I’ve just experienced three wonderful days with our virtual CONQUER conference AND packed, got on a plane, and am traveling to Istanbul Turkey where hopefully I am right now. This is a pre-Covid trip we planned with my sister and her husband. My brother and his wife decided to join us and so the six of us are in Istanbul for 4 days and then get on a cruise ship heading to Athens Greece. It is a trip of a lifetime and I am so thankful to be able to travel with siblings that I like to hang out with for two weeks.
I’d appreciate your prayers for our safety and rest and relaxation which is my main goal.
This week’s question: I have been out of a verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive marriage. We are going through a divorce. It has been 9 months since I left. I am struggling with so many things about this divorce and everything I have gone through.
I do go to counseling once a week. I have done that for about a year and a half now. I think sometimes I still have a hard time accepting that he did not care about me and that he can move on so quickly. Actually, he was interested in this other person before we separated in January. If you have any advice or thoughts, please share. I need some help with this. Thank You
Answer: Friend, I’m so sorry for how you’re hurting. It’s raw and real and isn’t fair that you must experience such profound disrespect and rejection from someone who promised to love you.
You don’t fully share what exactly you are still struggling with, but you did highlight that it’s hard to accept that he could move on so fast with another person. You battle with the thought that because he has this new love interest that means he did not care about you. I suspect you might also be battling with the thought, “Was I not worth caring about?”
I’m going to break this down into steps like I have done recently with choices. Not because life is in such simple 1, 2, 3, steps or choices, but because it helps untangle some threads that get jumbled up in our minds and hearts when we’re struggling with deep emotional pain.
Let’s start with the facts (as you stated them).
1. The facts: You are going through a divorce. The fact is that he moved on with another love interest very quickly; he was involved with another person even before you separated. The fact is he was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive towards you.
2. Your story around the facts: This next step is crucial because this may be the root cause of your additional pain. The facts themselves are painful. Abuse of any kind is demeaning, degrading, and damaging. Rejection hurts. Divorce is a ripping apart of a one-flesh relationship. His betrayal of your trust is real. Your pain is appropriate and intense. However, I sense you are also telling yourself a story about the facts. The “reason” around why he did what he did or didn’t do. This is normal. God has wired us to create meaning or explanations to ourselves about why bad things happen (or even why good things happen).
In the Bible Job’s friends created a story around “why” God allowed Job to suffer so greatly. (See the OT book of Job). Job’s suffering was real. His pain was intense. He lost his children, his wealth, his health, and his reputation. But his friends created a story around why Job was being hammered by God so severely. They told him, “Job it’s you. You must have done something to anger God so much that he would punish you in this way. Job, you think you’re righteous and a good man but that isn’t possible. God is showing you your sin. You should repent.”
Because of this “story” about “why” this was happening, Job experienced additional suffering. Despite Job’s protests, his friends were quite sure they had the answer and they kept telling him over and over, “it’s you. It’s you.”
What story might you be telling yourself about the facts? It could even be some of your friends are also creating a story around “why”.
For example, you might be asking yourself, “Why didn’t he care enough to work on our marriage? Why was it so easy for him to move on? Did he ever care about me? Why did he treat me the way he did? What did I do that made him abuse me? Why wasn’t our marriage worth fighting for? Am I not worth it? What’s wrong with me? What did she have that I didn’t have? Am I that defective? How could he discard me so easily? Didn’t I mean anything to him? Were his vows meaningless?
This is important: This story we tell ourselves about the “facts” can add additional suffering to an already hard situation. I once worked with a woman whose only son was killed riding his bicycle on a sunny afternoon. That was the fact. Horrible. Heartbreaking. But the story she told herself was, “I shouldn’t have let him ride his bike alone. I am a bad mother. It’s my fault he was killed. I wasn’t outside watching him.” Now this story she told herself compounded her grief (which was appropriate) with shame, guilt, anger, and self-hatred. Her son was twelve years old. No twelve-year-old boy wants his mom outside watching him ride his bike. Yet her story added additional suffering to her already broken heart.
What might be possible for you if you didn’t believe the story you are telling yourself about “why” he treated you this way? How might you feel if you honestly processed the facts, without creating the additional story around the reason “why”?
Hard work for sure, but the truth is, you don’t know why. The most obvious reason might be that your husband is too immature to handle his emotions appropriately or to keep his commitment. In addition, it could be he is too selfish to understand what real love is and what it takes to keep a long-term commitment. His actions have nothing to do with your worth or value. When you create a story about why you can add more suffering that is hard to process because you don’t and can’t know why. Sin is insanity. It doesn’t make sense.
3. The why question is usually the first place we go when we want to understand something. Why did I get cancer? Why am I never invited to the party? Why did I not get picked for the promotion? Why can’t I get pregnant? Why did this happen to me? Etc.
Yet, I find asking the why question often leads to a downward spiral of negative answers and unpleasant and troublesome emotions. Most of the time the truth is we don’t know why… so we make it up. Like Job’s friends, they sought simplistic explanations for things that are unanswerable on this side of heaven. Therefore, I’m learning to stop asking myself why? I’m learning that much more productive questions in seasons of unwanted suffering are “what can I learn questions” rather than “why did this happen questions.”
For example: Here are new questions. God, what do you have me to learn from this? What can I change about this? What is this doing to me? How am I going to grow through this? What matters most right now? How can I learn to trust you even when I don’t understand why?
I’d encourage you to examine the story you are telling yourself about why he abused you, why your marriage failed and why he started seeing another woman before you separated. Write it all down. Ask yourself whether you know these are the facts or just your thoughts about the why? If they are thoughts, how do you know they are true? They may not be true. Are there other ways of seeing what happened?
Next begin to ask yourself some new questions. For example, ask yourself “What might I learn from this painful season? About myself. About how I process or don’t process my pain. About the stories I might make up about myself and my worth. About what I ignored or denied early on in my marriage.
What might I learn about God during this painful season? For example, you might learn in new ways that God loves you, that he is always faithful even if your spouse is not.
Other questions could be: How might I grow through this? For example, you might grow to be more independent, more resilient, more careful in how you pick any future dating partners. Or how you might grow to develop healthier relationships with your girlfriends, or even have clearer and better boundaries in future relationships.
If you focused on questions around your growth, how might that impact your emotional life in the here and now? Yes, you have some grieving to do around the death of your marriage and the death of your dream, and perhaps even some deeper trauma work around the abuse and betrayal you experienced. But you still have an opportunity to write a new story with the rest of your life. The questions you ask yourself and the story you weave from the facts of your story going forward can create a completely different ending depending on what you focus your attention on.
Friend, in what ways do you help yourself become aware of the connection between your negative emotions and the story you tell yourself about why what is happening?
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Thank you for posting this question and thank you for the clear steps in answering. I’ve struggled with the same thoughts now I know how to change myself talk.
When my husband told me after 32 years of marriage that he wanted a divorce, I was completely unhinged. I was terrified of a lonely future in a lousy apartment , where I would be struggling financially. I was devastated that he refused marriage counseling, and seemed so happy with divorcing me. He would say things like, “ No one knows the real you!” These comments made me question whether I was schizophrenic or was mentally unstable. I blamed myself for not “ being enough”. I lived in a fog of despair. It was actually a relief when the husband of his paramour called to tell me about the affair between my husband and this man’s wife. Turns out she was 19 years younger than me, with enhanced breasts, and worked as a stripper! I could take the lenses off of myself, and see the ex as the narcissistic and pitiful man he is.
Only now, seven years later, can I tell you that life is so much better! I was able to move to a townhouse in a desirable neighborhood, picked up new hobbies
( Pickleball) and made new friendships. I did some counseling where I was told God had a purpose for me, which I struggled with as I thought my purpose was to be a wife and mother. My purpose came with my first grandchild, who ended up living with me. I had to care for this child, which meant getting up and off to work. I needed to provide this child with a safe and stable home. A few years later, God provided a devout Christian widower for me, and we have been married nearly three years. He also had grandchildren who lived with him up until right before our marriage, so we see his grandchildren frequently which provides “cousins” for my grandchild. We bought a camper and take our grandchildren on camping trips. We recently sold both our individual homes and moved into a new one together. We found our church, I retired and my grandchild is enrolled in a Christian school. My daughter told me, “ You are living your best life now!”
I believe God took me out of Egypt ( marriage to my ex) , I was in the desert for awhile, but I have found the promised land!
My advice for this divorcee would be to stay involved in a church, serve or volunteer somewhere where you can feel a sense of purpose, and use this time to rebuild her self worth. Take a class, join a bookclub, learn a new sport or hobby. But slowly she will begin to feel content and then happy. Focusing on her ex will leave her in despair; it is now time to focus on God and allow him to heal her.
Thank you!! I needed this desperately!!
Thanks for your great reply Lynn. You made so many great points. I’m so happy to hear about all the things God has restored for you. Your story is hopeful & encouraging. Keep on living your best life!
This is for encouraging. I am going y through the same thing. Divorced from a Covert Narcissist according to my Doctor. There is hope after the horrible fog. Amen
Amazing. Thanks do much for sharing. The why had me in bandage. Thinking about this in facts versus the story is helpful. I need to deal with reality. I pray God can bring me through Egypt to the promise land as well.
Lynn, your story gives me so much hope. I’m in process of divorce from a man who’s been abusing, betraying me and into porn our entire 32 year marriage. Thank you for sharing the lovely part of your life. It gives me new focus that my life can and will have great purpose and can be joyful again.
Thank you…stories like yours encourages me to keep looking ahead.
Thank you for sharing your story, Lynn. God is good! This gives me hope and a positive outlook for my future!
What if the story you told yourself was, “this isn’t about me”. His abusive behavior and not caring for you is about him and his relational capacity, or lack there of. Do not be fooled by his new relationship. It’s just easier to move on to someone unsuspecting, than it is to make the effort to repair rebuild something that is broken. As others can attest. It will take time, but once you have done your work, you will recognize that though divorce may come in an ugly package, it can be the best gift!
So true Maria. I love your comment that although divorce comes in ugly packaging it can be the best gift. Very encouraging.
Thank you for sharing, I need this kind of support and encouragement desperately!!
It helps to do all the things listed. Read books that describe a narcissist and/or porn user and how they all are when they have to hide their sin. Yet all that reading didn’t help my heart anywhere near as much as the day I looked in the mirror and asked God what He thought of me. I didn’t hear a voice, but over the next few days everything changed. That was a few years ago. I am still with my second abuser, but when he says or does mean or stupid things, I ask Jesus, “Is this how you treat your bride?” Of course I already know the answer, but it helps to have someone right there to talk to. and to focus on. Also, “What would you do/say in this situation?’ I know that my h is hiding stuff from me, so his treating me with a pornified brain shouldn’t be a surprise. Sin loves darkness. Darkness isn’t a thing, it’s an absence of light, so the more light that shines in me, the weaker the darkness. I pray that God fills the house with His glory to make the dark uncomfortable. I know one day he will give and account, and that’s not on me. I also have been reading (think Sheila Gregoire) about how a Christian marriage should look like. I didn’t realize how much my many years of church and churchy marriage books had influence my expectations of marriage to the point of believing that women aren’t worth much besides their body and men got to be spoiled brats who had to be catered tp and treated with kid gloves. That stinkin’ thinkin’ has to go or we won’t get out of these ruts anytime soon.
Oh, Connie, how i relate so much to what you said here: “I didn’t realize how much my many years of church and churchy marriage books had influence my expectations of marriage to the point of believing that women aren’t worth much besides their body and men got to be spoiled brats who had to be catered to and treated with kid gloves. That stinkin’ thinkin’ has to go or we won’t get out of these ruts anytime soon.” That was my EXACT experience as well. I reject all of that extremely wrong teaching now for what it is. How you ask God what He thinks of you, and Jesus, “Is this how you treat your bride?”, is such wisdom. I’m so glad you shared that. Jesus and God’s Word — not the twisted, out of context version of His Word but the truth — are our standards as women for where we can look when we aren’t sure if we’re being treated badly or if we have a right to say no to it. I find a lot of strength in using God’s Word as my standard now when I deal with abuse.
Your comment of ” his treating me with a pornified brain” is profound and explains so much to me of how I was treated by my now deceased husband of 52 years. For the past 2 years since his death I have been trying to make sense of too much ugliness. Your comment nailed it. Thank you.
My abusive (now ex) husband cheated on me and dumped me for a younger woman. He told me I was too much work and and he deserved to be happy. I will never forget right after he told me he didn’t want me anymore I literally heard God telling me, “This is a blessing to you. You are free of this man now.” And I believed Him. But unfortunately the enemy’s voice seemed louder as he used that rejection to remind me of the old story from my childhood of being rejected by my parents. I started believing I wasn’t enough, not worth loving, and that’s why I was cheated on, and then discarded like I meant nothing. God was there for me as I wept and hurt so badly, and through the anger, too. It was a process but in time I forgave what was done to me, and I used it for good. I met God in that sorrow in ways I would not have had it not happened. I became closer to Him. I became stronger. I learned to believe that the evil things others do to us is NEVER about us, but them. I didn’t deserve to be cheated on, or the other abuse I was subjected to besides that. I deserved love and respect. What was done to me was not my fault and I won’t carry the shame, or feel worthless for it anymore. Jesus and I are bringing hope from the trauma, and I praise Him for that.
Self love is so important. I lost myself. I’ve been in a verbally emotionally abusive relationship for 7 years. He always had a way to make me believe I did something wrong. He proposed marriage three different times. But, he has also been the one to break the engagement every time. This last time he made up a lie about me and stated “if you ever thought I was going to marry you””your sadly mistaken”. I’m drained, depleted, and most importantly lost, because I don’t know who I AM. I just realized what I’ve been dealing with is a narcissist. I allowed him to gaslight me for far to long. I just figured it out! I stop telling myself the stories he wanted me to believe. I’m not where I want to be but I am closer to where I need to be. Having to retrain my mind has been touch, actually the hardest thing I ever had to do. But, I’m trying every day, and I’m not giving up on me! Never again. What we tell ourselves is truly important.
Men Suck…just saying
Women do too sometimes, I mean I don’t swing that way. What ever! Men suck…
My Friend and husband created a private email account between the two. Her husband and I did not know about, it just so happened i came across it when I used his phone to find my phone. A few years back I needed his phone to grab a photo out of it to forward to my mom and there she was breast exposed …of course I became unglued. He assured me it was an accident…I am so stupid…I let it slide believing him. I’m at a loss, he now claims he’s had no contact with her via email but NOW I do t trust him? Married 48 years, the friendship with her was over thirty years…I’m at a loss what to do for myself . He gets angry when o try to talk to him about it and for me to believe him I way to see the rest of the emails.
I’m sorry if this does not make sense. Im at a loss.
My ex (narcissist and sex addict) used to be angry when I brought up his affairs too. I think it was because he knew I would drop the subject if he displayed anger. It was his way of controlling me. I didn’t realize at the time that his control was abuse.
You brought up two very important words, SEX ADDICT. Sex addiction is very common (and easy because of cell phones and the internet) and requires a lot of self work by the addict in a structured and highly accountable way before you can even think about marriage counseling together. Not every man who cheats is a sex addict but it is my belief that every woman who is cheated on should understand what sex addiction is and that where an affair surfaces, the likelihood of an underlying sex addiction exists. If you think about it, one affair is much like a “mini addiction” all by itself with delusional thinking, deceit, and often crazy behaviors that are hard for others who have not been through it to believe. It takes exposure, truth, and a change of heart to interrupt the progression of this kind of sin. My story: After 33 years of marriage, I found out my husband was having an affair. I was devastated (we had 3 children and our youngest had medical and intellectual disabilities and still lived at home at age 17). I had at times in our marriage experienced some confusion and a feeling of dissonance in our relationship. I would usually directly confront him at these times. He would have some excuse or explanation, blame me, or simply refuse to answer, and I would end up feeling I was the problem and ashamed for questioning such a wonderful husband and father. (I now understand the term “gaslighting”). After the discovery, he swore he quit the affair and refused to talk (it had worked well for him for 33 years, after all). However, after 6 months of his stonewalling, I filed for divorce and gave him an ultimatum – he could choose to be divorced or go to a “last ditch effort” Christian marriage retreat AND take a polygraph test. Surprisingly, after anger and protesting (”Isn’t that a little extreme”?), he chose the retreat and the polygraph. At the retreat, I learned through the polygraph process that my husband had a longstanding pattern of sexual acting out since before and throughout our marriage. Mostly anonymous bar pick-ups. Through the years, the behavior had escalated to affairs, dating and “hook-up” sites and prostitutes. At the retreat he began to understand that he had a problem and chose to change. It took over five years of hard work for both of us to rebuild our marriage. Nine years later, our marriage is transformed and so is he. I have never seen him more at peace. I also feel transformed and have an incredible feeling of love and gratitude for my Savior that would not have been possible before. He sustained me through the agonizing sorrow of betrayal and I know that He understands. He was also betrayed by those who professed to love Him.
These are our stories. 1 1/2 yes after the divorce a friend told me my former spouse was in a relationship for 10 yrs during our 38 yr marriage.
They now own a home together. After so much healing, this news put me back to square 1. Just last week a voice in my head and heart said “he has good qualities that you loved but he is not a good man”. That flipped a switch for me and I learned what I needed to learn. My heart aches for anyone in this situation.
God spoke to me years ago when I was in an abusive marriage. He said, “You can choose whether you want to live like this or not.” I told Him, I choose to be free and was divorced within a few months. I believe God allows us the choice how we want to live. It’s that simple. If your spouse or future spouse is being abusive to you, God doesn’t expect you to put up with it. Respect yourself enough to live the abundant life Jesus provided for us. ❤🕊❤
Yes. We want to make meaning out of hard circumstances. If it was something we did, maybe we can fix it/ourselves. It is a way to keep hope alive. In actual fact, with an abuser, it has very little to do with you or with anything you did or didn’t do. It really is all about them and their dysfunction. Once we accept that, we can breathe easier, and move into a brighter future without a toxic person around our necks.