Today, Wednesday will be Georgia Shaffer, a licensed psychologist, and coach who specializes in helping women rebuild their lives after divorce. Thursday, our guest artist and Christian recording star Nichole Nordeman will join us to talk about her own journey after divorce and how God has been with her even in the darkest times. And on Friday, New Life LIVE Co-Host Sheri Keffer will be our guest, helping you learn how to heal after your spouse has sexually betrayed you. You will love these informative and practical interviews and there will be plenty of time to ask your questions. For the FB times check here.
Question: Thank you for your work and ministry. I started the process of therapeutic separation about 1 year ago and just moved back in with my husband. It is now obvious to me he is not interested in any repentance or growth but is happy to blame me for creating all the marriage problems. He is emotionally and verbally abusive as well as alcoholic.
I have been seeing a therapist as well as using a 12 step program.
My question is this… I feel like I want to stay married but just need to detach.
I feel like continuing going to couples therapy is a waste of time and money when my husband is just using what he learns in counseling against me once we are at home… I feel my time and energy is better spent with God, in support groups and bible study … Please share your thoughts…I know I will take the “heat” for “quitting” couples counseling. Thank you.
Answer: I wish I could ask you a whole lot more questions about this. For example, what were the reasons you separated from your spouse and what did you hope would be accomplished by it? Also, what led to your decision to move back in with your husband after a year of separation? I’m curious because you shared that you are in personal therapy as well as in a 12-step program for yourself. I’m assuming that you talked over these decisions with your therapist and with your group.
When did the couples therapy start? Was it during the separation? After you moved back home? Who initiated it? Answers to these would help me to better answer your question but here are a few of my thoughts based on what you’ve told me.
First, I don’t recommend couples therapy when there is addiction and abuse present. So, if couples therapy hasn’t been safe for you and your spouse is using the information you share in therapy against you, bring that up with your couple’s therapist as a reason for terminating the therapy. Therapy cannot progress if someone uses your vulnerability to bully or blame you.
Second, does his verbal abuse get worse when he’s drinking? If he is an alcoholic, couples therapy is not going to address the issues he is struggling with. Treatment of his addiction needs to come before treatment of the marriage. In last week’s blog, I talked about the acronym DANGEROUS and said that the use of alcohol and drugs increases your danger levels when abuse is present. Click here for last week's blog.
Another question I have for you is around your statement “I feel like I want to stay married but just need to detach.” I’m curious. You want to stay married because…………….?
When I work with those in destructive an abusive marriages I often say if you are going to leave, leave well. If you are going to stay, stay well. But let me explain what that means.
You are saying you want to stay married. To stay well, you must let go of expectations that he is going to change. That he is going to be a better husband or a better man. Meanwhile, you need to continue to do your work: let go of your anger, bitterness and hurt (normal feelings but to stay well you must be able to put them behind you). Build your CORE Strength, rebuild your life and figure out how you can live together, sharing the same home, children, and grandchildren in a respectful and kind way, not enabling destructive behavior towards you, but treating him as you would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
Sometimes staying well is not possible with a spouse who refuses to change. The constant barrage of negativity, criticism, and contempt takes a toll on your spirit and your body and you may find yourself breaking down, unable to stay in CORE or avoid negatively reacting.
In addition, if the reason you want to stay married is financial because you enjoy the lifestyle your spouse provides, or you can’t afford to support yourself, how is he with that? Is he willing to be the provider with no expectations for you to meet some of his needs? And if not, what needs is he looking for you to provide and can you do that well?
For example, I worked with a woman who stayed well with her husband who was a serial cheater. She had numerous reasons why she wanted to stay married. Mostly she loved her large family gatherings with her children and grandchildren over holidays, birthdays, and other get-togethers. She didn’t want their family traditions to be disrupted by a divorce. Her husband didn’t want that either even though he was unwilling to look at his unfaithfulness throughout their marriage. He was willing to be the provider as she continued her own traditional wifely duties of cooking, cleaning, making their house warm and friendly and inviting, paying bills, etc. He was maintaining his image, she was not pretending, but wanted her family intact. They were emotionally detached from certain expectations of one another, but they functioned cordially and respectfully while living in the same home. An example of a woman in the Bible who stayed well with a foolish and surly man was Abigail. She is described as a beautiful and intelligent woman and she certainly demonstrated those qualities when her household was in crisis (1 Samuel 25).
On the other hand, many individuals stay legally married but don’t stay well. Or they leave their marriage but they don’t leave well. They continue to be fueled by their own legitimate feelings of hurt, frustration, and anger, but instead of learning how to move beyond those negative emotions, they’re controlled by them.
But your question was about your concern about quitting couples therapy. You said, “I will take the heat for quitting.” From who? Your kids, your pastor, your husband, your friends?
You might be right. You are in a bit of a quandary because no matter what direction you choose you will have people in your life who disagree and perhaps disapprove of your choice. I’m sure you faced some heat when you separated. And then again when you chose to go back home. So what makes this so different? Why are you now anxious about the heat of disapproval?
Ultimately God is the one whose approval we seek. God is the only one who knows everything and sees everything (past, present, and future). We are limited in that knowledge and therefore we try to make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. Click To Tweet
Based on what you said, for now, couples therapy isn’t resulting in anything good, but more harm to you. As I said earlier discuss this with your couples therapist but your decision to end this form of continued abuse is wise even if other people disagree with your decision.
Friends, when you get anxious around the “fear of man” or the disapproval of other people regarding the decisions you make, what steps do you take to move beyond that fear?