Question: I’ve been a part of your coaching sessions and read your books on destructive relationships, including marriage. I was in a destructive marriage and stayed well, until I couldn’t stay well any longer. Then I told my husband that I was divorcing him. We are separated now, and the process went well.
I would like to know what to do after leaving? How to heal, how to avoid falling into the same kinds of relationships and how to choose healthy relationships. And how to lead my children in the right direction (boys 8,10).
Answer: I believe many other women who are in this blog community will want to chime in on answering this question but let me just give you a few things to work on in order to heal and avoid falling into the same type of destructive relationship pattern in the future.
First, It’s important that you understand that healing is a process of growth and you can’t rush the process. I think a lot of our mental and emotional distress comes because we aren’t growing faster. We get angry because we’re still stuck in a lie, or a negative emotion. We get discouraged because we thought we were getting better, but then slipped into some old behavior.
But think of it this way. When you become pregnant, there are things you can do to harm your unborn child – drinking, drugs, smoking, and excessive roughness to your abdomen. There are things you can do to nurture your unborn child – eat right, sleep, take your prenatal vitamins, get regular check ups by your doctor. But there is absolutely NOTHING you can do to make that baby grow faster. A healthy baby takes 42 weeks to grow no matter how much good self-care you do. Good self-care is important to the overall development and growth of your baby but good self-care doesn’t make the growth itself come faster. That is on God’s time-table.
In the same way, your own maturity, whether physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and even financial, takes time. Please give yourself that time to grow, especially if you lived a long time in immature patterns. Do your part, and let God determine the amount and speed of your growth
During this time I’d recommend not dating. Dating will distract you and keep you from doing your own work. Also the person you want after you are a healthier person may be very different than the person you would date now. Give yourself a good two years to be single and flourish on your own.
Once you are happy and comfortable in your singleness, you are much more capable of finding the right person you want to share your life with. When you are unhappy and scared in your singleness, you may be more eager to get remarried before you are ready or have found the right man.
Second, you must take an active role in your healing process. Staying helpless or passive won’t produce the healing you’re seeking.
1. Educate yourself on healthy and unhealthy patterns – whether externally – in relationships, finances, eating and good self care, or internally with your thinking patterns and how you deal with your negative emotions. You can’t change something you don’t see or recognize as an obstacle to your maturity. Learn all you can – read books, seek a mentor, take classes, go to church and Bible study.
2. Get involved in a support group. Growth happens best with other people who can help us move forward and hold us accountable. If you start a new relationship, ask your friends for their opinions and be vigilant when you notice any red flags. It’s important not to close your eyes to these things. Practice the healthy skills you are learning in your new relationships such as resolving conflict, having good boundaries and speaking up for yourself.
3. Identify the lies you believe and the wrong thinking patterns you regularly use. For example, some people are by nature more negative. For those of us who fall into that pattern, our negative thinking feels true. It seems much more realistic than our optimistic friends who refuse to seek the dark clouds on the horizons. But just because you think something doesn’t make it true. God says that change happens by renewing our mind (Romans 12:1).He says we’re to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are to learn to think truthfully – not positively or negatively, but to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
One of the biggest lies you may believe is “I am not enough.” In other words you are not good enough, not pretty enough, not spiritual enough, not acceptable enough, not smart enough, not skinny enough, etc. to be loved and valued. When we believe this lie, our growth goal becomes “I want to be enough” which is like chasing your tail. Whoever feels good enough in every single area of her life?
As soon as we feel good enough in one area, ten other areas will pop up where we don’t feel good enough. When you live by this lie you become self-centered, self-absorbed, self-focused, and self-conscience. These are not the emotions that foster good emotional, spiritual and mental health.
Some other lies that we must face might be – no one will want me, I can never change, things never go right for me, I’m helpless over my emotions, I am too screwed up to grow, my parents damaged me and therefore I can’t help the way I am, life is too hard, if I fail that means I can’t do it, and there is nothing I can do. All these lies will keep you stuck in the same place and you can’t grow.
As a mom you will also notice your children telling themselves lies. It’s important that you identify them as lies and say, “That’s not true” and then put the correct thought out there. They may or may not believe it, but at least you are doing what you can to help them think truthfully.
Remember, don’t beat yourself up when you become aware of all the lies inside of you. The Bible tells us that our heart is naturally bent on lies (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 1:25), and that Satan is a master liar and tries to confuse us about what’s true (John 8:44). That’s why it is so important to regularly renew your mind with God’s truth.
4. You must learn to let go. Sometimes the reason we stay stuck is we can’t let go of the past. We cling to it because we still aren’t accepting the present. We know we’re divorced, but we don’t accept it. We rehearse everything that we did wrong, or that should have happened differently and we live in the present looking backwards to the past in regret. Stop it. You can learn from your failures or mistakes but move on from them.
You must learn to let go of your negative emotions. We all have them, jealousy, hurt, anger, bitterness, self-pity, envy, insecurity, fear, depression and despair. And, for a time, they may serve a purpose to help us see what’s going on. However many people hang on to them far longer than necessary and this cripples their growth. They invest a lot of energy in hanging on to their anger or hurt for example, and therefore have limited energy for investing in new growth or a future life.
I know – you may feel very entitled to your hurt and anger. Yes, you were wronged. But what does it cost you to hold on to these feelings now? No one suffers more than you do. Do you want to feel miserable for the rest of your life? If not, then you must learn to let them go.
I think this is something where we need some additional help in learning how. The Bible tells us that we should forgive, or stop feeling anxious, or let go of our bitterness, but we’re not exactly sure how to do it. I’m going to be offering a three session class in early June on how to let go of negative emotions. If you’re interested, click here to get more information.
Third, to grow you need to be aware of your brokenness but you also need to become aware of your beauty. God has put wonderful thing inside of you. Gifts, talents, abilities and passions that he wants you to discover and use for his purposes. In order to thrive, we don’t just need to recognize and put off the bad stuff (Colossians 3:8-12), we need to recognize and nurture the good qualities inside of us. Make a list of the strengths you have, not in spite of what you’ve endured, but because of it. Perhaps you have become resourceful or tenacious. Maybe you’ve learned how to look at the humor in situations and can laugh at yourself. You might have persistence or great endurance or patience.
Take the time to nourish your growth and put yourself in the company of others who will encourage you. As you do this you will find yourself looking forward to what God will do instead of looking backwards at the past rubble of your life.
Remember this important truth now. God has created you and he has a purpose for you, just as he did for the Samaritan woman who had five former husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband. Jesus spoke healing and truth to her. She believed what he said and was transformed (See John 4).