Good morning friends,
Thank you for your prayers. I think all of us on the East Coast are just about at the end of our patience with old man winter. I have shoveled more snow in the last 3 days than I have in the last 10 years. There is nowhere else to put it. I’m grateful I do not live in the city. People are desperate for parking places. The snow has no place to go. Front-end loaders are picking it up and dumping it in fields on the outskirts of town. It is surreal.
Today’s question: I just finished reading your book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: I’m amazed by the awareness the book brought to me. Although I have known for many years that my marriage is destructive, I've never felt like I had a “good” reason to leave.
My husband isn't physically abusive and therefore I've always felt like I need to suck it up and be a good godly wife for my husband and 3 kids. I've come to a point in my life that I'm tired of the way we live. I feel like I'm past the point of wanting to work things out-I just want out!
I feel very guilty for feeling this way. If there is any hope that my marriage can be saved then I should be willing, right? I've said for a long time that it will take a miracle to turn our marriage around. Not that I don't believe God can perform miracles, I just don't see any in my future. Is it really worth the hard work?
I feel like I have sacrificed so much of my life and my children's lives that he doesn't deserve any more chances. When I feel this way the guilt sets in and the cycle starts over again. I feel so stuck! Where do I go from here?
Answer: Thank you for being honest about wanting out of your marriage. You said that you’ve come to a point in your life where you’re tired of the way you live and you’re past the point of wanting things to work out. You just want out.
But then the guilt sets in. Let’s start there. Guilt is an important emotion to pay attention to. Guilt functions much like a smoke detector. When it’s set properly, it warns you of impending danger so that you take appropriate action. But sometimes smoke detectors are too sensitive and they sound the alarm when you open your oven door or when you burn the toast. Instead of warning you of real danger, they become an irritant and a false alarm.
In the same way, sometimes our guilt alarm is a little off and we feel guilty for things that are not moral failures or sins but merely human emotions. As women we can feel guilty because we asked for something we wanted instead of always giving in, believing that somehow that makes us selfish. Or we can feel guilty for sticking up for ourselves instead of submitting, feeling like we should always turn the other cheek or let the other person have his or her way. We feel guilty when we disappoint someone, upset someone, or don’t cater to their every need, want, and request because we tell ourselves that our purpose is to make people happy and if we don’t, somehow we are bad, or doing something wrong.
So instead of telling yourself you’re bad for feeling the way you do, perhaps a more helpful route would be to explore why you feel the way you do. Once we accept our feelings (without judging them) it’s more likely that we can fully understand what’s going on. The psalmist asked himself a question about his own emotions. He asked, “Why are you downcast, Oh my soul?” (Psalm 42:11).
The psalmist could have felt guilty about feeling depressed, after all he should be thankful that God had given him so much. But he didn’t. He simply asked himself why? In exploring his own feelings, he understood that he had misplaced his hope. He had put his hope in what God would do instead of who God was.
I don’t know for sure what your feelings are trying to tell you, but they might be a good indicator that your marriage isn’t going to change and therefore you need to stop putting energy into something that is dead (your marriage). The picture I see is continuously giving CPR to someone who is already dead. You feel guilty giving up but at some point you must acknowledge and accept that the patient is dead.
Can God do a miracle and raise the dead? Yes. But then it’s God and not you doing the work. A resurrection is obvious, tangible, visible. If God stirs your husband’s heart to change his ways, can there be a resurrection of your marriage? Yes, but it will also take your willingness and this is another place where you feel really stuck. From what I hear, even if your husband changed, you don’t want to put anymore of your energy into rebuilding this relationship because you don’t feel he deserves it.
That’s where things get a big tricky. Who “deserves” grace? No one. So friend, if God can change your husband’s heart, he certainly can change yours too. If you’re willing. That’s why it’s so wonderful to be brutally honest with God. “I don’t want to go to the cross,” Jesus said, “But not my will but yours.” Can you say that to God too? “I don’t’ want to be married to this man anymore. But not my will but yours?”
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m NOT saying it is God’s will for you to try harder, stick in there, or keep hoping for something miraculous to happen in your marriage. I’m not saying that God hates divorce so much that it is his will for you to sacrifice yourself for your destructive spouse to continue to harm you and your children. But what I am saying is that your guilt may be signaling something that’s off in your relationship with God. That you have gotten so tired, hurt, and angry in this marriage that it’s hard for you to trust God has your best right now. It’s tempting to rush ahead of him and strike out and strike back because you’re tired and angry.
That is why I talk so much in my book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage about building your own CORE strength. I want women to want to make decisions that are God centered and God honoring because that will be absolutely best for you and your children. But there has been so much misunderstanding on what is God’s will in marriage that so many women, like yourself, feel that is God’s will just to suck it up if they want to be a godly wife, but that’s not true.
You can be a Godly wife by speaking the truth in love such as, “I can’t continue to pretend that things are fine and what you do doesn’t deeply harm me and the children.”
My concern for you is that from the tone in your letter is that you’re not only tired of your marriage but you are a bit frustrated with God’s way and you want to break free from both. Please don’t do that. God loves you and your children and your husband. You may need to take some very firm steps to let your spouse know that you won’t live this way anymore. It is not God’s will for you to be abused and mistreated.
But please don’t forget to ask God what your next step is. Guard your heart against bitterness and resentment that I sense is creeping into your spirit (and perhaps that’s what the guilt is for). Ask him to give you grace (which doesn’t mean allowing an abuser to keep abusing you, but to show compassion for the blindness and stuck place he is in, without enabling him to believe it’s okay to stay there).
If you stay on this blog, you will hear story after story from the women who felt God leading them out of their abusive marriage into safety and sanity and healing. Sometimes that resulted in reconciliation, sometimes that resulted in permanent separation and even divorce. But when you know God is in it, there is no guilt even if there is sadness.
Friends, it’s your turn. Share your pearls of wisdom.