The short answer: God.The long answer: A hundred different ways.I will be writing this to the women I have met over the years who have told me that they are in a hard marriage and don’t know if they can keep going one more day. And trust me, I have met way too many women in that situation who are followers of Jesus married to followers of Jesus. Being a Christian does not exempt you from marital problems; in fact, the downside is, we tend to keep it to ourselves and suffer in silence much longer than the rest of the world.
Prayer. I have counted on prayer to get me through. I have begged God to work in my life and marriage more than I’ve prayed for anything else. I have sobbed my way through prayers on my bathroom floor. To be honest, though, I have also prayed more than I’d like to admit that God would release me. I wanted out of my marriage for as long as I can remember, and I was honest with God about it. But I also prayed for my spouse… on my knees… begging God to heal. I stayed through a steady stream of conversations and pleas and whispers to God.
The Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit could have done the work in me that has been done so far. I have so, so far to go, but he burned raging out of me. I still yell, I’m sad to say. I still have anger issues. But the Holy Spirit worked in me to help me hold my tongue more than I have given myself credit for. I stayed through having the Spirit of God living in me, keeping me there when I didn’t want to be there.
Friends. My friendship circle has ebbed and flowed over the past fifteen years, but one thing that every woman in my life who I trusted and confided in had in common was their fierce love for me and my family. I have never once had a friend tell me I should leave my husband. They have listened, they have prayed more than I’ll ever know, they have supported, they have written notes, they have stood by me, they have pointed me back to Jesus, and they have kept me doing everything I could do to stay put. I stayed by having women around me who loved God and honored marriage helping me stay.
Counseling. I am a fan of counseling. I must be to have tried nine of them. I love digging in and trying to figure out why I feel a certain way or why someone acts the way they do. Counseling has helped me both individually and helped our marriage in some seasons. There is something to be said about an objective third party looking at a situation and being able to tell both individuals what needs to be tweaked to move forward. I stayed by knowing when to get outside help and not letting my pride stop me from getting it.
Couples’ groups. Getting plugged into small groups with other couples helped us over the years, though I must say, you only get out of it what you put in. We were in couples’ groups where the other couples had no idea how bad things were between us, which at times made it all feel kind of pointless. But at least we showed up and were hearing things that we could work on. I stayed by trying to get us involved in community.
Books. I’m a reader, and I think it’s safe to say that if a book has been written about marriage in the past fifteen years, I have not only read it, but taken notes on it. I once had a friend borrow a book, read it, and upon returning it say, “You are the only person I know who reads a book, highlights things, and then I can see you making the changes in your life that you read about.” It’s one thing to read a book. It’s another thing to try to put what you’re learning into practice. I stayed by reading as much as I could about Christian marriage and relationships, and then trying to do what I read.
Journaling. I’ve been keeping journals since high school. I have over twenty years of journals in my hopechest that chronicle the rise and fall of my marriage. Sometimes I journaled prayers, sometimes to track what God was doing in my life. Sometimes I’d write out an argument with my husband to try to figure out what went wrong and what I could do to fix it. And sometimes all I wrote, over and over again, was, “Jesus, please help me…I can’t do this anymore…” And he would. And I’d have the strength to make it through another day. I stayed by getting my feelings out in written form which helped me stay somewhat sane through the years.
Twelve-step recovery group. I began attending a recovery group about three years ago that changed my way of relating in deep and practical ways. I learned to “live and let live”. I learned to get off my spouse’s back. I learned to keep my mouth shut, at least more than I used to. I learned to focus on what I could change in my own life. I learned to detach and let natural consequences play out. I learned how to make amends to someone. I learned that it was okay to admit that my life, or parts of it at least, were completely out of control and I needed help. I stayed because I learned how to live my life differently which in turn helped me be married differently.
Just plain staying. I remember reading something Beth Moore wrote on her blog in honor of one of her wedding anniversaries. She made a list of reasons she and her husband had made it so long and one of the reasons that stood out to me was simply, “We kept going to bed and waking up and staying another day until we realized it had been however-many years…” I stayed by not leaving. I stayed by staying one more day and then realizing another year had gone by.
Reminding myself that marriage is not forever, just another fifty years, and I could do anything for fifty years. I told myself this all the time. I can do this for fifty more years. It’s only fifty more years. That was my standard pep talk on really bad marriage days. I stayed by reminding myself that life is short compared to eternity. I stayed by reminding myself that the staying-married crown would be the most treasured crown I would have to lay at Christ’s feet.
Mantras. After particularly painful arguments where hurtful things had been said, I would say to myself, over and over again, “You are precious and honored in his sight. Jesus loves you even though your husband doesn’t.” I spent a lot of time replacing lies with truth. I stayed because I knew that I was loved even when I didn’t feel loved.
I believed I had to. I’ve touched on this already, but I believed I could not leave without disobeying God. My marriage was bad, but it wasn’t biblical-grounds-for-divorce-according-to-popular-opinion bad. (2013 author’s note: I know longer believe this.) Our marriage fell into a grey area, and no one knew what to do with it. No one, and I mean no one, in my life ever told me to leave or told me that they thought I could leave (until recently). They felt sorry for me. They prayed for me. I stayed by believing that I had to stay.
It wasn’t time for me to go. I could have left, really, at any point. There was no gun to my head. And though I practically felt that leaving was not an option, I am a human being with free will. I could have walked away. But I never felt that I should. I had not, in years past, felt I had exhausted every avenue of potential healing or change. I did not feel released. I stayed by believing I was supposed to continue staying.
Only God knows the rest. I stayed through means that I didn’t have on my own. This has been the largest, longest, most difficult part of my life ever. It has broken me down, torn me to pieces, left me wishing for death to escape the perpetual pain. That I stayed married for all those years is a mystery to me, really. I know I just listed manifold reasons and ways, but I stayed not out of my own strength, but out of God’s.
So bottomline, I stayed because of God.