Good morning friends,
I just returned from San Antonio where I spoke to the Christian Counselors of Texas. What a great group! The highlight of the trip was that I invited my best friend from high school to come and help me with my book table. She lives in Austin, so it was great to get together and reminisce on our lives.
Speaking on the emotionally destructive marriage this weekend and recently being on Focus on the Family elicited a lot of questions in my e-mail. Here is one from a dear woman who is struggling with bitterness and resentment.
Today’s Question: Twenty-five years of resentment and anger build-up has now manifested into bursts of outrage and anger. I raised 3 children without the help of my husband either physically, spiritually or emotionally. He is a very good man and a deacon in the church, but did nothing to help me with the house or children. I was expected to take care of that. When I would ask for help, he would get mad and pop his recliner up and be angry that I asked. So I didn't. He never changed a diaper, fed a bottle, prayed a prayer, read a book, gave a bath, brushed a tooth, washed a single dish or cloth, or helped with lessons/school. His hobbies and play time never included me or the children, even church activities. Now the years of resentment have built up so terribly that I can't hide it from my kids and now they think “Momma” is the one with problems. They are losing respect and love for me because they don't have any idea what my life has been like for 25 years.
I was the one trying to set rules and pray before meals, but when rules are not enforced by dad, they don't work. I was a stay-at-home Mom. My children have been either home-schooled or attended Christian school. I have done all I can, but I see them slowly drifting from God and toward the world, and that horrifies me. My husband has made it clear to my son (aged 24) that he is not welcome in our house. He is a great boy. He never drank, did drugs or used bad language and he always attended church, but my husband just doesn't like him (he says it’s a personality conflict).
I cry all the time because there is no fix for my despair. It is not me who suffers but it is my children who have suffered spiritually. My situation is so different because my children are the ones affected by it. I love him and he loves me but the damage is already there. And the years are gone where he could have taught them God's love instead of teaching all the church. No one at our church has any idea about this. They think we are a perfect Godly family with Godly children (which they are now) and everything is great. My girls (aged 19 &17) don't even like spending time with me anymore, and when I try to do a Bible study with them, they resent it. The special close relationship that we have always had is fading. I have nothing else to hold on to because this is a no-fix situation. I pray that God will turn my emotions into stone so that I don't have to feel pain anymore.
Answer: I’m sorry you feel such despair and hopelessness. You say it’s not you who is suffering but your children, but you sound like you’re in a great deal of pain. You also say that your situation is different because your children are the ones affected, but if you scroll down through the weeks in this blog you will see that most women in difficult or destructive marriages feel that their children are being deeply affected. You are not alone, and your situation is not unusual.
All children are affected by the emotional climate in their home and how their parents handle the ups and downs of relational life. Now you indicate that your children are becoming even more affected because of your inability to contain your 25 years of anger and resentment. They don’t want to spend time with you doing Bible study, and I’m wondering if it’s because what you’re trying to teach them through the scriptures is what you’re having a hard time actually living out in your own life?
You sound like a person who wants to live by Biblical principles. You’ve not left your husband in spite of how difficult it is and was with the children growing up. You say you love him and he loves you, but the damage is already there. So why have you stayed, especially when you’ve stayed with a heart that’s so full of such toxic emotions? If you have stayed because you believe that God calls you to stay, then don’t you believe God also calls you to forgive, live in peace and let go of these negative emotions too? If you’ve stayed for other reasons such as you can’t afford to leave, you’re afraid to live on your own or some other reason, then perhaps it’s time to look at your own role in enabling the destructive dance to continue.
It may come as a shock to you, but your husband is not 100% responsible for the state your marriage is in right now. He may be indifferent or lazy or uncaring in not responding to your needs for help, but what you did with that added to the destructive dance the two of you are now in. Instead of setting some boundaries, speaking up or standing up for yourself, you sucked it up and did it all yourself, but at what cost? The resentment and bitterness you’ve held is now poisoning your spirit and your relationship with your children. Is that what you want?
You say your husband has declared that your oldest son is not welcome in your home because of a personality difference. Why haven’t you put your foot down and said, “I’m sorry but that doesn’t work for me. It’s my home too, and I love our son and want him to feel welcome here. If you don’t want to be here when he’s here, that is your choice, but I’m not going to tell him he can’t come.” Instead you seethe with anger at your husband’s power over you. He only has that power because you allow it.
Headship doesn’t mean that he gets his way all of the time. Submission doesn’t mean you have to do everything he wants all the time. That more aptly describes the relationship between inmates and prison guards or victims in concentration camps
I strongly encourage you to get the help you need to learn to respectfully put your foot down as well as to let go of these toxic emotions. You don’t want them to further damage your health and your relationships with your grown children. Whether or not your marriage ever improves is not solely up to you, but surely you don’t want what’s going on with you to poison your relationship with your children.
I know it’s tough to let negative feelings go. They feel so justified and, in some ways, we use them to empower us. I too struggled with resentment and anger toward my mother, but the person it hurt the most was me. God says “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)
Trust me, you can get strong in other ways besides having to stay angry all the time.