Today I was busy doing the webinars for the 4 Big Lies that Christian women believe that keep them stuck, afraid and confused in their destructive marriage so I invited my friend and colleague Wendy Douglas to share with you her answer to one of our reader’s questions.
Wendy holds a master's diploma in biblical counseling specializing in grief and loss. She is a counselor being trained in the EQUIP group that Chris Moles and I run. You can find her on both Instagram and Facebook under @delightedbygrace where she writes about grief and loss.
Question: I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 30 years before my husband passed away a year ago. You would think I would feel relief, but I find myself fluctuating between anger and sadness. I keep telling myself that in many ways life is better for me, but I’m not feeling it. I’m not even sure I believe it. (Financially, I’m doing fine.) My family tells me that it will take time, but how much more time before I feel normal again? I just keep thinking if I can make it through today, tomorrow will be better, but so far, it hasn’t been. Can you provide some guidance for me? I feel a little crazy right now.
Answer: Let me start by saying that I am so sorry for your loss. Thirty years—good or bad—is a long time to be with someone. When they are gone, your life inevitably changes.
Understandably, you are in the midst of a common human experience…grief. It isn’t a problem to be solved, but a process to be engaged. Let’s start by asking, “What is grief?”
Grief is a normal response to any loss. Everyone experiences it at some point in life. In I Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul points out that death stings, at least temporarily. It’s painful, and it’s normal to feel that pain. Know that it won’t sting for eternity because God has overcome death and ultimately – that gives us hope! But today, it hurts.
When you experience loss, you viscerally feel the emotional overwhelm; and the grief is either acknowledged or pushed aside. In the beginning the waves of grief come frequently and with great intensity; but with time and hard work, both will diminish. However, there will be times when grief will come unexpectedly and with great intensity because grief is not predictable. It doesn’t fit in a box. It doesn’t tell you in advance when it will come, how long it will stay, what may trigger it, or how great or small it may be at any given time.
You may be familiar with the Kübler-Ross model of grief which includes: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, it’s important to remember that grief is not linear. You will not go from denial to acceptance and be done. You may not experience all of the stages, or you may go back and forth between stages. Even after you experience acceptance, you may find yourself feeling anger again. Just like life, grief is messy; so, it’s best to get rid of any expectations of doing it “right”—that simply doesn’t exist.
You see, grief isn’t only what happens to you, but it’s also what doesn’t get to happen. You have a loss in the present, but you also have a loss of what you thought your future would hold. And that can produce anger and/or sadness at any given point.
[Tweet “Grief isn’t something you get over. It’s something you learn to incorporate into your life.”] So, how do you do that?
First, acknowledge reality. According to the Oxford Dictionary, reality is “the state of things as they actually exist.” The best way to acknowledge reality is to start with the facts of what happened and then move into your feelings about what happened. What meaning did you give to it? In order to do this, you must be honest with yourself. Know that it is okay to simply be “in process.” If you’re angry or sad, acknowledge that. Perhaps you are angry because your husband’s death left things unsaid and unresolved. Or you’re angry because things between the two of you never changed the way you hoped they would.
One of the best ways I have found to acknowledge facts and feelings is to journal them. Get a notebook and start writing. Don’t write what you think you should be feeling or thinking, but write about what you truly are experiencing. You may be surprised at what you see. One thing to note is that it seems to work better if you write by hand as opposed to typing or simply speaking into a word processor. If you’re afraid of someone finding your journal, it’s ok to write out your feelings and thoughts and then shred them; but you definitely don’t want to leave your thoughts and feelings inside of you with no place to go.
Second, find some safe people. The burdens of life are too much to carry alone. You weren’t designed to do life that way. You will need grace for yourself, but you will also need it from God and others. Why? Because you need love. Remember in Genesis that God said it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)? Love is internalized as you get it from God and other safe people. Look for people who are good listeners, who do not judge or try to fix you. Even if you decide to go to counseling or get some coaching, you need real life friends who will support you. If you need help in identifying these people, a good resource is Safe People (2016) by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Third, take an active role in your grief journey. You will need to learn new ways of being without what has been. You will probably have to do some things that feel uncomfortable, and you will need to ask God to help you to make meaning from your experience. You may need to go to counseling and/or a grief group to help conquer some limiting beliefs and get support.
Whatever you do, you must be active. Don’t just wake up and wait for more time to pass in order to feel better. If you had a deep cut on your finger, you wouldn’t just let more time pass, right? No, because if you kept going on with your life without addressing the cut, it would become infected over time. In order for it to heal, you’d have to act on what you know to do: clean it, get stitches if necessary, or put on antibiotic cream, https://suriaplasticsurgery.com/valtrex-valacyclovir/ and keep a fresh bandage on it daily. It’s the process over time that brings healing, not time alone.
Another point I’d like to make is that being in a destructive relationship for a long period of time carries its own grief apart from the grief of death. It’s painful and many times confusing. My heart goes out to you. When these relationships end unresolved, they can bring on what is known as complicated grief. I always recommend a good grief counselor in these situations.
Grief is the process of letting go in order to make room for something new. Death can seem like the end of the book, but many times it’s the pivotal point in a chapter where the story begins to change. The future is full of endless possibilities, and you play a part in writing the remaining pages of your story. [Tweet “Your past is not your identity – it is your classroom.”] Learn from it; don’t waste it! How will you use what you’ve learned and are currently learning to write a different ending to your story and heal from the pain you’ve experienced?
Friend, what has helped you the most when you are overwhelmed with the emotional side of letting go, whether it be of a marriage, of a dream or of a person?
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Thank you, Leslie, for the great content you offer. You are a great help to many and a wonderful resource for those of us providing soul care to women who are in their struggle to finding freedom in Christ. We are abundantly loved by a beautiful Savior!
My friend recently lost an abusive parent and was shocked by grief. I think sometimes grief is worse when you can’t just miss and long for a person you loved. That’s what I might call “pure grief.” When there are all these other messy factors in the relationship, you end up with grief AND regret, anger, and lots of other emotions. You never experienced and resolution in the relationship. That in itself is hard.
Just checking to see if I can post. I tried several tmes on ‘afraid to stay well’ and it didn’t work.
I so appreciated how detailed and multifaceted Wendy described the grief experience. I wondered as well, how I might grieve if and when my difficult marriage partner passes. We have been married for 43 years and I have chosen to stay-well. I believe I have already done some important grieving and continue to do so when I finally accepted and released my hope that he would ever change. I did not imagine what a grief that would have been, but I am thankful to have made that decision. To let go of that expectation. Then I was free to work on my CORE and start a journey to seek to be what God can do in me and my situation. A clearer thought process is so very valuable. A few years ago I had probably the worst year of my life and all the while it was the most deepest of a valley walk with the Lord. I had finished homeschooling for 1 year and my parents and mother-in-law were all 3 on their end of life journeys. Thankfully I was able to be an advocate – away from home – and in their own homes as they each passed away all within 24 days of one another. The grief was unimaginable as if every square inch of me was filled with a ton of rocks(being in the valley of the shadow of death). Isaiah 41:10 was very real to me. The process of grief was also matched with extra unhealthy relatives. All the more reason to hold on to the Lord. What I was not sure of in this process… was if I could even allow myself to have time to play a game with my son. I thought I should not allow it, but his life and the other healthy children I have made me decide it was ok… I was still in the deep valley, but I also was around others who were “living”. It was good association for me at different times of my life. I would go from a grieving time to, well, living a little bit of fun. I was lifted. I still do various grieving, but what Wendy says is true[thankful for her last sentence]. The intensity does change. No matter what side of grief we are in, I am thankful for the hope we can have to know it will change and we will grow through the pain.
This subject is extremely important. It is often the fear of grief that keeps many of us clinging to our destructive relationships. If one truly wants to be free from abuse, one must engage the loss and feel the pain. One can get stuck in the rut of grief without an advocate/counselor/ coach to guide one through the lengthy Yet, at the end of the grieving process, when the waves of sorrow come less frequently, peace abides and resides in one’s soul forever.
Many never achieve the success and healing that grieving produces. They cling to false hopes, ruminate about the past and create a fantasy world of denial about their situation to survive in it. I have read many posts on this site from those trapped in delusional thinking which was often orchestrated by their abusive partner. They no longer trust their own intuition and have been victimized to such an extent that they no longer recognize the severity of what is being done to them.
Once out of a destructive relationship, one must seek and participate in therapy to heal the damage done to oneself by their violator. Without distance, counsel and freedom, grieving can’t be accomplished. Without grieving, the fantasy continues and although free, many victims return to their abuser or pick a new one.
Wow, Free, that is so brutally honest…me saying that is not an accusation. I see myself in your comment, as well as another friend whose situation is way worse than mine. And my situation is destructive in more than a few ways other than emotional.
Thank you – your comments are insightful , profound and real. I have personally experienced the fantasy of denial and enabling of my husbands behavior. I have chosen my “hard” and left him 5 months ago. I was at a point of sanity or co-dependency where I joined him in his addictions in order to cope with our reality. I am grieving what wont be and what I dreamed would be as a grandmother and wife in my old age but that was indeed a fantasy.
Reality and truth is a much healthier way for me to to grieve – I cannot change what my husband does but I can choose to live in the truth and reality of today.
Living free and in peace with God
When I read about you asking how long before you feel normal again, I want to reply, “Oh, sister, expect to be much, much better than normal!” Pure unadulterated freedom awaits a person who is brave enough to do the long, hard work of grieving. However before any of that can happen, you have to end the relationship. End it completely and entirely. Return to who you were before the destructive person targeted, groomed and isolated you. Think back, grasp that person in your arms and set her free. Reward that person with the peace and respect she deserves. Forgive her, if she new how destructive her partner really was she would have never married him. Don’t let that con man steal another inch of your heart and brain. He’s a list. You are not.
He’s a liar. You are not.
I don’t like to grieve my abusive marriage even after 2 yrs divorced. I have to be intentional snd set time aside to grieve .
Grief is the process of letting go in order to make room for something new
That sounds hopeful like a light at the end like bright dreads sunshine.
Thank you , Leslie
Like a light at the end of a tunnel, bright warm sunshine,