as I had been on staff at this church. And I know that having nine adults spend fifteen months on your marriage sounds crazy and who would do that for anyone?! I get that.
And let me also add: this was messy. I didn’t know when it was going to end. I was asked to do things that I didn’t want to do. (It’s not like they told me to go on shopping sprees and snuggle with kittens. It was more like make lists of all your faults and apologize to your husband for them and open your cold, hard heart even if it kills you. Stuff like that.) I was humbled and humiliated. I had to tell them everything. I had to admit how horrible of a wife I was. I was ashamed. I was scared. I was sad. I was bone tired. I was beyond broken. It was the hardest and worst stretch of life I have ever gone through. But I am so proud of that time in my life because though it was hard, I made myself do it.
My mentor and I were just talking about this last night. We were talking about how I had heard of a woman who told me her perception of how her church had failed her and then I heard the church leader’s side and how they totally didn’t match up. And my mentor reminded me, “But you were doing things. You initiated all this. You were going to counseling on your own. You were emailing us and keeping us updated and asking for help and doing what we were telling you to do. That’s the difference.”
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not making myself out to be the champion of my rescue. And though yes, I was depressed and cried a lot and felt hopeless and slept more than an adult should sleep and complained and all of that, I did not just sit there and wait for someone to help me. I asked for and asked for and asked for the help. I was annoying. I was a pain in all of their collective necks for fifteen months. I was an absolute nuisance. (I don’t think any one of them would say that to me, but I’m no fool.)
But you know what? I would absolutely be a pain in their necks again if finding myself in that situation again. Do you know why?
Because I was fighting for my marriage and I was fighting for my children and I was fighting for my wholeness. It was horrible and holy all at the same time. And I’d do it all again. And if you want to try to save your marriage (or if you believe it’s time to walk away but want to be able to do so with your head held high), I recommend trying what I did the best way you can. Be open, be willing, be scared, be brave. Ask for help until you really get it. And then fight.
*The end of that fifteen-month reconciliation attempt went like this: a final meeting where I was released by my church leadership to legally separate after being told I had done all that was expected of me, and then receiving divorce papers three months later. A very sad ending to all of this, but an ending nonetheless.
If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.