When I was married the first time, I was the word that rhymes with witch. I really wish I could come up with a better word, but that sums it up. Now, not all of the time, of course. But I was controlling. I was a nag. I was a codependent enabler who both lived in denial and laid out guidelines that I didn’t enforce. My predominant emotions – in my then-husband’s presence – were deep sadness, loud anger, profound disappointment and utter disapproval. (I was a joy to be around, you can imagine.)
Had you asked me while in my marriage if that were the case, I would not have agreed with that assessment. Because I was in pain. And pain tends to skew our perceptions.
But I wonder, do you think about your marriage and your husband or soon-to-be-ex-husband and what he’s doing to you often? And by often, I mean, all the time? More than anything else? When you’re falling asleep, in the middle of the night, when you’re in the shower, when you’re putting on make-up, when you’re running errands, when you’re driving? If so, there is a chance that you are obsessed with your hard marriage or your ex-husband and you have made it (or him) an idol.
So, this is a gentle warning to those of you who are living in the daily stress of a difficult marriage and to those of you who are newly separated or freshly divorced.
Shift your perspective. Your entire life is not defined by your marriage or your divorce. It shouldn’t be. Just like your entire life shouldn’t be defined by your job or by being a parent, it shouldn’t be defined by one role or one circumstance, though I completely understand the tendency to do so as you’re trying to untangle your marriage knots (all on your own, more than likely) and as you’re trying to grieve and recover, and it can be all-consuming.
Be grateful for the good things in your life. There are good things in your life. You woke up today. Every day may not be a good day, but every single day is a gift. Tell God specifically what you are grateful for, every day.
Own your part. There are people who over-own their problems – “Everything is my fault!” “I’m a horrible person!” – and there are people who under-own their problems – “He did this to me!” “I’m only in this situation, this amount of pain, because of her!”. I see much more of under-owning syndrome in my work, I’m sad to say. But the healthy place is a balance of realizing that others have done things to us, that we have done things to ourselves, and that we have done things to others too (thanks, Mike Foster, for crystallizing this concept). We want to be people who fully realize that where we’re at in life is in part due to others and ourselves, not solely one or the other. And one of the greatest things I can share with you is that when I finally began to look at my part in the downfall in my marriage, my healing truly began.
This may be difficult to swallow but you must, and I mean MUST, stop blaming your husband or ex-husband (EVEN if he is an abuser; EVEN if he is an addict; EVEN if he is an adulterer; EVEN if he is an abandoner). Your husband or ex-husband may be hurting you, deeply, on a regular basis, and I get that. (Oh my lands, I GET THAT and I am so very sorry.) But he is not 100% to blame for the state of your marriage or the post-marriage circumstances you find yourself in. There are two of you. And you are a grown woman.
So do the hard work of looking at your own heart and your own actions. Are there things you can change in yourself? Are there phrases you can stop saying that you know set off your husband? Are their actions you can tweak? Is there a support group or a counselor you can try?
(I am not trying to be harsh with your fragile heart. If your marriage just recently imploded, I am not suggesting you dive into figuring out everything you did wrong this very minute. Being mad and sad and shocked and even a bit stuck in your pain is all part of the process of grieving and healing. I, of course, want and need you to show yourself grace during this season. But if your marriage has been in your rearview mirror for months – or even years – and you have yet to take a look at your role in its demise, it’s more than time for you to do so.)
I hear hard stories all day every day about women in marriages that are soul-crushing and heart-consuming. I used to be in one just like that, so they resonate with me deeply. And I believe these women. And I know that their pain is very, very real. So when I say what I’m saying, I am saying it from a place of being there.
But a lot of times I hear one complaint after another. And the fingers are almost always pointing outward. Every husband or ex-husband is the bad guy (and not just the bad guy, but a jerk, an idiot, a #$!); and every wife is the victim. But that just isn’t reality. It can’t possibly be reality. God didn’t create men to be hurtful idiots and women to be doormat-y martyrs across the board. Being a hurt-er is not gender specific.
Listen, I understand that you are hurting. I understand that you may be doing everything you can think of to fix your marriage or to heal through your divorce. I even understand that you may feel trapped, or hopeless, or think there is nothing more you can do, that you are doing everything right, and that feel your husband or ex-husband is just evil or sick or what-have-you.
I know. So I say this as gently as I know how to say it: you and your husband own equal shares in your marriage. And you and your ex-husband own equal shares in your divorce.
If you feel like your marriage is the same as it was a year ago or five years ago, or its getting worse, then you need to make some changes. If you feel like you’re just not getting over your divorce, you don’t have to stay stuck forever. And it can start with this: stop blaming, because blaming never, ever made anything better. And then ask God what’s next. Ask God what you can do. And ask God to remind you who you are: loved.
If you need more help in this area, Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage is a very practical guide to walk through the day-to-day in integrity, and Unraveling: Hanging onto Faith through the End of Your Christian Marriage can help you navigate your every divorce emotion.