Thanks for your prayers for my parents. They are doing a little better and able to manage somewhat better. It’s hard watching those you love struggle and be in pain. We are in the middle of our Moving Beyond Challenge week and it’s amazing. We’re seeing real breakthroughs from stuck to free. If you missed this year’s challenge, hope you join us next year. It’s a week-long focused time on moving beyond common challenges like negative thinking and people-pleasing.
Question: I have separated from my husband, and after much careful and prayerful examination, determined that he is definitely abusive. My problem now is this: We were only married 9 months when I left, and during that time I was constantly told I couldn’t talk to him respectfully or even answer a question to his satisfaction. As if in a normal, healthy relationship, I feel like there needs to be some sort of closure but have been unable to put my thoughts and feelings into words. All of his communication to me is accusatory and erratic, so I have no reason to believe I will be heard.
Do I just file for divorce or keep praying for God to give me the words when it’s time?
I want to heal and move forward in my life. I know God can do anything, but the huge amount of things that would have to happen for me to affect eventual restoration at this point just doesn’t seem likely. For my situation, I am more inclined to believe Leviticus 5:4 applies. I made a foolish vow when I married someone too quickly (no foundation) without testing his character and I need to admit the reality that I’m guilty of that and divorce.
Answer: I’m sure you are feeling unsettled. From what you said, talking in the past has only resulted in accusations and more crazy talk. Of course, you’re having problems putting what you want to say into words. Because what words will now be different than the words that caused his negative reactions before? Yet you long for some closure. Some conversation that would lead to a little understanding, insight, or even sorrow that leads to repentance. (2 Corinthians 7). But you worry if that happens, then what? Can he change? Will your marriage be different? Do you wait and hope and pray? Or admit you made a mistake and divorce?
A good place to start is with your desire. You want to heal and move forward in your life. We can agree that this would be God’s will for you. However, what healing and moving forward looks like in your situation isn’t always so clear. Divorcing your abuser won’t necessarily bring healing for you. It might bring safety but it will also bring new challenges.
So first define for yourself what would be different for you if you were healed? Can you start working on that while your marriage question is still in limbo?
You didn’t provide enough details for me to be more specific so I’m going to present a general road map for healing and moving forward in your life. Most times, God doesn’t reveal the big picture of what we’re supposed to do when we feel uncertain and lost. Often it involves walking by faith and choosing the next right thing. For example, when Abigail’s husband Nabal made a stupid decision insulting David, she didn’t cower in fear or submission. She did the next right thing she knew to do. She gathered up food supplies and went out to meet an angry David who was bent on slaughtering Nabal’s entire household. When she saw him, she bowed, apologized, and reminded him of who he was. She had no idea what the outcome would be. She could have been killed, but she walked the path she knew to walk. The outcome was up to God, not Abigail. (See 1 Samuel 25 for the story).
Jochebed, Moses' mother, didn’t know what to do when her son Moses was born. Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew baby boys to be killed. Jochebed knew that was not the right choice, but what was? She did the next right thing. She hid her baby for 3 months. But when she could no longer hide him, she did the next right thing. She wove a waterproof basket and laid baby Moses in it, hoping Pharaoh’s daughter would take pity. She put her daughter Miriam, Moses, sister, in charge of watching over the scene. Moses’ mother, nor his sister could control what Pharaoh’s daughter chose to do, but they did their own part to ensure Moses’s safety. The outcome was in God’s hands. (See Exodus 2:1-2=10, Exodus 6).
Ruth, a widow, and foreigner didn’t know what to do when she suddenly became a childless widow. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, was bitter at God and told her two daughters-in-law to return to their own families. Orpah went back to her family but Ruth decided to stay with her mother-in-law and return with her to Bethlehem. That was Ruth’s next right choice. She had no idea what the outcome would be, but she took the next right step she knew to take. Once in Bethlehem, her next right choice was to go out to glean food from a field that happened to belong to Boaz. Behind the scenes, God was orchestrating a bigger story that Ruth was oblivious to. (See Ruth, chapter 1 and the rest of the book).
Right now it sounds like you don’t know for sure that divorce is the right decision. But you do know that healing is. Safety is. Moving forward is, getting healthy is. Staying strong is. Stewarding yourself is.
I don’t mean ignore his stated boundaries but what is the healthiest next right step for you?
There is no perfect answer that fits everyone’s situation. Your next right step might be a letter with carefully crafted words that he can read privately without you having to see or hear his negative or shaming reaction. It might be a separation for your own safety to communicate that the marriage as is, is not safe or healthy for you.
For example, when I’m lost, staying stuck in indecision does not give me clarity, but turning right or turning left usually does. It lets me know I am going in the right direction OR that I am not going in the right direction and I have to turn around. Negative outcomes are not always bad decisions. But they do give us information so we can correct our next decision.
Your husband’s response to your step of either moving out or writing a letter (or both) is not yours, but his responses will give you greater clarity on your next steps. For example, is he repentant? How will you know? Is he willing to listen? Go for help? If so, then you might take some time and wait and see before filing for divorce. On the other hand, is he vengeful, reactive, accusatory, retaliatory? If so, now you know that he is committed to his toxic point of view and way of being and that a healthy marriage is not possible. Meanwhile, continue to do your own work. Don’t strive to fix your marriage or convince him. Your work is to grow stronger in faith, more loving, kindhearted, and forgiving, along with excellent boundaries. You want to ask God for acute mental and spiritual clarity. Healthy means knowing how to walk in truth and love, not pretense and fear.
Don’t’ rush this process. There is much for you to learn. Even in foolish mistakes, we learn lessons that are important for our future growth and well-being. Give yourself the gift of time. God is never in a hurry.
Friend, how do you decide what the next right step is for you to take when facing difficult and uncertain outcomes?