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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