I don’t want to get stuck in bitterness and hatred. How do I let them go?

Good morning everyone,

I’m on the home stretch. Next weekend is my last weekend away and I’ll be in wintery Rochester Minnesota for a Hearts at Home Conference. I would appreciate your prayers.

Thank you for your prayers for this past weekend. I had a good response to my presentation on The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and there were some special God appointments there too. I love how he reminds us continually of his Presence. When I started to get anxious, he reassured me of his peace. I was in the company of many professors and academians and honestly, I felt intimidated. But God reminded me that he gave me something to say and I was encouraged by their warm response.

I finally went to the doctor about my ankle and it was a bad sprain, maybe a torn tendon, so now I’m wearing an air braces most of the time to stabilize it. I start physical therapy today and hopefully by the time we need to wear boots, I’ll be as good as new. Wearing shoes is the problem. I don’t really have anything that fits with the brace other than sneakers.

Today’s Question: I have been married for 26 years. My husband began working on a job with evening hours 3 years ago. Within a few months he started to withdraw. He became inwardly critical of me in a way he had never been. Two years ago, he secretly went to see a divorce mediator. Finally, he confronted me. He told me I had become sexually unattractive, didn’t keep a clean enough house, and was so unwise and irresponsible with money that he had bitterness and resentment toward me. He said he no longer loved me and that he wanted a divorce.

I pointed out to him that at 22 years of marriage, he had written a beautiful love note that talked about how he looked forward to growing old together. At that time, I was heavier, in debt, and prone to “lick and promise” housekeeping. All those things had improved in the years since then. I now weigh less, am a better housekeeper, and have paid off all my debt. It took several weeks but he was finally able to admit that was true. He then decided the problem was within himself.

I am his second wife. He married first wife at 17 and stayed married for 10 years before she left him for another man. He was a single dad with a young daughter for a year and then he married me. He now says he has been married all his life and he just doesn’t want to be married anymore. He wants to be alone. He moved out a month ago and began divorce proceedings.

I cannot begin to understand what to do with all my feelings. I truly believe God called me to marry this man but I cannot understand why He would call me to this, knowing that it would end in such pain, not just for me but for our 3 children.

My husband insists that it is important that we remain friends. I don’t see how that is possible. He has betrayed and deceived me emotionally withdrawing from the marriage and planning a divorce. I don’t want to get lost in bitterness and hatred. Our children are suffering enough without having to deal with enmity between their parents. But I am so hurt and angry that moving toward friendship doesn’t seem possible.

Any suggestions?

Answer: I am so sorry for what you’re experiencing. You have every reason to feel hurt, angry and confused at your husband’s betrayal. And these strong emotions are not something we can quickly let go of. But we can get lost in them where they do then turn into bitterness and hatred. You are wise to want to avoid getting stuck in that place. I’m going to give you some specific ways of letting them go. In chapter 3 of my book, Lord I Just Want to be Happy, I give people some very concrete ways of letting go of negative emotions. A few of those tips are as follows:

Externalize your emotions: For example instead of saying, “I’m so hurt, or I’m angry”, say it this way (even to yourself). “I’m aware that I’m feeling hurt right now.” Just this small change in the way we say things can make a big difference. When we say it the first way, “I am angry,” we become over-identified with our emotion. Saying it in this new way helps you have your emotion instead of your emotion having you. It creates that little bit of space that will help you decide what you want to do with that emotion and whether or not it’s useful to you anymore.

Second, pay attention to your thoughts. When we dwell on wrongs done to us or mentally rehearse over and over again how someone has hurt us, we reactivate all the same painful emotions again and again. We retraumatize ourselves as we relive the situation. You will have to mentally discipline yourself to switch to a different channel in your mind. We do the same thing when we feel frightened watching a scary movie and then turn to something else. We don’t like that feeling and so we don’t continue watching something that stirs it up.

Journal out your negative thoughts and feelings. Putting them on paper and into words helps you work through them and eventually let go of them.

Join a support group such as Divorce Care. They will help validate your feelings as normal as well as give you support in learning to rebuild your life.

But these things only will work if you want to let your negative feelings go. Sometimes we find it difficult to actually let them go because we feel so justified and entitled to them because of the wounds we have experienced. But understand that holding on to them hurts you more than anyone else and you are wise to want to let them go.

Your husband was right when he said the problem was within himself and hopefully he will begin to address whatever that problem is (just as you addressed some of your issues with finances, housekeeping and food). But at this point in your relationship, you will need to decide whether you will choose to forgive him for his sins against you. Again it feels like you shouldn’t have to do all this hard work because he is the one who sinned against you, but if you allow unforgiveness to fester, it only hurts you and your relationship with God.

You wondered why God would call you to marry this man knowing it would end in such pain. I can’t answer that specifically but God gives all of us a free choice and when we choose badly, it often does end in pain for ourselves and others. That’s why he repeatedly tells us to choose life.

Although your husband hasn’t chosen wisely, now you have some critical choices to make in how you handle yourself in this painful time. You said you don’t know you how could remain friends with him after he has betrayed you but I think what he is really asking for is that you both be parents to your children without hostility and bitterness. You both will always be your children’s parents and their children’s grandparents. The more you are able to co-exist together while celebrating family moments, the more you will help your children transition into this new phase of your family life. I don’t think you need to be friends where you share each other’s confidences or do things socially together, but rather can be polite and respectful in each other’s presence.

Please know that all this takes time and your wounds are very fresh. You are still grieving the loss of your marriage and family as you knew it. This biggest part of this next step of letting go is your willingness. Once we’re willing, then we can apply ourselves to take the steps necessary to heal. May you choose life for you and your children.

Readers: Share with us how you have let go of a negative emotion. What helped you want to let it go and how did you do it?


  1. carilyne on November 16, 2010 at 7:22 am

    I don't have an answer for the question. I'm trying to learn to do just that.

    I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I needed to hear I'm not the only one. And some good advice and a place to start. Already asked a friend if I could borrow "Acting Right…" and God just confirmed that this is the right place to look. Thank you!

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