Hello, friends! January hit hard with a flurry of snow and lots of shoveling in West Michigan. I am hoping for something different this month. We can't always know what is next in life, but we often have some ideas about what to anticipate. Whether or not Punxsutawney Phil is correct or not, I know God will bring a thaw in His timing and all things will flourish again. I know I can trust in His promises.
For some, February is the month identified by love, candy hearts, and sappy expressions. For others, Saint Valentine brings loneliness, tears, and grief. This month, I invite you to find something to cherish about yourself and God’s goodness in your current season of life.
Today’s Question: This may seem minor, but what do I do on anniversaries or Valentine’s day? My abusive spouse gets angry when I don't give him a card or celebrate. There's nothing to celebrate. He hasn't been committed in any of our 30 years.
Susan’s Response: Your question does not seem minor in the least, and I thank you for asking it. Romantic holidays can be very painful and confusing for many. Instead of feeling loved and adored, you may end up with feelings of loneliness and deep loss. Not only that, but it sounds like you are fearful of an abusive partner's anger. More importantly than asking how you can handle the holiday, how do you want to handle the problem of abuse? I would like to make it clear, safety is a primary concern. If you do not yet have a safety plan, please find help to create one. For those of you who are unsure if you are in a destructive relationship or need help defining it, access this link to gain clarity.
In the 30 years that you have been with this man, he has not been committed. If he has not made consistent strides toward change, I think you can look at that track record and know what to anticipate going forward. I am sorry that is your reality because it is a hard one. I would like to ask you to ponder, what has your track record been for the past 30 years with your husband? Have you let his anger control how you show up in the relationship? When he uses the threat of anger, do you typically give him what he wants, whether or not you desire to? I certainly would understand, if that were true, given you may be harmed if you don’t. However, if that is the case, is it wise to continue in a relationship with someone who causes you harm when you don’t do what he wants you to do?
It may be time to define your limits with yourself. What are you willing to do and what are you not willing to do in this relationship? What does it mean for you that your husband has not been committed to the relationship? Are those behaviors acceptable enough to you to keep you in the marriage? These are larger questions that you may be asking yourself already, and only you can decide. With a romantic holiday on the calendar this month, your thoughts may have shifted to a more specific, immediate concern.
It may be helpful to have a discussion about the relationship as a whole but for now perhaps just expectations for holidays. I would encourage you to use your voice to be clear. It may be helpful to practice before having that challenging conversation. I am not sure what your limits are exactly, but I can take some guesses for the sake of our conversation about these particular holidays.
You may want to say something like, “In the past, you have seemed disappointed with how I chose to honor you on Valentine’s Day. We may have differing intentions for this year. Would you be willing to come up with a plan together so we can each know what to expect.” Or, “I would really like it if our relationship consisted of reciprocal gestures of love and appreciation. However overall, that has not been my experience in our relationship. I’m not planning to celebrate our anniversary this year. I wanted you to know so you know what to expect from me.” These statements may help you acknowledge your partner as well as honor your own limits of what you won't do.
Additionally, I invite you to consider what you are willing to commemorate on romantic holidays. Be intentional. I imagine you have endured and learned a lot in your relationship and that is worth celebrating. Perhaps you have seen God comfort you and give you strength through the hardships of marriage. Maybe you have worked hard to stay strong in your identity and self care. Or perhaps, you and your partner have built a home or family that is irreplaceable. In life, there is both good and bad. We can acknowledge each and still celebrate the good. God’s presence in our lives always gives us reason to worship Him and celebrate His goodness.
If you have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, you have a reason to celebrate. Great is the Lord! The last psalm of David gives words to a song of praise. David knew hardship, fear, and suffering in his life and yet wrote Psalm 145. When we lift our eyes to the Lord even in hard times, our soul finds peace, rest and reason to rejoice. We may not be praising God for all things, but we can praise Him through all things.
As I am sure you already know, a card or a celebratory dinner will not make a destructive marriage all better. There seems to be something deep that needs to be repaired. Is he willing to explore that and make changes? Are you willing to take a stand for what is needed for your safety and wellbeing? To give you some imagery, if a houseboat has a large leak or many small leaks, it doesn’t make much sense to invest time and money into new upholstery or glamorous lighting. If the boat is taking on water and is not repaired, it will eventually sink. Although you could exhaust yourself trying to toss the leaked water overboard, you may not be able to keep it from sinking without repair. It is important to know your limits and to recognize the effects the damage is causing.
If you would like to learn more about personal limits and maintaining a sense of self while in a destructive marriage, join Leslie and the team for our upcoming workshop, I’m not okay if you’re not okay.
Beloved reader, How have you navigated romantic relationships when there has been persistent and unrepaired relationship damage?
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