I’m picturing my 20something somewhat-newly-married self coming to me, the 50something married-divorced-remarried been-around-the-block self, and saying, “My marriage is hard. Harder than I think it should be. I cry almost every day. I’m so confused. I don’t think it’s supposed to be like this. I don’t know what to do.”
First, let me say that I’m so sorry. I am just so sorry.
I can picture this so clearly because I went looking for help back then and said those things to some people who were older than me. I was in so much pain and I was desperate for someone to help me.
I was heard. Somewhat.
I was understood, a bit and yet not so much.
I was given advice. A LOT OF ADVICE.
Some good, truly. Like, look at your own planks. Sure, sure. We ALL need to do this, and I’m not being sarcastic. I really needed to. (And I still really need to.)
But some, not so good.
How often are you having sex? (Umm, actually quite a bit, especially considering we fight all the time and he’s not nice to me.)
Are you praying for him enough? (Every day, all the time, but yes, I can pray more.)
You can hold your tongue a bit more. Stop nagging him. (Okay, yes, I need to work on this. I nag a lot…I want him to stop doing this and this and this and I want him to start doing this and this and this, and all of those things are deeply important things. But you’re genuinely right, I need to work on this.)
Don’t give too much weight to the lies and the hiding. (Umm I’m sorry what??)
I’m going to read through the book of Philippians for you and tell you almost line by line what you should be doing better in your marriage. (Was the phrase “stay in your lane” not yet invented?) (Plus, I can read.)
(By the way, even though a few people knew what was actually going on in my home (i.e. not good things), for many years I was the only one repeatedly called out to be a better spouse. That’s like as if there’s an active shooter and instead of the police taking the gun away or removing the assailant from the situation, they tell the victim to just put pressure on the wounds, that no organs were hit and they’ll be fine, and maybe stop nagging the shooter about shooting them, offer him a snack, flirt with him a bit more. OML. Rant over.)
So, with all I lived through and all I lost and all I tried and all my failures and missteps and all the advice I was given that worked and all the advice I was given that did not work, what would I say to the 20something (or 30something or…) woman in a marriage that is breaking her heart?
Listen to your gut. I do not mean this in a new-agey way. I mean this in that according to Scripture, the Holy Spirit dwells within you, you’ve been given a sound mind, and you have the mind of Christ (no matter what you are being told), and if something feels wrong IT PROBABLY IS.
Get help. I know of really good pastors, some who really do get all of this. But. But I would recommend you get into counseling, with an actual therapist. And if that therapist does not understand abuse or mental illness or addiction, find a new therapist.
Look at the wheel of power & control. And ask yourself, are any of these things happening in my marriage? If they are, tell your therapist. Also, if you’re not safe or if you or your children are being physically or sexually hurt, set up a safety plan (http://www.ncdsv.org/images/DV_Safety_Plan.pdf) and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).
Is there an addiction? If your husband is an alcoholic, I cannot recommend AlAnon highly enough. Is it scary, yucky, embarrassing, etc.? Yeah, it kind of is a little bit but only at first because it’s new and different to you. Had I gone at 25 instead of 37, who knows what would’ve happened? And the practical support I received to handle my daily life in more healthy ways was life-changing and sanity-inducing. (Sidenote: I had a couple people dissuade me from going to AlAnon saying it wasn’t a Christian organization. First of all, the twelve steps are based on Scriptural principles and I frankly wish every person in the world would take themselves through the twelve steps because then what a kinder and more healed place this would be, and secondly, yes, you’ll read and hear the phrase “Higher Power”, but it’s okay, you’re a grown-up who knows what she believes and you just replace that with God in your head and it’ll be alright.)
Take care of yourself. Eat better than you’re eating. Drink more water than you’re drinking. Get more sleep than you’re getting. Move a little more than you’re moving. Drink less alcohol than you might be drinking. (No judgment, seriously, just saying.) And maybe try to do something fun or something you love at least once a week.
Journal. Even if you don’t like to write. Every day, write out longhand or in a Word doc or in your phone Notes what you are feeling that day. Get it out of you, every day. Also, while you’ve got your journal out, try to write down three things every single day that you are grateful for. This is not a cliche, gratitude literally helps us to rewire our brains and gives us little hits of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals.
Read a Psalm. Every day. It will bring you comfort, encouragement and resonance. Because every emotion is pretty much described in the Psalms and you’ll realize that it’s okay if you feel despair and anger and confusion and lostness, because you’re human and life is hard, but you’ll also be reminded that God sees you and is with you and will never leave you and is your help and rock and strength.
Read a book that isn’t for regular marriages. Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Marriage is the best book hands-down I’ve ever read on difficult marriages, and it’s written by a Christian therapist who gets it.
Create a mantra. Again, not to sound new-agey. A mantra simply is a sentence of Truth from Scripture for you to repeat as needed because, honey, all of this is too hard and too much. Mine was, “I am precious and honored in your sight and you love me even though he doesn’t.” And you can borrow mine until you create one of your own.
You are not alone. Reach out for help, to God, to a therapist, to a friend. And you are loved, you are loved, you are loved.
*Facebook group for all women: https://elisabethklein.com/join-wholehearted-group/
*webcast: Detaching with Love: https://elisabethklein.com/detaching-with-love-1/
*my podcast – All That to Say: https://anchor.fm/elisabeth-klein
*marriage assessment: http://bit.ly/marriage-assessment
And my best resource: my 3-month e-course, Marriage Methods: www.elisabethklein.com/product/marriagemethods