This author chose to remain anonymous, and we will protect her privacy. One woman’s success story, of life after
The day of my divorce four years ago was a sad one. I did not–could not–celebrate or rejoice at my freedom as the strangers around me in the courtroom were. No one grows up wanting to be divorced. The fairy tale happy ending simply ended because it never really began. The dream died. Forever wasn’t forever, after all. Our marriage began and ended in counseling, and, though I was the one leaving, it was a failure on both sides. Nonetheless, there is life after happily ever after, and it is an abundant life.
The pastor who married us asked us to do pre-marital counseling, and the verse he stressed most was the one about getting the plank out of our own eyes before pointing out the spec in another’s. My ex-husband’s criticism of me wasn’t constant, but when it started it was enough to shut me down emotionally, especially when he did it in front of others. To be fair, he was generous with the words, “I love you” and “You’re my sweetheart” in private, but when I finally woke myself up once and for all they sounded hollow and insincere because there were no good intentions or actions behind them.
As an honest example of his controlling behavior, he installed a thermostat in our home, but he used the pin code feature and didn’t give me the code. It wasn’t like we’d had an argument over it and he locked me out of it out of anger. It wasn’t like he was teasing me either because he didn’t have that kind of personality. One day, while home on my lunch break, I wanted to adjust it and called him up crying out of frustration to get the code. It was 7777. Seven is the number of completion in the Bible. He pretends to be such a pious, Christian man in public but behind closed doors does this. Creepy, yes. I don’t know what he was thinking, and when I asked him about it recently, neither did he.
He’d had little ambition to go to college which had been such an important goal for me. In my mind, I justified his lack of an education with the fact he had skills as an IT guy, so I assumed he could provide for us. I was right, but I was wrong. We were never on the same level intellectually or creatively, and, therefore, we lacked those important connections. Furthermore and most importantly, he couldn’t relate to basic human emotions, express empathy, or express himself very well at all. The cliché about the importance of communication is true, and, honestly, formal education has little to do with that.
Communication is good, but conflict resolution is better. When emotions run high, acknowledge that, and plan to talk over the situation at a later time, when both are rested, and stick to that plan. Sweeping it under the rug won’t make it go away. Years ago in college I read People Skills in a class entitled Psychology of Human Interaction, and it discusses conflict resolution in greater detail (see list below). I read recently in Boundaries in Marriage that the woman is usually better at giving options or possible solutions and letting him choose. I disagree somewhat, as both should be involved in this process of brainstorming ideas. It doesn’t matter who comes up with the idea as long as it satisfies the needs of each and resolves the problem.
My only regret is what I allowed to continue. I was quiet early in our marriage, as I did not yet have the skills to handle situations effectively as I do now. After I left, he sent a letter accusing me of the most outrageous falsehoods and which said, “I forgive you. Come home,” which was more controlling behavior. That’s when I agreed to counseling for healing but not for reconciliation. The counselors were a Christian couple. When the four of us met, I poured out all of it for 45 minutes, and then they laid into him about what was going on with him that he treated me this way. It was the first time I felt validated, that God was on my side, and, most of all, that I mattered and was not invisible. The first time in 13 years. In her 30 years of counseling, she later said to me privately, the biggest problem with couples was with men who were raised in male-dominated Bible churches. Validation. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t crazy after all. Books by Ken Nair, John Eld
redge, and Stasi Eldredge were very helpful to my healing (see list below).
When a loved one is in complete denial of a problem or has a bad attitude, recognize the problem is bigger than you. His addiction was bigger than I could handle, and it was affecting my health. I am purposefully not naming what it is because addiction is addiction is addiction, and no matter what it is it is destructive to the individual as well as loved ones. Addiction is a disease of self and, quite frankly, selfishness, but it’s also about needing a sense of control in our lives. I know because I have my addictions too. Nothing changed. Nothing woke him up. Leaving was partly about my self-preservation.
Life after divorce is hard unless you have plans in place. On a whim on my way to a park with my dog, I stopped at an apartment complex to see about a vacancy and their rates. It had built-in bookshelves, good shower pressure, and was surprisingly affordable, so I signed up for a tiny one bedroom on the spot. Within two weeks of moving out, I got a part-time job at the Y. I had some savings of my own, from an inheritance, and that was crucial to my survival. Most women don’t have that, but if you already have a full-time job, you can make it. The best decisions in life are the results of part impulse and part planning.
The most difficult part for me was the fear of being judged for being divorced. It amazes me how many women have befriended me since. It also amazes me how people I admire and respect were married once before. Pay no mind to statistics, secular or otherwise. In spite of stats, I’ve personally seen Christian marriages be so unhealthy and break up, but I’ve also seen how second chances work out really well. Second marriages are strongest when both know themselves better, know what they want in life and in a partner, and they have often gained the self-awareness and self-control to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Life doesn’t always turn out like we hope, and there’s no shame in that. Everyone can relate to that, at least.
As important as sex is to a man, security is to a woman, but each needs understanding, support, and recognition that are as unique as we are as individuals. Ladies, if you leave the marriage bed, he’s going to criticize, cheat, or leave. Gents, she left because you hurt her, not to punish you but because she doesn’t want to be close to you and be hurt again, or, more likely, you simply aren’t there for her. Whatever the reason, it’s a warning sign that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. All I wanted was a home that was never threatened for any reason, which is, for me, the worst kind of violence, especially not over a church.
I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. Just before I left, I found a Stephen minister (a kind, caring older lady) to speak with once a week, I had already been attending a church apart from him that felt like home and a family, and I attended social gatherings to reintegrate into life after having been so isolated for so long. I also got on social media for the first time: Facebook. One of my first posts was: “The air I breathe is entirely my own.”
Be careful who you show your vulnerabilities to. The biggest surprise was men showing up out of nowhere, wolves in sheep’s clothing. There was a married guy on his phone in Starbuck’s bothering me after overhearing a talk with my Stephen minister. After she left, I clearly wanted to be left alone to read my book, write in my journal, and enjoy my coffee, but he kept on until I left, saying, “Oh my God!” as I hurried out the door. Do not engage anyone like that. Get yourself out of harm’s way as quickly as possible. Another man who, a few years earlier, had been a gracious colleague completely blindsided me. He had already left his wife and five young kids when he wanted to meet for lunch and began borrowing movies from me. He was relentless to the point of making me uncomfortable, so within weeks I ended the friendship altogether. I was surprised most by someone I thought I already knew. Again, he previously had been such a seemingly pious man.
My biggest regret was returning to my ex for a few months, a huge mistake believing anyone can change who they are. In retrospect, I mistook feelings of my own healing for hope that things would change for the better, but people don’t fundamentally change. We are how we are. We are who we are.
Be careful with ranting about your ex online. Trust me. Enough said. Perhaps I am now, but hopefully it is with a good purpose. If you must write to express the emotion and get it out, do so in a journal or better yet on the nearest piece of paper, then destroy it. It’s how I forgave my father two years after he died for the emotional abuse of my beautiful, godly mother and for his incessant infidelity. Writing out an emotion calms me. When I am that upset and there’s no friend available to listen, I write. I physically feel better. Once the negative emotion is out, I keep writing until I can see reason again. When such emotions arise again, as they inevitably do, I must remind myself that I have already dealt with that. That’s when I must remember to breathe and stay in the present moment or distract myself by working, listening to music, exercising, or walking.
So now, as I tried to free my husband years before we divorced, I speak life to him, saying he’s going to be a great dad. We both wanted children when we married, but I changed my mind early in the marriage because of his passive behavior, attitude, and addiction. Without a vision, a marriage perishes. So do individuals, which is why I recently set a boundary necessary for me and to close the door on the relationship. I spoke words of life, regardless of his reaction, which was not good, and let him go. Honestly, deep down, I believe he will be a great dad, so I sincerely hope he learns how to be a good husband.
My concluding advice: when you’re done, don’t waiver. Have a plan and a support group. Beware of men who will try to take advantage of you in your vulnerability. Remember who you are, what your dreams are, and pursue them relentlessly. Trust that while you pursue your passion, passion will find you.
Yet, still, we all have a deep yearning for someone to know us, love us, and embrace us as we are each and every day as well as a longing to give love—genuinely and unselfishly wanting for your partner what makes her truly happy—the kind of love that releases joy as well as our very best selves. If you have someone in your life, that one person above all others deserves to be your top priority each and every day. The world—and heaven—can wait. The time to love is now.
Recommended reading, preferably together as a couple:
Discovering the Mind of a Woman, Ken Nair
Captivating, Stasi Eldredge
Wild at Heart, John Eldredge
Boundaries in Marriage, Drs. Cloud and Townsend
People Skills, Robert Bolton