Hello friends! It’s Susan again; here to answer one of the Leslie Vernick & Co inquiries this month. I am traveling across the country today for my daughter's college graduation. As I head west to meet one young adult child, I am leaving another younger adult child at home thousands of miles away. Parenting is difficult anyway, but I find that parenting as a divorced woman has new challenges. I am aware of my many emotions as I sit in the airport waiting to board my flight. Moments of grief come up even years after big life changes occurred. Healing takes time and the work of healing seems as though it will never be fully completed. Even at this moment, I get to breathe deeply and invite God to renew my thoughts and sort through my feelings with me. I will remind myself of this great comfort and truth, “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me.” Psalms 16:8
Question: How do I heal from my destructive marriage now that it is ending? After a year and a half of marriage, I separated from my husband 4 months ago, along with our infant son. We finally decided to call it quits, and I feel relieved to be free from the abuse. I also feel an emptiness inside of me where I feel like a faithful, godly, and loving husband should be. Is that normal? Do I need to fix that? If so, what is the remedy? Part of me wants to jump to try to find my eternal companion, but I know that I need to heal and be a complete person myself before I should even think about that. I don't even have a clue on how to put the pieces of my life and heart back together, other than to pray to God. But I need someone to help me know what healing after an abusive and destructive marriage is and looks like, and how to do it! What are the steps?
Susan’s Response: Getting safe from an abusive relationship is not easy; I am glad to hear safety was prioritized. Details regarding the destructiveness of the relationship are not mentioned, however, I can imagine there are many facets to what may have been experienced over the course of the relationship. It sounds like there is a mix of emotions as a result.
I can understand the desire to have a godly partner to share life with, but there is no rule or command stating that you “should” have that. I want to assure you it is normal to feel loss when a relationship ends. It is also normal to feel loss when expectations for the relationship go unmet and the true intimacy God created marriage to reflect is missing. Feelings of loss can not be easily fixed. You are wise to focus on your own healing and becoming whole before seeking out a new romantic relationship. You have already begun to take steps toward getting well by finding safety.
Many have a hard time recognizing abuse as it comes in many covert forms. Because domestic abuse is not only physical, the effects can be hard to recognize. When an intimate partner uses power and control to dominate, the relational system of care, protection, and meaning becomes damaged and can cause some degree of trauma. In order for healing to take place, these systems must be re-established. So I will identify some important steps for walking through the healing process.
Once abuse is identified, there can be a move toward gaining safety and stability. When your body feels unsafe, it expends much of its energy in survival mode. This does not leave energy in reserves for growth and thriving. Therefore, safety is crucial to healing. Your sense of self may have become diminished over the course of the relationship. So taking agency over your body, mind, spirit, and emotions will bring stability to your life. Allow yourself time to settle and calm. By prioritizing your physical and emotional health, you may begin to remember your own worth as a human being.
Reflecting on relationship patterns and regulating emotions becomes more manageable once there is time and a safe space to process fully. Be kind to yourself and learn to acknowledge feelings. Putting a name to the emotions that are present with each memory can help them dissipate. Learn how to tolerate emotions within yourself by breathing into them and allowing them to exist without pushing them away or avoiding them.
Because the combination of disempowerment and disconnection are at the core of psychological trauma, reconnection with self and integration with others is necessary for healing. In fear, you may have learned to be passive. Find your voice and discover who God has made you to be. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Open yourself up to the beautiful light the Holy Spirit has put inside of you, with passions and godly desires. Begin to relate to others in a new way. With an assertive voice and appropriate boundaries, use biblical wisdom to discern who to trust with the most vulnerable parts of you.
Just like with physical injuries, you may need to seek out professional help to heal from emotional and spiritual injuries. Many of my clients want to just get over the destructive relationship and move on as quickly as possible. Healing takes time. Rushing through to avoid doing the work, may result in anxiety, depression, and getting into another destructive relationship. Each person has a unique experience; don’t judge the amount of time it takes to feel like yourself again. Being in a God-honoring supportive community can lessen the effects of abuse and promote healing.
With God’s help, you have what it takes inside of you to heal. “‘I will restore your health and heal your wounds’, says the Lord” – Jeremiah 30:17
Beloved reader, in what ways have you found healing from the destruction abusive relationships bring?
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I agree Susan that healing takes time. Often, people jump right into another relationship because it feels good, but this might be like jumping from the fire into the frying pan. If there isn’t time to discern red flags you missed last time, the next person who makes you feel good might turn out to be your next abuser, a horrible progression. I highly recommend counseling with someone trained in domestic violence and trauma. I also found a lot of healing in support groups, one at my nearest DV crisis center, and another at my church. Waiting for the right person until I was healed was one of the best things I did. My second husband is kind, loving, giving and caring. I couldn’t ask for more. Remember, you are the bride of Christ. As you work on healing, leaning on him can really help. https://carolineabbott.com/2015/09/we-are-gods-bride/. I hope you find the healing you need and deserve.
Caroline, how old were you when you remarried?
Great advice, Caroline! I agree; pay attention to the red flags and why you may be prone to ignore them. Doing the inner work is so important. So glad you are in a loving relationship now!
A question I had for myself is “How can I make sure this abuse and unhealthiness does not happen again?” The answer for me was and is- I have to change so that I am not the same person who chooses and allows certain people and things to be in my life.
I had to allow myself to heal, allow myself to trust myself again, allow myself time to enjoy and do things and have the freedom and time to do that. That I needed to be the whole and loving person I would want someone else to be be for me.
To value myself so that I would not choose and allow some else to mistreat me.
I encourage to change the focus and focus on yourself, your baby and God. Let God be your husband, your provider, your support and comfort and then in time let Him lead, guide, direct, and bless you with the desire of your heart- a loving and kind husband and father. There is no hurry right now. This is the best time to heal and to grow.